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Empowering the underprivileged

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Six-year-old Ruth James now beams with a smile as she is once again able to walk.

The girl was unable to walk because of some paralysed body parts; obviously, making it a burden for her to go to school.

Now, after numerous visits to the Physiotherapy Department at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital, she is back to school, able to walk.

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Her parents are too poor to support her visits to the hospital in Blantyre from her Mulanje base, over 50 kilometres away.

Courtesy of Aiming Higher in Malawi Project, a Scottish-linked organisation that established the Female Education and Empowerment Centre (Feec) based at Mendulo Parish at Chonde in Mulanje, the plight of Ruth and many other equally disadvantaged children is fast becoming a forgotten story.

Feec is a non-profit making organisation established in 2008 and registered as a trust in 2014 to promote positive health choices via a holistic “health lifestyle” approach to improve overall health well-being, self-esteem and self-confidence among children with disabilities aged one-17, according to Aiming Higher (Malawi) Coordinator and Feec’s Project Manager Charles Fawcett.

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He says Feec is also aimed at improving academic performance among girls in primary and secondary schools in Mulanje and Thyolo.

“The project has smaller programmes within, one of which is the wheelchair programme; responsible for supporting children with disabilities by emphasising the most disadvantaged to create an environment for them to reach their full potential in life,” says Fawcett, a retired educationist from Coatbridge in Scotland, who has played a key role in setting up and supporting Mother Groups and Girls Go for Health initiatives.

And true to that, recently children with disabilities gathered at Feec’s Mendulo base, a specially convened camp that sought to have medics, physiotherapists and other experts, examine and treat the over 400 children.

“While we from time to time send the children for examination and treatment at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the Beit Cure in Blantyre, we realised that the magnitude of the problem is bigger – many such children need to be attended to; hence, we organised this special camp right here so that more children should be attended to,” says Fawcett, adding they have decided to have such camps periodically.

But during camp, the children were not only attended to medically. They were feted and fed.

Not only that!

Each of the children that came received a 50-kilogramme bag of maize.

According to Feec’s Mendulo Centre Supervisor, Patience Saikondi, 400 children received the bags of maize as a way to cushion the burden they faced in having food as a result of hunger that has affected the area.

And, she says, this is part of the organisation’s quest to support children with disabilities, who, like Ruth, had nowhere to turn to for assistance before this initiative came in the two districts.

Fawcett stresses that on a broader scale, the objective of the programme is to offer support and guidance for the disadvantaged, children with disabilities and vulnerable – girls inclusive.

“Girls in the two districts go for the health programme – responsible for encouraging them [girls] to remain in school and perform well. There is also an in-service teacher training programme which supports the training of teachers to teach science subjects such as mathematics, physical science, biology and English; realising that many girls face challenges in such subjects,” he says.

Then, to ensure the girls are properly guided, instilled with proper morals and given right direction, Fawcett says there is a “Mother Group component which supports, promotes and enhances the education of the girl child at grass-roots level”.

The story of Caroline Tchete just authenticates that. It is a testimony to how girls can be empowered to help out local communities and how local organisations could help groom role models for village girls.

“I was working in this area as a medical assistant but this project sponsored me to enhance my professional training and I have been trained as a full-fledged clinical officer. I am one of the numerous beneficiaries of the project and I am dedicated to its genuine and good cause,” she says, beaming with smiles as she alongside other medical and physiotherapy experts attends to the children during the camp.

Teaming up with her – in attending to the children – were some experts from Scotland, who from time to time, come to Mendulo to assist in the initiative on different fronts.

Of course, talk of the organisation’s impact and success in the two districts would not be complete without mentioning that initiative; the Scottish team has constructed houses for some of the needy.

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