by Pilirani Semu-Banda
The on-going adoption process of a one-year old Malawian orphan, David Banda, by Pop Star Madonna has highlighted the plight of orphans in Malawi.
A million children are orphaned in Malawi, of which half were AIDS-related illnesses affecting one or both parents, most of whom are cared for by relatives who are already experiencing severe economic hardship. About 8 million of Malawi’s 12 million people live below the national poverty line of $1-a-day. Child-headed households are becoming increasingly common, where many households have been discovered to be run by children as young as 12 years old.
One of the orphanages benefiting from Madonna’s financial assistance is the Consol Homes in Malawi’s Central region. When Madonna visited this orphanage with David on Thursday, April 19, she urged the multitude of orphans and the poor who gathered to see her to help themselves.
"This is a partnership, it's not only for me to do everything, but we need to work together and you have to help yourselves," Madonna said.
But the orphans have already been doing what Madonna is urging them to do.
The group of about 4,000 orphans at the Consol Homes, aged 10 to 20 years, is headed by a president and vice president elected by the orphans themselves. These advocates meet regularly with other executive members as a “Parliament,” where they discuss and formulate strategies to address the problems and issues faced by the young people living within their communities.
Lameck Kalolo, who stays close to the orphanage, says he has, on numerous occasions, seen the orphans restoring roofs for elderly people who look after other orphans.
“The orphans also grow crops such as maize and vegetables which they give out to very poor families that have orphans,” says Kalolo.
According to Consol Homes, the members of Parliament also ensure that the rights of orphans and other vulnerable children are protected, their basic needs met, and opportunities are created for them to reach their fullest potential.
“They also assist in dealing with problems faced by orphans on a daily basis, assist elderly guardians to care for orphans and other vulnerable children through the provision of basics such as food, clothing and blankets, as well as assisting with housing maintenance and agricultural work,” states the orphanage.
The members of Parliament also support orphans and other vulnerable children in their pursuit of education. They encourage the children to help identify OVCs (Orphans and Vulnerable Children) in need of assistance and ask them to participate in the development, organization and implementation of strategies to assist them. They also conduct awareness campaigns within their communities designed to support and care for orphans, disseminate information about HIV/AIDS prevention, and provide social support for one another.
Communications Officer for UNICEF - Malawi, Kusali Kubwalo, whose organization also provides assistance to orphanages around the country, says the achievements of the members of Parliament on behalf of the orphans are apparent, as they have made significant efforts in developing their communities.
Kubwalo says her organization is impressed with the initiative at Consol Homes since UNICEF’s role is to support organizations that look after children who are orphaned and vulnerable so that they have a chance to be themselves by interacting with other children.
“UNICEF aims at improving early childhood care through community-run facilities. We also help in training community-based care givers and provide them with home-based care kits and bicycles for them to be able to move from one place to another,” says Kubwalo.
According to Consol Homes, the first president of the Parliament at the orphanage, Hawa Majola, was selected to represent the group at a Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) meeting held in South Africa, while their first vice president, Timothy Dawa, was elected to join the Malawi Children’s Parliament which involves representatives from all regions of Malawi.
Significantly, the leaders of the orphans participated in the Malawi government’s assessment that led to the development of the current National Plan of Action for orphans and other vulnerable children in the country. They have also taken part in meetings with UNICEF - Malawi and the Stephen Lewis Foundation to discuss issues affecting orphans and those living with and affected by HIV/AIDS.
Oxfam, an international non-governmental organization, says that 65,000 children are orphaned in Malawi every year and most of them have no access to education because they live in dire poverty worsened by the HIV/Aids pandemic.