Mponela, Malawi … It was a warm and sunny day in the dry season. The famine was now months into its ravishing effects on the lives of the people of Malawi, and it was proving the most serious famine in over 50 years. Suffering could be seen on the faces of the elderly, hunger cries from tiny babies, and still others who were too weak to make any sort of appeal at all.
Then there were the bodies being retrieved from along the roadways where they had collapsed, while others were being discovered fields where they had fallen. Children were digging and eating roots to try to gain some tiny degree of nutrition. Others could be found in villages, trading center, or towns all over the nation, suffering silently from the lack of food, and equally, from the lack of hope.
We had stopped construction on the hospital complex and turned fund requests and support efforts to getting food into the country. Those who heard our pleas responded in massive way and food was rolling in from several parts of the world, along with funds to purchase food from a few in-country resources. The trucks that had been hauling lumber to build buildings were now going out every morning filled with food. And we were right behind them participating in the distribution.
The night before we were advised we would be going to Mponela the following morning to distribute food to an estimated 5,000 orphans. It was just 30 kilometers north of our present location and situated along this same tarmac road, so it looked like it would be an easy day, “easy” meaning in the sense of travel.
When we arrived the scene in front of us took our breath away. Somehow, we had not drawn a mental picture of what 5,000 children in one place at one time looked like. And to see these children sitting quietly and patiently on the road in long rows of 100, waiting for us to arrive was something we have never forgotten.
Stunned we exited the vehicles and before long the lines were moving slowly forward as children reached our locations and we handed them food packets. Suddenly Suzi gasped. The children standing in front of her, the one whose life was being threatened with famine, was one who had been playing in our yard and house just a year earlier. He was the grandson of E. Kasalika Banda, the preacher with whom we were working in Mponela and one who had become like a “Malawi father” to both of us. In fact, it had been Kasalika who had instituted the ceremony where we received Malawi names. And it was he who had traveled with us all over the country and was the main force in establishing our influence and reputation among the churches.
His grandson. Yes, this small boy standing in front of us was into that category because of the death of his father not too long before. Now he, like thousands of other children, were cared for by elderly grandparents, aunts, uncles, church, and community neighbors and overseen by village elders and tribal authority. Suzi handed him food, but that moment never left either of us. This small boy had changed everything about the way we saw famine. It was no longer a term viewed in crowds or numbers, but a living breathing situation experienced in the lives of people around us, friends, family, and small children who played in our yard.
Our work over the next few years kept us on the move around the country, Kasalika passed away, and for a time we lost much of our contact with the family. Occasionally we would get the chance to see them, and through contact with an aunt, we kept up with his success, along with his struggle to fund his own education and develop a successful life. He would write to us, updating us on his progress, and from time to time would say, “I am going to work with you some day.”
This continued for several years until Griven Kasalika could see the completion of his education. He came to Wilson Tembo and expressed his desire to volunteer with the very people who had so long ago fed him in a time of national crisis. As a volunteer he worked tirelessly for months at the distribution hub without pay. Wilson training him and offered Given the opportunity to walk in his shoes in service to his people. Griven stepped up and accepted the challenge. His saw this as a way of honoring his grandfather who had committed his life to helping the people of Malawi, and he had always dreamed of doing the same. Now the Malawi Project and Action for Progress offered him to chance to fulfill that dream.
At a major food distribution site in late 2022, in a village not far from Mponela, we watched as Griven directed the program where hundreds of people, including many orphans were being given food. Just as it was a long, long time ago each person carried a small pink slip of paper to indicate they were to receive food. I watched as Griven accepted the slips of paper from small boys and girls, and I wondered which one of those children would watch him and go off to school one day, determined to become like him, and repeat the cycle of service.
Today Griven Kasalika is Tembo’s right-hand man and serves as an Administrative Officer for Action for Progress. In this capacity he is responsible for inventory control on all incoming and outgoing supplies at the Lilongwe distribution hub.
In the video Griven is seen collecting the slips of paper from each person who comes forward to receive assistance.