This month, we’re sharing stories of individuals and communities putting Love in Action. The following post was written by World Relief's Product Development Lead, Francesca Albano, who recently returned from visiting our staff and volunteers in Malawi.
Combatting Harmful Beliefs
This is a story about a small village in Mzimba, a northern district in the small Southern African country of Malawi. It is a story about love and the relentless pursuit of the truth—a truth that has set the village of Jenda free and paved the way for love to flourish.
Five years ago, the Ngoni people never could have imagined the transformation their district was about to experience. Though amongst some of the poorest people in the world, the Ngoni are a proud people, rooted in age-old traditions, closed to outsiders and cautious of change.
Prior to World Relief’s intervention in Mzimba, life was dictated by tribal traditions that oftentimes perpetuated, or worsened, the cycle of poverty and suffering in the community. In many cases, these beliefs lead to chronic malnutrition, child abuse or gender injustices that could mean the difference between life and death. Yet, this way of life went unchallenged for the Ngoni people, who had no knowledge, expectations or hope of a different way, no opportunity to act on their natural instinct to love and no relief for the suffering they endured.
The Ngoni people lived their day-to-day lives believing that;
A malnourished child meant there was infidelity within the marriage.
Girls were valuable solely for their bride price and should not attend school.
Upon puberty, girls foreheads should be cut and scarred to reveal their readiness for marriage.
If women did not bear sons, men may continue to marry as many women as they like. (Polygamy was commonplace.)
Upon the death of their husband, widows must walk on their knees to the closest river without food or water.
Pregnant women must not breastfeed or eat eggs.
Witchdoctors were the only solution to sickness and challenges.
Change Takes Root
So in 2012, when local World Relief staff first arrived in the village of Jenda, villagers were guarded. They sent local pastors and leaders to meet with the outsiders, doubting the significance of the gathering, in some cases even fearing it was a scam. Little did they know, this meeting would be the beginning of a vibrant transformation. One that revealed life-altering truth, rooted in love and that would lead to the renewal of their lives, their people and their entire community.
As leaders around Jenda came together with World Relief staff in vision-casting seminars, community-based needs assessments and cross-denominational conversations, a wave of excitement and optimism began to spread. Like wildfire, 15 churches soon became 22, spanning 10 denominations and multiple villages across Mzimba as community leaders realized that a different life, and future, for their people was possible.
As community leaders and increasingly, community members, began coming together in conversation around these new truths, the tide began to shift.
A Flourishing Community
As the people of Jenda gathered to discuss the needs of their village and their vision for the future, the community began to adopt changes that gradually gave way to community-wide flourishing. New cash crops were planted to include soya beans and groundnuts, yielding added household income. With the pooled profits, seedlings were planted to regrow trees that had been lost to deforestation, hundreds of thousands of bricks were molded for the construction of a new school and homes for teachers, a clean-water well was dug, and savings and agricultural groups were formed. As each new need was identified, the community gathered together to raise money and invest back into their collective vision for their lives and the lives of their children.
But the changes were not just physical. Love and appreciation for the children of the village was instilled as community members began to understand the meaning of Imago Dei—each child created in the image of God and possessing inherent worth. The value of the girl child and the importance of education for both boys and girls began to take root. Community members began looking out for their friends and neighbors, and families began to repair once broken relationships, thriving in a growing love, care and respect for one another.
Little by little with each passing year, leaders and community members alike began speaking out against harmful practices of polygamy, rites of passage, child brides and witch doctors. Mothers groups were formed to keep children in school and protect the rights of children, especially girls. Leaders from other districts began to visit Jenda to witness what, why and how such positive transformation was taking place. And Jenda’s influence was so great that even local government Village Development Committees took note—putting in place by-laws that forbade marriage under the age of 18 and required mothers to give birth in health-centers or local hospitals so as to ensure proper care.
Today, the village of Jenda is unrecognizable. As you enter the center of the village, you pass a deep-water well, three primary school blocks, five well-constructed teachers’ homes, three large enclosed cultivation plots, two brick-molding kilns and a large field of newly planted trees. You enter the church—the center of the community, with two classrooms attached, and a large poster on the wall which reads “Vision 2020.” It seems so out of place. Until you hear it described—down to every number and detail.
We will mold 400,000 more bricks for the creation of five new school blocks.
We will build a school library and a recreation hall.
We will secure solar lamps for all children to ensure homework can be done in dark.
We will ensure every disabled child has access to a wheelchair and that every classroom is wheelchair accessible.
All girls must attend school and marriage under the age of 18 will be prohibited (now government law).
Every village within our CEZ (the scope of a district) will have a community-based child care center.
We will increase the prevalence and number of our adult literacy classes.
We will saturate every village with Savings groups.
We will plant ten trees a month, at least five of which must be fruit-trees, to combat deforestation and provide better nutrition.
All churches will have finished tin roofs, plastered walls, and clean, even flooring.
Five years ago, the concept of a Vision 2020 was not even a thought, yet alone an aspiration, in the minds of the Ngoni people of Jenda, Mzimba. Yet today, they stand before us, proclaiming the gospel and the truths that have opened their minds, encouraged love and instilled a bright and bold vision for their future. It is a truth we can all rejoice in.
Francesca Albano currently serves as Product Development Lead at World Relief. With a background in Cultural Anthropology and a graduate degree in Strategic Marketing Communications, she connects her interests in societal studies and global cultures with her training in brand strategy and storytelling. Francesca is especially passionate about grassroots community development and the treatment and advancement of women and girls around the world.