“He has no words to describe his gratitude.”
Gibozi, our director at YouthCare Ministries, compassionately stared at the sickly man and waited for another utterance. None came. “He just thanks God that his daughter Ester now has a safe place to live.”
Ester started living at the new SafeHaven for girls a few months ago—a new residential program for girls who were living on the streets in Lilongwe. Her mother died two years ago, her father is sick with 7 children for whom he cannot provide. His youngest, Ester, was losing her way.
In Malawi there is no safety net when you get ill. There are no social workers who arrive at your home to assess the situation, offer solutions, and find options for your children. A sick parent means no work. No work means no food, no school, and no future. A 10-year-old girl, like Ester, is left to fend for herself.
Because of their long, trusted history in the community, YouthCare has become known as a highly respected ministry. When Ester’s need surfaced in the community, YouthCare workers were notified. Ester now has a home.
The new girls’ SafeHaven is a beautiful, four bedroom house has been transformed into an oasis of love and care for 5 girls between the ages of 10 and 17. With three meals a day, a clean bed, adult supervision, and a chance to go to school the girls are already thriving in their new environment.
I am reminded of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Maslow argued that the most essential human need was security and certainty. Only when we feel secure, can we really begin to grow in the other dimensions of life. One of my friends describes it like a flower pot. In order for a plant to grow, it needs a pot—a pot without cracks and holes. You can have a beautiful flower, you can have a good earth, but if you don’t have a pot none of it matters. Children are the same. Give a child a little structure, consistent food, and safety and…..watch them grow.
A mission team walked past me on the way to town today. Their loud conversation and Southern accents revealed their American citizenry—probably 10 or 15 teenagers, plus a few adults.
Besides the Mountaineer Backpacks and the matching aluminum water bottles, what struck me as odd was a t-shirt worn by one of the teens. Blazoned across the front was Charles Schwartz’s iconic Snoopy, apathetically lying on his dog house with big bold letters saying, “I’m Allergic to School.”
I’m Allergic to School. Ummm.
I’m guessing that the mission team missed the cross-cultural training exercises prior to departing for Malawi. I’m assuming that no one in the group bothered to reflect on the irony of a t-shirt message in a culture where education is not a right, but rather a privilege.
Snoopy’s message reeked of American privilege, laced with a kind of arrogance that says, “I’m so advantaged that I can choose to be lazy.”
Perhaps the shirt hit me the wrong way because earlier that day I met 55 ninth graders who walk an hour and a half (each way, each day!) to attend our new high school—a school with broken windows, no electricity, and an outhouse resembling a fly farm. They come because of a hunger to learn. They come because of our committed teaching staff. They are hardly allergic to school.
Our students are the kids scoring less than 90% on their government exams, therefore losing their spots in the Malawian educational system—a system where only the elite few make it. Our kids are the B and C students…the kids who struggle with test taking and have not been blessed with great memorization skills. Without our school, they will be reduced to subsistence farming and a life of debilitating poverty.
I’m Allergic to School. Really? What I’m learning from Malawian kids is that the only thing to which they are allergic is…lack of opportunity.
There is nothing glamorous about board development. It’s not the kind of story that makes people cry, nor is it the kind of appeal that compels people to reach for their check books. But it is an essential ingredient for creating community-based Christian youth development organizations that become self-sustaining and enduring.
The mission of UrbanPromise International is to help young leaders create organizations that have a transformational impact—year after year, decade after decade—in some of our world’s most under-resourced communities. Functioning, dynamic boards play a significant role in creating these kinds of institutions.
Saturday UPI hosted the second annual Malawi Affiliate Ministries Board Summit in Lilongwe. Over 20 leaders, representing our 6 different organizations spent a day sharing best practices, discussing board development, and visioning the future of youth ministry in Malawi.
“It’s been remarkable to watch this movement grow,” shared Hestern Banda. Hestern has chaired the YouthCare Malawi board for the past 8 years. “Our boards are really maturing and becoming teams that make a difference. This is what Malawi needs.”
As our boards continue to mature, our organizations are developing better policies and procedures, wiser governance, transparency, accountability, and a commitment to the mission of these organizations. There is still a long way to go, but the signs are encouraging.
“I like the vision of UPI,” shared one board member. “It challenges local leadership to step up and take responsibility. This will help our communities in the long run.”
It was the first thing I noticed about Dalitsani—a slight Malawian boy maybe ten or eleven years old.
His odd-looking index finger.
Roughly the size of a cucumber, it looked conspicuously large compared with the remaining fingers on his hand. He was obviously conscious of this overgrown, infected appendage, making sure it bumped or hit nothing. I winced, imaging the pain and discomfort this kid must endure each day.
The second thing I noticed about Dalitsani was his oozing left eye. His eyeball was covered with a thick coating of mucus, water dripping down his cheek. He tilted his head, brushed his cheek against his muddied shoulder, and wiped away the moisture.
I gave him a hug as he walked towards his after-school classroom.
“What’s up with his finger?” I asked Peter, the director of ChristCares Ministries.
“It’s infected,” came the reply. “It’s quite common.”
“Quite common?” I questioned. “Why doesn’t he go to the doctor?”
“He can’t afford it.”
I continued my query. “What’s it cost to go to the doctor?”
Peter paused, looked at me, and replied. “Ten dollars.”
Ten dollars? For a family in a village, ten dollars is an incredible amount of money. So a kid like Dalitsani just endures…throbbing pain, a staph infection coursing through his veins, sleepless nights…all while he’s supposed to pay attention in school.
“What about his eye?” I ask.
Peter tells me that Dalitsani had an infection when he was a kid. His parents couldn’t afford to take him to a doctor, so they took him to the local herbalist. The wrong medicine was applied. The eye was lost. Now it just oozes and throbs. I didn’t ask Peter what it would have cost that time. Maybe twenty dollars?
I asked Peter to take him to the doctor. Two days later Peter reports back.
“Dalitsani was so excited to go to the doctor,” he begins. “They cut open the finger, drained the staph, and medicated the wound. He said he slept last night for the first time in weeks.”
I am not sure how to respond. Happy, of course, that one child was given a little relief. Disheartened, because children continue to suffer and lose sight—because of an insurmountable ten dollars.
How do you create hope for children? Try a little love, some energetic counselors, a healthy meal, homework assistance, and fun....three days a week for 4 years. Consecutive, contiguous years of positive programming is making a palpable difference in Kanengo. I sense the difference. Children talk about the future with confidence. Teens look at you in the eye when they talk to you. Gospel songs are shared with joy. Kids show off their homework to anyone who cares. And youth talk enthusiastically about their dreams. This was not the case 5 years ago.
In college I had a Hebrew professor. He assured me that if I practiced the basics everyday—grammar, vocabulary, syntax—one day it would just click in. He placed emphasis on doing the same thing, every day. He promised it would eventually "flow," and reading in Hebrew would become second nature. I never quite made it to that stage because I gave up on the basics. But some of my colleagues made it—they didn’t give up and the results were as promised.
I think this principle works with children. Put children in a hopeful place year after year--even if it’s surrounded by despair—and they will become hope-filled kids. My hat is off to ChristCares Ministries.
That is what they've faithfully done, and the impact is dramatic.