TODAY   |  September 17, 2013

Meredith Brokaw sets up business in Malawi

Sometimes the greatest deeds come from the simplest ideas. Meredith Brokaw noticed on a trip to Malawi tomatoes were left to rot at the end of the season. So she helped set up a canning and preserving business for the women there, who are selling their canned goods and making a living for their families. Her husband, NBC’s Tom Brokaw, reports.

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>> tom brokaw is always looking for ways to highlight the work being done by others. and for this next story, he didn't have to look far. meredith , his wife of more than 50 years has been making a real difference for women in a corner of the world that really needs it. he started with one simple idea.

>> reporter: meredith first travelled three years ago with a friend who grew up there. anna and the women realized they had a crisis that could not wait. in a country of 14 million people, 1 million were aids or fan -- orphans.

>> they needed to be fed and educated, but how.

>> we go down these streets and i couldn't get over the fact that every fourth or fifth one was a shop making coffins. it broke your heart.

>> for victims.

>> for all the people that were dying.

>> reporter: when she first visited the friendship kitchen where they feed 300 orphans three times a week, meredith noticed something.

>> there was one secellar after another with tomatoes and i said what do you do when you don't have the tomatoes for the food.

>> it is very important for us. every dish we need tomatoes.

>> so we asked some of the women if they would like to learn how to can tomatoes and they were excited about it.

>> growing up in south dakota canning tomatoes was a household routine. she decided to transfer those skills to eastern africa . she shipped over canning supplies and enlisted new york friends and set off to establish a business.

>> i am really impressed about the amount of water that you're free squeezing out of here.

>> the women were ready.

>> before this project started, you never canned tomatoes , right?

>> no.

>> she runs the show here and she has big plans for the tomatoes.

>> are you the tomato queen.

>> of course, yes.

>> and how successful do you want to become? do you want to become very big?

>> yes, of course our dream is to grow.

>> reporter: that dream is becoming a reality. the tomatoes are sold in more than 15 super markets around and upscale lodges like this one in the capitol city .

>> i'm the one that taught the women how to do this.

>> whoa.

>> it's great.

>> the kitchen project is representative of what works here. not handouts, but local solutions to local problems. the women have made the most important investment they could in their children and their future. and it all started with tomatoes from their backyards.

>> you are full of hope and if i can be a small part of helping your dreams, i'm very, very happy.

>> you must be stunned by the success of this.

>> i am absolutely stunned. what started out as a simple little idea has taken on a life of it's own.

>> reporter: make no mistake, this remains one of the poorest countries in the world.

>> oh what i'm doing or what these people are doing is such a small drop in the bucket. but the fact is, if you do nothing, there wouldn't even be that drop in the bucket. so i'm not a believer in saying this is just such a small project it doesn't matter. i think it matters.

>> and tom and meredith join us now. good to see you. let's just start where you ended. it's a simple thing. it sounds like a little thing and yet it has a major impact.

>> it does have a major impact and, you know, matt, we're all used to giving aid to people. aid after aid and not seeing a lot of results. so by changing aid to innovation where they take on the project and do it themselves, it's just a world of difference .

>> well, tom, you got to travel with meredith so you get to admire your wife but also see what an incredible impact this is having on the community there.

>> anyone that has known us and we have been around a long time. they know what the secret is and meredith is one of the good things. but we both have believed for some time, start small, make it larger, have an impact. that's a perfect example of what you can do. this is not a boutique business. this is a real business they established there. the enormous amount of pride they have is inspiring as well. stewart and elizabeth are two new yorkers that are friends of ours. their family is involved in it. it's that kind of thing around the world that you begin to build hope as well as the kind of business model that you need to give those countries their own economy.

>> and meredith you can encourage other people that don't think they can make a difference to get in there and roll their sleeves up.

>> absolutely. it is a simple idea. but there are lots of ways in which people can earn living for themselves and i think if you think about the things you're passionate about and what you're able to impart to other people, it's an easy thing.

>> this is a skill you learned as a little girl and you brought to africa. i love tom that you were flying the flag . the "today" show hat was on.

>> spreading the news to other continents tom.

>> i have certain alumni rights that date back to when i was black and white .

>> thank you so much.