Malawi, known as the warm heart of Africa, is a small landlocked country in southern Africa. It is one of the world’s most densely populated, yet least developed countries ranking 171st out of 189 nations on the Human Development Index. Malawi is primarily an agricultural country. Its only significant natural resource, arable land, is under severe pressure from rapid population growth. About 80 per cent of the population lives in rural areas where most Malawians eke out a living as subsistence farmers.
A major hindrance to productivity and development is infrastructure. Malawi’s network of roads outside of urban areas is in extremely poor condition. Most roads are not passable by car and Malawians rely on bicycles to cover the great distances to urban centres and between villages. Malawi’s telecommunications system has also been named as of the poorest in Africa. Malawi lies at the epicentre of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. A direct social consequence is the large number of orphans. About 12 per cent of children have lost at least one parent to AIDS-related illnesses and 18 per cent of children are vulnerable and living with, and often caring for, terminally ill parents.
Hands at Work began operating in Malawi in 2008 in the rural village of Mgwere about 15 kilometers from the central town of Dedza. Mgwere is isolated and impoverished, and when local school teacher Royie Nazombe encountered the Hands at Work vision to see the local churches unite as Christ’s body to care for his community’s most vulnerable children he grasped it immediately. He left his job as a teacher to concentrate full time on mobilizing and organizing compassionate local volunteers, eventually developing Mgwere into a model of local community ownership where the local churches were able to feed and educate 85 children with food and resources from their own pockets. The successful model spread to surrounding communities, and by 2011 Hands at Work was operating in 4 communities around the neglected Dedza region where so many children were left vulnerable and lacking access to even basic support.
Compelled to Compassion
One of the children being impacted in Malawi is Thandi. She was 12-yearsold when her mother died and her father, as his culture customarily dictates for a male widow, abandoned the family. Thandi was left alone to care for her 18-month-old brother, Tamandani. Living in their rural Malawi village, Chinku, there were no social services or support to aid them.
The situation had seemed hopeless until a local woman named Lainess, whose church was mobilised by Royie and the Hands at Work team, came to their aid. Lainess had suffered the early death of her husband and had been struggling to make ends meet. But after hearing the stories of what was being done by the churches in nearby Mgwere, she felt compelled to participate in demonstrating the compassion of Christ and joined others in her community to become part of the Chinku volunteer care worker team. That’s when she decided to open up her home and take Thandi’s family under her care. Lainess does everything she can to fill the gap left by their parents; in order to secure milk to feed young Tamandani, Lainess regularly makes the day’s journey by foot to the city of Lilongwe where she is able to get milk from an organisation operating there.
Growing in understanding of the needs of vulnerable children in her community like Thandi & Tamandani, Lainess helped her church join with other churches in the area to launch a school and care centre. It’s a safe place for Thandi & Tamandani to come and just be like other children their age while Lainess is learning to be a mother for two more very grateful children.