One of our favorite challenges is learning the names of the people in the village and as much Chichewa as our brains can absorb! A now familiar name is that of our partner family great grandmother, Chilungula. Chilungula has spent nearly all of her 93 years in Nnima village in Salima district. Of her 8 children only 2 are still alive. She is not even sure how many grandchildren she has, but because some of them have also passed away, she is now caring for 6 of her orphaned great-grandchildren.
The eldest of the great grandchildren, Mwatitha is 15. During the day Mwatitha looks after Chilungula, does the household chores and prepares a meal for lunch. Four of the 6 children go to primary school early in the morning. Provided by the government, primary education is free in Malawi so many children do attend. However, the family needs to buy school uniforms and books; sadly even those items are out of reach for those living in such poverty.
Because secondary education is considered private and not government subsidized, many children do not continue their education. They become a part of the cycle of poverty, living in the village, helping to make ends meet by farming and earning very little money doing piecework. Typical jobs include bicycle repair, washing clothes, fetching water and helping with farming.
This family lives in a dilapidated two roomed house – about 150 square feet. The house is made of mud bricks which are easily damaged. The roof is poorly thatched and leaks during the rainy season, sometimes making it impossible for the family to sleep at night. The floors become muddy and the house uninhabitable.
Toilet facilities are either non-existent or are poorly constructed pit latrines that are neither safe nor hygienic. A small grass fencelike structure serves as a washing area, but is common for adults to wait until the sun goes down and wash in front of their homes in the dark. There is no electricity in the village and no running water. Women fetch water from a nearby pump.
Habitat houses and latrines, being so well constructed, are an enormous positive change for these families. For generations to come, the house will continue to shelter and relieve some of life’s burden. Everyone who lives in this house will be healthier physically and emotionally. They will be safer and sleep better every night of their lives. Can you imagine how it will feel to lay down to sleep in a safe, dry, clean, well-ventilated home after spending 93 years in a mud hut?
We greet Chilungula every day and she has said that she loves that we remember her name! We keep her company, sitting on the stoop of her soon-to-be “old” house, talking to her with the help of our host coordinator who translates. Taking the times to hear someone’s life story, especially one as long as Chilungula’s is a great pleasure and privilege. Building the bonds between people is equally as important as building the house. For it is in these moments that we discover we are more alike than we are different. And there is wisdom to be gained.
Chilungula says how much she loves having us around. We love being here. We love her and her family.
Today, Cassie painted her nails.
You know I’m crying.