Chingale community lies 30 kilometres from the centre of the city of Zomba, Malawi’s old colonial capital. To the east of the village is the Cobbe Barracks, Malawi’s fourth battalion military unit. A young boy called Chiyembekezo lives in a village beyond the barracks.
It is a sunny day in the community but the boy in uniform looks very happy as he makes his way to the house. The books in his hands and the uniform he is putting on, tell one thing, that he is a primary school student. Chiyembekezo dropped out of school in the year 2014 and had made up his mind on starting domestic work in the barracks. He narrates his story. He is a Muslim.
“I had a lot of challenges,” he says. “I had no school uniform, exercise books were also difficult to come by and a friend of mine said that dropping out of school and instead finding domestic works would forever solve our problems,” added Chiyembekezo, popularly known among his peers as Chembe.
From then on, they both embarked on a job hunting mission that took them all over their Chingale Trading Centre and finally to the house of Reverend Mitengo of Chingale Church of Central African Presbytery (CCAP) who is also the Chairperson of the Pastors Fraternal in the community.
“My friend had earlier told me that he would be doing the talking, so I was silent when we met the pastor,” said a shy Chiyembekezo as he looked at the pastor who was seating next to him. The pastor’s wife gave them food as they together went through the discussion and the boys thought they had found a job later to be surprised by the pastor.
It is sad to note that Chembe’s mother knew of her child’s challenges but she had given up, unsure of whether she would convince the father to invest more in the child. This was to an extent that she gave Chembe her blessings to go and look for a job, like many boys in the community who had given up on their prospective future in place for short term solutions.
“I told them that I had a job yes, but not for young boys like them,” said the pastor. “I t was quite emotional for me considering that I had just returned from the orientation where I was eye-opened on such issues,”
He then told the boys to come back the following day to continue charting with them and it was Chembe who returned. “I learnt that Chembe’s case was that of negligence, of a family that wasn’t doing enough for its child and I vowed to have a word with the family,” added the pastor.
In sending him back to school, pastor and his wife bought him a school uniform, books and some pencils on top of what his father had already provided following a heart to heart discussion with the father on parental care. He returned to school in the first term where at the end he did not perform that well. But the following term, he was among the top five performers of his class.
Whatever happens in the future, Chembe is more optimistic about the future today than ever before. He wants to become a medical doctor and with the pastor right beside him, he thinks the future is possible. “I always go to the pastor when I have challenges and he talks to my parents,” says Chembe, stressing that this bondage will help him attain his goal of becoming a doctor in the future.
Having attended the Channels of Hope for Child Protection seminar and met Chembe, Reverend Mitengo has always dedicated some Sunday church sessions to debates, urging parents to openly discuss challenges concerning children and how these can be resolved. Over and above, he is also working hard to invest in the Sunday school so that kids can also be using that as a channel for expressing their challenges and fears experienced every day.
“We enjoy the Church discussions on children’s rights and the kind of justice we can administer to our children so that we do not punish but as well as plant hope in our children,” said one faithful member of Reverend Mitengo’s congregation, Alice Banda. Through such approaches, there is hope in Chingale and other communities in Zomba that for once, pastors and Churches in general can play a leading role in advocating for children’s rights like never before.