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Malawi: Tukombo sets example for community development

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Picture: People go about their business at Tukombo Beach in Malawi. I fell in love with the country’s innocence, the people oblivious of a life other than their way of living, the writer says.

By Cathrine Banda

I have always had an urge to go back home to Malawi and be part of the builders of my community and the country at large. Though born and raised in Zimbabwe by Malawian parents, my love for Malawi developed when I arrived there in 2004; still a child yet old enough to know good from bad.

I instantly fell in love with an odd way of life at my parents’ villages, both mother’s and father’s sides. I fell in love with the country’s innocence, the people oblivious of a life other than their way of living. Certainly, ignorance sometimes is bliss. I was raised, according to me, in an average home with running water, a bathtub, electricity, stove, fridge, and sleeping on a bed. I naively thought that this lifestyle was a common way of life for everyone everywhere across the world.

Sleeping on a mukeka or African mat in my parent’s village in Malawi was not a shock but a roller-coaster adventure for me. Fetching water was the most exhilarating experience. Carrying tons of buckets with my cousins and brothers, contrary to our small family way back in Zimbabwe, I was faced with many cousins in Malawi, an unfamiliar sight, was a pleasure. We would take turns swinging the borehole wheel until we filled all the buckets.

Cooking was quite exciting, and mealtime was beyond enjoyable. We sat amidst more than 20 people near the kitchen, chit-chatting while we waited for the food to be served. We had to sit in groups, males separate from females, just as the mothers comprised their separate group, so were the children. Each category had to be served from its communal dish according to their gender and age.

After three months of this pleasurable village life experience, my father came and took me back to Zimbabwe. I vowed in my heart that I would return.

Years later, the nudge to go back to Malawi was still there, stirring in me. In 2014, a mature woman, I decided to relocate and work in Malawi. By then, I understood that some of the first pleasant experiences I had encountered resulted from lack and poverty. I worked in Malawi for eight months, only to be so disappointed by the new experiences of hardship. The people and the country were going through tough times due to poor governance and political misalignment. That time, I did not find anything pleasant about my country, so I left despite my inward-burning desire to help.

Subsequently, in 2021, mentally prepared for disappointment and discomfort, I returned to live in Tukombo, my parent’s village located in Nkhatabay in the Northern region of Malawi, comprising of Tonga speaking people, one of the peoples that pioneered multi party rule through Aleke Banda and others, also known to be the smartest and educated tribe in Malawi. I realised that my community needed help, urgently. So, I reached out to the Traditional Authority (TA) of the land to help and found out which areas needed immediate attention. Shocked, I was given a Bible of needs, and with no stream of financial resources, I felt helpless and hopeless.

However, although hopeless, I had confidence that I could reach out to some of my trusted and valued friends with whom I had built trustful relationships over the years based on either our common interests, spiritual foundation, or the vision of building the Africa we want. It is an Africa with a prosperous future we want to see and live in, thus banking on.

I embarked on a solo journey of knocking on every one of my friend’s doors for financial assistance, hoping to have a good response. Indeed, most of the friends fell head over heels without hesitation in extending their financial resources in helping to build my village while building the Africa we want, one village at a time.

Yes, there have been a few exceptions whereby I had some emotional wrecking experience. Some potential donors I approached thought that at the stage in my life I shouldn’t [have] been ‘appealing’ for financial assistance, and that I was a failure and an embarrassment to society. Therefore, I should never had reached out to them or shared the philanthropic request work I was doing.

Through various resources and the help from friends, we have managed to renovate the village court/office, helped construct a nursery block, bought chairs for the community court and distribute food parcels and clothes to the community.

Once the news started to reach out to some of the people living in the diaspora who shared the same passion for building or facelifting the community, the response to contribute grew rapidly. Many reached out to me and expressed their commitment to join hands to improve the village. I realised that there was and still is a genuine burning desire to remit back to Africa.

In hindsight the bottleneck lies in identifying potentially trustworthy partners. Currently, I have partnered with my fellow brothers and sisters from Tukombo, mainly based outside the country, to extend the existing clinic into a hospital, and each person would contribute as little as US$6.

With all this being done with a couple of close friends, the most mind-boggling questions that come to mind: How does the government of Malawi fail to deliver on the smallest of services when a small group of friends can bring change within a couple of months? Where does our government fail in service delivery? What are the priorities in the national expenditure, and what should they be?

Meanwhile Tukombo village has diverse so-called development committees that convene countless meetings, with little or no tangible deliverables on the ground. Is it because of a lack of focus on the bigger picture, in terms of vision, genuine sense of duty, unity for purpose, or unity of purpose? Could this be attributed to a lack of a shared mindset, education, drive or enthusiasm to live well in Malawi?

Unfortunately, it seems there are similar heart-wrenching cases across Africa despite the continent’s immense potentials. Notwithstanding this, the afore-captioned drawbacks pose a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to true meaningful emancipation and economic freedom.

But we must face these challenges and forge a more liveable and prosperous Africa. Our experience in Tukumbo village must help us to create a hopeful community with successful tangible development goals.

Banda is a Development Activist at the Hopeview Resource Centre, Mzuzu, Malawi and Former Radio Presenter on the 1873fm, Johannesburg

This article is original to the The African. To republish, see terms and conditions.