you are here: All the World » 1 January 2004 » Malawi: The Word on the Streets...
jump to menus
by Heather Loomes
Misozi, Estere and Zefa are walking along the street near the market in Limbe. Estere is carrying a small, blue plastic bag. They cross over to the central reservation and walk, barefoot among the shrubs and bushes. They bend over and seem to be looking for something. They have found it.
Estere holds the bag open and her two friends pick something up and put it in. They carry on doing this over and over again.
I watch them from the opposite pavement. What are they doing and why? Curiosity gets the better of me and I walk over to them to see.
‘Moni,’ I call to them. ‘What are you doing?’ We are unable to understand each other’s language but communicate through facial expressions, body language and gestures. Estere shows me her bag. It contains rubbish – dirty scraps of paper, torn plastic bags and pieces of cardboard thrown aside and blown here from the market, dried grass and leaves. Why are they doing this? When the bag is nearly full Estere ties the top and moulds it with her hands into a round shape. I follow them into the road behind the traffic barrier.
The girls begin to throw their home-made ball to each other. ‘Can I join in?’ I ask. They answer me with their smiles and reply in words I do not understand. Some other children come to watch, attracted by our laughter. They too join in our game.
We have seen each other before at The Salvation Army’s street children feeding programme, run by Blantyre Corps, Malawi.
After a while it is time to go. ‘Ndapita. See you next week,’ I say to them as I go towards the truck. By the next week I have made a few bean bags and give them to the girls to play with. When was the last time they received anything for themselves?
It is a Tuesday afternoon and several league of mercy members aged 18 to 25 have spent the morning preparing and cooking nsiema – a maize-based staple food – meat and a relish made of cabbage and tomatoes. I go with them to take the food to the street around the corner from the railway station in Limbe, a township on the outskirts of Blantyre.
The street children feeding programme is run on a voluntary basis by league of mercy members from Blantyre Corps, some of whom are unemployed. Some people help every week and others just go when they can. There are usually about six to eight helpers who prepare the food in the morning and then go to Limbe at lunch time.
The number of children varies. Often there are up to 60 or so children, and other weeks there are fewer. On arrival, two helpers walk around the market finding the children and telling them we are by the railway station. There are also around 20 adults who know they will be offered food if there is any left after the children have been served. Many of the adults are blind and several have other physical disabilities. I never saw them go without any food.
As we approach the main street I begin looking for my ‘little people’. Suddenly I hear the shouts of ‘Mama, Mama!’ Children are waving to me as they run alongside the truck. As soon as I get out I am surrounded by children. ‘Muli bwangi? [How are you?]’ I call. ‘Ndili bwino,’ they reply [I’m fine]. How can they be fine? They have no parents, no home, no one to really care for them. They are orphans who sleep at night at the railway station and spend all day on the street. Their clothes are dirty, torn and inadequate for the cold nights. They are barefooted. And yet they are so pleased to see me and I spend the next few moments giving them all a smile and a hug.
Soon the food is ready and Laston carries a bucket of water, bowl and cup to the kerb. The children wash their hands before going to the truck to get their meal. Once they have their food, I sit with them and talk to them.
Chikondi has a cardboard box between his legs, guarding it while he eats. ‘What is in your box?’ I ask him, pointing to it. He smiles, opens the lid and puts a small plastic container in my hand. It contains a used stylus needle from a record player. When was the last time I saw one of these? He has a large selection and takes pleasure in pointing out his favourites to me, his treasured possessions. I spend several minutes looking at his collection. They are likely to be all he possesses. The smile on his face says it all.
I feel a hand on my shoulder. Mavuto is trying to attract my attention. I turn to look at him. ‘Hi! You look nice today,’ I tell him and point to his Spice Girls T-shirt. He says, ‘Spice Girls,’ and laughs. I point to each one in turn and say their names.
He repeats their names after me. He feels very proud.
I look across the street where a group of adults and their babies and young children are waiting. A family is approaching. They come every week. The father is led by two of his children holding his hands, with his third child walking behind. The oldest is seven years old and her brothers are five and three. Where is their mother? I have never seen her.
When they reach the kerb the oldest child puts her hand on her father’s shoulder. He sits down. She then fetches a cup of water and pours it over his hands for him to wash. She goes to the truck and fetches food for him before taking her younger brothers for theirs. Once they are all eating she fetches her own food. Her father is blind and, even though his daughter is so young, it appears that she has taken on the caring role for the family.
Most of the children have finished eating now as Gustine and I beckon them to come to us.
I try to encourage the adults to talk to the children and play with them, but find this difficult to achieve. I think it’s a cultural issue. However, Gustine is brilliant. He helps me tremendously and together we sing choruses with the children in Chichewa (their language) and dance. We also play games with them.
He talks to them and I watch as their faces light up. They jump up and down with excitement. Gustine begins to sing and the children quickly join in:
The Salvation Army Internationalwww.salvationist.org
publicationsAll the World Revive
Tell a Friend
© 2013 The Salvation Army
The Salvation Army International
All the World
Tell a Friend
© 2013 The Salvation Army