Annie Chikhwaza is a woman who has become a mother to hundreds of orphaned children–some HIV positive–through her Kondanani Village Home. The home has a medical facility, nursery, primary and a high school. The journey to building this home has not been easy, however, fulfilling for Chikhwaza.
Who is Annie Chikhwaza?
I was born in 1944 in a small town called Dronrijp, in the province of Friesland, Netherlands. I did my primary education in Dronrijp and High School in Leeuwarden and Zaandam.
Tell us about your family.
I have three brothers and one sister. They live in the Netherlands. Although all of them are doing very well, we come from a very poor back ground. My parents are dead. My parents always encouraged us to do well at school .My mother used to tell us girls to never marry a poor man.
What do you mean when you say you come from a poor background?
What I remember clearly is that we went to High School on bicycles. Usually, we didn’t have money for bus. This was not a problem in summer. But in winter, when there was a lot of snow, it was very difficult to ride. In spite of the little we had, there is so much to be grateful for. We had lots of moments which gave us happiness. Our father was a very loving man despite being a disciplinarian. My mother was a little distant. With five children and several miscarriages in between, she had little time to give us the attention we needed.
Which of those happy moments stand out for you?
When we moved from the village to the city, we lived in the province of Friesland. But the people there were very conservative. We moved to North Holland. According to my parents, people in Holland were big sinners. On December 5, it is St. Nicolas Day. It was a time when we would get presents. It still amazes me how my parents managed to get us presents because they had so little. My father would buy an old bicycle and make it look like new. I know my mother made efforts to make us look presentable. Till late at night, she would sit behind that sewing machine making new clothes for us and sometimes clothes out of old clothes.
What dreams did you have while growing up?
All I wanted to be was a nurse. I saw it as a way to take care of people.
When did you come to Malawi?
I met the most precious man–Lewis Chikhwaza–who after 13 years of marriage went to be with the Lord. I have lived in this country for 20 years. Malawi is an amazing country despite some frustrations we meet.
Take us through your nursing profession.
I spent four years in that profession and got married at the age of 21 and bore four children. I quit my job and spent the next five years taking care of my children. I later started a new career in entrepreneurship and became a company director. My marriage ended after 17 years. It was an abusive relationship. I endured a lot because of my faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact my biography was written and launched in April this year.
Could you please shed more light on your abusive marriage?
Although I was physically abused, the mental abuse was more pronounced. I think my ex-husband saw me as a rival, rather than his wife who was quite prepared to submit to him if treated well. He even abused the children and that was for me mental abuse because he knew that it was a way of hurting me. If, for example, he came home from the office late at night and found a dog’s mess on the lawn, he would wake up one of the children to clean up. The children were not more than six years old. We used to live in Johannesburg, South Africa. Winter nights there are very cold. That was very upsetting for me. He would sometimes make the children weed the ground instead of letting them play. Yes it was hurted; but there was one thing that kept me going–Christ Jesus.
What can you say to women going through what you went through?
Be strong in the Lord Jesus and in the power of His strength. If that man is not prepared to change, make sure you get a job and leave.
How did Kondanani Children’s Village come to being?
I was 54 when I started Kondanani. One day, during my maiden years in Malawi, I was holding a dying baby in my arm. She was dying from HIV and Aids. I had asked the Lord where to start from and He said to me this is what you start with. Our 183 children we have at Kondanani were babies when they came and they are very precious. All of them have lost their mother. A few are HIV positive but very healthy too. We are in Bvumbwe, Thyolo. The home not only provides shelter but food and education from kindergarten to high school.
As the executive director, what does your work involve?
Making sure the children are loved and cared for. Overseeing all operations. I make sure that money is there to give the children all the care they need.
How is it funded?
By various trusts and foundations, plus individuals who love the work we are doing for these children.
How many children has it helped, so far?
Because they come as babies, the oldest is only 15. We will educate them and they won’t leave until then. There are some families who have asked for the child to be returned and quite a few have been adopted. We have touched the lives of around 230 children. In the beginning, the death rate was very high because there were no medicines for HIV positive pregnant mothers and positive children. There are children in The Netherlands, Denmark, France, Ireland, USA and even in Malawi who have been adopted from Kondanani.
Do you have a cut-off point, where after a certain age the children are sent back to their communities?
Not until they have been educated to either college or trade school.
What are your plans for this home?
We want to have a university or a trade/technical school. My desire is to one day hear them say to me: Mum, we have had a happy childhood, good education, known Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. We want to pass on what we have learned to others. We want to equally educate others
What challenge(s) have you gone through that has strengthened you?
There are a lot. But every challenge I encounter strengthens me.
What big sacrifices have you made?
The biggest sacrifice is that of missing my biological children and grand children who are all in South Africa. The price of an air ticket is now so prohibitive for me to frequently visit them.
How do you look at cases of defilement in Malawi?
It is heart breaking. I guard our girls with my life. No one will ever touch them. But I believe it can be curbed if we get rid of the cultural practices that fuel it.
What do you like doing in your free time?
I read a lot. Besides that, we have such a beautiful country to enjoy. The game parks and the lake help me relax.
Who do you look up to as a role model?
Paul the Apostle said let this attitude be in you which is also in Christ Jesus. So, my role model is Jesus. I also loved mother Teresa.
Do you have any books, articles, biographies that have inspired you?
Yes, the book I enjoy most is called God’s Generals. It inspires me to walk with God. Please look at Amazon.com and order my biography. It will assist Kondanani and the children.