27 February 2013

The latest from Chimwemwe

Many of you will know that Philofaxy is a stalwart supporter of Chimwemwe, but some of you might not know who we are or what we do. I did a post on Chimwemwe a while back (which you can read here) and Steve has asked me to give an update on where the project is at the moment.

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
I am just back from a visit to Malawi where I caught up with the project leader Mac, one of the helpers Sam and the new housekeeper also called (somewhat confusingly!) Chimwemwe. It has been a difficult few months at Chimwemwe (the centre!). Last year we had to dismiss three helpers due to them stealing from the charity and also due to their alleged abuse of some of the children. In addition, the economic situation in Malawi, where there has been a 40% devaluation of the currency (the kwacha) and rising inflation, has made supporting the children extremely difficult. We have also had to close the centre temporarily whilst essential renovations were completed. The centre was still in the process of being renovated when I visited in early February, but we are expecting the children to return at the start of March.

One of the rooms in the centre where the children will receive life-classes
(L-R: Mac, Sam, Chimwemwe)
Last week, I received some terrible news from Mac which underlines how essential the work we do is and the need for the centre to be re-opened as soon as possible. The City Assembly had said that the children could not stay in the centre until the renovations were complete and had said that they would find alternative accommodation for the children whilst it was closed. I am sad to say that in some cases, no alternative was found for the children and that for others, they did not want to stay there and many of the children returned to the streets during the time the centre was closed.

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.


  1. Many people who read Philofaxy often seem to buy several binders each momth and I wonder what an amazing difference it would make if instead of buying one filofax this month, we all donated the money to a charity such as this? Because we live in such comfort (even though we may grumble from time-to-time or think we are hard done to) we often forget how terrible are the lives of others. Although I am currently on a serious budget and somewhat financially challenged at the moment (but nonetheless I am warm, safe and have enough to eat) I intend to make a further contribution to this cause this month.

  2. Amanda, thank you for keeping us up to date on this incredible organization. As a kid I always dreamed of going to Africa to help children- if I ever make it there I know where I'll be stopping.

    In the meantime, instead of picking up some craft supplies on the way home, I have just made a donation on the Chimwemwe website. I agree completely with Alison- even though I don't have much to spare financially, I'm happy to help these children instead of spending spare money on myself.

    Please do let us know when the center is reopened!

  3. I did some research after reading this today. It's worth visitng the Chimwemwesite. As well as being able to donate there, you'll find details of a scheme whereby they can benefit at no cost to you when you shop online. Find out more and sign up here.

    1. I've signed up too Ray, thanks for that.

      All the money earned through clicking through to Filofax UK goes to Chimwemwe as well.

  4. @everyone @Philofaxy
    Thank you so much for your support. It really does mean a huge amount, not just to me, but especially to these kids. We're hopeful that the centre will re-open to the kids this weekend - I will keep you posted.

  5. I think we can all find at least something to give to this fantastic cause making a difference to suffering. Keep up the great work :)

  6. @everyone
    I am overwhelmed by the kindness and support you have all given Chimwemwe and me today.
    Thank you!!

  7. If everyone that read this blog donated the cost of a diary insert just once, think of the amount that would raise for Chimwemwe.

    Do it twice a year and the project would be secure for a number of years.

    We will be working with Amanda to put together some more fund raising ideas in the next few months and I will be putting some totals in the side bar so you can see how much you have raised for Chimwemwe... Thank you everyone who has donated so far, no matter how small that donation it, every little helps.

  8. Oh Amanda, your post both warmed my heart with the marvellous work that you do, and it broke my heart too, to hear about wee Charles in particular and the plight of some of the other children.I just hope that his spirit, soul and body, given time, can be healed from this awful trauma. A child of six to have suffered as he has, is just overwhelmingly tragic.You are one special person to be doing the work that you are out there for all of those children,in what is evidently a dreadfully stricken part of the world.Stay strong and above all else,stay safe... and know you are supported.

  9. Thank you everyone! I am genuinely overwhelmed by all your support.
    Thank you!

  10. Amanda - thanks for all the work you do (& for sharing with us). I will also check out the main site and look to donate. Glad that Philofaxy is looking at ways that they can support your work (and it is great that this community is about more than just paper, pens and organisers - however fab they are!).