Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Ovaha''s Hut - The Giving Hut

Since I mentioned Ovaha's Hut in a previous post, I thought I might blog about it. I've actually never visited the project but through Ruthie Markus from AMECA, Lawrence got in touch wanting to tell me more about the projects run by Ovaha's Hut and what he is trying to do. The following blog was written for Lawrence and the Ovaha Hut team to use. Stepping outside the box, I hope this blog can offer some insight into this grassroots project, for the people by the people. 

Ovaha's Hut
In his own words Lawrence Matembezi Ngwemba started Ovaha's Hut "because many children did not care about school, they were marrying young, drinking alcohol and being violent". He opened Ovaha's Hut to try and put a stop to this, as a result there are now many children in primary school. Many people doubted that he would succeed but by using his salary of 5000 Malawi Kwacha and doing piece work to pay the teachers he has turned a dream in to a success. Ovaha's hut is located in the Takhiwa and Gladstone Villages in the Mulanje District of southern Malawi. The charity organisation is based on the philosophy of giving the best to the community, aiming to develop the community with existing resources so that people can learn to support themselves. Ovaha's Hut has two projects; the first Ovaha Nursery School and the second Ovaha Elderly Shelter.

Ovaha Nursery School
Opened in 2008 and formally launched in 2009, the nursery school is a not-for-profit institution with the aim of educating the local children in a local school. Like many things in Malawi, Nursery School is viewed as a luxury, only affordable to the few. Ovaha Nursery School is part if the community, open to all, regardless of ability. The mission is simple; to enable all children, especially the underprivileged, to access education before commencing primary school. By providing a place of education for children from ages 2 to 7, the nursery school further aims to encourage children to learn from an early age, to want to attend primary and secondary school and to develop an ambition to be educated. Ovaha's Hut acknowledges this as a challenge - as many children who do not have the opportunity to learn before attending primary school struggle and do not take education seriously, many marry young. The teachers are all volunteers and come from the same village in which the school is situated, giving the nursery school a real sense of community. Currently gathering under a tree, Ovaha's Hut is attempting to the raise the necessary funds to build a school block.

Ovaha Elderly Shelter
Based in Takhiwa village, the Eldery Shelter provides support the elderly members of the community. The shelter gives support by providing some of the basic goods to members of the community and it also ensures that those who are sick are taken to the hospital. Ovaha's Hut chose to support the elderly as they believe the Agogo's are a bit like a walking library for the community - a wealth of knowledge and experience. Ovaha's hut bring the elderly together three times a week, they participate in a range of activities including knitting - everything that is knitted goes to the Nursery School. Their mission is simple to support the needy and to make the elderly feel needed in the village. 

The newest project is to start a pig-farming project where the elderly members of the community are each given a pig to raise. They would then be able to sell the pigs and buy some more, not only making the project self-sustaining but bringing the community together. The project along with the existing ponds to keep fish will help to make many of the elderly people in the village self-reliant.

So what are the challenges?
Like any other organisation working in Malawi, Ovaha's Hut faces lots of different challenges. They are constantly on the look-out for donations of learning materials and for training materials for the volunteer teachers. They also need an increasing number of volunteers to help run the projects. Ovaha's Hut is currently in the process of raising the funds to build two shelters - one for the Nursery School and the second for the Elderly Shelter. Further challenges lie in; providing food to the children who attend the nursery school, providing medical assistance and items such as soap, salt, sugar and food supplements especially for the elderly.

What about the future?
Despite facing many challenges, Lawrence and the team at Ovaha's Hut plan to open a place for the youth in the community, a place where they can learn new skills to help them find employment. Not only is the aim to help the youth develop new skills but it’s hoped that they will become role models for the community.

Lawrence Matembezi Ngwemba is committed to the development of Ovaha’s Hut. He works hard to help the community and wants to inspire others to do likewise. He’s about as close to the ordinary Malawian as you can get, growing up in the village and now based in Blantyre, he continually works hard to do what he can for others. 

Sunday, 6 January 2013

2013: A New Year

It's 2013 and as the world slowly goes back to work and normality I start to wonder what the year ahead will bring. Today, 6th January, we welcome the Magi to the stable, bringing with them gifts. Now although we don't expect gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh, I wonder if it wasn't for the ipods/ipads/new phones and gadgets what would we expect of the festive season? I got a bit sickened walking along Princes St in Edinburgh seeing all the "for sale" signs and hearing children (and adults) use the phrase "I want" once too often.

Ovaha means to give in Lomwe (one of the languages spoken in Mulanje, Malawi) and so Ovaha's Hut is essentially the Giving Hut. However it doesn't give out ipods or the latest gadgets, it gives food, support and provides education to the most vulnerable members the community. It has two main objectives; to help the elderly and the young. The nursery school provides a learning environment for the children whilst the shelter for the elderly is a place where they can be helped and looked after. Established by Lawrence Ngwemba, a Malawian who is clearly passionate about Ovaha's Hut the aim is simple - to make things better using the resources they have.

The festive season for most in Malawi, isn't full of oversized christmas trees, expensive presents and too much turkey. It is like every other day, a fight to survive.

In her latest blog, Letter from Malawi: Coming Home, Ruthie Markus talks about life in Malawi being tough but she also talks about how Christmas there is different to Christmas in the UK. No ipods, no gadgets, it is a time for family and a small treat (if you're lucky). Reading Ruthie's blog reminded me of why I love Malawi so much but it also reminded me of  the street children playing and the women begging, of the old man in the wheelchair who sits at the top of Victoria Avenue, of the uncertainty.

So as 2013 gets underway and I go back to work and back into the routine of life in Edinburgh, I wonder what 2013 will bring? I look forward to the challenges and the adventures.