BY VYALEMA KALULUMA-PHIRI
She wakes up at 5am, draws water, cleans the house and washes dishes. Then she baths her mother, siblings and gets ready for school. That has been her way of life every morning since the age of seven. She answers to the name Elita Masulani.
“I do this for the family because my mother is paralysed on both legs. She cannot walk properly. So I do the chores on her behalf,” she says.
Elita is a Standard Two pupil at Makhanga Full Primary School in Phalombe District and after classes, she does the same household chores up to as late as 8 pm.
She sometimes misses classes due to pressure of work at home.
“I am doing well in class and I was on position three last term. My dream is to become a teacher one day,” says the last born in the family of five.
Such has been Elita’s life for the past three years and she is getting used to it. Her elder sister, who is also the first born, left the family for other business in town.
This could be a desperate attempt to hunt for money to support the family which is virtually poor.
The family only finds solace in the house that the first born left when she went to town in the hunt for greener pasture.
Elita’s mother, Rose, gives an account of what happened to her house in 2015.
“It was in 2015 when my house was brought down by strong winds. I then moved into this house which belongs to my first born daughter who is in Blantyre running her small businesses. As you can see, I am ill and I cannot walk. So life here is becoming unbearable for all of us,” says the 45-year-old woman.
Rose was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 2008 and has been on Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs ever since.
Her legs are paralysed and walking is almost impossible. Her only means of mobility is crawling. At times, she would be lifted by anyone nearby who is able to.
“Since I was diagnosed with HIV and Aids, I was put on treatment. I had been going to Nambazo Health Center to collect my medication up until some three years ago when my legs got paralysed. I am now relying on people to collect the drugs for me. I wish there was special treatment for my sick legs so that I can walk again,” says Masulani, whose late husband divorced her after giving birth to Elita.
According to her, Elita had a sister who did not see the light of this world as a result of a still-birth.
“My husband divorced me after giving birth to Elita and I have been raising these five children on my own,” she says.
Apart from the five children, the family also a grandchild, Mary, to take care of.
She is a daughter to the first born daughter of the family.
“My first born is the one who often visits me although she is not doing well financially. My second born is a boy who left for Mozambique where he is doing piece work while my other children, including Elita, are all here with me. Food and clothes are a challenge and I ask for well-wishers to support us,” Rose says.
At one time, the Masulani family was once reported to Phalombe District’s Child
Protection Office for alleged child abuse as the community felt that Elita’s situation was unbecoming.
Afunika Makaika is a community volunteer in the area of Senior Group Village
Headman Chimbalanga, Traditional Authority Chiwalo in the district and says they wrote referral forms to the office so that something could be done to improve Elita’s life as she was facing abuse.
Makaika says members of a community-based homecare group were surprised to see Elita doing a lot of work all the time they visited her home.
“At that time, we thought she was being abused. But by and by, we noted that it was the predicament she was in that made her work like that. Child protection officers came to assess the situation and although they saw elements of child abuse, they could not intervene. She [Elita] was the only one who could work as her mother was ill and her siblings too were quite young,” Makaika says.
He adds that what they do now as a group is to simply counsel the family and encourage the mother to continue being a member.
“We believe it is through structures like support groups where she [Rose] can learn how to live positively in her current state. We noted that her ailing condition which has left her failing to walk worries her a lot. We are also concerned with her condition and we will do whatever we can to help her. Nambozo Health Centre, where she is supposed to be collecting her ARVs, is about seven kilometers from where she stays. But we
identified one of our members to help her with that task,” he says.
Rose is certainly not the only woman finding life difficult in the area. Maria Namathika is a 60 year-old grandmother who is nursing four children who are orphaned.
“I fail to support them because of poverty. This forces three of the children to go for piece works at the nearby lagoon after knocking off from school. There is a girl child who collects firewood and sells at the port. It is from their sweat that I buy food for the family. That is how we are surviving,” Namathika says.
Chairperson for Chimbalanga Village Development Committee, Willy Kanewa, says the cases of Elita and Namathika are just a tip of the iceberg.
He claims that there are a number of child-headed families and elderly looking after orphans in the area of Senior Group Village Headman Chimbalanga.
“Let me be frank here -the HIV/Aids pandemic is the root cause of all these problems in this area. We noted a bit late that the scourge was amongst us and by then, it had already killed many. So if you have see child-headed families, it is coming from that. The elderly people survived because they were not living reckless lives,” Kanewa says.
Senior Group Village Headman Chimbalanga concurs with Kanewa, saying the situation has increased levels of poverty in the area.
“We have a number of child-headed households and many other elderly people looking after orphans. Most families do not have basic needs like food and clothes among others,” says the traditional leader.
He then thanked Health Wise Organisation, which has since made a donation of assorted items to some of the poverty-stricken families.
“The donation has come at the right time when there is a huge demand for food items and clothes in the area. The donated items will go a long way in alleviating the suffering of our children. But I am asking for more assistance in order to reach out to many needy people in my area,” he says.
One of the Directors of Health Wise, Tamara Mzungu, says they made the donation after realising the situation most families were in.
Some of the donated items included exercise books, pens, clothes, blankets, maize, soap, milk, sugar and salt.
“After making an assessment of the situation in this area, we managed to mobilise these resources. There are many vulnerable people including children who are looking after themselves.
This year is even worse because they have not harvested enough in the fields due to the dry spell. Most of the people here are eating once a day,” Mzungu says.
She then called for more support and partnerships in order to make an impact on the people’s livelihoods.
“As a country, we need to support the vulnerable families. Perhaps what they need is a starter pack for them to stand on their own because it is not possible to support all the families all the time.
They [families] are just too many out there, so we need to sit down with the affected families and understand the type of support they require in order for them to keep going,” Mzungu says.
According to the 2015 HIV and AIDS estimates by the National Aids Commission, 910, 000 people are HIV positive in Malawi, and out of these, 170, 000 are children.
The findings also indicate that 610, 000 children are orphans due to the pandemic.
Malawi’s HIV prevalence rate is currently at 10 percent.
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