In essence, Chimwemwe Children's Centre is a charity based in Blantyre, Malawi, which helps street-children to return to education and to lead healthy and fulfilling lives. The children we work with have ended up on the streets for a variety of reasons - ranging from the loss of one or both parents (often from AIDs) leading them into poverty; to abuse by family or community members which has driven them away from home and onto the streets.
|Boniface in 2013 –I met this lad first in 2009 |
and he has blossomed over the years
What do we do to help the children? We have a team of trained staff who talk to the street children to try to find out why they are there. Have they been sent to beg by their family to increase the household income (or, in the case of some of the girls, have they been sent to earn money through prostitution?)? Have they lost their parents? Have they run away from abuse?
If the issue that has driven them onto the streets can be resolved, we will work with the family and/or the community, wherever possible, to support the children so that they can remain with their family or in their community. If poverty is the issue, we can help families to start their own business (for example we purchased a sewing machine for a man so that he could set up his own tailoring business and support his two children, after losing his wife). Sometimes, the barrier to children going to school is simply the cost of the uniform and school books, and Chimwemwe will buy these and also pay school fees (where needed). We also feed some of the children, to reduce the burden on their families.
|One of the children having a nutritious meal |
of fish stew and nsima in the local market
There are some children whom we cannot support in their family or community. For these, we have 16 spaces at the centre for children aged up to 14 years. For these children, we house, feed and clothe them, ensure they are enrolled in (and attending) school, we ensure that their healthcare needs are met and we provide a number of life-skills classes in the evenings, so that when they leave Chimwemwe, they are able to cope. We also try to ensure that they have a safe and enriching environment in which to be children - to play, to learn, to develop.
|Amanda and three of the children playing bao. |
Amanda lost. Every game!
|Amanda with the kids in October|
|One of the rooms in the centre where the children will receive life-classes |
(L-R: Mac, Sam, Chimwemwe)
Not only is it the rainy season in Malawi (and believe me, it RAINS!) leaving the children cold and wet, but they are also in danger on the streets. At least two of the children have been sexually abused whilst they have been on the streets while the centre is closed - a six year old boy, Charles (the youngest child we are supporting) was raped by older men, leaving him infected with syphilis; and a young girl, Elida, was raped by at least three men. The police, the hospital and the City Assembly are currently dealing with their cases. We need to wait before we can ascertain their HIV status after these attacks.
I have met these children. The news of their abuse has been devastating to me, as it has been to all of the staff at Chimwemwe. I didn't see Charles on this last visit, but this picture of him was taken in late October (on my previous visit). He's wearing my hat, and has been dancing because he was happy. We are all desperate to get the renovations finished so that the City Assembly will allow the children to return to the safety of the centre. At the moment, the best we can do for the children is to ensure that they get at least one good meal a day, reassure them that the centre will re-open soon and help them to deal with whatever has happened to them.
|Charles in happier times|
Our long-term goals for the centre are ultimately to have enough money to buy the property (we currently rent it and have a guaranteed three-year lease) and to have set up income-generating projects which will benefit the community and also make the centre self-sustaining. One such project is to build and run a maize-mill in the community and we are also looking to rent or buy some field space to grow maize and other vegetables and to raise chickens.
I realise that this is not the cheery, Filofax/planning/organiser-related post you might have tuned in for, but I am extremely grateful to Philofaxy for giving me a chance to show you what we are doing at Chimwemwe and why the support that the Philofaxy community gives to Chimwemwe means so much, not just to me, but to some of the poorest children in the world. My heartfelt thanks go to everyone who has supported us.
Thank you Amanda for the update.