Written by Sydney Chuka
This article is written in the memory of Mercy and Benson Mkandawire. Their dream lives on.
A morning at Tilinanu
Last year, I had the honour of covering an event for Thanthwe, an upcoming revolutionary organisation working with the youth of Malawi. I enjoyed myself. So when Violet, one of the co-founders of Thanthwe, invited me to cover their valentine event, I obliged. Thanthwe had partnered with Blockbuster, a departmental store situated at the Gateway Mall in Lilongwe, to provide refreshments, entertainment and gifts of love to the residents of Hotel Hope: Tilinanu.
What I found was a very calm environment that was brightly illuminated with the light-hearted quirkiness of the residents. Full of smiles and the unmistakable banter only characterised by camaraderie, small groups were scattered around the room deep in discussion. They were making group presentations of the fears and challenges that could potentially hinder them from completing their education. They mentioned challenges such as contracting HIV/Aids, teen pregnancies, struggles in finding funding for achieving their career aspirations and someone even mentioned witchcraft. The members of Thanthwe, who were leading the groups, would then respond to the fears and challenges by encouraging the residents to maintain their focus so as to achieve their dreams. Their career aspirations included music, nursing, law, and banking. One of the residents in particular caught my attention by saying that she loves the sciences and that she aspires to be an astronaut. As a scientist myself, I was taken aback by her curious mind. It is not every day that I get to meet someone who at a very young age, is ready to defy the gravity of their circumstances to pursue astronomical dreams.
The residents come to Tilinanu as young as six years old and they stay on until they are 21 years old. They usually come from homes that have lost at least a parent and do not have the resources to maintain their upkeep. The orphanage not only provides food and board, it also provides educational opportunities to the residents from primary to tertiary education. The residents upon completing their secondary education, either enrol in any of the country’s public universities or are enrolled in the privately-ran Skyway University. The residents also get to learn carpentry in the on-site workshop.
In my working with Thanthwe, I have come to believe not only in what the youth of Malawi can do to effect sustainable and inclusive change but also to believe in what I and every other youthful Malawian can do to paint a brighter sun in our national fabric.
The Tilinanu Orphanage is the brain child and legacy of Mercy and late Benson Mkandawire. The organisation started in 2002 and was initially focussed on providing porridge to vulnerable children within the Traditional Authority of Chitukula in Lilongwe. In 2009, Tilananu acquired an incomplete church building whose construction had stalled, and developed it into a home. Today, the orphanage is run by the children, Chawanangwa Mkandawire and Olive Mkandawire.