By Wezzie Gausi:
In Tumbuka, the word ‘temwani’ means love.
In Temwani Chilenga, 25, a primary school teacher in Area 25 in Lilongwe, one sees a personification of abundant love for the under-privileged children.
And Eliza Moffat attributes her improved situation to Chilenga.
She is one of the 245 underprivileged children which Chilenga has ‘mothered’ in her life.
A Standard Five learner at Chambu Primary School where Chilenga teaches, Eliza grew up without knowing her mother and father.
According to her, she was told that both her parents died when she was still young.
Her mother died when she was three years old.
Her father died when she was four years old.
She says she had been experiencing a tough life being raised by her grandmother who is of advanced years and depends on piecework to survive.
Her performance at school was very poor despite being a bright girl, she says.
The below-par show at school was due to lack of concentration in class as often she could go to school on an empty stomach, she says.
With the passage of time, she started absenting herself from school frequently.
“We had no regular means of findings meals; there was no one to adequately take care of me and the other children at home. So, I ventured into life on the street, begging and doing other things to survive. It was then my responsibility to bring food on the table for a family of five,” Eliza says.
She says sometimes she could go to school but would often be chased away because she was unable to pay school funds and meet expenses needed at school.
That is how she met Chilenga, one of the exceptional teachers at the school.
A fourth born in the family of six, Chilenga grew up in Blantyre and did her primary education at Kachanga Primary School in Chileka.
Later, she went to Our Lady of Wisdom Secondary School, then Maranatha Academy, before becoming a primary school teacher.
She told The Sunday Times that after seeing many children dropping out of school for different reasons, she thought of doing something to help the needy students.
She started with 10 children — buying them school uniforms and paying for all their necessities from her salary.
Her charity grew.
Currently, she is looking after 245 orphans and less-privileged children.
They depend on her for almost anything.
“I want them [vulnerable children] to have a bright future and enjoy their childhood just like other children.
“We want to have a community where people are able to take care of one another despite having a little in the pocket. What I am doing is not an issue of money but passion to see an educated generation with a bright future in Malawi,” Chilenga said.
Using funds she mobilised through social media, Chilenga managed to construct a hostel for girls which accommodates 75 children.
There are also rooms where 25 boys lodge.
The hostels are at the school.
But there are many more orphans she is also supporting by feeding and providing other necessities for them.
“I am doing this so that I help to make a difference in a world full of orphans.
“We have our own tailors that make uniforms for the children and volunteer matrons from the surrounding community that come to cook and look after these children,” she added.
But she admitted this is hard work.
She said the children sometimes go a day or two without food when her salary has finished.
Mostly, they depend on well-wishers to give them donations to support the children when she has dried up financially.
“It pains me to see these children having nothing to eat. Of course, people from this area help with maize during harvesting period but the food doesn’t run for a year. These children eat meat or rice during Christmas only, which is something that also pains me,” Chilenga said.
Despite the challenges, her light is shining in the larger Commonwealth cosmos.
On Tuesday, Queen Elizabeth II, as Head of the Commonwealth, recognised Chilenga as the 217th Commonwealth Point of Light.
The award is in honour of her exceptional voluntary service in improving access to education for vulnerable children in Malawi.
Presenting the award, British High Commissioner to Malawi David Beer said voluntary service is a vital part of the Commonwealth agenda – which is why the Queen has chosen to recognise outstanding volunteers across the Commonwealth in a special way.
Chilenga becomes the second Malawian in the past four years to be awarded the Commonwealth Point of Light.
In 2018, Corled Nkosi got the award for his hydro-electric power ingenuity in his village in Nkhata Bay.
This is the second award for Chilenga this year as she was also honoured with Woman of Substance Humanitarian Award organised by Pan African Learning and Growth Network.
Ministry of Gender spokesperson Fredrick Simwaka said the ministry commends the good work that the young woman is doing.
“This country has many children that are orphans. To have people like her, taking care of such children is what we need.
“As government is devising means on how best to help her, let other well-wishers expand the work that she has started,” Simwaka said.