In Malawi, there is no shortage of people willing to help the needy


Malawi may be ranked among the world’s poorest nations, but it is certainly not short of people who feel they have enough to share with their less fortunate compatriots.

And Malawi’s philanthropists come from all walks of life. It is perhaps the Malawian spirit of caring for one another that has also seen a host of outsiders join the local philanthropy crusade.

According to the Oxford Dictionary of English, philanthropy is “the desire to promote the welfare of others, expressed especially by generous donation of money to good causes”.

Meanwhile, historical records show that the word philanthropy was coined in 5BC by playwright Aeschylus in Prometheus Bound.

Whereas the overall objective remains the same, today philanthropy has been affected in various ways by technological and cultural changes. Consequently, many donations are made through the Internet.

Gift Mkandawire is among the youthful and less-known Malawian philanthropists. The computer engineer has chosen to run Tilinanu Orphanage for girls rather than pursue a more financially rewarding career in his field of specialisation. Mr Mkandawire co-founded the institution with his mother, Mercy, in 2004. He took over as the country director following the death of the matriarch in early 2015.

Tilinanu Orphanage takes care of 35 needy girls, offering them shelter, food, medical care and education. The Pulford sisters, Alice and Nina, are the principal overseas supporters of Tilinanu, and have been instrumental in sourcing funds and other materials from philanthropists abroad.


Timothy Nyirenda, 25, left school in Form Two because he could no longer afford to pay school fees. But when he recently won the $3,600 (Sh367,200) corporate social responsibility project in the K100 million TNM Ufulu 50 promotion, he thought beyond self. Mr Nyirenda offered to complete the construction of a stalled classroom block at his former school, Thimalala Community Day Secondary School.

“I failed to complete my education because the school did not have forms Three and Four due to lack of classrooms, and I don’t want that to happen to other students,” Mr Nyirenda explained.

At the western border town of Mchinji, philanthropy is almost synonymous with the American pop diva Madonna. It was here that Madonna picked a girl, Mercy, from the Home of Hope Orphanage (HOH) for adoption.

In 2006, Madonna and Michael Berg founded Raising Malawi, a charity non-profit organisation that is dedicated to helping end extreme poverty and improve human rights in the country.

Raising Malawi currently supports HOH to provide shelter, food medical care and love to more than 500 children. The Home’s programmes run from nursery to secondary school level. It also caters for children with special needs and has plans to establish a vocational college.

It is envisioned that the vocational college will provide children with an opportunity to develop technical and trade skills to help them find employment or start their own businesses upon completion.

Mr Packson Lemani, the head teacher of HOH, is full of praise for the philanthropic spirit of the Malawi people.

“Madonna has supported and continues to support our school while the government employs all the teachers here, but the ordinary local people have refused to be mere watchers of the activities,” he said.

“We have a farm which the local people are in charge of to supplement our food supplies. Others also provide us with foodstuff from their farms, school uniforms and second hand-clothes,” he offers.

Mr Lemani says he is not aware of any of the benefactors expecting anything in return, pointing out that politicians, famed for their “strategic” philanthropic gestures, have largely steered clear of the HOH.

A good number of the HOH children, explained Mr Lemami, are actually named according to their unique but invariably depressing backgrounds. Some are named after roads or hospitals from where they were picked up from by good Samaritans. Others are named after the good Samaritans who might have facilitated their entry into the institution.

Tennis great Roger Federer has also extended his philanthropy to Malawi. Indeed, according to the media: “To the children in ‘the warm heart of Africa’, Malawi, he’s known simply as the man who helps to build pre-schools across the country.”Federer has been supporting the government’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) programme in Malawi as his organisation continues to make progress in the field.

The 34-year-old Swiss visited Malawi last July to celebrate a decade of the Roger Federer Foundation that he founded to help make a difference in the country.


“I believe every young child should have the opportunity to spend some years in such a centre because early education is the foundation of learning,” Federer said during the Malawi visit.

Federer put aside his celebrity status and spent the day sitting in on classes, helping cook and serve lunch, as well as enjoying spending time with the youngsters in their playground, where they pulled his hair.

As is the case in most parts of Africa, the philanthropy in Malawi is largely founded on the spirit of African brotherhood – always being there for a brother or a sister in need. However, it has no solid structure as is the case in the West and thus remains somewhat erratic, with minimal impact.

However, the government has been taking measures to change the situation for the better.

The Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare, Dr Mary Shawa, says that Malawians have traditionally taken care of their kith and kin in need. In addition, Malawi has ratified and domesticated the Universal Rights of the Child into Chapter 4 of its Constitution.

However, the advent of the HIV/Aids scourge was a turning point that necessitated a change in Malawi’s policy framework with regard to philanthropy.

“Between 2000 and 2001, Malawi had 4 million orphans, 50 per cent of them due to HIV,” explained Dr Shawa. “The social fabric had disintegrated and the old found themselves caring for the children of their children.”

The number of children in conflict with the law was rising rapidly, and incidents of child trafficking were reported.

Dr Shawa explained that following the emergence of this new challenge, a study was conducted and a policy developed, allowing foster parenting. Orphanages were also established and support for the same encouraged.

Today, Malawi offers tax exemptions to those who import of materials for philanthropic causes. All one needs to do is apply to the gender ministry, which then submits the request to the finance ministry for approval.

Dr Shawa also said there were several foundations in the country, mostly run by politicians and their spouses. These, she pointed out, were often driven by political agendas, hence their erratic nature, the inequitable spatial distribution and minimal impact.

As is the case elsewhere, politicians in Malawi are not averse to initiating what might appear like a philanthropic project, but with a keen eye on pushing their personal agendas. They thus tend to concentrate such efforts in their constituencies and are most active during political contests. Once they win or lose, they often neglect their projects, or shut them down altogether.

Other institutions engaged in philanthropy include the Bilal Trust Malawi, which is dedicated to Islamic charity work. The Trust operates several institutions in the commercial capital, Blantyre, among them the Maryam Girls Teacher Training College and the International College of Business Management.

The Bilal Trust also manages Umar Al-Farouk Boys Darul-Uloom and a host of madrassas and centres.

There is also the Dossani Trust, with a bias for needy medical students. The Dossani Trust has so far produced eight medical doctors, four women and four men, and six medical laboratory scientists, five men and one woman.


But not everyone is enthusiastic about philanthropy in the country.

Just for how long must some people be assisted? ask the critics.

World Vision, for instance, recently took a swipe at the government and fellow NGOs that donate relief to the same people affected by recurrent floods and drought, with its Country Director, Mr Robert Kisyula, saying it was time to say “enough is enough”.

Mr Kisyula expressed his sentiment during the launch of the 2015/2016 Malawi Vulnerability Assessment Committee (MVAC) at Mthumba Primary School near Blantyre.

The Secretary and Commissioner for the Department of Disaster Management Affairs, Mr Bernard Sande, seemed to agree that there has to be a limit to philanthropy. He said the government preferred concerted efforts that empower people.

And there have been controversies too.

In fact, none other than President Peter Mutharika has found himself in the philanthropic firing line. The opposition Malawi Congress Party (MCP), for instance, feels that the president has been less than philanthropic, despite claiming to have a lot of money.

“If he has a lot of money, let him use it to help poor Malawians. For example, at Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH) the scanner is not working. The hospital needs $45,000 (Sh4.6 million) to repair it. Let him use his money to solve this problem,” said MCP spokesperson Jessie Kabwila.

The president has also been lampooned by cartoonists for his alleged meanness despite claiming to have ascended the top when he was already rich.

Born in 1940, President Mutharika worked held a number of international jobs in the field of international justice, where he supposedly made his wealth.


Controversy over Madonna’s contribution

POP DIVA Madonna has been accused of hogging undue publicity while blackmailing Malawi by exaggerating her philanthropic engagement in the Southern Africa state.

The controversy reached a high when the government of Joyce Banda denied her and her entourage special treatment at the airport on arrival in Malawi.

“Kindness, as far as its ordinary meaning is concerned, is free and anonymous. If it can’t be free and silent, it is not kindness; it is something else. Blackmail is the closest it becomes,” a statement from President Banda’s office said.

The then president was reportedly angered by Madonna’s claims that she had built 10 schools in Malawi.

“Where are the 10 schools she has built? She is just building school blocks at already existing schools. In some cases she just renovated an already existing block. This is an insult to the people of Malawi. She can’t be lying to the world at our expense,” President Banda said.

And then there was the scandal of misappropriation of funds.

The managers of Madonna’s Raising Malawi charity were ousted after they reportedly squandered $3.8 million (Sh387 million) on a school that will never be built.

The damning audit came as Raising Malawi confirmed that it had scrapped plans for a $15 million (Sh1.5 billion) elite academy for girls.

The revelation saw the charity’s executive director, Mr Philippe van den Bossche, the partner of Madonna’s former personal trainer, leave office amid harsh criticism of his management style and spending at the school, according to the media.

But the US pop diva seems unfazed by the controversies and is determined to soldier on.

She was quoted as retorting at the end of one trip to Malawi: “My reasons for being here have never changed, I am here because I care deeply about the children of Malawi; that is my main priority.”

Quotes to remember

“I believe every young child should have the opportunity to spend some years in such a centre because early education is the foundation of learning.”

– Tennis star, Roger Federer, whose foundation supports children in Malawi.

Kindness, as far as its ordinary meaning is concerned, is free and anonymous. If it can’t be free and silent, it is not kindness; it is something else. Blackmail is the closest it becomes.” – Former Malawian president, Joyce Banda, questioning Madonna’s sincerity.

“My reasons for being here have never changed, I am here because I care deeply about the children of Malawi; that is my main priority.”

– American pop diva Madonna.