“Our girls were getting married even before the age of 15, most of them not because they wanted to but because their parents wanted to get quick riches. This was total ignorance on the part of the parents, and we should confess that we as panel members are also guilty of that — we never knew that a girl child was worth educating. God should forgive us … a girl also can achieve higher education just like a boy.”
Mphatso Nguluwe, director of the Livingstonia AIDS Program (LISAP) of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian Synod of Livingstonia shared with us these words from a member of the Malanda community in Nkhata Bay, located along the lake in eastern Malawi.
LISAP worked with government officials and community members in Malanda to develop a 10-page Child Protection Bylaw. The purpose of the bylaw is to maximize efforts to “protect children 18 years and under from alcohol and drug abuse, child labor and punishment that interferes with children’s education, and from engaging in harmful sexual activities and also to provide care and justice to abused children.”
“When the child protection bylaws were formed and launched, the experts realized that it was important to translate them and make them applicable at the community level. Groups were formed at all levels in the community,” according to Mr. Bwluntha Mphande, “and we work that way.”
The community groups are empowered to enforce the fines and community work requirements of the bylaws when community members sell alcohol or drugs to a child or invite a child to view pornographic material or engage a child in sexual activities or engage children in trade or fishing during school hours.
Penalties are enforced on parents who do not care for their children properly or do not send them to school. Counseling and community service are required for children who drop out of school or loiter in the business district of the community after 7 p.m.
This remarkable program was just one of an “abundance of riches” we found when we visited CCAP Livingstonia programs for women and children. We were four: the Rev. Debbie Braaksma, Africa Area Coordinator; Rev. Janet Guyer, newly appointed facilitator for women and children’s interests; Dr. Doug Tilton, regional liaison for Southern Africa; and me. We had only one day in our overly full schedule in the Synod of Livingstonia, and it was crammed full of wonderful ways the Synod is helping women and children.
- Staff of the small but dynamic Early Childhood Development Department trains caregivers about play as a learning tool in 508 early childhood development centers primarily located in church buildings.
- The Education Department’s Special Needs Unit, under the leadership of Mr. Boniface Massah, is implementing inclusive education for children with physical disability throughout the Synod. As of March 31, 2014, 1,070 students with disability were mainstreamed. The program includes identifying the children and training the parents and teachers in ways to best interact with the children.
- The Church and Society Department is focusing on including poor women and people living with HIV/AIDS in governance structures starting from Village Development Committees. In addition, staff are training chiefs and tribunals at the village level in human rights with a focus on women and children.
- In addition to the program described above, LISAP is addressing the early marriage of girls in Karonga, northern Malawi. Since the program began, 400 children have been returned to school — 300 girls and 100 boys. In the same area, children living with HIV are provided with nutritional supplements and health assessments. As a result only two children living with HIV have died over a 5-year period. Before the program began a child died almost every week.
The Churches in East Central Africa struggle with poverty, disease and death, and pastors and members believe they must bring the Good News of Jesus Christ through concrete holistic programs as well as through preaching and evangelistic outreach.
PC(USA) World Mission affirms this need through its Critical Global Initiative to identify and address the root causes of poverty, particularly as it impacts women and children. World Mission developed the position of facilitator for women and children’s interests to strengthen and support programs such as the incredible ones being implemented in CCAP Livingstonia.
Often we hear about the failure of Africa. But I want everyone to know that there are good and important things happening in the churches in East Central Africa. And, yes, I would love to have your help through prayers, donations, and presence. It’s only through faith and your help that I am able to continue and see God’s Kingdom grow.
As Regional Liaison for East Central Africa, Nancy Collins serves as facilitator of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) support or partner programs, relationships and activities, and as implementer of regional strategies in Malawi, Kenya, Rwanda and Zambia.
To visit the web pages of all Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission workers, visit Mission Connections.