A story is told of a Catholic nun Beatrice Chipeta who was named Bweleka at birth because most of her siblings before her were dying.
Born in the rural setting of Echiziweni in Mzimba District, her parents thought she would die too; hence, the name Bweleka, meaning God had just loaned the baby to be with the family for a short time.
But Chipeta survived to become an influential nun and philanthropist in the Catholic Diocese of Karonga where she founded the Lusubilo Orphan Care Centre—a real gift to the people.
Writer Ndongolera Mwangupili has chronicled and celebrated this life in a 49-paged biography which is out on the market. The book is titled A Gift to the People: Sr. Beatrice Chipeta’s Legacy.
“Her parents had no hope in this baby girl to survive but Beatrice survived her infancy.
“However, later on in her life the family had to face the reality of loaning her to the church and people. Beatrice had to give her life to the service of God, the Church and people of all walks of life just as her first given name presaged,” explains Mwangupili.
The book has been divided into four chapters, namely, From Echiziweni, Her Journey as a Sister, A Journey of Hope and A Legacy in her Journey.
Mwangupili says the biography is written as a journey of life for the departed nun from her birth at Echiziweni in Mzimba. He says he follows up her journey to Mzuzu, Katete in Mzimba and Rumphi that led her to become a Catholic nun.
The book goes on to unravel the untold tales of her encounter with the vulnerable in the outskirts of Karonga District which led to the establishment of Lusubilo Orphan Care Centre in 1997.
The centre started as a pilot project in the areas of group village heads Mwahimba, Mweniumba and Katolola.
“By then, she had just returned from Tanzania where she studied pastoral counselling in preparation for this mission. The training gave her a contemporary approach to challenges to do with the vulnerable and how she could best be there for them,” says Mwangupili.
The centre has since grown to become a charity arm of the Diocese of Karonga, covering the districts of Karonga, Chitipa and Rumphi.
Currently, the organisation is reaching out to over 40 000 vulnerable families in these districts.
Lusubilo director Vitumbiko Ngwira says the organisation has continued to respond to the needs of orphans, vulnerable children and other needy people in the communities.
“Lusubilo, which means ‘hope’ in the local language, uses community-based structures to reach out to its target beneficiaries,” he says.
Ngwira says the book project was commissioned by his organisation with the intention of preserving Chipeta’s legacy and contribution to society.
“Devoted to her life as a nun, Sr. Beatrice was touched by the suffering of the poor, especially orphans in Karonga, Chitipa and Rumphi. Her boundless love touched the lives of so many people. She tirelessly committed her efforts with little resources to uplift the lives of the poor children and adults.
“Sr. Chipeta’s life is a tale of humility and love for us all to learn from. She lived and preached development. We don’t want her good life to go unnoticed,” he says.
Ngwira says the book has perfectly captured this ‘well-lived life’. He says the book will help readers understand that development work is about having the desire to see the lives of other people improving.
“That is the spirituality of development work. It is about paying attention to the details of individual stories of the poor people and, together with them, finding sustainable solutions to their social gaps.
“Sr. Beatrice clearly understood that, for development to be able to work, it must be owned by community members. This was clearly manifested through her good rapport with the traditional leaders and the community structures,” he says.
Ngwira says the book will also help development workers understand that, apart from having the professional background in development work, one ought to first have love for the poor people.
“Reading this book, you will find it easy to believe that God uses the humble to perform his work. The story also brings about compelling evidence that development work is a collaborative task with the beneficiaries or target groups at the core of the task,” he says.
The book has been edited and read by Deborah Banda and Temwani Mgunda, respectively.
Mgunda, a lecturer in media studies at The Polytechnic, said: “Tracing the story from Echiziweni, her home, and a journey as a reverend sister that led into the founding of Lusubilo, this short biography charts a life of an amazing woman in her humility.
“Ndongolera, a renowned Malawian poet and prose writer, paints a sincere portrait of a religious woman who lived her life to the full for the glory of God and, in her pilgrimage on earth, she became a gift to all people. A life worth celebrating.”
Sr. Chipeta died in her sleep in Karonga on June 19 2019, and was buried the following day at Katoto Cemetery in Mzuzu.