When his mother died years ago, Eric Anderson’s future looked bleak. Norman was born in September 2001, and lost his mother not long after his birth.
Fortunately, he and his brother were taken up by Open Arms Infant Home in Blantyre, where they have been cared for over the years.
At Open Arms, he met another boy Norman Mandikisi, 14, who was taken to the institution from a Catholic mission in the Shire Valley when he was two months old. His family never came forward to claim him and it was reported by the mission that his relatives had died.
Today, the two have passed the entrance examinations and are now enrolled at Kamuzu Academy, marking a major milestone for the organisation which has cared for the boys and many others since they were babies.
“Seeing Norman and Eric achieve good results has made us very proud. When they arrived as tiny babies, we could not have predicted that they would one day achieve entrance to the prestigious Kamuzu Academy,” said Rose Phiri, Open Arms’ senior matron.
Most infants who are referred to Open Arms by government’s Social Welfare Department are reintegrated with their relatives when they are around two years of age, where Phiri continues to offer support.
The same happened with Eric who, after a two-year stay at the home, he was reintegrated with his family. His aunt in Bangwe took him and his brother in, and was given finance to start a mandasi (fritters) business to support the family. Unfortunately, the aunt later died and Open Arms was asked to again provide a home for them.
Some children receive fees for nursery education while others attend one of seven feeding stations built by Open Arms and operated through village committees.
“At Open Arms, we believe every child should have the opportunity of growing up within a family environment, and want to avoid children growing up in an institution, such as an orphanage. We needed to find a solution for boys like Norman and Eric who had no home to go to,” says Neville Bevis, Open Arms director.
Bevis said he was inspired by a system in Soweto, South Africa where children were housed in family settings within the community.
When a donor came forward and offered help in memory of his late daughter Rose, Open Arms was able to buy a house for these children.
Rose’s House opened in 2005, and Norman moved in when he was four years old, together with three other children who became his foster siblings. Their house mother is employed by Open Arms and lives there with her husband and two children, who are treated the same as the children from Open Arms.
The boys attended Ntonya International Primary School and went to church with their house mother. Since then, Open Arms has added another four foster houses. In addition to regular school, information technology (IT) lessons and tutoring are provided to give all the children the best chance of achieving their potential.
Norman and Eric were the first two children from the foster houses to graduate from primary school. Seeing their promising grades, Open Arms sent them for the Kamuzu Academy entrance examinations. Donors from the UK agreed to pay their fees and there was much excitement when they received their acceptance letters with excellent marks. Lancing College in West Sussex, UK is sponsoring Norman’s education while Eric is being sponsored by Karen Gillon, a former member of the Scottish Parliament, and her constituents.
Friends and neighbours visited Rose’s and Tsekwe Houses to congratulate the boys. Even their Saturday football coach, Sirus Liwindo of Play Soccer Malawi, gave them a pep talk about working hard and taking advantage of the opportunity that has been presented to them. He was sorry to lose his star players!
Norman said his aim is to be at the top of his class. Most of the team have known the boys since they were babies, and everyone had a word of advice or congratulations as they sent them off in traditional musical style.n