Relentless tragedies of life often put women down—sometimes to the point that they forever damn themselves to fate.
But they haven’t for Hawa Makwinja, a 35-year-old woman whose life, from the time she was born at Nanjiri, Traditional Authority (T/A) Chadza in Lilongwe, was a perfect chronicle of how misfortunes have a way of striking those with the weakest defence.
Her mother died before she was fully out of her womb and that appeared to have been origination of more misery to come; dark days that would accompany her life into a kind of motherhood devoid of the joys which should be synonymous with it.
“I was taken care of by my father and my sister from my birth. Unfortunately, my father died when I was five. After my sister got married, I stayed with her up to when I was 14 but I could not continue because my sister had her own problems,” she narrates.
After spending about a month in Lilongwe’s bus depots, she was forced to marry at 14; but that was not the last straw that would attempt to strike her down.
After staying in Lilongwe’s Chinsapo peri-urban location for some time, Makwinja and her family moved to Chintheche in Nkhata Bay where her husband divorced her, apparently, because she was diagnosed HIV-positive, leaving her with their four children.
“During the divorce process, I was given our Chinsapo house where I moved to with my children,” says Makwinja, her bright face thrusting into the periphery all the misery that she went through.
“After a year or so, while I was in Tanzania on a business trip, my former husband’s brother invaded my house and took away all the property that I was left with,” she adds.
But on that day, it was not the property grabbing incident which broke her heart most. Her brother-in-law raped her 13-year-old daughter and left her unconscious.
The girl, who has just sat her Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) examination, was infected with HIV. Her attacker apparently crossed into Zambia where Makwinja’s husband had moved to with another wife and reportedly died somewhere near a border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Misfortunes for Makwinja and her family were not letting up. It was shock after shock.
“After my house was locked and all my property was taken away, I went back to the village where I was born only to be told that they would not welcome me because my mother was apparently not from that place.
“We spent that night in a nearby classroom where my eight-year-old son was bitten by a snake…”
From the fiction-like experience, Makwinja learnt one important lesson: if you survive a tragic incident, reach out to those who might not have the vitality to do the same and take them through.
That inspiration prompted her to reach out to hundreds of children and women suffering from different tribulations. The troubles of her life created a leader and benefactor in her—a woman willing, with the little she has, to ensure no one goes through what she did.
Human Rights Resource Centre (HRRC) executive director Emma Kaliya waxes lyrical about Makwinja’s exploits which have, so far, spread beyond Lilongwe to Zomba, Mzimba and Mzuzu with over 1 000 beneficiaries.
With the little that she gets from her business, Makwinja mobilises other women to support fellow women and children suffering from chronic conditions, including HIV and Aids.
“Her big heart is something very unique, especially that she endured an abusive relationship and survived gender-based violence. For the women, there is a lot to learn from her; that you can be a GBV survivor and turn your life around,” Kaliya says of a woman she concedes is one in a million.
In fact, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) observes that GBV undermines the health, dignity, security and autonomy of victims and that women must be empowered to deal with the vice.
Kaliya adds: “Her organisation, Ndife Amodzi Child Care, is in itself a symbol of stewardship, and that coming from a woman like Hawa who has experienced so much trauma in her life, is something very unique.”
She also heaps praise on Makwinja because even after robbers broke into her cosmetics shop and swept it clean, she still rose again from the scraps and refused to abandon those she had vowed to comfort in their moments of suffering.
Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Jean Kalilani, is equally in awe of Makwinja’s resilience.
“Gender-based violence is something that we are always concerned about and when we see such a woman coming out of it to support others, a strong message is being sent—that there is hope after such an experience,” she says.
Makwinja hopes that she can reach out to more women and children who are suffering from different tribulations and make their lives comfortable again.
“We have a nursery school in Area 36 but my dream is to have such schools and secondary schools in other areas so that we can help more vulnerable children while also not abandoning women. I hope more individuals and entities will support our initiative,” she says.
To strategically and competently manage all her dreams, she is now back in school, in Form Three—additionally sending a message across that no one can put a good woman down. n