Saturday, May 28, 2011

Chikhwawa children talk development

By Richard Chirombo
Shire River is an apt metaphor for Chikhwawa people- so beautiful and
serene-looking and, yet, with hidden violence and sudden natural
upheavals that have claimed so many lives.
People along the river utilize the water in so many ways: watering
crops, cleaning domestic ware, drinking, and fishing. The resourceful
are also weaving new lives from the golden strings of sand drawn from
the river, meeting their daily social-economic needs.
From the same waters, however, roams one of the major sources of pain
for people in the Lower Shire: crocodiles. At the hour of
self-occupation, relaxation, or abandon, a crocodile strikes the
unsuspecting ‘victim’, adding one more case to the statistics of
“People have become accustomed to all these experiences,” says
Traditional Authority Ngabu.
Ngabu adds that, while nobody gets accustomed to crocodile attacks and
predictable flood patterns, people have become accustomed to both
negative and positive features.
Civil Society Organizations, too, see no problem with the idea of
getting accustomed to both negative and positive aspects of life in
Chikhwawa; it is on the point of getting familiar with negative
features that can be changed that is the bone of contention.
Mervin Banda, Regional Coordinator (South) for the Malawi Economic
Justice Network (Mejn), feels that familiarity becomes a problem when
people get used to the ‘wrong’ things, and that older generations are
often guilty of transferring negative elements over to new
The best way, he says, is “to let children take control of things”,
identify problems, and offer solutions to everyday challenges. Because
children see things from a ‘first-time’ point of view, they are more
likely to influence positive change.
Chikhwawa children have accepted the challenge, and are taking
positive action. Through Mejn, World Vision Malawi (Chikhwawa
Cluster), and Chikhwawa District Council, children are now able to
contribute towards social-economic development through the NGO
Coalition on Child Rights.
Taking advantage of the fact that children remain largely uncorrupted
from experience, Banda used the meeting organized by Chikhwawa
children on April 2, 2011 to raise awareness on the recently enacted
Child Protection Act, and hear children’s development concerns raised
through the Second Session of Chikhwawa Children’s Parliament.
As Andrew Artson, Speaker for Chikhwawa Children’s Parliament,
pointed out, education comes first in the mind of the Chikhwawa child,
followed by food security, health, and water and sanitation, in that
order. These are issues old-timers are too accustomed to that they
either see no need to change, or have given up on.
The problem could be that non-state actors leave all the work in the
basket of government. Artson offers the first solution:
“We hope NGOs and other stakeholders would also take the issues up as
they are (also) working in the district.”
These issues include the need for a comprehensive adult literacy
programme. Adults, he says, are forcing the girl child into early
marriage. Closely linked to this is the remoteness of learning
institutions from villages, exposing the girl child to rapists,
forcing children to start school much later than normal, and leading
into school drop-outs as marriage gets more attractive than secondary
school and university corridors.
Chikhwawa, chips in Child Member of Parliament for Chikhwawa Mkombedzi
Audria Chiwanda, is also hit by drought and the problem of erratic
rains almost every year; floods, when too much rains elsewhere create
floods in dry Chikhwawa; water-borne diseases because most boreholes
are in a state of disrepair in a district with scanty sources of
portable water.
”Chikhwawa is one of the districts that do not have adequate health
facilities that, when a child falls sick, parents have to travel long
distances (and) most of the schools do not have first aid facilities
for emergencies. We have also realized that there is a very big
shortage of health personnel in our hospitals,” says Chiwanda.
Observers say Chikhwawa has taken the right path in empowering
children, but fault other underlying factors for deep-seated attitudes
towards development gaps. Civic and Political Space Platform (CPSP)
Southern Region Coordinator, Noel Msiska, says people are yet to
appreciate the full meaning of democracy- power to the people.
At a meeting CPSP organized for Chikhwawa religious leaders with
funding from Dan Church Aid- in preparation for this year’s Local
Government Elections (LGE)- Chikhwawa Pastors Fraternal chairperson,
Hussein Nguwo, blamed it on bad experiences from 1994. He suggests
that when experiences are painful, they cease to be the ‘greatest
teacher’; instead, they become a distraction and burden.
The problem is that people have learned to dismiss such burdens,
leaving a litany of problems unresolved. Unfortunately, says Nguwo,
this has turned out to be the case with democracy, too, because
decentralization is there only on paper.
“One of the reasons is that voters are disappointed in Members of
Parliament (MPs), most of whom prefer urban areas to their rural
constituencies. People think the same of councilors.”
It is a challenge warranting a multi-sectoral approach. It means
religious leaders continuing to pray for rains, offering spiritual
food, visiting hospitals and prisons; but they should also preach
politics, development politics.
In addition, Chikhwawa people must also recognize and embrace two
important principles: the ability to challenge accepted social mores
and the latitude to make mistakes. More related to this is the
principle that elected leaders must generally respect generally-held
consensus to protect certain values while being free to challenge
their continual validity.
This realization, it is hoped, will help Chikhwawa women overcome
stereotypes, too. Since independence, Chikhwawa women have lagged
behind in literacy levels. From January 2009 to May 2010, for
instance, the percentage of female patrons to resource centres has
never exceeded 15 per cent. Male readers, however, always surpasses 85
per cent. These figures are for people who visit National Initiative
for Civic Education District library, Ndife Amodzi, Chikhwawa Prison,
Mtera and Sangano resource centres.
It is a threat to the 50-50 women representation campaign. How can
people who do not read widely get the information to make informed
It is a jig-saw complicated by inaccessibility of most MPs. In the
absence of councilors, MPs are regarded as the first-line of
development call. Chikhwawa has registered some success because every
Traditional Authority, Paramount Chief and Senior Chief has their
mobile number publicly displayed at the NICE office. MPs, too, have
their contact numbers displayed.
It is part of the remedy to get people believing in themselves again,
faith being powered by the hope of Chikhwawa children.

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