This year, Jacaranda Foundation in Chigumula, Blantyre, marks 15 years since establishment. The school has been caring for the under-privileged children in the areas of education and health. Our reporter HOWARD MLOZI speaks to MARIE Da SILVA, the founder of Jacaranda Foundation to find out how they have survived the 15-year journey. Exerpts:
Give us a background of Jacaranda school for orphans?
Jacaranda Foundation is a registered charity that provides orphans and other vulnerable children with care and education. The foundation started in 2002 and this is our 15th year in operation.
What motivated you to establish the foundation?
HIV/Aids is one of the major problems facing our society, which has created a generation of orphans and rendered others vulnerable. Today, many people, children in particular, are affected by the pandemic. For example, orphans are failing to access proper care, food, clothing and education because they have lost the ones responsible for this. As a result, their future is being nipped in the bud because they have no one to look after them.
It is against this background that prompted me to be sending my salary to my mother every month to care for some orphans and other vulnerable children and keep them in school. By then I was living in the United States of America (USA) where I was working as a nanny. I believe that investing in children pays dividends for our nations. Remember, when we miss the development of children now, we automatically miss future development because they are the determinants of development. Just imagine, how Malawi would look like today if the likes of President Peter Mutharika, mayors, doctors, ministers and chief executive officers were denied right to education or care? We need to invest in child development, particularly orphans and other vulnerable children.
15 years down the line, what have you achieved?
In 2002, Jacaranda Foundation started with over 50 vulnerable children literally sitting on the floor in my house that I was raised in, in Chigumula. That time we had nothing at all, no food to feed them, no text books, no desks even teachers. We started a grassroots centre which was struggling. But today, I can tell you that Jacaranda foundation has grown bigger from over 50 to over 400 vulnerable children. Now we have at least 29 teachers including those who teach our students arts, drama and music.
The major development is that we have a full secondary school, the primary school is still in my house. We have a clinic on the premises and a full time medical nurse as you may be aware that the parents of over 90 percent of our 400 children died of Aids and we have a couple of children who are living positively and require medical attention. We also need to provide food to our children and we were so lucky that Mary’s Meal came to our rescue to provide two meals of phala (porridge) a day. We have also built a science and physics laboratory and a multipurpose hall.
Since the inception of our secondary education, we have sent over 35 students to colleges. Apart from that, we have produced children who are now working in various organisations and entrepreneurship sectors who successfully serve as role models for the current crop of students we have at Jacaranda foundation. Education wise it has been a great success because we have educated, graduated many children who are working and helped shape the foundation of other vulnerable children.
Why did Jacaranda Foundation embark on vocational college?
You can agree with me that not children that graduate with a Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) accumulate points to enable them to enroll with public universities such as Chancellor College or Polytechnic. Therefore, we want to reduce the number of students that are loafing after successfully completing their secondary education in our catchment area.
The Jacaranda vocation college will have several courses such as TV productions and Photography, tailoring and designing, welding and fabrication, Carpentry and Joinery, Bricklaying. The idea is to carter for hundreds of poor young people who are inactive and help them cultivate a entrepreneurship culture so that they are able to embark on economic activities to help themselves make their ends meet as well as bail out their families in future.
Most vulnerable children live with poor guardians in their respective homes. How do you save the situation?
We make sure those children’s lives are granted at home. We know for sure that when their homes are not well, they will not do well in school. Therefore, knowing that most of our children are living with guardians, some very old and hardly working, we give them maize for food. We also empower some guardians including women by disbursing credit to embark on micro-business which can sustain their families.
Why Jacaranda Foundation promotes arts?
Arts is very important, let me tell you why? Most of our children are orphans who are so suppressed and going through a lot of challenges, including emotional trauma. So, when they come to the school and we give them music, painting or drama, they are able to express themselves and relieve the burden of emotional stress. Through arts we have seen most of our children taking out their problems and start interacting and excelling in school. This is one of the reasons why Jacaranda foundation prioritises arts for development.
Shaping the future of vulnerable children is involving. It needs sound resources and multiple players because there are several things involved such as health, food, education and facilities. Therefore, lack of resources remains a huge setback to this noble work. We would love to have plenty of resources and supporters because we are working in different areas to ensure the future of a vulnerable child is safeguarded. n