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‘Second chance’: In Malawi, a teacher’s salary runs an orphanage

‘Second chance’: In Malawi, a teacher’s salary runs an orphanage

Caroline Kachigwali enjoys discussing science. It is the 14-year-favorite old’s subject, as she is in her final year of elementary school and aspires to be a pilot. She feels that her attraction to it will one day transform her life.

Her goals, however, were nearly derailed in 2018 when her parents died of a serious disease. She told Dailion, “I stopped attending school because I couldn’t afford to pay for those on my own.”

Malawi maintains a free primary education policy, however, students must pay a few fees, including the school development fund, in order to sit for exams.

However, many individuals are still unable to pay, which contributes to the high percentage of out-of-school children in the Southern African country, where up to 60% of the population is multidimensionally poor. According to a report published by Malawi’s National Statistical Office in 2021, two-thirds of students in Malawi did not complete basic school 2021.

With no relatives nearby, Kachigwali, then 11, had little alternative but to drop out of school and take care of herself and her younger sister. They shared a house in the settlement of Ndodani, just outside Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city, with mud walls, a dirt floor, and a grass thatched roof.

She was still depressed when she met Temwani Chilenga, who offered her a house and then drove her back to Chambu Primary School in Lilongwe’s Area 25 neighborhood.

“I met Madam Chilenga when she came to our village looking for disadvantaged children,” Kachigwali recalled, smiling. “She took us in after viewing our predicament, and I’ll be eternally thankful.” To us, she’s like a mother.”

She is one of 285 children who Chilenga, a 25-year-old primary school teacher, has looked after.

Chilenga is the sixth of seven children born to a meteorologist and a teacher. She knew she wanted to be a light for others since she was a child.

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“I grew up without resources, but my parents did their best,” she explained, “so I understand what it’s like to be without something in life.” “I knew I had to help orphans and other disadvantaged youngsters someday.”

In 2013, she began her road toward realizing her dream by enrolling in a Teachers Training College in central Malawi to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a teacher. Chilenga had previously studied journalism at the certificate level, but she dropped out because she thought she was meant to be a teacher. “I’ve always had a soft spot for kids,” she explained.

After completing her training, she was assigned to a government school in Chambu, on the outskirts of Lilongwe, where she began teaching five years later.

After seeing numerous children arrive at her class in tattered clothes, without shoes, and learning on an empty stomach because their parents and guardians couldn’t afford basic essentials, she founded the Zoe Foundation.

“Many of the children went weeks without attending school, and others dropped out entirely,” Chilenga told Dailion. “This shattered my heart. I started buying them school clothes and paying for all of their expenses with my own money.”

She then realized that some of the children were orphans living in awful circumstances. Chilenga was able to purchase land to build a home for the children with the support of leaders in Ndodani village and worldwide donations sourced through Facebook.

She currently has 95 orphans ranging in age from 6 to 17, with 55 girls and 40 boys. She also helps other children with food, uniforms, and other learning tools, as well as clothing, in addition to the orphanage she created.

There is a small nursery within the enclosure with murals of numerals and alphabets painted on the walls — the area’s first nursery and one that provides free services.

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Some of her coworkers and community volunteers assist her with responsibilities, such as Vyness Mzerum’mawa, who reached out after being impressed by the Ndodani project.

Mzerum’mawa, a colleague, stated, “I’m still impressed by her kindness.” “More people like Temwani Chilenga are needed in this country.”

Chilenga’s involvement, according to Mzerum’mawa, has had a positive impact, since youngsters who had dropped out of school or married young are now returning to class.

“Most of the children looked lost, alone, and depressed when they first came here,” she said, “but that has substantially improved.”

Sacrifices and challenges

Chilenga has been running the charity on her own dime so far, sacrificing a portion of her meager monthly pay (about $123) and donations from fans of her work.

Even so, it is insufficient to cover all of the costs. “Because there are times when I utterly lack cash,” she explained, “donations from well-wishers are also what keeps the foundation functioning.”

Due to food scarcity, the youngsters at the orphanage are only eating twice a day at the present. They also don’t have enough beds or mattresses to sleep on.

Chilenga has been accused of seeking to profit from assisting the youngsters on occasion, which has shattered her spirit.

“There are others who tell me this job will not get me anywhere since others have tried and failed to do what I do,” she explained. “However, all I do is ignore such comments.”

She is, nonetheless, devoted to her profession and enjoys every second of it. “It brings me so much delight to help these youngsters because I get to witness how happy they are,” she said. “Whenever I’m away from them, I feel like a piece of me is missing.”

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Chilenga’s work is both motivating and important to Jennifer Mkandawire, executive director of the Mzuzu-based Foundation for Children’s Rights.

“It’s not every day that you hear a tale of a pretty young lady volunteering her time, effort, and money to ensure that orphaned children have a roof over their heads and food to eat,” she added. “The country has a lot of vulnerable children and is struggling to safeguard them, so it’s extremely wonderful that someone stepped in.”

Chilenga has a “spirit that is lacking in most of us,” according to Fred Simwaka, a spokesman for the Ministry of Gender, Community Development, and Social Welfare.

He told Dailion, “We are grateful since her work complements the government’s efforts to uplift the less poor.” “As a government, we have moved away from an orphanage policy, but we are still working closely with organizations that deal with children’s care.”

The young teacher received a Commonwealth Point of Light award from the United Kingdom in February for her work, which recognizes young leaders who make a difference in their communities.

‘A safe place’

Chilenga’s ambition is for her children to graduate from university, and Kachigwali appears to be on the right track. She will take her primary school leaving exams later this year and is looking forward to starting secondary school.

But, while she is still at the orphanage, Kachigwali says she has found a family in the foundation, something she never imagined she would find again.

“I was granted a second opportunity,” she explained. “I’m glad I came across this in my life. I’m at ease knowing that I’ll wake up in a safe place and go to school [tomorrow] morning.”


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