On the Foundation of Chimteka Children Support by Dr. Phil Dineen - February 2005.

On the week-end of 13th – 14th of March 2004, sufficient money was raised at special collections after the Masses at St Fintan’s Church, Sutton, to make an initial response to the most pressing needs of the inhabitants of Chimteka, a cluster of little villages in Central Malawi. This first step was taken, thanks to the decision of the Parish Council to adopt Chimteka as the 2004 annual charity. The people of the parish gave generously that week-end, and their support was much appreciated.

But the idea of Chimteka Children Support was conceived almost a year earlier, when I met Fr Julian Kasiya, a Missionary of Africa, then on sabbatical leave in Dublin. He spoke of the people of his native Malawi, who were emerging from a serious famine, after a combination of crop failure, market liberalisation and a widespread cholera epidemic in 2002. To add to the hardship, AIDS has been rampant in the country for a number of years.

I resolved then to try to do something, no matter how small, to bring some measure of comfort to these people who had suffered so much. I was soon joined by Pat Collier and Paul McDonald – both very busy people who run their own companies. There was already the nucleus of a committee. Anne and Aine expressed their willingness to help, and joined us a little later - each bringing a range of personal skills and valuable experience. During the fund-raising weekend, Rachel, a Leaving Cert student, expressed a wish to help. We were delighted to add her youthful enthusiasm and ideas to the existing pool. Providence manifested itself in a chance meeting with Catherine, a French mother of four, residing at present in Sutton. Her husband, Philippe, works with the EU delegation in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi. Catherine joined the Committee and contributes much from her personal knowledge of Malawi which she visits regularly. At the end of 2004, Doreen - who has worked as a teacher-volunteer in Nicaragua and two African countries - expressed an interest. About the same time, Jim, recently retired from the management of commercial companies associated with projects in Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe agreed to help. The nine members of the Committee, who between them, possess a range of relevant skills and valuable experience, bring energy and determination to the task of reaching the agreed objectives essential to improving the quality of life of the people of Chimteka.

CCS is a small and closely targeted charity. We have made a commitment to help Chimteka - a group of 17 ‘villages’, consisting of 717 households, with a total population of 1313 adults and 2389 children, over 600 of whom are orphaned (due mainly to AIDS). These children are not confined to an institution, but have been taken in by local households where they share the little these families have. Likewise, the orphan-headed households (where an older sibling - usually a teenage girl - looks after younger sisters and brothers) are supported by the local community. On our own, we cannot eradicate the grinding poverty; neither can we eliminate AIDS. This must be the work of the Government, helped by major international institutions. But we can make a considerable difference to individuals and families by encouraging and supporting self-help projects.

Our over overall goal is ‘To develop and promote self-help schemes among the Chimteka community by providing financial help in support of the structure already set up by the Chimteka Village AIDS Co-ordinating and Orphan Care Support Committee, for the care and protection of orphans and other vulnerable children and families in the area’. Working to bring some degree of help and comfort to Chimteka is not just a matter of giving. We in the West have a lot to learn from these people who open their hearts and their homes to deprived children, and care for and respect their elderly in a way that is foreign to our generation. I was deeply impressed recently by Fr Julian’s words when he referred to the sense of loss suffered by his extended family on the death of an elderly uncle: ‘We have lost a treasure of wisdom’. CCS is different from other/bigger charities, which have much larger resources. CCS concentrates on a small geographical area, which in time may become a model of self-help. The charity has no administrative costs and consequently can guarantee that every penny/cent collected reaches the orphaned children of Chimteka. Because of our regular communication with Fr Julian who lives and works in the capital, Lilongwe, and our relationship with the Village Committee through Francis Phiri, their Secretary, every item purchased with the monies collected is accounted for, and the receipts are faxed to the Committee in Sutton. Raising money is never easy, and it is less easy at this time when so many catastrophes - natural and man-made - are pulling at our purse-strings. But we are aware that Christian hope is not merely a feeling, but a commitment to action: we must work for what we hope to achieve.

Phil Dineen (Chairperson) February 2005.

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