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Wednesday 18th July 2012 by Thomas
In May, I was invited to London to take part in EveryChild’s 10th anniversary celebrations, where I received a '10 for 10’ award. When I was told about the award, I went blank and I was at a loss for words. Sometimes, you don’t know whether people in the community appreciate the work you do, so this was exciting. I did wonder why I was being recognised as one of the 10. This is not a one-man job. The work I do in Malawi is down to a team, it’s down to the community and the volunteers.
The reason I got involved in this work is because of my past. I grew up in a remote village in Malawi. When I was 11 years old, my parents separated and this forced my mum to move away. I had to live with my father and my stepmother, who was very abusive to me. It was at that time I experienced what it is like to be a child without parental care. My stepmum would give me a lot of work during school time and this prevented me from attending classes. At the same time, I'd go hungry, and even work without food – you can imagine how this impacted on my life. I tried to runaway but I was caught and beaten. I also had the emotional pressure of being separated from my mum. After going through that experience, I decided to work for a charity for the cause of children without parental care.
In Malawi, when a child is without parental care, they have to go to work from an early age and they are not given the opportunity to tend to their educational needs. We conduct community meetings so we can educate communities about the dangers of child labour and early child marriage. We tell them that without education, children will not have the appropriate skills to help them get a better job in life. As a result there are many children without parental care who are now going to school and I think this is one of the reasons why our work has been recognised.
In my letter, I endeavoured to recommend what would work better for children without parental care. If children do not have proper family support, it can lead to abuse and exploitation. It can lead to early marriage, they can drop out of school and it can lead to maternal death. I stressed that if everyone made the effort to raise awareness of children without parental care, the world would be a better place.
I have learnt a number of lessons from this trip, namely how to use programme evidence to influence policy changes for children without parental care. My team and I are now going to use these lessons in our advocacy efforts against child marriages in Bulala. Working with prominent media houses such as the BBC also made the trip exciting. I even met the celebrity Sir Bruce Forsyth and his wife, Lady Forsyth. Now we are going to develop a working relationship with some local celebrities during our advocacy campaigns.
I am very happy to be acknowledged as one of the prize winners - I do this work because I want to contribute towards improving their lives. This award tells me that we’re doing a good job, but it will also inspire us to do a better job in the future.