March 27th, 2011 by Dr. Tom Nighswander, MCV Board Member
No success better than this. #4
A Friend of the Hoe
Dyson Mulongo, age 23 is a successful graduate of the Malawi Children’s Village (MCV). Out here one stops being an orphan at age 18. His father, a subsistence farmer hoeing the fields with his mother every day in the rainy season, died when he was 8 years old. “My father went to the hospital and came home still sick and died at home”. To this day he does not know why. His mother had to care for his three brothers and one sister. It was a struggle to send them to primary school and impossible to send them to secondary school because in Malawi one must pay school fees. He was a bright student, smart enough to be selected by the government to go to Melosa Secondary School in Zomba.
He appealed to his grandparents. Although they lived by subsistence also, they took his appeal to the village headman who said he and his brothers and sister would be eligible for support from MCV. In this part of the world, if either parent dies, you are considered an orphan. As a single parent, the difficult life here becomes almost impossible.
MCV responded by paying for his school fees and after secondary school graduation to the Natural Resource college in Lilongwe where he specialized in irrigation technology. His three brothers are in school, two sponsored at MCV’s Gracious Secondary School, and one in primary school. Unfortunately as is often the case out here, his sister dropped out of school at age 15 and got married.
Dyson is an impressive successful young adult and the go-to person for all the irrigation schemes in the MCV catchments area. But more of that later.
The plight of orphans in Malawi, most often as a result of HIV/AIDS, is legendary. Orphans in any part of the world are dealt a tough set of cards in the game of life. Out here being an orphan can be and is life threatening. In a subsistence culture that struggles with adequate rain to raise a yearly supply of maize, an orphan is another mouth to feed. For the very young, when you look at these children’s growth charts, you can identify when their parent died. They stop growing! It is dramatic!
In 1997 Chakunja Sibale, a clinical officer, together with his friend Kevin Denny and several other 1964 Peace Corp volunteers, had a vision of how to help and solve the possibilities. They had no funding, only a story to tell. With the help of many returned Peace Corps Volunteers from Malawi, Friends of Malawi, several churches and Rotary Clubs mainly in New York state, Kansas and Anchorage, the Malawi Children’s village was begun. The rest is history. Over 8000 orphans have been assisted my MCV.
The vision was not an orphanage. It was a village based orphan program whereby the orphans would stay in their home village with a guardian or grandparent. MCV would help them. With the village chief, MCV would identify and train two village volunteers, supply them with a bicycle, a uniform, a small monthly stipend. The volunteers would monitor the care the orphans would receive. MCV would provide additional clothes, repair and build village houses, and when necessary because of poor rains, supply additional maize. The target area was the 37 villages that surround what has become the core campus. As the program matured it became obvious that “it takes a village to raise a child”. Consequently MCV has been able to assist the village primary schools (through the adopt a school program) with additional classrooms, desks, and books. It has been developing irrigation schemes such that villagers could raise more that one crop a year. . It has provided secondary school fees. Several USA based churches have helped with primary school construction and also provided cement, and benches to the village’s churches.
Now on the core campus, a technical school and secondary school has been built, both for sponsored orphans and private pay students providing income for the school. A nursery was built for infants and under twos whose mothers had died. The original nursery was transferred to a British NGO, Open Arms, who built a magnificent facility and now have 40 under 3s in residence who will remain there until they are healthy enough to return to their village.
Over 8000 orphans have been assisted since the beginning which brings us back to Dyson Mulongo. After graduation from the Natural Resources College in 2007 he returned as a volunteer at MCV. He walked or biked because he felt an obligation “I am what I am because of MCV” To show appreciation he worked at MCV on a volunteer basis from 07-08.
In 2009 after the rainy season, Dyson, with the support of a New York Rotary, designed an irrigation project for Mutaka village. It involved building a brick water tank, using a petrol pump to pump water from the river to the tank and water the gardens by a gravity feed system. They did their first planning of maize in Oct 7, 2009 and had a very successful harvest 3 months later.
In the meantime he was submitting written reports and sending pictures to Rotary every two weeks…They promised continued support and asked him to design a project for another village, but this time for $2000.
For the 2010 growing season he chose Mitawa Village. His design was based upon using treadle pumps. He had none.
Unknown to Dyson, Jerry Turner, the early instigator of treadle pumps for the irrigation program was coming mid June with a plan to buy 50 treadle pumps. The new pumps were manufactured in Tanzania and had three improved features: sturdier, increased output volume and came with simple spare parts.
Jerry and Dyson traveled to Mitawa, met with the village garden committee and said that if the village would clear land for gardens over the next week, they would receive one treadle pump. In one week the land was cleared.
Then they challenged the group to prepare growing beds and furrows in a week, and if they did they would receive two treadle pumps. They did!
It was now late July. Seeds were purchased by Jerry, and by August 3, the Maize was knee high. One third of a Hector was under cultivation. No fertilizer was used. The village had an excellent harvest.
The first village, Mutaka, after the rainy season in 2010 planted almost 3 hectors of tomatoes and by May were selling tomatoes on the market.
It is hard to convey what this means to a village. Every February when we usually come, it is at the end of what everyone hopes has been a good rainy season. It is before the maize is ready to be picked and dried. It what is known as the Njala time. Njala translates from Chichewa as hunger. There is always a greater or lesser amount of Njala when we come. Food security is a constant issue in every villager’s mind. Irrigation and good farming practices are the answer.
Dyson spoke of MCV. “I can not imagine what my life would be like. How I would live in this world? I have friends from the village my age. They are married, have 6 kids and are selling charcoal. They have no future, they have no hope”.
“I have a vision. I have hope” “I am the first sponsored orphan form my village who has been successful.”
“I felt that I owed MCV to serve the people. In America you all have very nice homes, enough food, and yet you come all this way to help us, why can’t we do the same?”
“MCV is like my mother and father. This is what I am. If it were not for MCV, I would be a friend of the hoe, hoeing in the garden everyday.”