Tumpe Kire was 10 when she was sold to pay for her own medical bills. Her father, unable to pay the 20,000 kwacha (’30) fee, gave his ill daughter to the traditional healer to settle the bill. For six months she lived and laboured for the man; the length of time which, by local custom, she should have qualified as the healer’s wife. Before this happened, a local Mother and Father group discussed the case and pressurised the father to sell some of his livestock to buy his daughter back. This is but one example of the pioneering work by the Livingstonia Synod Aids Program (LISAP), a local charity, which focussed on helping the 16,000 children most at risk from underage marriage, child labour and other harmful traditional practices in northern Malawi. Word is spreading with more and more community groups keen to see change.
The recent discovery of oil in the lake bed underlines the fact that this small country is blessed with an abundance of riches. But Malawi’s majority subsistence farming population remains untouched by the profits from exports of tobacco, tea and sugar. Development is stunted by systemic poverty as harmful traditional beliefs prevent children from going to school, sometimes enslaving them in early marriages. Mother and Father groups are part of the Girls and Boys Empowerment project, revolutionising the lives of children through positive pressure of parents and life skills education for children. Elders and local chiefs are encouraged to create bylaws that allow the necessary leverage to bring about change. Chief Mwakaboko, a strong opponent won round to Mphatso’s vision, knew of only five educated women in his area when this work began. Now he hopes that this will change. ‘They are not putting money in their pockets but putting money with the people’ he says encouragingly.