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Triumph from adversity

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By nature, some individuals shrink and succumb to continued sufferings flying their way. But some draw inspiration from them and get motivation to break the barriers and conquer new grounds.

The story of one woman offers a compelling case for the latter view.

At 35 years, Hawa Williams Makwinja from Nanjiri in Lilongwe has endured misfortunes that would even break a heart of steel. But every time she fell, she rose, dusted her pains and moved on.

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The agonies of life began the moment she was conceived.

“I never saw my mother. I am told she died before I was even out of her womb. By the time doctors had finished operating on her, she was already dead,” Makwinja says.

Growing up with a half-sister was not easy for her and the daily struggles of life forced her into early marriage at the age of 14 years in 1997.

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But the marriage never offered any pleasure or respite. Apart from shouldering the burden of bearing five children, Makwinja was constantly subjected to gender-related violence. In 2011, she regained freedom after divorcing her husband in court and shared the spoils of their acrimonious marriage.

“We had two houses, one in Lilongwe and the other in Nkhata Bay. I got the one in Nkhata Bay and went there to live with the children. I also got some property,” Makwinja recalls.

Raising five children alone, without any reliable source of income, was difficult. Makwinja decided to reorganise herself and venture into a small business to provide for the children.

Conventional wisdom has it that lightning never strikes the same place twice, but the misfortunes that littered Banda’s life proved otherwise.

“When I was on a business trip to Tanzania, relations of my ex-husband came to my house and found my 13-year-old daughter all by herself. They physically assaulted her and left her unconscious.

“On top of that, they took everything from the house, plus house keys, and locked my children outside. They later sold the house, saying it belonged to their brother and we were left homeless,” she says.

Makwinja decided to go back to her home, Nyundo Village. But another harsh reality descended on her and the children when the traditional leader told them they were not welcome in the village.

“The chief said the children should go to their father’s home since the marriage with my ex-husband followed the patrilineal system,” Makwinja says.

The family was forced to seek refuge at Kachitsa Primary School within the village where they were offered a classroom to sleep in for one night.

“Sadly, the very same night a snake bit my youngest child as the room we slept in had no doors,” Makwinja narrates her ordeal.

The family wandered on and ended up at a social rehabilitation centre in Lilongwe that became their shelter for the next eight months.

All these tribulations came thick and fast while Makwinja had no financial resources to support her family.

Some people advised her to approach the Human Rights Resource Centre (HRCC) for help, which she did. The centre assisted her with K420,000 as capital investment for a small business she wanted to venture into.

This marked the birth of a business of cosmetics and Zitenje cloth in Kasemba, Area 36, where it thrived until another misfortune struck.

“The man I employed as shopkeeper stole everything from my shop,” Makwinja says.

It was a big setback because she had to start all over again and she looked no further than HRRC again.

She was told to get a police report to facilitate the disbursement of another loan to resuscitate her business. Makwinja was given K120, 000 and with her never-say-die spirit, she picked up the pieces of her troubled life again and today her story is different.

New dawn

Makwinja has outgrown her misfortunes, the business is doing well. Some of the proceeds are now channelled to helping less privileged children from the area.

“We give them food and clothes,” she says.

Fifteen other women have joined her and the cause has given birth to an organisation called Ndife Amodzi Children Care (Nacc).

Nacc was officially launched on May 31 this year and is looking after 103 children. Apart from providing care to vulnerable children, the organisation is also giving out small business loans to women struggling financially.

“It hurts me to see fellow women go through what I experienced. So, I have taken it upon myself to help out those in need,” she says.

Makwinja adds that she has now purchased a piece of land worth K1.6 million and plans to build an office and hostels for homeless children.

Source of inspiration

HRRC Executive Director, Emma Kaliya, says her organisation is proud to be associated with Makwinja’s inspirational story to success.

“Women should pick a leaf out of her story. No problem is permanent. They should have self-belief to change their destiny and inspire others,” says Kaliya, who was available when Makwinja launched Nacc.

“We are happy that the little investment in her is making a huge difference in lives of many people,” she says adding that HRCC, through Norwegian Church Aid, has supported a number of women but Makwinja has stood out as the best.

Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Minister, Jean Kalilani, points out that individuals too have the capacity to make a difference instead of looking up to the government all the time.

“Here is a woman who has gone through so many problems in her life. But she has persevered, worked hard for herself and now she is making a difference in people’s lives,” Kalilani says.

Chairperson of Women Caucus in Parliament, Jessie Kabwila, is one of the people Makwinja approached for help during difficult times. The legislator is also overwhelmed by the strides the Area 36 resident has made.

“Resilience really pays and Makwinja has shown that. This is the drive every Malawian woman should have to effect change in our homes and society,” Kabwila says.

Where else can one look for inspiration than this gripping journey of life that has spawned success out of adversity?

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