Born and raised in Mzuzu alongside her five sisters and one brother, 27-year-old Eleanor Mphwanthe believes she is privileged to have lived and experienced poverty and wellness. She knows what it means to have and lack the necessities of life.
Mphwanthe attended three years of primary school at Bumba Primary School in Rumphi before her parents could finally afford to send her to the city to attend a private school.
She proceeded to Marymount Catholic Secondary School where she attained her Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) and then enrolled with York University in Toronto Canada where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts majoring in international development.
“The opportunities that have come from acquiring an education as a woman motivated me to establish Ellie Baxter Foundation (EBF), a charity organisation involved in the empowerment and improvement of vulnerable women and children through knowledge about human rights and finances.
“Education does not come cheap, especially if you do not have means and resources,” she says.
Mphwanthe saw the need to invest in the education of underprivileged and vulnerable children in Malawi after researching the rates of primary school drop outs, especially in the Northern Region of the country.
Apart from that, her academic background in studying development gave her insight into economic problems facing rural women.
“I decided to return home after completing my studies in Canada. I believe we all have a responsibility to help others who need help whenever we can,” she says.
EBF is a registered non-governmental organisation (NGO)in Mzuzu. It was established in 2009 and registered with the Malawi Government under Companies Act in 2013.
“Our vision is to see a transformed Malawi with improved lives of women and children and where women are independent in decision making, free from poverty and oppression.
“Children should have equal opportunities, access to education and treated with dignity,” she says.
At the moment, the organisation has Mzuzu and Mzimba as impact areas, but their strategic approach is to impact the whole Northern Region.
EBF donations and charity projects have so far supported under-resourced schools in Mzuzu, including Masasa Primary School, Area 1B Primary School, Mzuzu Demonstration Primary School and Hessed Orphanage.
“Through the generous support of family and friends, we have provided school bags, text books, mathematical sets, exercise books and chalk to schools and students. Orphanages such as Hessed, Mzuzu Crisis and orphans in Msonda area in Mzuzu have also benefited from basic food materials, clothes, soaps and sanitary pads.
Apart from its Primary School Completion Project, EBF is championing primary school retention. It has a ‘homework club’ where students come together and are assisted with homework or other academic problems.
They have also launched an ‘Educate a girl child and stop child marriages’ campaign.
“We realised that there were a lot of child marriages in Malawi and we embarked on an end child marriages campaign which was endorsed by traditional leaders and the police,” she says.
Mphwanthe further notes that women in rural areas face various challenges, including poverty, violence and abuse, economic inequality, HIV and Aids and illiteracy.
“We launched a self-help women’s project in Masasa to train them on entrepreneurship and their rights. These women are also part of the initiatives towards the education of children in the area,” she says.
Mphwanthe says they responded to a call by the Northern Region Education Division and introduced a sanitation project at Area 1B Primary School in Mzuzu.
“It was observed that one of the causes of absenteeism was diseases such as diarrhoea. Furthermore, the environment of the school has been untidy due to lack of materials to clean the surroundings and the toilets,” she says.
Mphwanthe says EBF is limited financially and resource-wise;hence, she has to foot most of the costs.
“It’s definitely not for the weak-hearted. The other challenge is lack of volunteerism; I think our society is, yet, to embrace that work without pay is not a wasted opportunity. Volunteerism is a very crucial part of achieving development in our communities,” she says.
Mphwanthe encourages young adults in the country to take part in enriching the younger minds through educational initiatives.
“There are many children out there that need our help. Find a child and mentor them. Find a community project and volunteer your time and resources. It really does take a whole village to raise a child,” she states.
The young woman is married to a Zimbabwean national, Henry Mphwanthe and currently lives in Harare. Her parents are from Rumphi and Mzimba.
Leaving everything behind, she says just like many others, her parents came to the city in search of better opportunities. Both of them entrepreneurs, she adds that her parents worked hard to transform their own lives and the children’s.
“It is through them that I have learned to be passionate about my work, confidence, hard-working and respectful of others. My father especially, has taught me that having a positive attitude, patience and hard work determines one’s success.