Mary outside her old house with her eldest children Tony and Beatrice
Photo: Georgie Scott
Ever since Mary Phiri was widowed in 1989, she has struggled to raise her four children by herself. They would often go onto the streets to steal and beg to buy food and would sometimes never come home at night.
“I would cry for nights on end when my children were on the streets late at night - it was too horrible to bear,” said Mary, who lives in Mchesi township in Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. Mary has four children; Willy, 11, Alinafe, 12, Tony, 14, and Beatrice, 17.
“I tried to stop them going out but the more I talked the more they went out - this was because there were too many problems here at home. When there was no food at home, my children were driven to the streets to look for food.”
When there was no food at home, my children were driven to the streets to look for food.
Chisomo Children’s Centre works with 967 children in Lilongwe - it is not an orphanage but focuses on reintegration and getting children back into safe family environments as soon as possible. Where the child has no parents, they try and find another appropriate family member.
The centre mainly works with boys as they are the easiest to locate on the streets - girls usually end up in sex work so are harder to meet. The Centre is a charity in its own right but it has been funded by AA Malawi from country programme funds for several years.
When Chisomo staff met the children on the streets, they contacted Mary and told her that she should go for a HIV/AIDS test and counselling – she was diagnosed as positive.
Chisomo provided her with a loan and business training, which she used to sell roasted ground nuts, cooked maize and other food by the road side – this business was very successful and she was able to pay for piped water at her home, which she charges her neighbours to use.
Mary has used the profit to build a new, bigger home next to her current house – she has made a tiny garden outside her front door, watering it from the tap that Chisomo helped her install. Now she can finally buy and grow food for ehr children. They no longer turn to the streets for food.
Her children are also being helped by Chisomo through compulsory attendance at school and counselling.
Without Chisomo my children could have been lost - there is a big difference now and I appreciate all of the things that are happening to me.
Mary concluded, “I am looking forward to moving into my new home.”