Often, people ask “how do you choose the kids you sponsor?”.
Around 7:00 AM came a boy with an old man. They sat on the benches at Maji Zuwa as I entered into my office. Within a minute I heard a knock: “Come in,” I replied, as I took my seat. Like any other day during this time of the year I knew the day would be busy. Usually I receive more than 50 people a day all asking for schools fees. Sometimes some would leave the office crying when I tell them to come the next day or tell them the chances are low that they would be accepted for a sponsorship – we just don’t have enough money.
Sometimes I leave the office with tears in my eyes recalling how life would continue to be for those not accepted for sponsorship. My main worry is a question that keeps baffling me: “where will they get help?” If it’s not from Matt through the non-profit charity Determined to Develop, then where else will they go? I witness the pain in the eyes of those not accepted. Sometimes I cry from the base of my heart feeling like I have not done enough. But it’s my job; I have a duty to fulfill for that matter: I am my brothers’ (and sister’s) keeper.
After taking a seat I welcomed the boy and the old man into my office and asked them why they had come. I had to ask even though it was well written on their faces that they were looking for help. Its cultural; one has to ask even if one already knows the answer. Then the young man started explaining his life story.
“I am Andrew, both my parents died a long time ago. I am 16 years old and I am in form 2 at Chilumba Secondary School. Right now I live with a family friend, this old man, who knew my family for years and years before my parents died. I am in problems. I am looking for school fees. Last term the deputy head teacher for my school helped me with the fees but now he is short of money. I have two sisters who are younger than me; me being the first born and oldest in our family.”
The boy looked well-behaved, intelligent and humble. Apparently, Andrew was the hope of the family. He was a little precious mineral that was hidden in the sands of poverty. My heart ached with pain because his timing was not in line with our program – we don’t typically start sponsorships in the middle of the school year or without a long background check with community leaders, chiefs, and teachers. And Matt was not around. How was I to solve the problem own my own? I needed him that day but, lucky he was to be back that evening. I said to Andrew and the old man, “Please come tomorrow; my boss will be back tomorrow and I will see if we can squeeze you through the program.”
The boy was not convinced as such a response is typically used in our culture when people want to say ‘no’ politely. Andrew looked depressed and without hope. I then saw tears begin to stream down his cheeks. The tears that he shed were a symbol of his desire and passion to make it someday – to be educated and productive and to provide for his family – but there was just little option and almost no hope.
The Malawi Red Cross, the only other charity within 80 miles, had closed their sponsorship program for the academic year so Determined to Develop was the last option. I wanted to cry too but I resisted. I wanted to hope alongside Andrew but I wasn’t sure if Matt would allow us to sponsor the boy. After all, we were already over-budget in sponsorships because of Matt’s continued “yes” when such cases came through the door. If need were an indication, we could finish fifty times our budget and still have a line of the most vulnerable, especially children, who still needed help. I prayed for a hopeful day that day and for one more “yes”.
The next day was rainy and I came into the office a little early, at 6:30am, because I wanted to connect with Matt, who had arrived during the night and was going away on a different project that morning. Just as I was to entered the office, I heard my name: ‘Mr. Chirambo!’ It was Andrew with his adopted guardian, the old man. I felt a tremendous sense of responsibility and pressure as I had given hope to these people the day before … but what if it doesn’t happen? After all, one cannot pull resources from thin air!
Matt arrived shortly after into his office and I went to meet him. As he was shuffling papers in a hurried manner, I explained the story of the boy and before I had asked anything from him he asked me to call the boy in so that he could speak with him. He talked to Andrew for quite a long time.
Later Matt sent the boy out and he called me. “What do you think?” he asked. “‘I think if we have enough, we should help,” I replied. Andrew’s was a special case that needed special consideration. Even though it was during the incorrect time and that we didn’t have any money, that was my answer. “Then let’s do it, we will find a way somehow,” Matt replied. It was clear that Matt was impressed Andrew’s with intelligence and grasp of English. The old man he had come with was jubilant! He said that he did not know how to thank God for the coming of Matt and Determined to Develop.
Andrew went back to school, the one he was chased away from because he could not pay, on the same day and with hope. He is now in class without worrying whether he will be there tomorrow as his tuition has been paid for. Instead of worrying whether he will have an education, or even a meal, he can concentrate on his studies.
I saw a smile on his face as he left Maji Zuwa that day. It was a smile that for the previous years had disappeared in pain of questions like, ‘Am I going to make it?’ and ‘Where is my future?’. I noted one special thing from this young boy. After receiving the news, he bowed his head in silence and said a little prayer. I nodded my head in a gesture to say “keep on praying Andrew; tomorrow may be brighter than today.” The hopeless was now hopeful. Life is a circumstance. A little sign of kindness can change the whole future of an individual.
The next day I had a phone call from the deputy head teacher thanking Matt and Determined to Develop for keeping Andrew in school. The teacher said that Andrew was one student whom he felt very sorry for – a great kid that was very intelligent, well behaved, respectful and thankful, who was just delt a bad hand. But now it seemed like things were going to work, that God does shine on those who work hard and have faith.
I meet many young people like Andrew and sometimes I feel sorry for Matt. Being the angel this area was looking for, they all come with hope that he will be the solution to the problems that are the result of Malawi’s abject poverty and often there just isn’t enough money to pay for their school fees.
By Christopher Chirambo, Administrative Coordinator for Determined to Develop
Tawonga chomene (We thank you)