09 August 2012

Who and what is Chimwemwe?

Amanda has been a Philofaxy reader for a few years, it was her 'Reader Under the Spotlight' post that highlighted to us, the work she does for Chimwemwe

If you have ever looked at our Ad-spot page you will see reference to Chimwemwe, but what is it... please read through this article by Amanda and discover more about Chimwemwe and why we insist that you make a donation in exchange for advertising your items on Philofaxy.  

Philofaxy is a great supporter of Chimwemwe, but many of you might not know who or what we are. Chimwemwe is short for Chimwemwe Children’s Centre, which is a Community Based Organisation (CBO), registered in Malawi. Our goal is to help homeless and poverty-afflicted children to get off the streets and back into a safe, supportive community and to be able to go to school and enjoy a childhood. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world (over 60% of the population live below the poverty line of $1 per day) and it has one of the lowest rates of adult literacy, with less than 15% of adults having completed secondary education.

The country is also affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, with an estimated 25% of the urban population affected. Chimwemwe works with the street children of Blantyre, the second largest city in Malawi. The children arrive onto the streets for a variety of reasons, but most of them have lost one or both of their parents to HIV/AIDS. There is an extended family system in Malawi where many orphaned children move into the care of their relatives. Whilst this can work out, it can also put an enormous burden onto the family, who may have been struggling to manage even before the arrival of more children. Many of them cannot manage the extra costs of sending the children to school, and some cannot manage the extra costs of feeding them. Instead of sending the children to school, they are sent onto the streets to beg. In some instances, the girls have been sent onto the streets as prostitutes.

So what do we do?

We have four main projects:
•    To ensure children have a safe and secure place to live
•    To assist children back into education
•    To help the children to enjoy a childhood
•    To support the communities to try and stem the flow of children onto the streets

A safe and secure place to live:
The best place for a child is in a safe, loving, supportive environment and we work with the families and local communities to house the child with them wherever possible. For those children for which this is not possible (abuse in the family; no family remaining etc.) we have a children’s centre with accommodation for them. We also ensure that each child has at least one good meal a day.

Schooling in Malawi can be haphazard. Primary schooling is compulsory but not enforced, and secondary schooling is neither compulsory nor free. To go to school, children need to have a uniform, even for primary schools. If their family can’t afford to buy uniforms the children don’t go to school. Orphans don’t have a hope of being able to buy a uniform. Chimwemwe works with families and communities to help support the children to return to school. Often, just providing the uniforms is enough to allow an extended family to cope with extra children.

Since gaining CBO status in 2009, we have bought uniforms for around two hundred children, we are paying the secondary school fees for the older children, we are providing educational materials to the schools and to the children to support their learning – exercise books, textbooks, stationery etc – and we are also working with the communities to stem the flow of children onto the streets in the first place. One of the children from the project is now studying to be a doctor – something that simply wouldn’t have been possible without this help.

Having a Childhood:
For many street children, the idea of a childhood where you can play is just an idea, not reality. At Chimwemwe we have organised football and netball teams for the children and bought sporting equipment so that the children can enjoy life a bit more. There are now mini-leagues run in the community and the results are included in the local radio sports round-up, much to the delight of the children, who crowd around the radios to hear it!

Supporting the Communities:
We have provided money to families and communities to help them to start income-generating activities (including buying a father a sewing machine so that he could start his own tailoring business) and we have set up community gardens for growing vegetables. We also work with the communities to raise awareness of the rights of the child and to provide education about health (including HIV awareness).

My involvement:
I got involved with all of this through a chance meeting in Johannesburg airport with the project manager – Mac Nkhutabasa and I met the children in a visit to Malawi. It was one of those life-changing moments you hear about but never believe will happen to you. I couldn’t get on a plane at the end of my visit and do nothing. I promised Mac that I would do everything I could to help him and ultimately, Chimwemwe Children’s Centre came into being.

The project gained its name – Chimwemwe – and its logo – a sheep, In January 2009. Chimwemwe means ‘We are happy’ and the children chose this as the name for the project because ‘they were happy that people cared about them’. They chose the logo of a sheep because ‘sheep are quiet and obedient like us’ (although I would have to say that the children I have met on my travels to Malawi are most certainly not quiet!).

The project applied for community based organisation status in Malawi (the first stage to becoming a non-government organisation – NGO) early in the 2009 and was awarded it in August 2009, allowing it to apply for grants and donations from charities such as Unicef, Oxfam and Save the Children amongst others. We are currently in the process of applying for Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) status.

Thanks to a project with work that took me to Malawi roughly every six months, I was able to see the huge progress in the lives of the children involved. When I was last in Malawi I met many of the boys again. Hearing their heartfelt thanks and seeing their pride in their uniforms made me weep. This is one of the best things I have ever been involved with and I am so proud to be a part of it.

Many, many thanks to Philofaxy and its readers who have been supporting us. The money given makes a real difference to these children and their communities.

For the cost of a new A5 Malden (£100), Chimwemwe could feed all of the children in the programme for a fortnight. For the cost of a new page-per-day personal diary (£13.50) two children could get a new set of uniforms each. And for the same amount as a half-price personal Chameleon (£32.50) we would be able to keep one young girl from being at risk of abuse on the streets, and into secure accommodation for a month.

If you want to read more about the projects or see how you could help the project, please have a browse through our website: www.chimwemwe.net

Donations are of course always welcome.

Amanda Fleet


  1. Thank you.

    Although making me cry before breakfast is mean.

    1. I'm sorry if the post upset you. But when I read the original Reader Under The Spotlight contribution I was also taken by surprise and found Amanda's contribution quite moving.

      Chimwemwe might not be one of the big charities, but then again Philofaxy isn't a big name outside of the world of Filofax, so in a way we do go together quite nicely.

      Chimwemwe does so much with so little, and as the adverts say 'Every little helps'

      Thank you

  2. puts the filofax spending into great perspective! Makes me glad I have only ever 'bought' two filofaxes and generally dont go crazy with inserts. I hope one day to have the money in order to volunteer for an extended period of time. What a great post.

  3. It's sobering to be reminded of the REAL struggles people endure in countries not as LUCKY as our own.... Makes my 'struggle' to organise my little life quite irrelevant....!!

    THANK YOU for the reminder....I think I'll pay a visit to chimwemwe.net....!!!!!!


  4. Thanks for this post.

    We might not be able to live without our Filos, but it's considered quite the luxury given what these kids don't have.

  5. Thanks for posting Amanda - that's very impressive work you're involved in, and I'm sure must be truly life-changing for the children.

  6. @everyone
    Thank you for all your kinds words and support and especially to all those who have donated (both today and any other time).

    Thank you for your fabulous support and for posting this article for me. As a consequence of the kindness of Philofaxy readers, we have been able to help kids and communities which we otherwise wouldn't have.

  7. @Amanda. The children at Cimwemwe just look so great... the first photograph really did lift my spirits with the joy in their smiles!! The work you are doing is just wonderful and you give so much back to the world. WOW!! It was an utter delight to read your guest post and your story..... thank you. xxxx

  8. @Butanben
    Thank you for such kind words!
    The two lads in the picture (Boniface on the left; Justin on the right) were two of the first kids I met. Boniface is especially well named! After not being in school for a long time, Boniface was voted Class Captain this year (in a class of over 120) - we were all delighted, as was he!
    I gave Boniface some sweets once and I expected he would eat them all immediately, but he very carefully put them in his pocket and said he would share them with Justin when he saw him, as "Justin doesn't have as much as me". This was at a time when they were both still homeless. I am so proud to see them both in school and doing well.
    Sorry - I've rambled. I could talk about the kids all day.
    Thank you for the kind words and support!

  9. What an absolutely charming post! I had no idea Chimwemwe did so much until now. You and your co-workers are outstanding, Amanda!