Breaking New Ground: Entering Malawi

Levy Mwenda is a nurse from Zambia who has worked with Hands for many years. Residing in South Africa, Levy has assumed many roles with Hands in several countries, including Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, and Nigeria.

Levy’s first trip to Malawi is a ten-day undertaking to map out the community of Ngwele in Dedza. Knowing no one but a contact through a South African church, Levy goes to find out if this is a community in which Hands should work. Pastor Roy, the contact, is the headmaster of a school in Dedza. The two-room school holds 120 children in one room and 95 in the other, and Roy is the only teacher. He runs between the rooms throughout the day to teach both groups of children, who are packed tightly into the relatively small space. Roy has dreams of starting his own school, Levy discovers. Though the school he teaches in is extremely overcrowded, there are still many children who can’t afford the fees to attend. Roy wants to start a school that doesn’t require any fees and serves the most vulnerable children, those who have nothing.

Before doing anything else, Levy must receive clearance from the community leaders, including chiefs and tribal authorities. This step is important, as these leaders have the power to either enable or disable the work to begin. Levy seeks approval and partnership by sharing the heart of Hands at Work: to see the local church effectively caring for the dying, orphans and widows. After approval is granted, Levy takes steps to engage the local church. As a pastor, Roy is helpful in this process of gathering together local pastors from churches within the community to hear the church’s responsibility to help the poor and the Hands’ vision for their community.

To map the community, Levy records the distances the children walk to get to school. He walks the six kilometers with grannies from their homes to the bush to get firewood, which they sell to buy food, and he walks the three kilometers to the stream, which is used for washing, bathing and drinking. By walking through the community, Levy can analyze the social situation in the area, including the availability and quality of education, access to food and water, general living conditions, and sources of income, to ensure that by entering this community, Hands would fulfill its commitment to reach the poorest of the poor. While mapping, Levy discovers the drive from Roy’s house to the school at which he teaches takes about 30 minutes. Roy doesn’t have a car, he bikes to work. Leaving his home every day at 5 in the morning, Roy pedals his way to a job that pays him less each month than it takes to fill the gas tank in the vehicle Levy is driving.

Orphans and grannies, the most vulnerable in the community, are gathered together to tell Levy how they live and answer his questions about how they get by day to day. By speaking with people living in the community, Levy will gain a complete picture of the situation in Ngwele. While assessing the needs, Levy tries to discern the hearts of the people, to see if any of them have the drive and desire to serve those in need in their community; these willing volunteers will have a great impact by caring for those in their community.

After hearing God’s heart for the vulnerable, many pastors express interest in becoming involved in the work. These community leaders will spread the vision to care with God’s heart and open the door for community members to serve. The Hands model of using community schools to provide education as well as a meal per day to the neglected children in a community aligns with Roy’s own desire for such a school. Roy’s church, the church that he pastors, will provide a structure for the school. He even wants to build another structure to use as a school in another part of the community. Roy has caught the vision and he is running with it.

This is only the beginning. The pastors must organize the community members to visit the sick and orphaned in their homes, feeding points from which to feed children must be located and funding must be secured. It is a long road ahead for those, like Roy, who choose to walk it, but being transformed by God’s heart for the vulnerable and joining together with the many Hands organizations implementing this work across Africa, most would say it is a worthwhile journey.