Thursday, March 4, 2010

Rejection to Prosperity

A Woman’s Fight to End Hunger and Poverty in Her Life and Village.

By Zilani Khonje

Driving through Dioni Village in Traditional Authority Msakambwe, one can not miss an impressive house. A house that stands out because of its size, perfect finish and clean surroundings.

This is the house of a once homeless deserted wife and mother of three Felia Sikubweza. At five months pregnant she was abandoned by her husband and left to sleep in the open with two children. Nkhata-Bay Jett was her bedroom for two nights then it was by the road side to Bandawe for another two nights. She was psychologically violated and deserted because she could not fit in her husbands class.

Felia narrates her story of success which she attributes to the psychological torture she went through.

“As soon as he finished his first degree, we were so happy together living in the village, but things changed so fast when he went back for his masters,” she starts her narration.

According to Felia, when her husband was accepted for his MA program at Bunda, he almost refused the offer because they had no income to support him at college,

“but I begged him to go back, and for this, I had to knit kids stuff in order for him to have soap, pocket and transport money,” she proudly explains.

“After qualifying with his master, he started abusing me verbally, and told me openly that I am uneducated and unworthy of being his wife,” she says with anger.

She was rejected, and moved back to her village in Dowa where she had no land and no where to start from. She resorted into peace work for survival.

“Through it I saved, money to build my first house,” she says whilst showing off her house.

“I started building this house with money from sale of maize, potatoes and vegetable which I cultivated from the rented land,” she explains.

Her break through in life came during a Village Development Committees (VDC) meeting, where they needed someone who could read and write and she was the only one capable. She was immediately selected to be the VDC treasurer.

Her active performance in the VDC and her ability to read and write resulted in her being elected into Tigwiranemanja Women’s Movement, ActionAid International Malawi’s development partner which she says exposed her because of the reading material she received on women empowerment.

“I learnt about women empowerment, and that is when I knew that I needed my own land,” says a confident Sikubweza.

She got two acres of land which she cultivated and harvested 48 buckets of potatoes.

“ I saw that a woman could do it, I got more land planted maize and harvested 16 bags 50kgs of maize which I sold,” she explains with a smile on her face.

Through the Tigwiranemanja Women’s Movement Felia visited Liwonde in the southern region on a field visit to observe what our friends are doing in farming and I got tips from there.

Since then, Felia took farming as a business, selling farm produce and saving money to build the house.

“I thought of empowering my fellow women in the village and initiated the formation of Tilipo Club,” she explains.

Formed in 2005, Tilipo club has 16 members who are into irrigation farming. “I want all members to build brick houses with corrugated iron sheets,” she confidently explains. “We selected six women, borrowed them money to buy more farm inputs especially fertilizer,” she adds.

Felia says women who are not empowered lack confidence and continue being abused by their partners, “women are suffering in silence, their partners sale off all the produce which they labour for together,” she explains.

“If we want to end poverty then women should know their rights and they should be given land and farm inputs so that they can farm on their own,” she adds.

The once ridiculed pregnant woman who was deserted and left with two boys at Nkhata-bay jet in 2001, has become a source of inspiration to many women in her village. She believes that empowering women is one way of fighting poverty in Malawi. For her, farming is the answer especially when a woman has enough land, farming inputs knowledge then she will understand how small scale farming can make a difference in her life.

According to Felia, what a woman needs is a small piece of land and encouragement “because she can start small by growing vegetables like I did and believing that you can change your life with it,” she concludes.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Mchoka Girls Club Says NO! to School Drop Outs

Zilani Khonje - Lilongwe Malawi

Lying along the lake shores of Malawi, Salima district in the central region is one of the populated areas. The district is disaster prone with floods and erratic rainfall resulting in loss of cash and food crops for most families. This has seen girls dropping out of school in search of a better life in marriage to support them and their families. Samimi Afick and the mothers group that saved from marriage

Some get married at their own will while others are persuaded by their parents as a means to end poverty in their families. This has for long seen high school drop outs amongst the girl-child. With no proper education and ability to support themselves, girls become more vulnerable to domestic violence.

To reduce violence against girls and women in the area, mothers and the communities in Salima have taken the initiative to keep girls in school for a better future. With technical and financial support from ActionAid through Mother’s Group, Mchoka Girls club in Salima is successfully continues to say no to school drop outs and to woe teenage girls to stay out of marriage and continue with school. This initiative has seen an increase in the number of girls getting back in school.

In 2007 at the age of 15, Samimi Afick from Mchoka Village in Salima, dropped out of school and got married. The once intelligent grade seven pupil gave birth to a daughter. This shattered her long time dream to become a teacher.

“I got married because of poverty, I had no clothes, shoes and having food on the table was a daily problem at home, and this is why I forced myself into marriage,” she explains.

Despite being in marriage, Samimi still desires to continue with her education. A few months after giving birth, she divorced her husband and went back to school.

“The girls club members visited me and encouraged me to go back to school, seeing them singing and counselling me on the importance of staying in school worked for me,” she says.

With support from mothers group which takes care of her child whilst she’s in school, Samimi went back to school and is now an active member of Mchoka girls club.

“We move from door to door, village to village singing and encouraging girls to go back to school, I act as a role model that despite the mistakes we make, we can still go back to school and achieve our goals,” explains Samimi

According to Samimi, Mchoka girls Club has 10 girls who are admitted into the club based on their class performance. This criteria is aimed at encouraging inspiring those who dropped out of school to rejoin.

“As club members, we are supposed to be hard workers doing well in class so that others can learn from us, we also have to be committed not only in class but outside so that we can woe more girls to be in school,” she proudly adds.

A member of Mchoka Mothers group Emily London blames parents and traditional leaders for many school dropouts.

“Corruption is the major problem because when a chief receives a chicken and MK500 ($3.00) he approves the marriage a young girl thereby destroying the girl’s future,” she explains.

According to London, girls club have improved girls education in Salima. “In the past, it was difficult for our daughters to complete their standard eight. But now, we are happy because the girls clubs are very instrumental in promoting their education, they ensure that there are no delays and absenteeism,” she adds.

Mothers groups have taken the responsibility to visit and discuss with parents whose girl child is reported to be absent from school for consecutive days.

“We verify absenteeism with school authority and visit the parents, if they are stubborn, we report to the chief because we want to ensure that our girls reach college level,” she says.

As a commitment to ensure girls stay in school, ActionAid built female teachers houses in rural area with an aim of wooing them to teach in remote areas at the same time act as role models for girls. The fact that more girls stay in school encouraged by the role model, ActionAid support in construction of teachers houses dedicated to female teachers is used as evidence for more houses to be constructed by the government to house female teachers to encourage more role models in the rural areas.

Mchoka Mothers group is thankful for the houses saying “the female teacher is a role model for girls in the rural area. Apart from this, they counsel girls thereby encouraging them to remain in school.”

Saturday, October 17, 2009


The gift of Connection…

The gift of Wonder…

The gift of Expansion…

…of being welcomed by strangers in a strange land with smiles, open arms and open hearts.

… of bearing witness to deep personal story and to transformation, to tears releasing pain and joy.

…of creating bonds of friendship and committing to service across thousands and thousands of miles.

… of experiencing the Motherland with all her exploding colors, sounds, and smells and her exhilarating lifeforce energy!

The gift of feeling myself expand and continue to expand even now, weeks later, so that my heart has extra chambers, my aura more expansive boundaries, and my soul more depth—and I find myself more in love with humanity and more deeply devoted to serving all peoples.

Monday, October 12, 2009


By Mary Tuchscherer

As a child, I sat cross-legged and stared for hours at glossy packages waiting for me underneath the Christmas tree. Often anticipation and exuberance got the best of me when Mom and Dad weren’t looking. I remember the night my sister and I meticulously un-wrapped our electric toothbrushes, brushed until sparkly clean, and giggled uncontrollably, as we taped them up again before our parents could catch us.

At my father’s funeral, one man shared a story of how my dad gifted him with money so he could follow his dream to attend seminary. Another told of the time my dad slipped him extra pay for his work as a farmhand. The only caveat from my father’s voice: “This is just between you and me, son.”

It was a gift to be part of a family that could afford to shower me and others with gifts, but I soon learned that not all the children in my rural community were as fortunate. Once I learned the hard way, when out of what I mistook for jealousy, a friend stole my new winter boots. My child’s heart did not understand, and I felt alone, confused, and out of place.

Later in life I understood my good fortune to live in a country that encouraged education and where medical care was readily accessible. As my instruction progressed, I found cues in photographs and books that depicted a different way of life: famine, starving children, and orphaned babies. I read about girls who were not allowed to go to school because of their gender, or women who couldn’t receive maternal health care because they weren’t considered to be of value. My world expanded. I remembered the child who stole my boots. My heart opened.

Life experience has shown me that when I pay attention to life, I discover opportunities for myself and for others. That is why in 2007 I answered, “Yes!” to an invitation to travel to Malawi, Africa, one of the ten poorest countries in the world. That one decision changed my life.

Eighteen months later, in August 2009, I returned to Malawi with a group of eight women and a man. We brought a multitude of packages with us: Tylenol, aspirin, condoms, bandages, books, soccer balls, and more. There were no shiny wrappings to rip off, but undeniable gratitude from those who received the gifts. As a result of the gifts, an HIV/AIDS or malaria patient would find temporary relief from pain and fever, an elderly arthritic woman in the village could sleep through the night, or a husband and wife could unite without the threat of disease or pregnancy. These gifts offered temporary relief from the harshness of life in an impoverished country.

Perhaps the more permanent gifts were those of the heart. It began at Ndi Moyo Clinic, a holistic palliative care clinic for HIV/AIDS patients. There, under a newly constructed geodesic dome, people felt the power of Reiki and Healing Touch for the first time. There illiterate women stricken with AIDS told their stories to be recorded for future generations. Friendships formed and lives shifted. I don’t know which was more powerful; the passion for giving or the receptivity of those of us who received.

At Mua Mission, seven Malawian and nine North American women united to empower each other through the creative expression of writing. We wrote about the land we came from, our names, the wisdom of our ancestors, and we communicated our thoughts and feelings for each other through blessings.

In a culture that encourages women to remain silent, poets were birthed, buried voices returned to life, dreams were conceived and women connected - deeply. Like the subtle movement of a minor earthquake, a shift began. Having broken the barrier of difference, we recognized as friends with a common humanity those once considered “other.”

Further north in the poverty-stricken village of Tukombo a group of elder women gathered to have their hands, knotted from decades of pounding cassava and washing clothes on river rocks, caressed with lavender scented oil for the first and possibly the last time in their lives. Slices of simple white bread and orange Fanta were served to women who often survive on less than one meal a day.

Somewhere along the journey, the line between giver and receiver blurred. It doesn’t matter where, what matters is that we became one. We all became sisters of the heart who made a pact to continue to give voice to girls and women near and far. Personally, I felt grateful to harvest the seeds of generosity my father planted in my soul so long ago.

Friday, October 9, 2009


I brought home a stone

in the shape of a heart
from the shores
of Lake Malawi

this stone has been passed
from palm to palm
as I recount stories
alive in my memory

the stone carries with her
stories of the heart
it's rounded edges
speak of my own

last week I gifted this stone
to someone who would hold it dear
because I realized I could not cling
to the gifts of Malawi

it nearly broke my heart
to give away this stone
yet she now lives even more
within me, through the act of giving

for in giving I receive more
than I thought I could
and the warm heart of Africa
blesses this Canadian once more

Carissa Wieler
Petaluma, Oct. 7, 2009

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Gift

The Gift

Love embraced

Love replenished

Love extended




The long forgotten now unmasked

Unbind the restraints

Celebrated inner radiance


Wings spread

Voice shared

Self awakened



Friday, August 28, 2009

Amazing amazing amazing journey

I landed in New York three days ago. I was hyper aware of my alone-ness as I trekked through JFK airport. I was hyper aware of no one leading me, no one next to me, no one to talk to.
The connectedness, the compassion, the community that we have built continues to have a presence for me. We each gave the gifts of our stories, our voices, and did whatever it took to contribute that. I felt for myself the struggle to be vulnerable, the fear and then the courage to trust in others. Through the arts of sharing and listening I now have a family. I feel deeply connected to the women (my sisters) who were on this journey, and I have profound respect for who they are for others. Mary and Masanko, thank you for setting the stage for miracles to happen, for the opportunity to make a difference, and gently guiding and supporting us through our own discoveries, insights and experiences.

I remained in Malawi with Mary, Sue and Masanko for an extra week after the group left. I led a business workshop to 9 women with the help of Travis (Masanko's son in law) and Mwai (an essay winner). The workshop was intended to make a difference for the women who developed businesses and recieved grants through Voice Flame Writers, and the results were incredible. Connections were made to export goods, a business partnership formed, 3,000 T-shirts were sold, amongst other items, and each of the women were taught how to develop a business plan, SWOT analysis, and work with an income statement.
I also had the incredible opportunity to meet with about 50 women in the city of Blantire who are a part of the National Association of Business Women (NABW), which was started by the Vice President Joyce Banda! With the help of a Sophie's (NABW's project coordinator) translations I was able to understand more closely the opportunities and difficulties that women in business face there. My mind is spinning with ideas.
This journey has opened my heart to new possibilities, and a profound affinity for other women. It doesn't matter where we live, how we were raised, or the culture we come from, we are each human, we are each women who have a unique and valuable story to share and it has been an honor to have heard a few.