For ten years, humble as its looks are, Kwithu Community Based Organization (CBO) can proudly sigh, sit back and pat herself on the back for the many smiles it has brought on the faces of orphans and children at risk of losing parental care. As Nyasa Times reporter Chancy Gondwe writes, Kwithu CBO is not only a mother to over 300 orphans but also a thriving agri-business centre poised to make a difference.
‘Here we are,’ said the bicycle taxi man with a deep but corrupted Tumbuka accent. ‘This is Kwithu.’
Of course needed not be told. A signpost was stuck just by the roadside, saying that place Kwithu CBO. I learnt later that, as the bicycle taxi man had called it, everyone called this area Kwithu which literally translates to the English word: home.
I must confess that it did not occur that Kwithu CBO, located at the outskirts of Mzuzu City, in Luwinga’s Area 1B, could be a place with such a rich legacy. When a friend I had met over Mzuzu Coffee at some kiosk in town tipped that there was something big happening in Luwinga, I noted it down in my notepad with a grain of salt. But I was curious anyway.
‘Women are doing a great job here,’ the bicycle taxi man said as he gave me change, before riding away. ‘They support orphans with school fees and feed children and sell cheap tomato.’
I smiled. Not paying as much attention.
Feeding the hungry
But as Joyce Mazunda, coordinator of Kwithu CBO told me, the bicycle tax man may have been very right. Kwithu, Mazunda said, started in 2004 – supporting only 20 orphans. Over the years, interestingly, the CBO cares for more than 300 orphans – paying fees for more than 68 students in different secondary schools across the country.
28 of the students are at Mzuzu Academy, one of Malawi’s affluent and coveted schools.
‘It is a group of 20 women volunteers who came together [in 2004] to support children who lost parental care or those that were at the risk of losing parental care and those whose parents could not manage to provide them with basic necessities,’ said Mazunda, adding that they operate on the motto: ‘feed, educate and empower.’
Kwithu CBO provides lunch to orphans and the less privileged children on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays a week.
‘It is just lunch because we don’t keep them [the children] at our premises,’ explained Mazunda.
The children have nsima with beef, vegetable and bananas on Monday; nsima with beans and bananas on Tuesdays; chips with chicken and bananas on Thursdays and boiled Irish potatoes with eggs, carrots and bananas on Fridays.
Mazunda said that to have a sturdy source of income, the CBO introduced Kwithu Kitchen garden of fresh tomatoes. It is a one hectare are of tomato gardens which Mazunda said the women manage using traditional methods of farming while, at the same time, making sure that their Centre is fully operational.
‘They [the gardens] have proved to be a great way of generating income,’ divulged Mazunda. ‘Of course we need to employ modern methods of farming. But as usual, the problem is funds.’
The tomatoes are sold value added, after canning.
How they do it
Mazunda said that the tomatoes are plucked and graded into two categories – A and B – before being soaked into warm water for easy peeling.
‘We then remove the seeds from the peeled tomatoes and weigh them,’ she said.
The tomatoes are then put in preserve bottles which are imported from South Africa. ‘Then we hit the bottles for 20-30 minutes in our kitchen and seal them there.’
After hitting, they take the boiled bottles to the inventory for cooling and storage.
The tomatoes are preserved with an addition of lemon juice. Once canned, the tomato can take two years before expiring.
‘The bottles are sold at affordable prices and can be found at Chipiku Plus, Mzuzu Coffee shops and here at Kwithu Kitchen,’ said Mazunda.
Aside the tomato business, Kwithu CBO also has eight hectares of land where they grow maize.
No government commitment
Much as Kwithu CBO is championing the rare cause, government seems to be casting a blind eye on her. For example, Mazunda says, government has failed to help them access coupons so that they access cheap fertilizer and seeds under the Farm Input Subsidy Program (Fisp) to boost their farming.
‘We wish government and other stakeholders could come forth and help toward this cause,’ appealed Mazunda.
Anna Keys, US-based Malawian woman and founder of the CBO, corroborated Mazunda’s sentiments urging the Ministry of Gender and Children Welfare to support some of the activities at the Centre.
‘We’ve been around for over ten years now and yet not even a single official from the Ministry has come to pay us a visit,’ said Keys. ‘We’re offering early childhood education and other services and no one notices.’
She added: ‘Women are taking care of more than 300 children and yet their government cannot even take notice. Even the parliamentarian who stays a few metres from here for that matter.’
Kwithu CBO, Keys said, plans to open a sales and marketing office opposite the Reserve Bank of Malawi for easy linking with their business associates and customers.
‘Were you still at Kwithu?’ I remembered the bicycle taxi man. ‘They are very good women. My wife has been a good woman ever since she joined.’
‘Yes,’ I said, as we rode away.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :