Skip to content

How Philawell Came To Be

Madagascar’s people are the true find of this island nation.  “The people of Madagascar are the most kind, hard-working human beings I have ever met,” said Karen Cohen, Founder of Philawell.  “Sadly, they live in abject poverty.  The children walk barefoot to an infested river that is many miles from their home to bathe, drink and wash clothes in.  There is no access to clean water.  There is very little food or basic necessities.  And there are no schools for most of the children.  Karen knew she had to help.  She left most of her clothes, sneakers, and toiletries with Theo and Andres, her tour guides, and asked them to give them to the villagers.  As Karen got on a plane home, she resolved to do something meaningful to help.”

With a 30+-year career teaching in the Philadelphia Public School District as well as at the Katz JCC in Cherry Hill, NJ, Karen was looking forward to retirement and spending more time with her husband and two teenage sons.  When her father unexpectedly passed away in April 2022, Karen turned to travel to give herself time to reflect and heal.  She booked a month-long trip to South Africa and Madagascar.  Little did she know, this trip would change her life.

“I arrived in Madagascar not knowing very much about it,” said Karen.  “Few tourists trek to this island, but as soon as you get off the plane you are amazed by the beauty and heartbroken by the extreme poverty.”

Karen reached out to Theo and Andres, both native to Madagascar and her tour guides (soon to be her team members) to learn what would make the biggest difference in the lives of the people of Madagascar.  Karen’s goals for the foundation: clean water, clothes, toiletries, flip flops, and school supplies to the Antandroy people of Madagascar.

Karen visited Madagascar in August 2023.  She returned in October 2023 to bring 300 pairs of flip flops to the children.  She submitted paperwork to establish the Philawell non-profit and was approved in March 2024.  As of March 2024 Philawell has built two wells, and has started work on a third.  And more progress to help Madagascar is on the horizon…