As the world commemorated the International Women’s Day on March 8, 25-year-old Temwani Chilenga was recognised by the British High Commission.
The recognition was for her contribution towards bringing change in her community.
The Lilongwe-based Chambu Primary School teacher was presented with the Commonwealth Points of Light, an award that recognises outstanding volunteers and people who are making a difference in their communities.
According to the British High Commissioner David Beer, the accolade makes Temwani the fifth person in a space of five years to be recognised with the award by the Queen of England.
“This means she is exceptional. What we have seen today is what it means by taking care of those around us. As a primary school teacher, she is able to support all these children with her salary. This is remarkable,” he said.
Beer said the British Government will continue engaging Temwani on the challenges her foundation is facing and help wherever possible.
The youthful teacher said her motivation to help children through her Zoe Foundation started when she first reported for duties at Chambu School in 2018.
“I was young by then. I had just finished my education at DAPP Dowa Teachers Training College. The sight of children coming to school barefooted and with the same clothes for a number of days made me want to help. I took the bold step and here I am,” she said.
Temwani said it was not an easy step, but through her salary, she started buying school uniforms for the identified learners and with time, well-wishers came in to help.
Later, she noticed that some of the children were orphans and had nowhere to call home or care for them.
“This motivated me to approach chiefs in the area to map the way forward on what could be done to save the situation. Luckily, I was given a piece of land where, with the help of the community, dormitories where constructed,” narrated Temwani.
Currently, about 95 orphans live in the dormitories— 55 of which are girls while 40 are boys.
Sadly, she said due to bad weather conditions, the dormitory for the boys collapsed and plans are underway to construct a new one.
Temwani is calling on people of goodwill to help towards the roofing and completion of the boys’ shelter who are currently sleeping in the nursery school classes within the compound.
She said: “We need funds to complete the building. We need iron sheets and other accessories to complete it for our boys to live comfortably.”
The award winner said although some of the children were brought from the streets, their lives have changed and they now behave accordingly and do well in school.
“Due to poverty, some of them used to look for plastic bottles and re-sell them at K5 or K10 which in real sense cannot put food on the table. They ended up on the streets and some married at a tender age. Our aim is to help them have a better life, not one that is harmful to their future,” she said.
Her passion for children led Temwani to establish the first nursery school in the area which provides services for free.
She explained: “I rely on volunteer caregivers who have tirelessly provided their services. I have support from my fellow teachers, too. These are the people I call family and together we will work hard to make sure these children grow up and fulfill their destinies.”
Temwani said the foundation faces a lot of challenges, including inadequate food supplies, clothes for the children and other basic needs.
She said: “We are grateful for the support we have been getting, but there are a lot of things we need. On a daily basis, we require a bag of maize to feed the children. Sometimes they eat two meals per day when supplies are not enough.
“After harvest, the communities help out with maize and some bring us relish and tomatoes. We also have a small garden where we grow vegetables. On Christmas, the children have the privilege of eating rice and meat.”
The teacher, however, expressed worry over the misconception that helping others is one way of stealing from the community.
She said receiving the award had never crossed her mind because all she wanted was to give the children a better life.
Talking to one of the children currently living at the dormitories, Judith Dzonzi, a Standard Five learner at Chambu Primary School, her life was almost hopeless before meeting Temwani.
She said her parents died when she was young and at the time she met the teacher, she was living with her grandmother who had no source of revenue.
Said Judith: “We used to sleep on an empty stomach. At that time, I was in Standard Two and never thought I would finish my studies and achieve my dream of becoming a pilot. All thanks to my teacher who made it possible for me to have food on a daily basis.”
She lost her grandmother recently and her new family is those at the dormitories.
Judith feels loved, appreciated and is now doing well in school.
For Temwani, to see the children performing well gives her motivation to do more for them.
“These are my children. I love them and I will always protect them,” she beamed.
She now has tailors who help her sew uniforms and other clothes for the children.
To make them reliable in society, Temwani encourages the children to cook during weekends and live in harmony as they belong to one big family.
Temwani is the fourth born in a family of six from Charles and Anganile Chilenga.
She grew up in Blantyre and went Kachanga Primary School in Chileka.
Later, she went to our Lady of Wisdom Secondary School then Maranatha Academy.
To accomplish her dreams, she went to DAPP Dowa and is now upgrading her studies at DMI St John the Baptist University in Lilongwe.
In February 2022, Temwani was among the 27 women recognised by the Pan African Learning and Growth Network (Palgnet) and Plan International Malawi in the Women of Substance Awards in recognition for outstanding contribution to their professions.