Kunyumba is the original project set up in 2008 by Maaike, a social worker and midwife from Belgium and Diethelm and Vera, a doctor and his wife from Germany. It is located in Senga Bay, a small fishing village on the shores of Lake Malawi. The project is in the hands of a loyal team of dedicated coworkers in Malawi and supported by a troop of enthusiastic volunteers in Europe.
Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, where more than half of the population live below the poverty line. Poverty is one reason for the high rates of diseases such as HIV (more than 10% of the population in 2013), malaria and many other infectious diseases. These diseases, combined with poor pregnancy and childbirth conditions, are sadly causing high numbers of orphans and children with a disability.
Since then the project has made a huge difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in this village. This vulnerability can be due to disability, the loss of one or more parent, medical problems, or an extremely difficult social background. Several of our children are in our care because of the psychiatric problems of a parent (often single mothers). Whatever the problem, we look for solutions and help in any way in which we can to make a difference. The project offers health care (including sexual and reproductive health), education, nutrition, hygiene and a safe haven where children can explore and develop at their own pace in a peaceful environment.
- We provide health care at various levels:
- providing health insurance for all of Kunyumba children, staff members and all staff family members
- monitoring the children’s health and wellbeing, and ensuring they receive medical care when needed
- performing regular medical check-ups (such as HIV tests and checks for conditions such as epilepsy)
Often we are asked to assist in the care of newborns. Sadly many mothers die during or shortly after childbirth. Malawi has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. A huge challenge the family members deal with is nutrition for these babies, as artificial baby milk is too expensive for average Malawian households.
Over the nine years the project has been running, we have established a well-balanced, healthy and diverse weekly menu based on locally-available products. Parents and staff members helped us to develop meals which are both nutritious and cost-effective. Where possible, we use vegetables from Kunyumba’s organic garden, which is maintained by staff and children.
Water, Hygiene and Sanitation
We place great importance on education and practice of personal hygiene, water safety and sanitation. We employ a full-time staff member to teach children about hygiene and cleanliness, monitor their wellbeing in these areas, and assist them to take care of themselves when not at the project. We also emphasise the importance of safe drinking water, encouraging families to boil water when feeding babies, and filtering water for children in our care. We also provide lessons for children and staff on saving water, as well as other resources such as electricity.
Sexual and Reproductive Health
Kunyumba’s staff members are trained to give guidance to Kunyumba children on sexual and reproductive health, including puberty, menstruation, contraception, HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, sexual intercourse, consent, pregnancy and childbirth. We also offer advice and support, as parents are often either absent or unable to provide this. Lessons are gender-segregated to provide for the different needs of girls and boys. This recognises the particular issues which girls and young women face in Malawi, including early pregnancy and marriage, increased risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, and a high incidence of rape and sexual abuse. Where children have experienced sexual violence we offer emotional and medical support, and also try to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice.
Education is free for children in Malawi, but many families cannot afford the associated costs such as uniforms, books, paper and pens. One in four of people in Malawi over fifteen are illiterate. Even when children can afford to go to school, their ability to learn is often affected by poor nutrition and hunger, crowded classrooms (whether inside or open air), a lack of qualified teachers, and insufficient infrastructure. The situation is particularly difficult for those with disabilities and learning difficulties, who are not provided for in the traditional education system. A good education is vital to the Kunyumba children’s future, and we therefore try to offer them the best possible education programme, individually tailored to their own capacities and needs. This involves deciding together with children, parents and staff members on the most appropriate school, and paying their fees throughout. We encourage them to stay at school for as long as possible, and are looking at the possibility of some of our older children attending university. A Kunyumba staff member provides a home teaching programme, and we integrate the large diversity of levels of understanding and learning in an educational but enjoyable ways, ranging from classroom learning to gardening, daily life activities, and even swimming in the lake in our back garden.