The Least of These

**You may double-click on any photo to enlarge

34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:34-40 NRSV

Every time I read this scripture or hear someone else read it, I am moved, but not with same emotions every time.  Sometimes, I experience guilt whereby I recognize I do not see the face of Jesus in all those whom I meet.  Other times, I have walked past or looked through people who have needed food, encouragement or prayer, but I did not give them my time or concern.  Perhaps I have judged someone who has needed my acceptance and love.  Most often, I am humbled when I witness God’s Spirit at work in people serving one another with love. I am filled with hope because I feel the Lord is encouraging me to live out my life this way.  It is this example of hope and love that I wish to share with you in this article.

Mike and I have written other articles about Tidzalerana Club for people living with disabilities including the following ones: (http://pccweb.ca/mikeanddebbieburns/2011/09/23/kairos%E2%80%94god%E2%80%99s-time/, http://pccweb.ca/mikeanddebbieburns/2011/10/28/tidzalerana-club-and-shelter/, http://pccweb.ca/mikeanddebbieburns/2011/12/20/tidzalerana-club-christmas-party-tuesday-december-6-2011/).  One of these articles includes some of the verses from the Matthew 25scripture above.

Since January 2010, Presbyterian World Service and Development (PWS&D) has been providing funds to Tidzalerana Club, through Blantyre Synod Health and Development Commission (BSHDC).  These funds assist with various expenses including transportation to medical appointments, necessary equipment and a weekly healthy snack.  Most of our writing has focused on the work or activities that occur with or for the Tidzalerana Club members and/or caregivers.  I now wish to share with you service that Tidzalerana Club Members are providing for others.

As a result of their disability, most of Tidzalerana Club’s adult members have been unable to earn their own income.  PWS&D’s funds are also used to provide training and materials for income generating activities (IGA). They are able to learn skills and are given a few materials to enable them to start earning a small income, which increases their self-esteem and their family’s resources.    Each week, some women are given yarn to knit items for sale and/or donation.  One way that the knitters at Tidzalerana Club serve God and their community is to knit warm sweaters for infants.  In Malawi’s cold season, which is generally mid-June to mid-August, nighttime lows can be 6 to 8 degrees Celsius.  For those of you who have windows, insulation, internal heating and warm flooring, this does not seem very cold.  Many Malawians, however, have none of these luxuries, so these temperatures can be deadly cold, especially for newborn babies and other vulnerable people.  These sweaters protect the infants from the cold and in many cases keep them alive.

Infant in Special Care Ward With Donated Sweater

Linda Inglis, a former missionary to Malawi, through the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC), devoted her heart and hands to Tidzalerana Club since its inception in 1980.  Every July, Linda took a number of these Tidzalerana Club knitters to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital (QECH), Malawi’s largest government hospital in Blantyre.  They spend a few hours visiting newborns and their mothers/guardians and giving them a few warm baby sweaters.  July 2012 was the first time I had the privilege of taking on this role.  The sense of joy that both the providers and recipients expressed was beautiful to watch.  Women, who had felt weighed down over the years by their disabilities and the stigma they often face, have been empowered to use their God-given gifts to provide for the needs of others.  Their role normally  as a service recipient, being among “the least of these”, was transformed into a role of being a service provider, giving themselves and their resources to “the least of these” of God’s children.

Tidzalerana Club Knitters at Hospital With Sweaters

In my previous article, http://pccweb.ca/mikeanddebbieburns/2012/08/06/debbies-position-at-bshdc-part-6-womens-self-help-groups/ I wrote about BSHDC’s Self-Help Groups (SHGs).  I am also excited to note that through BSHDC, 3 SHGs have also been formed among Tidzalerana Club’s female members and caregivers.  A number of loans have already been issued, which is greatly improving the financial and social conditions for the women involved.

Tidzalerana Club Knitter Donating Sweaters

I give thanks to God for Linda Inglis and all other people who have supported Tidzalerana Club over the years through prayers, time and money.  I am grateful to PWS&D who has recognized the great work and changed lives through Tidzalerana Club and have stepped forward to provide funds for it.  I am humbled by the work, courage, faith and love of its members, caregivers and volunteers.

Tidzalerana Club Volunteer Donating A Sweater to an Infant

If you wish to learn more about PWS&D, its programs, the countries they work in and its staffing, you may go to http://presbyterian.ca/pwsd/about/.  If you wish to learn how to make a donation to PWS&D, please follow the following link http://presbyterian.ca/pwsd/donate/.   To find out more about PWS&D’s Gifts of Change Program “Empower People With Disabilities” and how to support it, go to http://presbyterian.ca/pwsd/empower-people-with-disabilities/.

Debbie’s Position at BSHDC Part 6: Women’s Self Help Groups

The focus of this blog post will be the Self Help Group (SHG) Concept/Approach, which is a program under the Blantyre Synod Health and Development Commission’s (BSHDC’s) Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children (OVC) program area.  Please be advised that it is an overview of the approach and the way in which it is carried out at BSHDC, but in no way do I assume to be covering all that is involved.  For more on the Self Help Group Concept/Approach, you may go to:  http://www.self-help-approach.com/Index.aspx by Kindernothilfe (KNH) in Germany.

Self Help Groups (SHGs) have shown to be very successful in promoting the social and financial empowerment of women in many countries.  Its beneficiaries are the poorest women in a community who are able to come together as a homogeneous group to improve their economic situation, while also providing mutual support and solutions to their problems. For an article on the impact of SHGs in India, you may go to UNICEF’s site: http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/india_65352.html.

There is a clear procedure to follow with a series of steps before a SHG is formed in a community.  Some of these steps include: 1) Identifying a target community, 2) Sensitizing the local leadership and raising community awareness on the SHG Concept, 3) Visiting a number of households in the community to build rapport and determine causes of poverty in that community, 4) Doing an appraisal of the community to determine existing families, current community structures, potential SHG beneficiaries, etc., 5) Group formulation process (15-20 members in each group) 6) Training of various people at many different levels such as BSHDC staff, SHG Community Facilitators who will train SHG members, etc. on SHG concept, business management, record keeping, etc.

Having recognized how effective the SHG approach has been for women and in turn, their families and communities, BSHDC, through its OVC program, followed the steps needed and established its first SHG, named Chitsanzo, in Mbayani Township in Blantyre on June 2, 2010.  Since that time, BSHDC has been working at integrating the SHG approach across all of its program areas.  To date, over 50 SHGs have been formed in a number of townships in Blantyre.  At BSHDC, there is a Project Officer of the OVC Program whose main responsibility is to coordinate and oversee all the SHGs.

Women at Titukulane SHG in Bangwe

SHGs can have between 15 and 20 members.  Once a SHG is formed, it is closed to new members.  All decisions within each SHG are made by the members of the SHG, not by outside people.  There are two book writers for each SHG that keep track of all of the records which include a minute book of proceedings, an individual passbook for each SHG member and a main record book with all records of savings, loans issued, repayments and penalties.  There is a moderator for each week’s meeting.  The moderator position rotates every week.

Record Books at Titukulane SHG in Bangwe

Self Help Groups (SHGs) follow a general format.  First, they make sure they have quorum of 50% of group members.  Once quorum is established, the women open with prayer.  Then they take attendance to confirm who is present.  Attendance is recorded in their individual passbook and the main record book.  Following the taking of attendance, there is time for teaching and information sharing.  Some topics covered include: 1) Health issues such as: a) Encouraging women to do self breast exams and go for check-ups with their doctor. b) Different types of cancer, risk factors and symptoms.  c) How to prevent mosquitos from getting into your home. 2) Food and Nutrition such as: a) Various types of food and their health benefits, b) Healthy and affordable recipes; and 3) Business ideas, training and income generating activities.

Record Keeping at Titandizane SHG in Bangwe

The remainder of the meeting is dedicated to finances.  There are usually three separate plates and the amounts for each plate are decided by the group. The plates are 1) The Savings Plate, 2) The Welfare Plate (for emergencies such as illness/funerals), and 3) the Loan Recovery/Repayment Plate.  Some groups use this third plate for penalty fees for members who are not repaying their loans on a timely basis, whereas other SHGs have a separate fourth plate for penalties.  Each member pays her weekly savings, welfare amounts, loan repayment and any applicable penalty fees.  Once the amounts are entered in the two record books, every member signs her individual passbook and the main book.  Once all of the money has been counted, the totals are announced and members can request a loan.  SHG members decide which loans are granted, then they distribute them.  The goal is to ensure that the majority of the money is distributed each week.  If there is a lot of money left over, it indicates that the group is unable to issue new loans since members are not repaying their loans on time.

Counting Money at Titandizane SHG in Bangwe

When I visited Chitsanzo SHG in Mbayani, I asked the women if they had any questions for me.  They immediately said “Yes, could we share some of our testimonies of the difference the Self-Help Group has made for us?”  Well, I of course was more than pleased to hear their stories.  I wish to share testimonies from two different members of the SHG. The first woman said “I have benefited a lot from this Self-Help Group…I was able to mould bricks, build a house and rent it out for income”.  The second woman said “I am a widow, my husband died when our son was in Standard [Grade] 8, now he is in Form 3 [3rd Year of Secondary School]…Thanks to the SHG, I have been able to pay for his school fees, and provide for my family’s basic needs, sugar, etc.”  Each and every time I visit an SHG, I am overwhelmed by the hope and the success I see.  They take women from hopelessness to empowerment…they are truly a gift from God.

As the Self Help Groups (SHGs) do not need or receive direct funding, PWS&D does not provide specific funds to BSHDC’s SHGs.  However, as PWS&D provides funding for many of BSHDC’s programs, and they are working at integrating SHGs across their programs, PWS&D is indirectly supporting SHGs.  For information on work that Presbyterian World Service and Development (PWS&D) in Canada is doing to assist people in different parts of the world, including Malawi, with small business, savings and loans, please go to http://presbyterian.ca/pwsd/programs/smallbusiness/.   To learn how to donate to PWS&D in general or to specific programs, go to http://presbyterian.ca/pwsd/donate/.

28Do you not know?  Have you not heard?  The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.  He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.  29He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  30Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 31but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. 

Isaiah 40:28-31 (NIV)

Job at BSHDC Part 5 Education Support and Vocational Skills Support

**Please double click on photo to enlarge.

As with most of my recent blog posts, this entry will be on the Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children (OVC) Program Area of the Blantyre Synod Health and Development Commission (BSHDC).  My position of Technical Assistant is under the OVC Program.

The focus of this article will be Education Support and Vocational Skills Support.  These two forms of support are currently provided to beneficiaries in 7 Townships of Blantyre (Bangwe, Chatha, Chilobwe, Machinjiri, Mbayani, Nkolokoti and Zingwangwa). The 18 impact areas or Centre locations that receive this support are the same as the Community Based Child Care Centres (CBCCs) and Children’s Corners (CCs): Alinafe, Chichi, Chifundo 1, Chifundo 2, Chifundo 3, Chikondi, Chimwemwe, Chinupule, Chiyanjano, Kachere, Mphatso, Namagomo, Nanyoli, Tadala, Timvane, Tithandizane, Tiyanjane and Tiyese.

Eligibility to receive education support or vocational support is similar to eligibility for other OVC programs: 1) Child Headed Households; 2) Grandparent Headed Households; 3) Single Sick Parent Headed Households and 4) Poor Households living in material poverty.

Education Support is available to OVC who are attending Secondary School.  In Malawi, families are required to pay school tuition fees to attend Secondary School, whether the school is publicly or privately funded.  Secondary School is Forms 1 to 4 (which is the equivalent of Grades 9 to 12 in some countries).  Students are required to write a national examination after Form 2, called the Malawi Junior Certificate Examination (JCE).  Similarly, after completing Form 4, they write another very competitive national examination called the Malawi School Certificate of Education Examination (MSCE).  The grading for this exam is very tough and the grade a student receives is used when being considered for further training and employment. Families must pay examination fees for these 2 exams in order for the student to be able to write them.  All students attending secondary school education must where wear a school uniform.  Education Support through BSHDC’s OVC program pays for these school tuition fees, examination fees and school uniforms.

Educational Support Beneficiary at Timvane Centre

Vocational Skills Support is provided to vulnerable out of school youth ages 14 years and older.  Some recipients receive community based with local artisans, while others receive institution based training.  Vocational skills provided include: tailoring, knitting, sheet metal work, carpentry, welding, hair dressing, electrical installation, painting and decorating, auto mechanics and plumbing.  Some of those receiving this support get jobs in the community, while others are able to start up their own businesses.

Vocational Skills Support Beneficiaries at Chikondi Centre

Some positive outcomes of Education Support and Vocational Skills Support are: 1) A reduction in the drop-out rate of OVC caused by lack of financial resources and/or leaving school to provide child care to younger siblings. 2) OVC finding employment due to their school and/or vocational skills achievements, which allows them to earn an income to support themselves and their families. 3) Improved livings standards for OVC and their families for the poorest households since a number of children are learning business management and vocation skills. 4) Developing a well-informed and understanding community that is able to connect with organizations and government to ensure social justice is achieved and the rights of children are protected.

Vocational Skills Support Beneficiary at Chimwemwe Centre

The two major funders of Education Support and Vocational Skills Support are: Presbyterian World Service and Development (PWS&D) in Canada and Kindernothilfe (KNH) in the Netherlands.  To find out more about PWS&D, go to http://presbyterian.ca/pwsd/.  If you want to learn more about how they support education and skills training in Malawi and other parts of the world, click on “What We Do”, then “Education”.  If you would like to make a donation to PWS&D, you may go to: http://presbyterian.ca/pwsd/donate/.  To learn about KNH or to make a donation, you may go to their website: http://en.kindernothilfe.org/.

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-8 NIV)

BSHDC’s Second Quarterly Newsletter

I have written a number of blog articles highlighting some elements of BSHDC’s programs, especially those within the Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children (OVC) Program Area and will continue to provide more articles in the coming weeks.

This is a short blog post to introduce the Blantyre Synod Health and Development (BSHDC), 2nd Quarterly Newsletter that has just been circulated.  This newsletter provides articles from a number of people on some of BSHDC’s other programs and includes some personal stories.  Please click on the link below to open the newsletter.

BSHDC April-June 2012 Newsletter

I wish to make special note of an article written by Colin Carmichael, the former Associate Secretary, Communications of the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC).  He shares his and other participants’ experiences during a PCC Mission trip to Malawi in April 2012, which included many visits to BSHDC’s programs.  It was a real blessing to spend time with this group of 11 people and we are moved by their words.  They have been raising awareness and funds for Presbyterian World Service and Development (PWS&D) through their PCC congregations back in Canada.

Additionally, I contributed an article highlighting some of the work of Tidzalerana Club for people living with disabilities that receives funding through PWS&D.  With permission from her, I have shared photos and a personal story of hope and celebration of a female member of the Club, Eliza.  Since I submitted the article a couple of weeks ago, her life has continued to improve and she gives thanks to God and Tidzalerana Club for the blessings she has received and the difference this support club has made in her life.

I hope you will enjoy reading this newsletter and seeing some photos of work taking place here at BSHDC.

All Lands Summoned to Praise God. A Psalm of thanksgiving. 1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. 2 Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. 3 Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. 5 For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures for ever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Psalm 100 (NRSV)

Stories of Mission 2012

This a short blog to highlight an excellent document prepared by the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC):  Stories of Mission 2012.

The PCC’s description states:

“Stories of Mission is a compilation of stories and reports from people participating in the mission and ministries supported by The Presbyterian Church in Canada. Looking for a story for your sermon? Want to learn more about our mission staff? Then look no further! This resource also includes 3 studies that can be used in Bible study groups, WMS meetings, youth groups or worship services.

One complimentary copy will be sent to all congregations and WMS groups. Extra copies can be purchased from the Bookroom for $1.00 each. Or download the pdf for free here” at http://www.presbyterian.ca/webfm_send/7077.

Please take a look at the stories and photos of the people and work being supported through Presbyterians Sharing (PS), Presbyterian World Service and Development (PWS&D), Women’s Missionary Society (WMS) and Atlantic Mission Society (AMS) in Canada and around the world.

While I encourage you to explore the whole document, I wish to make reference to a few items.  In the International Ministries (IM) section, there are stories from Malawi, including Glenn and Linda Inglis, who recently retired after serving in Malawi for over 15 years, Todd Statham and Annika Voeltz who are currently serving in Malawi with their two children and Mike and me who are also here in Malawi.  I was also delighted to see a photo of Mike’s mother with some children at Tidzalerana Club (supported through PWS&D) on page 6 and a photo of some of St. James CCAP’s youth dancing during a visit to our home on page 10.

We thank you for all of the support we continue to get from people near and far.  It makes a difference.  Please continue to pray for all those involved with mission through the PCC.

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures for ever.  Psalm 118:29

Debbie’s Job at BSHDC Part #4 – Children’s Corners

**Please click on photos to enlarge.

As with my most recent blog posts, this blog will focus on the Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children (OVC) Program Area of the Blantyre Synod Health and Development Commission (BSHDC). As Technical Assistant the OVC Program is where I am most involved. In this article, I will be highlighting Children’s Corners (CCs). As with Community Based Child Care Centres (CBCCs), in the previous blog, there are 18 CCs in 7 townships of Blantyre Area, 10 CCs in 2 Areas in Zomba District, 4 CCs in Bilira Area in Ntcheu District and 1 CC in Mwanza District.

First of all, I wish to emphasize that I am providing an overview of CCs, not a comprehensive report encompassing all there is to know about them. Furthermore, Children’s Corners, sometimes referred to as “Kids Clubs”, are not unique to BSHDC. Various organizations, including United Nations International Children’s Education Fund (UNICEF), the Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI) and Child Rights International Network (CRIN) give guidelines, tools and activities for CCs. If you wish to have more information, go to: http://www.unicef.org/malawi/protection_3965.html, http://www.repssi.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=78%3Afacilitating-care-and-support-through-kids-clubs-a-training-guide-for-kids-club-leaders&catid=37%3Afamily-community-support&Itemid=1, http://www.crin.org/docs/PSS_SourceBook_FINAL.pdf.  As with any program, while CCs have overall guidelines, the needs of the children and youth and the communities they are involved with, need to be kept in mind when facilitating them.

Youth Acting Out Drama Regarding Orphans at Nanyole CC

While Community Based Child Care Centres (CBCCs) are for children ages 2 to 5 years, CCs are for children ages 6 to 18 years. As with other OVC Program activities, CCs target the following beneficiaries: 1. Child Headed Households, 2. Grandparent Headed Households, 3. Single Sick Parent Headed Households and 4. Poor Families Affected By Material Poverty. Other eligibility criteria includes: low food production, low income and little or no assets. Some of BSHDC’s Centres have a few dozen children and youth registered for their CC, while other Centres have more than 150 members. While CBCCs are held at the Centres on weekday mornings, CCs are held weekday afternoons, or on Saturday. Most of them meet for a few hours, once a week, but a few CCs meet 2 or 3 days a week or combine some CC elements with other youth activities at the Centre.

Children at Tiyese CC

As mentioned in other blog posts, OVC staff and volunteers receive training in Psycho-Social Support (PSS). Those volunteers responsible for assisting with the CCs are also provided with specific training regarding the CC Concept and how to facilitate CC activities. This training ensures that staff and volunteers can provide necessary support and encouragement of OVC’s holistic development. Sometimes there is turnover of volunteers, due to family needs, therefore the investment in training gets lost and there are not enough resources to train the new volunteers.

Video of Children and Leaders Getting Exercise at Chikondi CC

Community Members, BSHDC Staff & Visitors at Timvane CC

In Malawi, many children and youth face difficult situations and have many responsibilities in their lives. Children’s Corners strive to address a number of needs and challenges these children and youth face. These include: 1. Providing an opportunity for children to play and have fun, which helps distract from and/or lessen some of the stress in their lives; 2. Building resilience and life skills, which allows them to acquire coping skills, know where they can turn for help and how to support one another. This is necessary for any children and youth, but especially OVC. 3. Fostering social integration: OVC are often marginalized and CCs give them a chance to socialize, feel a sense of belonging and develop compassion, acceptance and encouragement in their different situations and abilities; 4. Providing a safe environment to express themselves. They can open up about their experiences and have a chance for peer support and empowerment; and 5. Encourage youth leadership. Most leaders at CCs are youth themselves, so through CC activities, they are able to learn more about themselves and others in different circumstances and feel empowered to try new tasks and roles in a safe place.

Youth Dancing at Tiyese CC

Youth Performing an Educational Drama at Chikondi CC

There are a number of additional benefits of CCs. While there are laws and conventions on human rights and specifically child rights, such as: The Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/, The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm, and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC) http://www.acerwc.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/ACRWC-EN.pdf, often children and youth are not aware of these rights and the fact they are not being met.  Children’s Corners give them a place to learn what their rights are and work together and with their community to ensure those rights are met.  Also, CCs allow for mobilization of resources for OVC.  Adults, youth and children can identify OVC, then work together to determine their needs, who is responsible for addressing those needs and supporting one another to meet them. Another benefit is that CC members and leaders can create a continuing circle of care, whereby existing informal and formal groups get to know one another, determine what part each group plays, then follow up and build on actions that have already been taken.  Families, schools, churches, community leaders, children and youth all participate and feel included.

Child Telling a Story at Timvane CC

Youth Demonstrating Team Work & Coordination at Tiyese CC

As mentioned in my blog post, BSHDC Part 2, Community, there are a number of committees at each Centre.  Each Centre has a Children’s Corner Committee and its members are responsible for overseeing the CCs and its activities.  There are a variety of activities that take place to encourage and support the Psycho-Social Well-Being and holistic development of the children and youth.  These include: creating and performing educational dramas on various topics, singing, dancing and playing traditional instruments, writing and reading poems and stories, taking part in bible studies, being creative and expressive through forms of art and crafts, and playing sports and games.  Centres try to have footballs (soccer balls in Canada and the U.S.) for boys and netballs for girls, uniforms for team members, skipping ropes, bibles, books, games, drawing and craft materials, etc.  While donors and visitors to the Centres do provide some of these items for the CC activities, many Centres find that retaining materials and equipment can be challenging with the amount of use and exposure they get.  As with the CBCCs, many volunteers and community members often provide some of the materials themselves.

Video of Children Working Together & Getting Exercise at Tiyese CC

Donations to Presbyterian World Service and Development (PWS&D) of the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) support the activities, materials and training of leaders for Children’s Corners at BSHDC.  Those wishing to donate to PWS&D by phone, mail or internet, may go to http://presbyterian.ca/pwsd/donate/.  Those who attend a PCC congregation, may also give through their congregation.

Video of Female Youth Singing & Dancing at Nanyole CC

But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18:16-17)

Debbie’s Job at BSHDC, Part 3

**Please double click on photo to enlarge.

As I mentioned in previous blog posts, through Blantyre Synod Health and Development Commission (BSHDC), there are Community Based Child Care Centres (CBCCs) located in the Southern Region and parts of the Central Region of Malawi.  I wish to focus on the city of Blantyre, which is located in the Southern Region and is where I have done all of my visits up until now.  There are 18 CBCCs within the Blantyre area.  These 18 CBCCs are located in densely populated, vulnerable districts as follows: 3 in Bangwe, 3 in Nkolokoti, 3 in Machinjiri, 3 in Mbayani, 1 in Zingwangwa, 2 in Chilobwe, and 3 in Ndirande. In this blog post, I wish to explain more about CBCCs, including guidelines for attendance, activities at the Centres, staffing, food and funding.

Tiyanjane Centre in Nkolokoti

Chifundo 3 Centre in Ndirande

Chikondi Centre in Mbayani

Chimwemwe Centre in Machinjiri

CBCCs are for pre-school aged children, ages 2 to 5 years old.  The CBCC runs from 7:00am to 11:00am Monday to Friday.  The target for each CBCC is 100 children with the following guidelines: 1) 60% are to be single or double orphans, 2) 20% are to be other vulnerable children from a) Child-headed households, b) Grandparent-headed households, c) Single, sick-parent headed households, or d) Two-parent headed households living in material poverty, 3) 20% to be non-vulnerable and to pay a small subsidized rate to attend.  While single and double orphaned children are considered the most vulnerable and the priority, accommodating children from a variety of situations to attend the CBCC, supports reduction in stigma for vulnerable children, households and the Centre.  It is seen as an inclusive, welcoming and diverse community, instead of the Centre for orphaned children.

Children at Tiyanjane CBCC

Each CBCC is to have two or three caregivers who are responsible for looking after the needs of the children, feeding the children and leading and participating in all of the activities that take place.  BSHDC provides training for the caregivers in Early Child Development (ECD).  They are taught about development and care of children, health, learning areas, what teaching materials to use, how to find them and make them, etc.  Depending on the resources available at the the Centre, the caregivers are either paid a small salary or are not paid at all.  Unfortunately, this sometimes leads to turnover of caregivers, as they have their own family responsibilities and may need to leave their position in order to find a paid or higher paid position.

Caregivers & Children at Tiyanjane CBCC

Video of Caregiver Leading a Song at Chikondi CBCC

The CBCCs have a holistic approach, allowing for development of the child’s social, emotional, mental, physical and spiritual needs.  There is opportunity to play sports and games, learn scripture, sing and dance as well participate in various learning areas.

Video of Caregivers and Children Singing a Worship Song at Chifundo 3 CBCC

Timetable of Activities at Timvane CBCC

The learning areas include: 1. Imaginative/dramatic play area, 2. Blocks and building area, 3. Reading area, 4. Learning/manipulative area, 5. Art area, 6. Nature corner, 7. Music Area, and 8. Outdoor play area.  Each learning area is to have a list of the type of learning that takes place and the areas of development it promotes.  Some outcomes are: 1. Participation of each child including children with disabilities, 2. Learning to take turns, share, interact and cooperate with others, 3. Learning to communicate, which increases vocabulary and interpersonal skills, 4. Learning how to take initiative and lead others, and 5. Learning to explore, experiment and be creative.  All of these activities help to build the children’s respect for self and others and get them ready for Standard One of Primary School in Malawi, which begins at age 6.

Nature Corner at Chifundo 3 CBCC

Reading Area at Chifundo 1 CBCC

Outdoor Play Area at Tadala CBCC

Art Area at Chifundo 3 CBCC

Learning, Manipulative Area at Namagomo CBCC

Video of Children Following Instructions in Group Activity at Chifundo 3 CBCC

Video of Children Singing & Learning Alphabet at Tadala CBCC

There are a large variety of materials and items that are required for each learning area.  Centres promote use of local materials as much as possible as children recognize them in their environment, they are culturally appropriate, and they are already used or will be used in their daily lives.  Local materials are also more readily available, can be used on their own or be used by caregivers or other community members to build materials for the learning areas and are more affordable than foreign items purchased in stores.

Using Local Materials at Chifundo 1 CBCC

Using Local Materials at Tiyanjane CBCC

Using Local Materials at Chifundo 1 CBCC

Children attending the CBCCs are provided with one meal per day at the Centre, which consists of a fortified maize/corn and soya hot porridge, called Likuni Phala.  If resources allow, some Centres are able to supplement the porridge with sugar, salt, tea, milk and/or fruit for the children.  As mentioned in my previous blog post (BSHDC Part 2), many caregivers donate some of these resources themselves.  This nutritious meal is very important for the overall development of the child, especially as many families only have the resources to eat one meal per day.  This ensures that Monday to Friday, the children attending a CBCC are able to have at least two meals per day, which improves their health.

Volunteer Preparing Porridge at Tiyanjane CBCC

Caregiver Washing Child’s Hands Before Porridge at Chikondi CBCC

Having Porridge at Tiyanjane CBCC

Having Porridge at Chifundo 2 CBCC in Ndirande

Loving Porridge at Tiyanjane CBCC

Monthly Growth Monitoring is to take place at all of the Centres.  When a child is registered in the Centre, s/he is to have her/his weight and height recorded.  Then, their record is updated each month to ensure they are reaching normal growth and development milestones.  Some Centres look after the monthly growth monitoring themselves by having weighing scales, measuring tape and record books at the Centre, while other Centres work with local health facilities who come to the Centre to do the monitoring.  For various reasons, there are a few Centres that are currently not doing the monitoring and have been advised they must facilitate it as soon as possible.

Measuring Child’s Height at Chifundo 1 CBCC

Measuring Child’s Weight at Chifundo 1 CBCC

For more information about the Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children (OVC) Program, including the CBCCs, you may go to BSHDC’s website: www.bshdc.org.  The OVC Program, including CBCCs, receives funding through a number of funding sources; however, its two major funders are Presbyterian World Service and Development (PWS&D) through the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) and Kindernothilfe (KNH) in Germany http://en.kindernothilfe.org/.  To learn more about PWS&D in general, you may go to the PWS&D website: http://presbyterian.ca/pwsd/about.  Funding for the work of the OVC Program in general or the CBCCs specifically is through PWS&D’s HIV program: http://presbyterian.ca/pwsd/programs/hiv/.  If you wish to support the work of PWS&D in general or the OVC Program specifically, donations can be made online, by phone, by mail or through any PCC congregation.  Information can be found at http://presbyterian.ca/pwsd/donate/. The Gifts of Change initiative, through the PCC is another way for individuals and congregations to give: http://www.presbyterian.ca/donate/giftsofchange.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble

Psalm 46:1.  Amen.

Debbie’s Job at BSHDC, Part 2

**Double click on photos to see larger view.

I wish to apologize again for how long it has taken me to get to Part 2 of my blog series on my position at Blantyre Synod Health and Development Commission (BSHDC).  The past month has been a bit of a whirlwind.  We had our bittersweet goodbye to Linda and Glenn Inglis, missionaries to Malawi through the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC) on April 11.  Then, with a lot of help we made our move from Mulanje House to Canada House, starting on April 12 (our third and final home in Malawi).  On April 21, 11 people from 5 different PCC congregations arrived and we had an amazing 2 weeks together.  This PCC Study Tour Group departed on May 5, 2012.  On May 9, after much anticipation, my Dad and Aunt safely arrived here for a wonderful two and a half week stay with us and sadly returned to Canada on May 26, 2012.  While it has been busy, everything has gone extremely well and we thank God and all those people who have supported us and worked with us during this time.

In this blog, I wish to follow-up on my introductory blog on my position at BSHDC.  This blog will focus on one very important component of the work in the Orphans and Other Vulnerable Children (OVC) Program area: community.

Before any program, project or task can be initiated by BSHDC or any other individual, group or organization, there must be dialogue, information sharing, awareness raising and permission by a community’s traditional leaders (chiefs and village heads) and the community as a whole.  No visitors can come into the community and no work can be done unless the community has been properly informed and they have given their consent.  I am always humbled by this respect shown to the village leaders and the way in which community members come together, work together and support one another.

Being that Malawi is a communal society, the leadership in the community is aware of all of its community members, what physical, financial, spiritual and human resources are available, who the most vulnerable are, where the needs lie and how issues can be addressed.  There is a Village Development Committee (VDC) that BSHDC must work closely with during their work to ensure their goals, approach and activities are complementary.  While BSHDC has eligibility criteria for its programs, consent, informational gathering and assessment it is always done in collaboration with the community leaders and members.  Whenever I have visited centres and programs within the OVC and other programs, community leaders and members are always present to greet, inform, tour and answer questions.  It is with this brief background that I wish to introduce what happens at the community level with BSHDC’s OVC Program.

As I mentioned in my previous blog Debbie’s Position at BSHDC Part 1, BSHDC’s OVC Program works in the Southern Region and parts of the Central Region of Malawi.  They work as follows; in the Southern Region: 1) 7 Townships of Blantyre (Bangwe, Nkolokoti, Machinjiri, Mbayani, Zingwangwa, Chilobwe, and Ndirande), where there are 18 Community Based Child Care Centres (CBCCs), 2) Chaweza, where there is 1 CBCC, 3) Domasi, where there are 9 CBCCs in Zomba, and 4) Mwanza, where there is 1 CBCC.  In the Central Region: 1) Bilira in Ntcheu, where there are 4 CBCCs.

Timvane Centre in Bangwe

Tadala Centre in Chatha

Tiyese Centre in Zingwangwa

BSHDC’s OVC Program has 7 Community Workers (CWs).  They are responsible for overseeing between 1 and 4 Community Centres within the Blantyre Area.  They work directly in the centres and with the communities as well as with staff at the BSHDC office.  They must build and sustain good working relationships with traditional leaders, community members, volunteers, centre committee members, children and youth.  The CWs must keep track of all records for the centres including number of children registered in the CBCCs and Children’s Corners (CCs), number of children and youth receiving support with education and vocational skills, training provided for CWs, Committee Members, Caregivers, Volunteers, etc., income generating activities at the centre, materials on hand and needed for various programs, etc.  They must attend monthly meetings with the BSHDC office staff and provide monthly reports on the centre as well.  As the centres are spread out geographically, they spend a lot of time travelling between the centres and the office, which becomes difficult during the rainy season and with fuel shortages, especially in the past year.

Committee Member and Community Worker at Tadala Centre

Each centre is supposed to have 7 Committees as follows: 1) The Main Committee, which oversees the centre and community as a whole; 2) The OVC Committee, which oversees all issues regarding OVCs such as educational support and vocational skills, 3) The Parents Committee; which oversees the activities of the CBCCs, 4) The Home Based Care (HBC) Committee which oversees the care, support and visiting of chronically ill community members in their homes, 5) The Children’s Corner (CC) Committee; which oversees the activities and work at the Children’s Corners; 6) The Youth/HIV & AIDS Committee, which oversees all of the youth issues and activities, as well as providing information, raising awareness and providing care regarding HIV prevention and AIDS treatment and support, 7) Functional Adult Literacy (FAL) Committee which oversees planning, teaching and support regarding Functional Adult Literacy Skills training to community members.  The goal is to have 10 Committee Members on each of the Committees, however, due to many other commitments, sometimes there are less than 10 members.

None of the Committee Members are paid and they donate many hours of their time each week to ensure the centres activities and the children, youth and adults they are serving are running well.  In addition to various committee duties, they may also donate their time to cleaning the centre, making porridge for the children and acquiring items for activities for the children and youth.  Often due to lack of resources in the community, many of the Committee Members end up donating many of items themselves.  These include: food items such as sugar, milk, etc. for the children, learning materials, recreational materials and sometimes even use of a building or land for the centre to use.  I continue to be humbled by the care, time and support of these dedicated people.

Committee Members and CW Visiting a Community Member at Timvane in Bangwe

Caregivers at Chikondi CBCC in Mbayani washing children's hands

Committee Members at Chimwemwe Centre in Nkolokoti

I will continue to write future blog posts on BSHDC’s OVC Program including specific posts on the CBCCs, CCs, Education and Vocational Support, Home Based Care, etc.

Thanks be to God for BSHDC, its staff, CWs, Committee Members, Volunteers, Community Members and people they are called to serve.

Correction/Update to Previous Post regarding CIDA Cuts

After investigating a little further a correction needs to be made to my last post on the CIDA cuts.

The current cuts (including Malawi) are supposed to be happening within the bi-lateral program (country to country) and are not being imposed on other areas like the partnership program.  In theory this means that our current PWS&D programs which receive matching funds from CIDA will likely not be affected.

It is nice to know that the current CIDA cuts are not going to affect our current programming through PWS&D, but these cuts still hurt the most vulnerable people in the world.

Canada cuts Aid

Bad news from Canada regarding our international aid.  I am upset because I live in and work in one of the countries affected–Malawi–and this cut will affect the work our church does in Malawi through PWS&D because many of our programs are made possible by matching funds from CIDA.   What has happened to a country that used to pride itself in being recognized around the world as a country that was involved and helped?  What has happened to our commitment (put forth by a Canadian Prime Minister Lester B Pearson) to spend 0.7% of our GDP on aid?  I hope my fellow Canadians contact their MPs.

Link to article on Canadian Aid Cuts