It is a rather hot afternoon, a distinct from the previous couple of wet conditions which most parts of Blantyre experienced. Not only bodies are feverishly perspiring, but also the earth is breathing out through the sun rays into the sky.
Thursday, March 17, 2011, aboard a vintage noisy taxi (The Mbengwembengwe type) from the congested Limbe Market minibus terminal, are members of a Limbe based charitable group, Young Muslim Donors (YMD). They are heading west, through Angelo Goveya (localized name for ‘Angels go there’), towards ‘Manje.’ The taxi accelerates on the tarmac road and slows down as the road catapults left and right. The driver is familiar with this place, he steers left into the bumpy road whose potholes reserve large volumes of rain water.
The residents here are well aware of the condition of commuters passing, no wonder, they don’t wait for indicators to show where the car is going before they move to the road side, paving way for the rumbling moving machine. Using the principles of psychology, one may conclude to observe that they can’t risk their precious lives.
The taxi cruises past the gullies, swirling over the dust it has gathered to the passengers. Coughing and sneezing all the way. In no time, they (Muslim Young Donors) are here. A simple story cannot even last before we hear a voice from within. “Driver, stop the car, it’s here.” Orders Anis Ismail, chairman of the group. This place (minibus stop) is known as ‘Umphawi.” He tells other members, as they all alight from the taxi, which indefinably is making a u-turn. No doubt, the driver is delighted knowing how little gasoline he has used since the stop is just half way from ‘Manje’ terminal. Off he drives waving the alighted passengers.
It’s a 6 minute drive from Blantyre’s business hub of Limbe. Members of young Muslim Donors throng Village headman Chiwembe T/A Kapeni, located some 2.5 km from Limbe market. Not because they have no business in town, or because they have no comfortable homes to enjoy. Not because they have more than enough to spend or because they are as needy so they want to attract assistance or attention for themselves. Neither are minds and bodies of these young Muslims too weak to join other youths in worldly activities, nor their feelings dead.
But because they are passionate and caring, qualities of our noble Prophet Muhammad (May Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him).
Carrying packs of rice, sweets and other things, members of Young Muslim Donors arrive at Chiwembe Orphanage. One would have expected a rather smaller and decent block. But what lies ahead of the eyes is a large, unfinished and abandoned building. Going straight inside the building, the first welcome is a smell of Indian hemp (Chamba) which everybody wonders where it comes from. They all turn around; their feet are standing on a dusty floor where the kids (orphans) sit during their classes.
Flustered in the unplastered building whose walls you can’t lean your back on. This is where poor orphans come every day. They inhale the filthy contaminated dust, risking their health for nursery and reception services. How much this dust is piling up in their bodies and how it can lead to an eventual risk of their lives, nobody cares. But this is what has been witnessed at this visit.
They move to the other room, no sooner do they take seats than one terrible looking man appears and greets them. ‘Wawa, tatipatseni moni,’ (meaning, can you shake my hand). He tells the sisters in a horrible voice. They (Sisters) resist the hand shake and immediately Anis explains to him that Muslim women do not shake hands with strange men, a verbal greeting is enough.
He then proceeds to shake the brothers. Everybody looks in awe. Then the smell of Indian hemp resurfaces, this time even stronger. Eyes meet at once, assured that it is was him who was smoking. The attitude, approach, eyes, lips and dirt on his body and clothes, are enough evidence that the guy is a weed smoker. “I know why you are here, but next time I may not greet you, you are selfish.” he says while heading to the door way. “Let me call the kids for you, they have knocked-off. I will also call for you one teacher.” He goes.
Then Anis Ismail, chairman of the group ceases the opportunity to tell Malawimuslims.com about their visit. He says that he learnt about the orphanage from a woman who stays close to the place.
“There is one woman who informed me about the situation at this orphanage, and then we decided to pay a visit so that we could see for ourselves. We came here last time just to assess the situation and we promised to come back, hence we are here today with the little we could afford.” He says. “This is not enough at all, we would like to call on others to come here and help these orphans.
Our visit is just an opener to other organizations. We discovered that most of the kids here are Muslims, but that’s not the reason why we have come to help because as Muslims, we understand what our religion requires of us.” Asked about the objectives of the group and how it was formed, the soft speaking Anis humbly says the group was founded by one Mr Yunus karolia last year (2010) and it comprises of young brothers and sisters, with him as chairman of the brothers wing and sister Asiatu Ofesi as chairlady of the sisters, deputized by sister Shyreen kanonji, while sister Asiatu Ahmad is the secretary.
“Our objectives are promoting good behavior among the youth, fighting poverty through charity activities.” concludes Anis. “We also collect second hand clothes or those that people have stopped using and give them to people who are in abject poverty. We go door to door collecting the garments that have been damped by people. You know there are a lot of people who live despicably. Sometimes, we go to various homes of the elderly to do some chores.”Adds Sister Asiatu Ofesi.
Now, kids start to flock back to the block. Later, the smoker along with Mr Leonard Kambata, young brother to village headman Chiwembe who also goes to call a nursery school teacher, Mr. James Kachulu. “I just heard that you came here last time.” Wonders the visibly unhappy young Chiwembe, apparently the group did not follow procedures (traditional bureaucracy). “When I heard about it, I expected that you would come to the chief for permission. However, there is no problem, you can go ahead with whatever you intend to do.” he continues.
“These orphans need a lot of assistance. What you have done is quite commendable. Whatever you have brought will go a long way in the lives of these kids. There has been no group or organization that has done this before, except for one feeding programme that was aimed at serving these orphans with phala (porridge). But it just ran for a short while and ended abruptly. I can’t really remember who was responsible for it, but I guess it was through the City Assembly (now City Council). Asked who built the building, Kambata says it was built by the City Council in 2006 as an orphanage.
Then Malawimuslims.com probes why the building is still unfinished and in this dilapidated state. “Well, it’s a long story,” he starts, “but I will not mince my words. This project was being handled by a committee, through the chief, but they mismanaged the funds, hence, they didn’t finish it.
The City council knows this, that’s why they have just abandoned it. He points to the windows; ‘there were window frames all over here but thieves stole them. That’s when we decided to employ that man (referring to the smoker) as a watch man. He sleeps here. If not for that, the iron sheets would have long lasted through theft. If finished, this place was meant to provide shelter to the orphans. But that dream was not realized, that’s why they (orphans) reside in their homes and only come here for studies.’ worries Kambata.
According to James Kalulu, a teacher, the orphanage registered over 80 kids, but only 40 attend classes. This humble looking young teacher describes the situation as unfortunate. He worries that the kids dropped out because of hunger. The school cant offer them any food. Its so pathetic. Kalulu says he started teaching the kids in 2009, on voluntary basis.
“I am responsible for the nursery section. But due to the increasing number of orphans who need to start primary school, there is another teacher who is responsible for them. there is a certain organization that pays him. But nobody pays me. My class runs up to 11 o’clock, after which I go about to do some piece works for my survival. That’s my routine. There are a lot of problems faced by these kids including lack of food. We had a feeding programme where some voluntary women were providing porridge to the kids, but due to lack of resources, we could not sustain it. But with the assistance we have received today, we are very much humbled. This will change the lives of these orphans.” Says Kalulu.
From the teacher’s explanation and a mere glance at this unfinished structure, one would not doubt that this kind of sincerity and kindness by the teacher, is driven by love and compassion. He gets no monetory or material gains. Yet, he is old enough. Old enough to raise children of his own to whom he could divert all the attention. He has a family and a background just like all of us. A family with relations on whom he could have cared for. But yet, he prefers serving these orphans. These orphans whom he has no any blood linkage with. These poor kids whom he would lose nothing if he were to be hostile. What he has is a vision. A vision that these insignificant kids may some day become what they wish as manifested in their ambitions, Allah willing.
A visit as simple as it is, can bring out an enthusiasm to do more. Not only to these young men and women who have taken their time out; but to the souls that cherish every single gift of life that the Almighty Allah has given. This help, as little as it looks, can change a day or two in the lives of these little souls, there by appreciating why they have to live. This kind gesture by young men and women of faith, does not require the whole lot of wealth that makes us forget the reason for our lives; it is only compassion and empathy for human kind; the realization and appreciation of divine ordainment. A decree that no human capacity can compromise. We only need to realize that Allah has given sufficient to its creatures. But selfishness, pride, greed, power, are some of the factors that lead to some figures amassing huge wealth at the expense of the majority poor.
Fraudulence by selfish individuals, who were entrusted to oversee the construction of what would have been a home for orphans, has dearly costed these vulnerable souls. But thanks to Young Muslim Donors who saw the need to invite Malawimuslim.com on this visit so that that we all should know. And now we know. This is just one of the many stories. Some of them homeless, others just siblings being looked after by their brothers or sisters as young as 8, 10, 13 or 16. They have never been to school while others had to drop out because they assumed the role of parenthood after the demise of their parents.
Just take your time out into the villages and elsewhere, you will see similar stories and perhaps, you can share the little you have.
This is not a folktale or fiction. Neither is it an illusion nor hallucination. I was there and I wish I could also be to many other similar places so that I could appreciate how better-off I am.