What was founded as merely a charity group in 2012, Mulanje-based Othakarhaka Charity Foundation has made many strides that include alleviating underprivileged people’s economic and education challenges as well as providing palliative health care to members of its community.
Othakarhaka, which is Lhomwe for ‘Passing on Kindness’, is now taking its palliative health care to another level as it moves from being a home-based referral for Mulanje District Hospital to facility based care unit that shall refer complicated cases back to the government hospital.
Othakarhaka, founded by Ida Puliwa Mwango, came to national spotlight when it won the grand prize of K5.5 million during the best short video documentary competition named #Sisonke, which was organised by Old Mutual Malawi.
The independent judges of the competition, including Old Mutual Malawi itself, were impressed with Othakarhaka’s agenda, which includes facilitating vulnerable youths to pursue their academic goals; offering the palliative health care for people with incurable diseases such as cancer and HID/Aids related diseases and assisting farmers with farm inputs as well as training them in sustainable agriculture through irrigation.
The Foundation also encourages farmers to practise agro-forestry which resulted in thousands of trees planted in short period of time.
Some of their academic products are at Mzuzu University, Chancellor College, Kamuzu College of Nursing, Holy Family Nursing College and several at Comboni Technical College.
Orthakarhaka now plans big for the palliative health care, by dedicating one wing of their huge office complex at Chambe along the road to Phalombe in the area of senior Chief Mabuka into a fully fledged health facility complete with a lab, a pharmacy, consultation and treatment rooms.
It is being managed by the founder, Ida’s husband, Ted Mwango — a nurse by profession — in liaison with voluntary visits from specialist medical practitioners from Mulanje District Hospital.
The partnership with Mulanje District Hospital is very strong in that it referred its cancer patients for home based palliative treatments but now, while still being a referral, Othakarhaka shall be offering the health care and referring complicated cases to the government hospital.
It also shall offer screening for cancer signs for prostate and breast cancer for its communities members as well as teaching them how to detect cancer signals.
Orthakarhaka is a story of pure passion and dedication that started when Ida met Virginia based Professor Marquita Hill, who offered her a scholarship to pursue her academic dreams after finishing her Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE).
“I was engaged as an interpreter for Dr. Marquita Hill when she and her group visited our area for a youth support camp by Young Christian Association of Malawi,” she explains.
“She was impressed with my contribution and I told her that I dreamt of pursuing studies in IT when she she asked me what my dreams were. She went back to the US but we kept in touch.
“I was profoundly touched when she offered to pay for my IT studies and I enrolled at the Polytechnic Continuing Centre. When I graduated, I told her that I was going to repay her kindness — not direct to her but to someone else.
“I told her that my plans was to set up a charity to pass on that kindness and for those who benefit to also pass on the goodwill — thus the name Othakarhaka.
“She encouraged me, saying one doesn’t have to have money in order to help somebody else — it takes the passion, love and the trust in God.”
So she went back to the village and with the help of a woman traditional leader who believed in her, she managed to convince others to join her by paying a monthly subscription of K50 in 2012 which they used to be buying maize flour, soap and other necessities for the elderly people who were keeping orphans.
The orphaned kids were supplied with uniform to go back to school from some money they generated by helping farmers harvest their maize crop for a fee.
“Dr. Marquita Hill paid us a surprise visit later and was so impressed with our project and the zeal from the volunteers who were growing in numbers then — having seen the fruits of contributing just a little that was making a huge difference in fellow but underprivileged members of their communities.
“Dr. Hill donated US$2,500 which we invested in order to continue with our school bursaries because by that time some of the learners had gone to secondary schools.”
She explains that in 2013, their area was hit with drought and that’s when she inspired the volunteers to utilize the many rivers and streams from Mulanje Mountain and build pipe-fed canals.
“This initiative in which we also supplied farm inputs was successful and up to now people plant twice a year through rain fed farming and irrigation by encouraging them to plant hybrid maize seeds.
“We also trained them to produce manure and mix with fertilizer and also how to practise right methods of farming through assistance from agriculture advisors (extension workers).”
She narrates that from the first cohort of learners they assisted, two went to Chancellor College; two to Mzuzu University; another to Kamuzu College of Nursing with several others enrolling at Comboni Technical College.
In order for the learners never to be distracted, Othakarhaka engaged mentors to guide and monitor their academic progress and they managed to set up a community library at their office complex.
The number of volunteers — still at K50 minimum monthly contribution — has grown up to close to 5,000 of which 40 are dedicated and trained for palliative care so that the patients should not never feel stigmatized.
“Girls who were forced into early marriages were encouraged to go back to school but those that were older and had already had more than two kids are trained in tailoring and other skills.
“After their course, they are given a sewing machine as well as other related materials. They are encouraged to refund for the sewing machines after 10 months so that others can benefit from them in the spirit of ‘passing on the kindness’.
Then in 2018, one wing of their offices, which was Ida’s family original home and donated to her by her supporting father, was badly damaged when a construction tipper for Mulanje-Phalombe Road contractors rammed into it.
They were compensated with a meager K10 million which was not enough to rehabilitate the building as it needed to be rebuilt but fortunately K2 Foundation came to their rescue and completely rebuilt a whole new complex with two separate blocks.
“We used the compensation money to reach out to more boarder learners as we were only assisting those in day schools. I must say God has been on our side and we always give our thanks to Him in all we do.
“Above all, we profoundly thanks our traditional leaders for encouraging the volunteers to be part of this initiative. Through them we are doing something great to uplift the lives of those who might have given up any hope of achieving their dreams.”
She paid tribute to her supporting husband Ted Mwango, who quit his job he had as District Manager for Family Planning for Kasungu DHO to be closer to her and assist in the palliative care service.
In the whole interview, the husband was present, just nodding his head in affirmative but came to life as he took this reporter for a visit around the complex starting with his healthcare wing, which he confidently said he would fully equip it to his satisfaction and that of Palliative Care Association of Malawi.
Othakarhaka Charity Foundation is a registered nonprofit making organization under the Trustee Incorporation Act currently affiliated to Council for Non-Governmental Organization of Malawi (CONGOMA) and almost at an advanced level to get certification with Non-Governmental Organization Board (NGO).
Its active volunteer base of 4,930 operate in 29 villages in the area of senior Chief Nkanda and some few villages of Mabuka in Mulanje District, covering an area of approximately 48,000 people.
Puliwa Mwango profoundly thanked Old Mutual Malawi for recognizing their efforts and was pleasantly surprised to learn that none of the judges nor the insurance company itself paid an incognito visit to appraise if her short documentary was telling the truth.
“It was only after been presented with the award that they physically visited us. That really made us proud that we managed to highlight better our massive projects in under 90 seconds,” she said.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :