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How one little man changed his community

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He is not rich. He is a mere civil servant serving in Malawi Police Service as a Sergeant.

But at 27, the young man carries with him an inspiring story that transformed his community.

At the age of 18, luck came knocking at his door. He grabbed it and raised millions of kwacha which he did not put in his pocket. He used the funds to rehabilitate a dilapidated primary school he had gone to as a boy.

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Sapulain Chitonde is a young man whose story will be told for generations among the pupils, teachers, parents and the entire community around Chalizya Primary School in Kasungu.

But the man humbly describes his multimillion kwacha contribution to the community he grew in as a mere responsibility he had to undertake given the opportunity.

“I believe in the saying that it takes the whole village to raise up a man,” says Chitonde. “It then follows that man should in turn give back something special that will benefit the community that raised him up.

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“It is with this philosophy that I put my personal interests and that of my family aside and looked at the bigger picture that concerned the entire community.”

Chitonde hails from Chimbiya Village, Senior Group Village Headman Mnyanja in Sub- Traditional Authority Chitanthamapiri in Kasungu.

As a boy he went to Chalizya Primary School, one of the oldest schools in Kasungu with a history that dates back to the late 60s.

The school had long been forgotten by the authorities and the school blocks had been in pathetic state for decades.

The first teacher deployed to the school in 1968 to head the staff was Grevazio Chitonde, an uncle to Sapulain Chitonde). The former teacher recalls that the school blocks were grass-thatched and made of mud and poles at that time.

Then in 1978 during the Youth Week period, the community members led by the then Malawi Young Pioneers (MYP) constructed a four class-room school block with corrugated iron roofing and cemented floor.

But in 1988 stormy rains blew the roof away and the iron sheets were damaged beyond reuse, according to Grevazio Chitonde who was by then transferred to another school.

The community managed to source poles and roofed the block with grass. That had been the standard of Chalizya Primary School’s infrastructure when Sapulain went through its corridors as a boy seeking intellectual awakening.

“It was a pathetic school to learn at especially during the rainy season,” says Sapulain Chitonde.

“The classrooms were leaking everywhere and the walls began to develop cracks. Yet nobody other than the community with limited resources paid any attention.”

Sapulain recalls that at some point, the European Union managed to construct a two-classroom block which still stands today but it is in a very bad state.

It was after he had gone to All Saints Mtunthama Secondary School that Sapulain put himself on the spotlight through his artistic talent as a dramatist.

The young man’s golden chance came in 2007 when a group of 14 students from the United Kingdom visited All Saints Mtunthama Secondary School with a donation of some computers.

Chitonde was asked to entertain the visitors with drama and he organised one.

Andrew Hubbard, team leader and Deputy Head Teacher of the visiting school was impressed with Chitonde’s performance and, as Chitonde puts it, the visitor was also touched by the young man’s visible poverty.

Hubbard announced that he was taking Chitonde to the UK for further support of his studies.

“I could not believe it. I was so touched that I wept with excitement,” explains Chitonde.

“For the first time in my life I flew to the UK in 2007 where I stayed in the house of Mr. Hubbard.

“Other families showed interest of helping me and later, I joined the family of Dr. Peter Lee and Dr. Sally Ewings.”

It was at this house where Chitonde was asked to say what he would like the good Samaritans to do for him, his family and his community back home apart from tertiary education support they were giving him.

Chitonde thought of Chimbiya community first before he thought of himself and his family.

He asked his new UK parents to support his community by rehabilitating Chalizya Primary School that had long been forgotten by the authorities.

What followed Chitonde’s request was beyond what he and Chimbiya Village in Kasungu expected.

In 2008 Hubbard and Ben Lee, Chitonde’s British brother, visited Chimbiya Village and Chalizya Primary School to appreciate the situation and when the two returned to the UK, a fundraising campaign commenced.

“My British family and the St. Peter’s High School of England where I was studying jointly started raising funds and we managed to raise over K10 million,” says Chitonde, smiling proudly.

“A group of 40 volunteers, among them members of the British Army, private engineers, architects, brick layers and many more, flew in and camped at Chimbiya Village to work on the renovations of Chalizya Primary School.”

Today, two school blocks expertly roofed with IBR iron sheets now stand at Chalizya School courtesy of Chitonde and his newly found UK family.

In 2015 the same group of volunteers raised money amounting to over K5 million and came back to Chalizya for plastering, painting and drawings in the class rooms.

The Chalizya School project is on-going as there is need for extension of one block to have two more classes.

Renovation of Chalizya Primary School was not all that the “friends of UK” had in store for Chimbiya Village: the group has been offering free medical support, free mosquito nets to over 250 families, fixing the only existing borehole in the village and maintaining teachers’ houses among other things.

Chimbiya Village like many villages in Kasungu East is severely hit by a dry spell and the UK friends of Chimbiya Village are currently mobilising funds to support the affected families.

Meanwhile, the UK friends plan to construct a multi-million kwacha water reservoir to help the village harvest water and use for irrigation.

Today, Chimbiya Village and surrounding areas are a proud lot to have brought up Chitonde.

But happier are 1,000 children at Chalizya Primary School, teachers and the parents for having their 48-year-old school renovated –at last.

And happiest perhaps is Chitonde, who is now married, has one child and serves as spokesperson for Kamuzu International Airport Police.

“I’m very grateful to God for giving me such a wonderful family in the UK.

“My friendship with the Lee family and the St. Peter’s High School of England is so life changing that I prefer to be called Sapulain Chitonde Lee as way of appreciation,” he says.

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