In Malawi, a densely populated country in southeast Africa, many children—especially those 5 and younger—don’t receive enough food on a daily basis.

Too many are starving.

But the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Malawi (ELCM) is working to put an end to child hunger through a feeding program that has reached 60 of its congregations.

“I still remember caring and supporting a 5-year-old boy—Charles Mola, a maternal orphan—who came to the [ELCM] Feeding Center with severe malnutrition, weighing only 3.2 kg [approximately 7 pounds] at his age,” says Chikondi Namalanda, 43, of Bongwe village in Zomba, a long-time feeding center volunteer. “He was miserable, and he had no appetite to eat.”

“I gave him special attention by feeding him personally because he was refusing to eat,” Namalanda remembers. “Gradually, Charles started gaining weight. He also started interacting with others … . At 6 years, he was weighing 14 kg [almost 31 pounds]. Charles is now a 26-years-young man, thanks to the ELCM Feeding Center, which saved the life of Charles.”

The beginning

The first ELCM Feeding Center didn’t start as a center. During a Bible study in 2000 at Nang’ombe Congregation in Blantyre Deanery, a visiting bishop noticed a child, Tamala Mlelemba, who looked ill and malnourished. He later learned the girl’s parents had died and an extended family member was caring for her.

The bishop mobilized women of the church to buy food and other items for Mlelemba and to continue to support her. Soon, the church women began feeding additional orphans and “other vulnerable children”—those who still had parents but were living in extreme poverty.

In 2002, the Diakonia Department, which includes the ELCM Feeding Program, officially was born. Mlelemba, who has since passed, was nicknamed “the Diakonia child,” and her story lives on.

“Feeding centers are indeed a lifeline for many orphans and other vulnerable child[ren], especially in poor and hard-to-reach communities,” says Mabel Madinga, ELCM general secretary and Diakonia director.

In fact, there are 1.8 million children in Malawi orphaned each year because their parents die of HIV or AIDS, Madinga says.

Today, the ELCM Feeding Program has centers at 60 ELCM congregations and supports 3,750 orphans (40 percent of whom have lost both parents) and other vulnerable children each year. Nearly every single feeding center is in rural, hard-to-reach areas, providing nutritional porridge, water purifiers and sustainable farms that help locals provide supplemental nourishment for the program.

Mary Mabota/Namabotha, a six-year volunteer at the Matsimbe Feeding Center, has seen first-hand how the feeding program is changing the lives of children.

“I smile when I see the children playing and running about after taking their meal,” she says.

Unfortunately, the demand for feeding centers continues to grow rapidly. Mabota says that instead of enrolling 50 children—as recommended—she currently has 186 children in need of support.

Fortunately, the ELCM and ELCA World Hunger are tackling those issues, first by teaching the importance of family planning, and second, by helping mothers and caregivers buy additional supplementary food for the feeding centers via savings-and-loans.

More than food

While the overall goal of the ELCM Feeding Program is to help reduce malnutrition in children 5 and younger, the program also provides nursery schools to promote early childhood development and offers an ELCM Mobile Clinic to increase access to prevention and treatment services for malaria, HIV, AIDS, TB and other communicable diseases.

The mobile clinic is extremely important, says Madinga. Malaria still is the major cause of illness among children 5 and younger, though children frequently are diagnosed with diarrhea, skin diseases, pneumonia and eye infections. Without the mobile clinic, many children would not receive the care they desperately need.

Near the Chimvano Feeding Center, for example, mothers and caregivers would otherwise have to walk with their sick children 18 kilometers [11 miles] to the nearest private clinic and 50 kilometers [31 miles] to the nearest government health facility.

“We get demotivated after walking 18 kilometers, waiting in a long queue for more than four hours, only to be told that anti-malaria drugs are out of stock,” says Anelesi Njoka of Mangochi Parish, near the Chimvano Feeding Center. “Thanks to the ELCM Mobile Clinic for coming to our rescue.”

ELCM nursery schools not only provide much needed instruction and socialization, they also allow young mothers to continue their schooling.

Cecilia Labani dropped out of school due to an early pregnancy, and although she wanted to rejoin her class, she had to stay home to take care of her child.

“Thanks to the Evangelical Lutheran Feeding Center in our village, I am able to go to school while my child goes to the feeding center where he is taken care of by the caregivers and given nutritional porridge,” she says. “I am now able to concentrate on my studies because I know that my child is given the much-needed care and support.”

ELCA assistance comes full circle

Madalitso Zulu, 25, lost his father before he was born. His father’s relatives took possession of the family’s house, leaving Zulu and his mother homeless. Fortunately, when his mother took him to her home village, she heard about the ELCM Feeding Program and enrolled Zulu immediately.

“My mother took me there for extra and nutritious food,” Zulu recalls. “That was the beginning of my new life. I still remember the bishop giving us toys and clothes.”

Unfortunately, Zulu’s mother died before he graduated from the feeding program. But his grandmother helped make sure he stayed in the program’s nursery school, which set him on a path to finish primary and secondary schools. He was selected for tertiary education at the University of Malawi, but was unable to attend because he couldn’t pay tuition.

That’s where the ELCA stepped in to offer support, providing Zulu with a scholarship to attend a university.

He is now in his third year of studying finance management, and he hopes to support orphans in the future by fighting for their legal rights and stopping property grabbing.

“I believe going through the feeding center was the entry of the bursary program I am currently supported with,” Zulu says. “My life through the feeding center has helped me to work hard, form stable relationship[s], develop a sense of responsibility, consideration for others, self-confidence and self-control. Otherwise I would have been a street child.

“I sincerely thank ELCM for the support throughout my life.” 

Stephanie N. Grimoldby
Grimoldby is a freelance writer living in Salem, Wis.

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