I started feeling internal peace when I joined the international platform for peace building within my field of profession last year in August. When I got selected for the YaLa Young Leaders Citizen Journalism training program for peacebuilding, everything opened up in my soul.
Sometimes, a sprout is not recognized until it grows big to a point when people start picking fruits from it. It takes only the few to pay attention to it, for they know its fruitful destination. It took my passion for peaceful living and hope to participate in the YaLa program. I completed the YaLa program in December 2016 and was awarded a prestigious certificate that soon saw me flying to the headquarters of the Africa continent to represent my country on a peacebuilding mission.
It was early January 2017 when I felt that YaLa Young Leaders gave me the opportunity to go through peacebuilding and citizen journalism training first, before representing Malawi at the 1st African Union Intercontinental – Interfaith Dialogue on Violent Extremism (iDOVE) youth forum at African Union Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Amid surfing on internet, looking for opportunities, I stumbled upon a call for youth participation in the AU Interfaith Dialogue on Violent Extremism youth forum held at AU-Commission. The forum was calling for peace activist youth from Africa and Europe. For I had acquired international skills from YaLa and could not afford to let the opportunity to pass by me. I applied for the forum with reference to YaLa and related activism acquired while working with Sustainable Rural Growth and Development Initiative (SRGDI), a local non-government organisation in Malawi.
On February 3, 2017 my just sprouting wings for peacebuilding grew stronger when I got an email that said I was selected to participate in the first Interfaith Dialogue on Violent Extremism (iDove) Youth Forum organised by the African Union Commission (AUC), Gesellschaft Internationale Zusammenarbelt (GIZ) and Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS). In my disbelief, I repeated reading the email with a silent YaLa song; my heart was filled with joy that many felt.
The email was a dove with an answer to my desire to become an internationally-recognised peace activist. I considered myself privileged that I was among 40 young people selected from a pool of 4,000 applicants from Africa and Europe. As the young leaders entrusted from the two continents, at the forum we deliberated on issues pertaining to Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) through the soft power of religion. At the forum, we also produced contemporary recommendations and activities on how to prevent Violent Extremism.
More interesting at the forum, we went so far as to develop strategic directions for the iDove project based on principles and methods of interfaith dialogue on preventing extremism and de-radicalisation. We developed suitable concepts and applications for the iDove website, which was launched at the forum. As the champions for peace, we developed concepts and mechanisms to support small-scale, youth-run communications, virtual, and innovative community initiatives to be implemented in Africa and Europe within project objectives. For establishing and sustaining the iDove movement, we designed plans for a monitoring and evaluation system to monitor the implementation of the small-scale projects and for follow up mechanisms.
Back home. everyone was calling me ‘Dove’ because I flew for the first time in my life. The nick-name corresponded to ‘iDover’ – the name every one of us adopted at the forum. Now I am very proud of that name. With the experience I have acquired from YaLa and iDove, I have the confidence and support to advance in working to prevent violent extremism in Malawi and Africa. Currently, I am working to establish YaLa – iDove to peace making organisations and other stakeholders in Malawi such as Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (CCJP).
It was a sunny Wednesday in mid-February. Together my colleagues from the CONGOMA, Lilongwe office, I set off to appreciate what impact NGOs are making in the communities. Ten kilometers from the Mchinji District north of the Boma, we were greeted by a sign post, saying “Welcome to Home of Hope”. I wasn’t sure whether this was the place we were looking for, so my colleagues decided to ask some young girls coming out of the gate. They confirmed it was the right place and we were eager to get in.
When we entered through the gates which we thought was the main gate, we saw the school buildings and pupils lingering about, only to realize it was around 10:30 in the morning and thus break time. The first observation I made was the presence of pupils and children of all ages, meaning this place did not discriminate; they took everyone in regardless of where they came from and how they got there.
As we approached the classrooms to ask where we could meet the authorities at the place, we were welcomed by a cheerful albino lady who directed us to the administration building. While Malawi as a country has a record of discriminating against and abuse of the disabled, people with albinism and orphans, just to mention a few, we noted how all these people had been embraced by the school. They looked free and happy.
We proceeded to the administration building, passing by several other buildings, including hostels, houses, a church, an auditorium, a maize mill and a garden. As we approached the building, we were welcomed by a slender, light skinned lady who ushered us into the Executive Director’s office. After introducing ourselves, we explained the purpose of our visit and the director sent us to Rev. Dr. Chipeta, who is the overseer of the place. We found him at the Guest House, where he was waiting for representatives of the Ministry of Education. He then took us to the office and told us about the founding and the history of HOME OF HOPE:
“I was born in 1929 in the northern part of Malawi. I lost my parents at the age of 15, so I was raised by my sister. Growing up in a home inhabited by children only was by no means easy as everything, from food to care, was handled by my sister who was as much a child as I was. In order to sustain us, my sister had to get married. Traditionally, a brother is not supposed to join a sister at her new husband’s house. This meant I had to be taken care of by an uncle.”
“Because I did not have the money to pay for school fees, I had to quit school in 1950. I could not pursue my studies as I had nowhere else to find the money. It broke my heart to drop out of school, yet the circumstances were beyond everyone’s control, so I accepted the situation, hoping for the best. In 1954, I moved to Mchinji, where I worked as a clerk at the Fort Manning Missionary. The godly environment at the missionary exposed me to several men of God who were an inspiration. Within due time, one Missionary guided me to Christ and I became a fully-fledged Christian by 1956. It was from this instant that I felt God’s calling to serve in His House and in 1957 I went to attend the Theological College in order to become a pastor in the Church of Central African Presbyterian (CCAP), Nkhoma Synod.”
“As soon as I had finished my studies, I was ordained to serve as a pastor in Zimbabwe for 15 Years. When doors open, blessings start to overflow; I had come form being an orphan and now I was a pastor. In 1978 I was sent to the University of Pietermaritzburg in South Africa, where I was awarded a diploma in theology for being a talented student.”
“Being an orphan myself I realized how many orphans lack the opportunities I had. After getting married in 1955, I lost two of my children in 1991 and 1992 respectively. Together they left behind ten orphaned children. This was the starting point for my vision for Home of Hope. I decided to retire as a Reverend and came back to Malawi to take care of my orphaned grandchildren. I had no money and the situation was helpless, but I managed to take on another 10 orphaned children, having a total of 20 orphans that my wife and I started taking care of.”
“I had no money but I had faith in God, and I was inspired by a strong vision that God was calling me to build an orphanage. Knowing the Ministry of Gender and Social Welfare’s requirements to set up an orphanage, I courageously decided on meeting them to share my vision. Not pursuing this vision was not an option. I shared the vision with Reverend Dr. Hara and Reverend Chiyenda and from that moment we started forming a board of trustees and applied for approval of an orphanage from the Ministry of Gender and Social Welfare.”
“Going by the motto ‘God is the Father of the Fatherless and he will sustain the orphanage’. When they rejected my application, I gave the Ministry my own testimony, including the reason I wanted to start an orphanage. By the grace of God, although I didn’t have the money, the project was approved. In 1996 we received 100 Malawian Kwacha as a start-up fund and since then, God has provided us and is still providing us.”
“Children need a lot of care, hence in the early stages of setting up the orphanage, I had my own children come to volunteer. I then employed my first treasurer, who used to be a managing partner at Graham Carr, called Loudon. He asked me whether I knew the story of Jesus. The story says that if a man wants to build a tower, he must sit down, estimate the costs and check if he has enough money to complete it (Luke 14:28). I told him I agreed, but continued to tell him that God would provide. Soon after, a friend of ours donated 38,000 Malawian Kwacha. This donation became the first money that we used to build the nursery for the orphans. At the moment, Home of Hope has many friends, who all have been very helpful. We have 700 children, a nursery, a primary and secondary school, while we are building a Technical College. We have our own health clinic with a clinical officer and a nurse appointed by the Ministry of Health.”
“Home Of Hope has made many friends in Malawi and beyond. With our work we have supported many children who are now self-reliant. For example, some are doctors, others work in field of finance or communication. Although we have done much, we are still in need of 8 staff residences. I, Reverand Chipeta, due to my commendable work, have been awarded the 2000 Bob Pierce Award by the founder of World Vision, a Paul Hals fellowship, the Our People Our Pride Award, a Rotary Club fellowship and an award for 50 years as a pastor of the Church of Central African Presbyterian (CCAP). Conclusion: always help the needy as you never know where they will be tomorrow.”
After this powerful plea, the Reverend took us around the area. We were shown a perfect home that every orphaned child would ask for, with a perfect view of the mountain. We walked by the houses, the hostels, the classrooms, a guest house, the technical college, the library and the path to the main gate we were supposed to enter from. First, we were shown the nursery, which was the first building built and named after the donor that supported its construction. As we entered, we met happy children varying between the ages of two weeks to three years old. They were all cheering and calling the Reverend ‘Agogo!!’ which means ‘grandfather’. We saw a two-week old baby and a three-month old baby, who both arrived a day after their birth. As their nannies came to greet us, the Reverend introduced them to us and told us of the tremendous work they do, taking care of the children. As we moved on, we saw different buildings named after their sponsors. We got to the girls’ hostel and we went to the Technical College, which is still under construction. As we walked on to the small gate facing the hill, there was a garden where different crops were grown. When we continued to see the view, one gentleman came to the Reverend and told him about the arrival of the visitors he had been waiting for.
After the tour, Reverend Chipeta took us to the Guest House where we were offered refreshments. Immediately after the refreshments, the visitors from the Ministry of Education, who had also done a tour while awaiting the reverend, arrived to the Guest House. We exchanged greetings and when I looked at my watch, I realized it had been over 2 hours since we arrived.
As we left the Rev. Dr. Chipeta, who called himself a 88-year old young boy, we were all left inspired. If you are inspired as well after reading and you would like to support the Home of Hope, you can contact Rev. Chipeta via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or visit their website (www.homeofhopemalawi.org).
It was late afternoon on 3rd May 2016. Lilongwe was not as cold as it would be around this season. Being a Tuesday there wasn’t much work related pressure as most of the work was done on Monday. As usual, emails kept trickling into the inbox but this particular one caught my attention; “CONGRATULATION! YOU HAVE BEEN SELECTED TO PARTICIPATE IN THE YALI REGIONAL LEADERSHIP CENTER” was the title. Opening the email for more details, a deep content and proud smile that couldn’t go unnoticed was all over my face. The heading was self-explanatory, I finally got into YALI! I remembered having tried to get in the previous cohort but did not make it. However the motto “I will keep trying” helped me succeed.
The next day was colder, I envisaged South Africa being very cold this time around, but shoving the thought aside, I started imagining how fascinating this experience will be. I will finally meet 134 other young African Leaders from the SADC region. The Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) was launched by President of the United States Barack Obama to invest in grooming strong, results-oriented leaders through bringing them together to learn from one another and network into fruitful collaborations that will assist their societies out of poverty, which will then replicate to an Africa that is poverty free.
Days passed by so quickly, it was already Sunday May 14th, the departure date. A few hours later I was in South Africa. The YALI banner was positioned, a tall, white medium sized lady was standing next to it. “Welcome to YALI Southern Africa” she said as she smiled and continued with a roll call. It turned out everyone she was expecting was there. Situated in Midrand SA was a 4 star hotel called Premier. A medium sized dark lean guy was waiting at the door, “Welcome to Premier hotel” he said, while signaling to a room where everyone was expected to register. As envisioned I thought it was sure going to be a roller-coaster ride.
The orientation room was packed; it seemed that almost everyone had arrived. Orientation took almost 2 hours. I noticed some air of highly achieved leaders and also some scent of competition. Self-introductions were coupled with selling oneself, the positions they held, boards they sat in, impact they have made in the community, their political positions and all the success that one could adorn themselves with. It was evident from the courage and the composure in the speech that these people were sure leaders in their domains.
It was Monday already; class day. The day was coupled with speeches and introductions and motivational talks. The day ended with a welcome Cocktail party where all were decorated in their African attire. They beauty of Africa was manifested in the people and their appearance. It was a day to remember.
The week continued with crosscutting issue i.e. Gender, HIV & Aids, and Leadership. In this week I went away with this phrase “think big, start small and act now”. This phrase motivated me and I ended up collaborating with a fellow fundraiser on a joint proposal. I also learnt that, only when I understand where one is coming from and what they have gone through, I can fully understand why they act in the way they do. For instance, I have always thought Nelson Mandela was a great leader but I was shocked to learn that South Africans think otherwise. From the reasons they gave I agreed with them that to some extent the media has really created a brand that most of us outside South Africa have found flawless.
Going into the second week to fourth week we had to disband into our respective Track choices. I chose Civic leadership track along with 44 participants. I learnt a lot of things and through sharing of experiences I gained more of it. It felt like I had been to all countries in the SADC region. I got to know different techniques of communication and fundraising, which I knew in theory, but since the program encouraged practicing I got to practice in groups. In fact, assignments started the first day; we were expected to make a group presentation for the day after. Too much work too little time was the order of the day. The intensity of the program meant teams work together almost all the time which made it easy to know each other in no time. This style of working also made me realize that big groups can be hard to manage, there were dominant characters who usually suppressed the ideas of the introverts.
In no time fourth week was here and it was graduation. I came out inspired, challenged and ready to bring out the best of my game. I was awarded a Certificate in Civic Leadership. An association called Youth Development in SADC (YODESA) which is currently in its last phase of registration but currently operational in all countries. Representatives were selected from each country with an executive committee taking lead. All in all it was very sad to see the new friends I had just made go back to their respective homes as I was coming back to Malawi.
He switched gears and immediately accelerated the motorcycle into high speed. This became problematic as he failed to see the sharp bended and twisted road towards Nkhokwe maize mill. His motorcycle soon crushed him into the water channel and he immediately lost consciousness. The terrible sound of the crush attracted the villagers who flocked to the scene. Even though it occurred during the middle of the night, they improvised for a stretcher and took him to the nearest hospital.
James was the name of the driver who was in the motorcycle accident. He was on his way from the end of the year party of the Namitembo mission trade school in 2012. Despite being late and not invited to the party organized by Namitembo trade school, his popularity within the school led him to the high table. He was sitting with the chief priest of Namitembo Catholic parish and the coordinator of the school. He quickly took glasses of various wine and alcoholic beverages without a pause as a way of reaching the same level as his other colleagues. Beer kept flowing to the high table and the VIP at the table were drunk. James began mixing beer and shouted to friends that he would come up with a unique mix drink that would be sweeter and filled with even more flavor. Some waiters tried to caution him but he ridiculed them. He relocated himself to the corner where the beer fridges were, so that he would not wait to have his beer refilled. Totally drunk and confused he came out of the urinal room where he was smoking cannabis, and asked the security guard the whereabouts of his girlfriend ‘Alena’. The guard suspected she joined the company of anonymous guys in the blue Mercedes Benz classic that had just left the place. He got angry and promised to track, fight them and take back his queen. The guard and some of his friends tried to convince him not to leave the party and wait for the mission duty vehicle to deliver him home as he was extremely intoxicated, but he denounced all the advices, jumped on his Honda XL125 motorcycle and raced to the high way. Just three kilometers away from Namitembo he experienced illusions and lost control. After two days in coma at Nkansala hospital, he gained consciousness and realized that his body was bloused. He screamed ‘How, why and when did this happen?” He was hysterical.
The nurse calmed him and he started narrating what he recalled from his tragedy. He explained how he found himself at the party after being called by the driver of Namitembo Parish up to how he received the good gesture of the high priest in the party to join them in the high table. He managed to recall the conversation he made with the guard and friends, from that point it was as if there was blackout and the camera went completely off, so that he could not remember what happened to him, or who took him to the hospital. He put all the blames to himself by being an addict. He narrated his previous life to the nurse as if he was confessing to God. She comforted him that he would recover and gain back his disfigured appearance. In a comforting way, she told him that he had a crotchet ligament tear of the left knee, he would not die but he would have permanent unstable knee, since the ligaments do not re-grow. James had a flash back on how he joined the company of drunk work mates, really had the picture how Joni and Alex lost the job due to absenteeism. He saw how Blez was killed on the road accident after being run over by a heavy vehicle while drunk and Zondi was paralyzed after falling from 10 meters high on the railway bridge on way home from the bar.
James recovered after his accident and he is now an advocate for peace and behavior change, he used his own experience as an instrument in counseling the youth on drug and substance abuse addiction and sexual and reproductive health.
Malawi is one of the countries in Africa which experiences disasters every year. Floods and draughts are great enemies to the country with interrupted developmental goals every year. In 2015 only, 146 people went missing and other discovered dead after heavy floods hit many districts across the country. Parts of the country known to be more vulnerable to disasters are those in lower shire in the South and some districts in Northern parts of Malawi due to their geographical position. But in 2015, an unusual phenomenon happened; some other districts that were not known to be disaster prone areas were also hit by fatal floods.
Among those new declared areas of disasters were Blantyre –where I live- and other districts in the Eastern region of the country. Blantyre is a commercial city of Malawi. Most of its topography is mountainous which makes it strange to be affected by floods.
Last year it was not floods on flat land that killed people but rocks, trees and other objects carried down from hills by running water. It was houses built on hills, along river banks and on foot of hills brought down and swept away by speedy water and rocks. In response to that catastrophic time, both national and international organisations, governments, individual and other groups pumped in millions in form of disaster relief support to affected communities.
A big question remains: Instead of splashing relief items to the so called ‘disaster victims’, shouldn’t these assistance bodies deal with what is actually causing these human made disasters?
This is 2016 and Malawi has already experienced disasters with the very first rains in some parts of the country. On November 17th I had a chance to tour Bangwe community in Blantyre, where issues of deforestation is a major challenge despite some few nongovernmental organisations striving to promote reforestation in the area.
One of them is called Sustainable Rural Growth and Development Initiative (SRGDI). This organisation is working with members of Bangwe Community to address issues affecting the community as a result of deforestation. The community is comprised of two villages; Mwamadi and Wisiki. The villages are at the base of Bangwe Mountain that has lost its natural vegetation and beauty due to human activities. I think that the mountain is now retaliating by posing disasters on communities with floods, strong winds and waterborne diseases outbreaks.