For 10-year-old Chitsanzo*, there is a second home away from her village Kulupiya.
She, along with her one-year-old brother, has found comfort in Sogoja Village under the area of Traditional Authority Mwambo in Zomba where The Sparkle Foundation offers miscellaneous child friendly services.
Chitsanzo, now in Standard 4 at Chikamveka Primary School tells me, that at the foundation, she learns about her responsibilities, good behavior and having the opportunity to feel at home.
At the end of her classes at Chikamveka by noon, Chitsanzo walks home to rest and heads to Sparkle Foundation for her afternoon classes.
“We learn a lot here, such as good manners, not to steal and to also respect elders as the society demands. I always feel at home when I come here,” she says as her little brother attends a Montessori at the back of the Foundation’s office we were interacting.
Established in 2015 by Sarah Brook, Sparkle Foundation works to improve lives of vulnerable children in a sole bid to build their futures. The CEO and Founder, Brook had seen the need in the wake of her visit to Malawi. About 300 children have been recruited in the programmes.
The institution has key areas of focus namely; Education, Health and Community Empowerment. On education, it offers nursery (for children aged from 2 to 6 years), Montessori and Primary School education (For those in the age ranges of 6 to 20) in the afternoon with a feeding programme and operation of a clinic for basic medical interventions in the health approach.
In the feeding programme, children are served with breakfast and lunch. The Foundation has also formed youth and women groups as part of community empowerment.
Local Director Lusungu Zgambo says in an interview that the institution also ensures the children are protected from various forms of abuse, under the notion that to fully exercise their rights, children have to be protected first.
She says they have done so with support of local authority in ten villages under the area of Traditional Authority Mwambo in the district.
‘’To identify the children, we use a vulnerability scale. We rate those requiring to be under assistance in realms of malnourishment, orphan-hood, children with disabilities, with albinism and living with HIV/AIDS. This is conducted along with various stakeholders and chiefs. Having done that we do household visits to verify the levels of the said vulnerability,” says Zgambo when asked about the criterion used in recruiting the children.
According to Zgambo, The Foundation which is operating in Zomba only at the moment has thus far served up to 66000 meals, with 4,700 medical interventions and has educated over 800 children.
In its 2015-16 Malawi Micronutrient Survey (MNS), the National Statistical Office (NSO) revealed that pre-school children have unprecedented nutritional drawback. Most of those faced with such problems such as anemia are in rural areas where apparently provision of health services for all people is hard in Malawi. UNICEF indicated that up to 64,826 children were in 2017 requiring treatment for severe and acute malnutrition.
Jonathan* aged ten from Sogoja Village walks to the Foundation along with two brothers – one younger and the other older – where he tells me he gets a sweet meal. He says his efforts to learn how to read and write at Chikamveka Primary School where he is in Standard 4 are greatly complemented at the Foundation. He says he has improved in reading and writing both the vernacular Chichewa and English.
Over the years, The Sparkle Foundation has also been involved in outdoor medical campaigns on cholera and malaria – diseases that have been a thorn in the flesh of Malawian children. The Health section on the Malawi government website states that 6 million cases of malaria occur annually. This leads to mortality in under 5 children with the Health Management Information System (HMIS) indicating that malaria accounts for about 34% of all outpatients.
According to World Vision, at the start of last year, two children had died of cholera as the numbers kept increasing.
‘’Around the communities, we have also carried out HIV testing, offering family planning services. On this project we have worked with the Dreams Project. We have also worked with Good Vision Glasses on eye test of the children and providing free spectacles. Thirty staff members are also drawn from the said catchment area,’’ Zgambo says.
The Foundation has an agreement with Chikamveka, Ndangopuma and Mulunguzi Primary Schools in making follow ups and assessment of the children’s performances at school.
Zgambo admits however that it is a tall order for the nation to achieve the idea of promoting children’s rights but was quick to say that stakeholders need to place concerted efforts together in this regard.
‘’You will agree with me that several organizations are working hard. They are Save the Children, UNICEF and Mary Meals which supports our feeding programme. Civic education is one key issue. People need to know where and how to report issues about the plight of children. The involvement of law enforcement is also needed at the news of child trafficking, rape and defilement,’’ she adds.
For children like Chitsanzo, Jonathan and the hundreds of others in The Sparkle Foundation’s radar they all have a beacon of hope of growing into productive citizens despite various plights they are faced with.
*Not their real names.