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Kondanani graduate gives tribute to those who made her education possible

As our children complete their education and venture into the world, we’re grateful for every Kondanani graduate. Josephine is one of our girls who went to the USA to study and was awarded a degree in Hospitality Management. She will speak at an American Rotary Club in June. This is her speech. So worth reading. So great to see all God has done in her life. Please take time to read her extraordinary story…

Good Evening Ladies and Gentlemen. First of all, I would like to thank you all for allowing me to gather in this amazing place together with you to chat and get to know one another better. I trust that by the time we are done here, we will have a better understanding of one another and find ways in which we can reach out to help the people that need our support most.

My name is Josephine Milanzi. I am a Malawian whose beginning was not all that great. We imagine parents of newborn babies will be excited to welcome their children into their lives and to see them grow and succeed. They are enthusiastic about spending money on them to make their lives in this world a tiny bit easier. These parents desire to protect their children from the nasty claws of the world. They will strive to snuggle up with them, protect them, and keep them safe in attempts to let their children know that everything will be alright because their parents are there.

Though this is an amazing picture of love and hope, I have also seen and heard the opposite happen. I have seen and heard stories of how children were born into families that were financially unstable and had no means to take care of them. I have seen and heard of babies who were born into families who neither cared about them nor wanted anything to do with them. Parents who have literally thrown their own children out in the cold, dark world with no one to comfort them or even give them a sense of belonging.

I have seen and heard of babies, whose birth mothers intentionally left their children, as little as 3-year-old toddlers to fend for themselves and their much younger siblings in the world. I have also seen and heard of children whose parents made the choice to throw their newborn children away in pit latrines and bushes, in an attempt to avoid any responsibilities of caring for them.

This picture is a stark contrast to the former picture wouldn’t you think? I have seen both sides of the spectrum, where children are welcomed whole-heartedly and loved dearly by members of their family, and where children are rejected, thrown out of the comfort of their own homes, and left at the mercy of a life stricken with poverty. Sadly, this is the story of most children in Africa, more especially, Malawi.

Though my story is not quite as tragic, I too, have had my share of hardship at the beginning of my life. I was born into a poor family in Malawi, which is known as one of the poorest countries in the world. My mom died when I was very little, precisely when I was one year old. I later came to find out she passed away from pneumonia, caused by a pandemic that had struck the world at the time–HIV/AIDS.

I wish I could tell you more about my mom, but, sadly, this is all I know about her. After her death, my dad took the initiative to take care of me and my two older siblings who were very young themselves. I also have an older sister who was in high school at the time, and my dad was the sole provider for my family.

Daddy worked in a cloth factory at the time. His earnings from the factory were barely enough to keep me and my close-in-age siblings well fed and provided for, in addition to paying for my sister’s tuition fees. As a result, malnutrition settled in and I became a very sick child, meaning there were added medical expenses my father had to pay.

With very little money to keep me healthy, well-fed, and taken care of, Daddy decided that he could not do the work alone. With a heavy heart, he decided to separate me from the rest of the family and take me to an orphanage where I could get the care I needed most. This orphanage has been my home since that time.

When I arrived at Kondanani, I was welcomed in with open arms, and I received the much-needed medical attention that my father could not afford to give me. Above all, I had a home with running water, where I would have a warm shower every day; electricity ensuring I had time to study at home, a warm bed, a roof over my head and so much more, oh so much more!

Most importantly, I was provided with an education. Mrs Annie Chikhwaza, the founder of Kondanani, the orphanage I grew up in, made it a point that we, the children from the orphanage, learned to speak and write in English from an early age. Kondanani became an oasis of love and hope for a brighter future for myself, as well as my other 160 brothers and sisters.

Mrs Chikhwaza, whom we all refer to as “Mommy,” is the founder of the orphanage. Her story is spectacular, as she willingly and passionately took steps to ensure that the 160 children entrusted into her care would have better futures and rise above the stories of poverty and hardship their families had gone through.

She is originally from the Netherlands. She came to Malawi because she had married a Malawian Pastor by the name of Lewis Chikhwaza. Life as a biracial couple was not easy. Annie faced a lot of prejudice while in Malawi. She experienced a lot of hate from the people that were supposed to be her family.

Things got so bad that her husband’s family wanted her dead. One day a mob broke into the house that she lived in with her husband and beat her so badly, beyond recognition that she was hospitalized. She returned to South Africa to seek medical attention, as there was not sufficient health care units available in Malawi. After returning from South Africa in 1996, Annie decided to open an orphanage right on the spot she was beaten and shown hate.

In 1998, the orphanage opened and Annie decided to name the orphanage Kondanani, a Chichewa word meaning Love one Another. Indeed, Kondanani has been a place where children from different backgrounds and families in Malawi could find hope, comfort, love, and family. This means the first babies brought to the orphanage are now 24-years-old and the youngest is 7-years-old.

Kondanani is like a little community that has two villages; a boys’ and a girls’ village. The boys’ Village is called Madalo Children’s village. It has seven houses each of which accommodates 12 boys and 2 Amayis, (Chichewa for mothers). When I was in Kondanani, each house had four teenagers, four pre-teens, and four younger children. This gave each home a real, family dynamic, where the older children would help take care of the younger kids.

The girls’ village, which is called Kondanani Children’s Village also has six houses with 12 girls in each house. They also have a similar kind of setup as the boys’ village. I loved living at Kondanani because I considered myself blessed, as I had so much compared to any average Malawian girl. The houses Annie built had running water, electricity, and indoor bathrooms, which are a rare commodity for many people in that general area.

Kondanani also has a school, which used to start from nursery school (preschool) through 12th grade. The School is called the Lewis Chikhwaza Christian Academy. Now, it only has an elementary and a high school, due to the youngest children growing up and moving up in grades. Kondanani uses the ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) homeschooling curriculum.

This is a self-taught program that allows students to work at their own pace. The main subjects are English, Maths, Science, and Social Studies, in addition to other minor subjects. Students are encouraged to mark their own work honestly. This gives the student a lot of disciplinary values including integrity, diligence, and determination. Hard work is encouraged at Kondanani.

Children take homework every day. The 12 of us sat around the dining room table doing homework. As we got older, Mommy would invite the older students to her house to study at her kitchen table. It was such a memorable experience growing up at Kondanani.

Kondanani also has a farm, called the Fila farm with some cows, pigs, chickens, and sheep. The farm is one of the ways Kondanani can be more self-sustaining. The pork and beef from the cattle and pigs are sold to outside companies, and the milk from the cattle is used to make cheese as well as a daily beverage for the children. The pigs and cows also provide our Sunday afternoon meal which includes meat.

El Paradiso is our little paradise right in the heart of kondanani. It is a pond and jungle area gated in for us to play in. This was the venue where many happy moments were hosted. Every year in the second week of December, we host the annual Christmas Party, to which everyone is invited. We had burgers, coleslaw, yummy dessert, such as brownies and ice cream, and of course, the Christmas presents. This was one of the happiest days of the year.

We also had birthday parties at El Paradiso. It was a place we could go unwind on the weekend and just enjoy one another’s company while taking a break from school. My favourite things to do at El Paradiso were reading and playing with the younger girls.

Two years ago, Annie with the help of her assistant director, the late Cherie Martin, Kondanani opened a paediatric clinic right on the Kondanani campus. This clinic ensures that children between up to five years can go receive medical attention free of charge. Kondanani was the site of several medical missions that happened over a number of years. I am pleased to say that I also helped serve in these medical missions by translating for the Egyptian doctors that organised the medical missions. On a single day, we saw up to 800 hundred patients who were more than happy to have receive medications that would otherwise be inaccessible in the government clinics in the surrounding villages.

Two Kondanani graduates in the USA

We have seen so many fruits being produced academically as a result of so many people investing in the lives of my many orphaned brothers and sisters. One of the biggest ways we have seen results is in students who are coming out of high school in Kondanani and being accepted into various colleges and universities in Malawi. Two and a half years ago, two students who came out of Kondanani were accepted into an American college. This became possible because of the strength and stamina of some American missionaries that came to Malawi to serve for a number of years.

The two missionaries, Trina Philips and Leah Cameron decided to take someone home with them and make an individual impact. Their goal was to build a one-on-one relationship with these two individuals from Kondanani and to see them through undergrad education, both financially, mentally, and emotionally. I am one of those individuals who came from Kondanani.

Since coming to America, I have been living with my sponsor family, the Camerons. I am so blessed to have them in my life. Thandi Jussu, a Healthcare Office Coordination major at Northampton Community College is another student that came from Kondanani. I graduated from Northampton Community College with an Associate Degree in Hospitality Management and a Specialised Diploma in Resort Management. My sister, Thandi Jussu, will be graduating this December with an Associate Degree in Healthcare Office Coordination. Such exciting achievements!

Mayi Cherie Martin was another significant member of the Kondanani family. She left her home in Australia in 2002 to come serve in Malawi. She left everything she knew in Australia and dedicated the last 20 years of her life to the orphanage. Mayi Cherie was the definition of strength and dignity. A woman who wore many hats and took many responsibilities on her shoulders as the assistant director. She was a single mother, an aunt, a leader, a spokesperson for Kondanani, and an administrator. She did so much that I am not even sure what all her responsibilities were. What I am aware of, however, is the fact that she served people in such a selfless way.

Sadly, in February 2021, Mayi Cherie contracted the infamous Covid-19 virus and died a few weeks later. I was best friends with her daughter, Tandazi, and she treated me like her second daughter. The loss of Mayi Cherie was felt deeply within Kondanani, across the nation of Malawi, as she had impacted so many there, and across the world, from those, she left in Australia, to others who had visited Kondanani, to me and Thandi in America.

With Mayi Cherie’s passing came the immediate need for new people dedicated to serving in Africa. Kondanani is in need of teachers and volunteers who could go and teach the children, and impart knowledge to the kids. They could also use doctors who would be willing to help run the Esther Meyer Hospital and provide medical assistance to the children of the surrounding villages.

Investing in the lives of these children brings about deep and meaningful change. I have walked the paths, sat in the chairs, slept in the bed, and learned in the school, that the donations help to pay for and I am here to tell you it all makes a difference in our lives. I can stand here today and say that without the seed that Annie Chihkwaza, as well as many other missionaries, sowed, more especially Leah Cameron, my sponsor, I would not have had the opportunities I have today.

I would not have been able to continue with my education. I would not have been able to reach my highest potential. Quite frankly, I would not have been able to have the job I have today, as Front Desk Receptionist at Woodloch Pines Resort. Most importantly, I would not have had dreams that keep me going for a better tomorrow for myself, as well as, my family.

It is thanks to people like Mrs Annie Chikhwaza, Ms Cherie Martin, Leah Cameron, Trina Philips and so many more who gave up their lives in their own countries to come to serve children in a third-world country, that we have hope for a brighter and better tomorrow. I owe my appreciation to these people every single day for the sacrifices they made not just for me, but for every single child back home.

Also read: Josephine Milanzi – the Malawian girl who become a leader despite all odds

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