Othakarhaka Foundation and Ida Puliwa: the young woman who started it all.
Here was a girl, from one of the poorest regions in the poorest country on earth, who wanted an education. Her uncle's girlfriend agreed to sponsor her in college, but they died in a car accident between Ida's second and third year. Ida left school until a kind woman from the US offered to sponsor her to graduation. Because of the kindness of these two women, Ida Puliwa would be the first girl in her village (and the other 9 villages surrounding hers) to get a full education. They saw her as a role model and a hero.
So what did Ida do? She forwarded that kindness to her communities. She started a foundation called Othakarhaka (‘passing on the kindness’) which has developed a number of programs benefiting her local communities. They have orphan school scholarships, an adult literacy program, a tailoring program, a farming program, a 4H program for students, a tree planting program, along with many other smaller efforts (training how to build rocket stoves, caring/protection for the elderly, bee keeping, etc.). The Foundation has a full board of directors, is supported by all 10 local chiefs, has over 3,000 volunteers, and is LOCALLY managed. There is no other country or organization telling them what to do or how to do it. No one is saving these villages, but these villages themselves… all led by Ida Puliwa, a young woman who, as a girl, was very grateful for an education.
If you would like to support Ida and her efforts in Mulanje, please visit the Ida's Girls website at www.idemandaccess.org.
This small East African nation (about the size of Pennsylvania) is currently one of the poorest countries in the world, with an annual per capita income of less than $366 ($1 per day), and an average life expectancy of 52 years. Within its population of about 12 million, over 600,000 are orphans—the result of widespread HIV/AIDS, which kills nearly 80,000 people per year. There is an entire generation missing here... parents. There are children and there are some grandparents, but the middle generation, the parents, the breadwinners, are missing.
Life in rural Malawi is not easy. Mud or brick huts with tin or thatched roofs. Some have openings for windows. Others do not. Some have more than one room, many do not. No kitchen. No bathroom. No beds. Possibly a mat to sleep on. Sometimes a mattress on the ground. Hopefully a mosquito net to sleep under, unless it is being used to catch fish. No electricity. Water pumped from a community well, hopefully nearby. Laundry often done in a river or lake.
A one-room office serving as the epicenter of programs for the Foundation. Behind the desk hangs a handwritten list of all of Othakarhaka's current programs:
1. Orphan and Elderly Care and Protection
2. Secondary School Scholarships
3. Adult Literacy
5. Agroforestry (tree planting)
6. HIV/AIDS Awareness (reducing the stigma)
8. 4H for Youth
These, along with many other smaller efforts (training on how to build rocket stoves, bee keeping, etc.) make up the current efforts of the Foundation's programs.
The roles of the OK volunteer are many:
1. to help the elderly by caring for them when they are sick and/or unable to care for themselves, making repairs on their homes/land, doing chores for them, protecting them from abuse, etc.
2. preventing land grabs when someone dies
3. cleaning up litter
4. preventing child marriages
5. maintaining tree nurseries
6. kindness to animals
7. reducing the stigma of HIV/AIDS
8. caring for orphans
9. village policing
10. supporting/managing other OK programs as needed
The Secondary School Scholarships (for orphans) program is currently in its third year, and is being funded by private donors in the United States (i.e. not self-sustaining, which is being assessed for future). There are currently 38 students being sponsored and all are achieving highest ranks in their class. Once in school, the student is given a volunteer partner who ensures that that student’s needs are being met (food, supplies, study time, mentorship, etc.). A nice byproduct is that when orphans are students, they are not getting into trouble or getting pregnant. Updates and full transparency are provided to donors at regular intervals.
In order for individuals to manage their businesses well, they need at least a minimal amount of literacy (to interface with banks, to see to their customers, etc.) so an adult literacy program was started. There are currently 200 adult learners, including several chiefs, in the program. They currently can read and write simple sentences and can solve simple math problems (and open savings accounts). Simple test taking is being pursued as well.
A typical homestead in rural Malawi... one room house with outhouse out back.
Bathing and laundry typically happen in the same place... whether it be via a bucket that has been carried back home from a well or in a nearby river or lake.
Life is simple in rural Malawi. There isn't a great deal to work with, and much to overcome. This is a fairly typical home. One room thatch roof hut where all cooking, bathing, cleaning is done outside. Here we see dishes drying in the sun.
For those who don't have the means or do not yet know how to construct a rocket stove, traditional stoves are used. Here they are preparing the one meal per day which typically consists mostly of nsima, a sort of porridge made from white maize flour.
Rocket stoves have been proven to be far more efficient than traditional stoves. Consequently, the women in these villages are being taught by Othakarhaka how to build them with brick and to use them. These stoves burn wood and because the fire is enclosed it burns hotter and more efficiently. It also heats up the bricks which retain that heat for long periods of time as well (allowing women to boil water, for example, without having to keep the fire burning). This saves on the amount of wood that is necessary (better for the environment) and the amount of attention needed for cooking. The lack of open flame is also safer with children around.
Here a young woman (with baby on her back) proudly shows off the rocket stove she built and uses to feed her family.
Here, a woman is moving mud by hand in order to shift the irrigation flow from one plot of land to another.
Because of Othakarhaka, all farmers in the program are doing well even despite drought.
Most all farming done in rural Malawi is done BY HAND, entire fields even. Usually the only tool, if they have one, is a hoe. The Othakarhaka Foundation currently has 1,135 small holder farmers participating in their agriculture program. Each farmer is loaned a small plot of land and given enough high yield seeds (maize) for one crop. They are then taught how to sow the seeds, fertilize them, water them, tend to the growth, and harvest. Upon harvest, they are required to give one 50kg bag back to the Foundation each year (which helps fund/support Othakarhaka programs).
This year all farmers in the program are doing well even despite drought because they had seed and fertilizer and they started at first rains (so crops already had a good start when the dry spell started). There are no mechanized farming tools or help. Instead, they usually just have one tool: the hoe. They apply fertilizer by hand. They reroute irrigation ditches by hand (move mud from one ditch to another to control where the water flows)… all on a manual time table.
With their small profits (even after giving back the required 50 kg bag of maize), farmers have built houses or added roofs or cement floors. Some have started small businesses selling groceries, fish, goats, etc. Each farmer that has participated in the program so far is fully self-sustaining at this point (selling their product and having enough money to feed their families and sometimes starting other businesses). The more money that can be raised, the more farmers can be brought into the program.
As part of the Othakarhaka forestry program, seedlings (in tubes) are obtained through the District Forestry Officer and then maintained and nurtured by OK volunteers in mini tree nurseries throughout the area. They are then nurtured into saplings which eventually get planted to replace trees used for medicinal purposes, fruits, fuel, etc. Othakarhaka ensures that a new tree is planted wherever one is cut, and they protect the trees while they grow.
As part of their agroforestry program, the Othakarhaka Foundation ensures a new tree is planted for each tree that is cut down. As of September 2016, 150,000 tree saplings had been planted and 200,000 more were planned for the following year.
HIV/AIDS awareness and education programs in Malawi are serving to decrease the number of new cases each year. Othakarhaka volunteers are doing their part to reduce the stigma of HIV/AIDS through education, awareness, and support.
Othakarhaka's tailoring program was started with 5 students. Students are taught to sew and then once they are ready to graduate from the program, every two students are loaned a machine to share. They take this back to their village to begin their own tailoring businesses. Once they have made enough money to purchase the machine outright, that money is then used to purchase more machines and more students are accepted into the program. This program is fully self-sustaining as there are small markets for sewn goods and tailoring (school contracts for uniforms, churches, etc.).
Many of the kids in the region participate in OK's 4-H program. There are two groups broken out by ages (younger children, older children) designed to keep the kids busy (and out of trouble or getting pregnant) and engaged in the community. These groups are involved in charity work, agriculture projects, sports, education and debates.
This is a day in the life of rural Malawi women; seen here socializing as they go about the day's work. The chitenge is the traditional wrap that is most often used to cover one's legs (as this is a fairly conservative culture). It is wrapped and tied like a sarong and comes in many different colors and designs.
Yes, Malawi is currently one of the poorest country in the world. And yet, here is a local girl not looking to others to save them. This local girl is mobilizing her own people to take care of each other. To lift up entire communities… locally.
For a young woman (yes, a young WOMAN no less) to garner the support of local chiefs, that is quite an accomplishment. Then to rally volunteers who PAY to participate? And orphans on scholarship outperforming all the other students? Lives are being saved. People are becoming educated and starting sustainable businesses. All because of the gratitude, fortitude, intelligence, energy, and pluck of this one young woman. Ida Puliwa is not simply a role model. She is a hero.
Mulanje may be one of the poorest regions in the world... but it is also one of the most beautiful, made even more so because of Othakarhaka Foundation's community programs. If you would like to support Ida and her efforts in Mulanje, please visit the Ida's Girls website at www.idemandaccess.org and/or follow them on Instagram at the following Instagram handles: