Posted by: rhoban | March 4, 2009

Day 3 – MCV

The person behind Malawi Children’s Village is Chakunja Sibale (pronounced: Si-WALL-eh).  Mr. Sibale was trained as a medical officer – not quite a doctor, but in the seventies, it was the closest thing you could train to be as a Malawian.  He eventually went to Scotland and earned a degree in public health, later working for relief agencies all over Africa.   But unlike other Malawians who received medical training in the West, Sibale actually came home to Malawi.

Apparently for many years, there were more Malawian doctors in Manchester, England than there were in Malawi.  This factoid may be apocryphal, I was told this repeatedly, but couldn’t confirm it. But it underscores a point – that for many years, people left Malawi to train as professionals and never returned home.

In the 1990s, Sibale was working for a project in Malawi funded by the US National Institutes of Health.  He met families who had taken in three, four, five, even six children of relatives who had died of AIDS. At the time, about one in five adults was infected with HIV.

Sibale got the germ of an idea – what would it take to keep kids with their families? It makes more sense in a culture where – in normal times – orphans are never separated from relatives. But when those families are overwhelmed, the system breaks down.

Sibale wanted to find a way to help people take in these orphans – and succeed.

The needs are simple – families receive basic necessities such as extra seed corn, school fees and uniforms so the children can continue in school, extra blankets for the cool season – simple necessities, but sufficient to make it possible to support another mouth.

Faith Sibale prepares for a day in the MCV Clinic

Faith Sibale prepares for a day in the MCV Clinic

As time has gone on, Sibale has been able to dangle other incentives for families that take in children – for example, a clinic accessible only for the orphans’ families.   Sibale’s wife, Faith, is a registered nurse.  She runs the clinic and sees sometimes more than a hundred people a day.

Sibale’s idea was simple, elegant…  You can build an orphanage, and you can house a hundred, maybe two hundred children at high cost.  But, create an infrastructure for supporting families and you can support hundreds… thousands… of children – at a fraction of the cost.

Take a short video look at MCV’s campus here (if you can’t see anything, click here):

Malawi’s Children’s Village isn’t so much a place as it is a concept.  The compound houses workshops, a demonstration garden, an infant feeding center for malnourished children, a clinic, and now, a secondary school.  The compound sits in the middle of a region that runs about 20 km along the shore of Lake Malawi, and about 5 km inland, comprising 36 villages.  Currently about 2500 orphans are living with relatives, several years ago, at it’s peak, MCV was monitoring the care of close to 4000 children.

Some statistics for Malawi:
Percent of females who have never been to school = 30
Percent of males who have never been to school = 20
In the ‘most educated’ city, Blantyre, average number of years in school = 5.6
In Mangochi, near MCV, median number of years of education for men = 1.1
In Mangochi, near MCV, median number of years of education for women = 0
Life expectancy for males at birth = 49
Health life expectancy for males at birth = 35
Life expectancy for females at birth = 51
Health life expectancy for females at birth = 35

NtalaRecently, Sibale started a secondary school open to all the children in the area.  After a mere three years, the Gracious School is considered the best in the district.  There are 218 students… 118 of them are orphans, and all these orphans have a sponsor somewhere in the United States.

This young man, Emmanuel Ntala is an orphan who’s continued on to post-secondary school.  He’s getting support from MCV to pay for tuition at a teacher’s college.  Take a listen below. (and if you can’t find the audio, click here)

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