As we drove by the houses in the Kawale, a neighborhood of Lilongwe, Malawi, all looked in order and similar. When we pulled up to the red brick house, we saw the front red dirt yard was barren except for a tree growing beside the house and 6 plastic tubs sitting around. A window was falling out of the house and there was no front door. A lady was standing in front of the tree and she was small, frail and not smiling.
The lady was Elizabeth Kamongo and we greeted her and one by one, we met her children, grandchildren and an adopted child. The children had arrived from school and were hungry like all school children. On the outside fire was a pot of maize porridge. The lady had it waiting for several hours but would not eat any of it until the children ate first because it was all the food she had for them that day.
The lady learned to let the children eat the porridge late in the day so they would not go to sleep hungry. And when she ran out of the maize/corn, she would walk about 20 blocks to her church and ask for money to buy another sack of maize for her family. This we learned had been standard procedure for the lady for about a year because the Republic of Malawi in southeast Africa was experiencing a severe drought with no relief in sight.
When it rained, Elizabeth used to buy mangoes and fruits and sell them at the market. Now she doesn’t sell anything or make even a dollar per day.
The children looked to be making it ok and had on clean looking clothes. We did not learn if the children that went to school were receiving a meal at school.
As we greeted them all, we presented a gift of peanut butter and crackers and shampoo, rinse, body lotion and empty plastic bottles in which to store or carry anything. In that gift bag was enough money to buy another 3 months of food. And Elizabeth then smiled for the first time for us. She was so happy and thanked and thanked and thanked us.
Elizabeth was 69 years old and had 5 of her 11 children living. But Elizabeth was raising and supporting 7 grandchildren and 1 orphaned child with no help except from the church. The 12-year-old girl, Angela, was adopted by Elizabeth after her parents died of AIDS. One daughter, Sabrina, lives with them because she is HIV positive with problems.
Her husband, a mechanic, died years ago, but she was able to get the red brick mud house built before he died. She made all the bricks in the house and it took 6 months in 1960. There is another house attached to Elizabeth’s house that she built as a rental apartment. But now she cannot rent it because she doesn’t have the money to make the needed repairs.
The 4-room house had one table and one chair in it but when they ate the porridge, they all sat on the dirt floor. On that dirt floor was one sack of maize/corn ready for the next month’s meals.
And when they slept, all 9 of them slept in the 3 beds that filled up the bedroom. The other 2 rooms served as storage rooms. Covering the red brick house was a donated metal tin roof full of holes. So if and when it did rain, parts of the mud house would collapse from the water pouring on the brick walls. And then she would have to make more bricks and repair the area. The house had been repaired from that last rain but the tin roof was still full of holes.
The house has no running water from the hydrant in the front yard because Elizabeth could no longer pay the money for it. And there was no electricity and no bathroom/toilet facilities. Plus, there was no television, radio, refrigerator, or washing machine, nothing. When Elizabeth needs water, she goes to the house down the lane and pays a little for some water. She has no medical or dental providers.
The family plans to continue on until it rains. And then Elizabeth and the children will have more meals a day but the house will need repairs from the rain. And the children will be older and, hopefully, be able to take care of their mother/grandmother for the rest of her life and provide her with food.
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