ABC Radio Brisbane: Interview with Rebecca Levingston
May 5 2020 COVID19 in Malawi
Coronavirus In Africa: One Brisbane Mum Makes A Difference
By Justin Rouillon Tuesday 28 Apr 2020 96five Breakfast Radio
Coronavirus In Africa: One Brisbane Mum Makes A Difference
Size: 7.76 MbDate: April 28, 2020-11:17
Listen to the full radio interview by clicking the link below
The coronavirus pandemic has brought the world to its knees in the space of a few months.
The majority of media coverage has focused on the hot spots – China, Italy, Spain and now the USA and its epicenter of New York, but there’s a ticking time bomb that for the most part has gone unreported.
For some time now the World Health Organization has held grave concerns for the African continent, where health systems are far less developed.
Brisbane mum Donna Power has been supporting some of the world’s poorest children for almost a decade through her charity Project Kindy. The grassroots organisation raises funds for kindergartens in the eastern African country of Malawi, one of the world’s poorest nations where over half of the population live below the poverty line.
Listen to the interview with Donna in the audio player above.
With the majority of the country involved in some kind of agriculture, Donna told 96five that the industry was highly susceptible to weather shocks, leaving the people in a vulnerable state.
“They’re subsistence farmers for the most part, and in Malawi they only have one harvest per year. If the rains don’t come and they miss that harvest they’re in dire straits for the next 12 months.”
Donna first became aware of the desperate situation in the country through a friend; Sister Melissa Dwyer had been serving in the country with the Canossian Daughters of Charity. On learning that the kindy attached to Sister Melissa’s convent was going to close because of a lack of funds, Donna took it on herself to raise the monthly cost to keep it afloat.
Staggeringly it only costs $160 per month to fund a kindergarten of 40 children, including a daily lunch.
Project Kindy now supports almost 900 kindergarten students in eleven kindy’s across rural Malawi.
Enjoying lunch at the Bakhita Kindy in Nsanama, Malawi.
Lockdown in a Developing Nation
But as COVID-19 begins to spread in Malawi, Donna is convinced that the poorest of the poor will be impacted the most by any shutdown or restrictions.
“There’s no safety net or ability to dream of a safety net in Malawi. When the poor lose their customers, there is no compensation for that, so they go into further destitution.”
She’s not alone in her concerns, following the recent decision by the High Court in the capital Lilongwe.
After President Peter Mutharika announced a 21 day nationwide lockdown in mid-April, there were protests in the streets, strikes by doctors and nurses and legal action by the Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition, who argued that the president had not set in place adequate protection for the poor. In what can only be described as a stunning decision, the court ruled against the president and ordered an economic safety net be put in place for those who will need it.
Malawian President Peter Mutharika. Image: Bloomberg.
The social unrest in opposition to any lockdown measures in the country highlights the political instability in the country, with many having no faith in the president to lead the country through a crisis. This follows the Malawian Constitutional Courts decision in February to overturn his presidential victory of last year, ordering a new vote to be held in July.
But of course, a lockdown in third world Africa looks entirely different to what Western nations have experienced through their shutdowns.
Current restrictions have already closed Donna’s kindys, but the two big concerns that Donna has for her communities is the upcoming harvest and also access to water.
“If you’re not allowed to leave your home you can’t go out and walk the long distance that you need to in order to get water. Some of our families walk up to three hours each day to get water. Although we would consider it essential to go and get water there’s a lot of confusion over what will be allowed. My concern is that families won’t be able to access water, which they already can’t access locally.”
It’s this issue that Donna has now turned her attention to, with only five out of the eleven communities that Project Kindy supports having access to a local well.
Although there are some challenges in getting the building teams, materials and equipment out into the rural communities, Donna says it’s entirely possible but reliant on funds being available.
And it doesn’t cost as much as you would think with the average cost of a well to provide clean drinking water for a village coming in at around the $9,000AUD mark.
If you’d like to find out more about the work of Project Kindy, or contribute to the cost of building a well in a village that needs it you can do so at their website, or keep up to date with them via their Facebook page.
Donna Power wants to get water to Malawi children as COVID-19 threatens fatalities on two fronts
April 30, 2020
JESUS prayed even more earnestly when He was in agony in the Garden of Gethsemane – that detail held a lesson the world could learn from the global COVID-19 pandemic, Project Kindy founder Donna Power said.
She said people were more empathetic to the pain of others when they were in pain themselves, never more so than Jesus praying for the world in His agony.
The pain facing Australia was job loss, loss of family, isolation, and hardship because COVID-19 had impacted the way Australians lived their lives.
In Malawi, where Mrs Powers’ charity helped fund 11 kindergartens attended by 847 children supported by the Canossian Daughters of Charity, the impact of coronavirus or even the prospect of a lockdown posed catastrophic consequences.
A non-government organisation successfully lobbied for a seven-day postponement on President Peter Mutharika’s proposed three-week lockdown in a country that had 33 cases of COVID-19.
That week’s reprieve was quickly coming to an end.
“Our first priority is to get water locally into our communities,” Mrs Power said.
“You don’t have access to water in Malawi.
“(People) walk one to three hours a day to fill up a tub of water, carry it back on their heads, back to their homes.
“If the nation is sent into an imposed lockdown, there will be a lot of confusion around those walks.
“They will be either banned or made more dangerous because people will be reluctant to go on those walks.”
Five of Project Kindy’s 11 communities had wells to get water, but six did not.
“So we are desperately trying to raise funds to ensure a simple well is installed at those six locations and these wells are simple – they’re a really long pipe into the deep, down to get that water under the ground and they just have this one simple lever that you pump and out comes the water out of the tap.
“That would ensure they have water for washing, handwashing, for cooking, for drinking – basically for keeping alive.”
Without adequate healthcare or social safety nets like Centrelink, COVID-19’s direct and indirect impacts could last far longer in Malawi than Australia.
News reports and government reports showed COVID-19 fatalities increased among groups of people who had co-morbidities.
Mrs Power said the Malawi population already had health issues like malnutrition, no access to clean water, waterborne disease or other diseases like HIV or malaria.
“I am very concerned that we need long term solutions in place and the very first one that’s smashing us in the face at Project Kindy is access to water,” she said.
Mrs Power had been in close contact with Canossian Sister Joanita, who told her last week about six-year-old Evance Faluka who lived with his mum in Katundu village and went to Holy Family Kindergarten.
Evance’s father abandoned the family and left them destitute, while Evance’s mum sold small amounts of bananas to feed her family.
Mrs Power said the sisters had been “the hands and feet of Jesus”, as they had found Evance isolated by his poverty, without clothes or food, and coaxed him to come to Kindy with a simple offer of a free lunch every day.
Evance was “extremely shy” when he was brought into the community.
Mrs Power feared a 21-day lockdown would mean Evance’s mum would have no one to sell bananas to and the family would go hungry.
The sisters were delivering food to Evance and 55 of the poorest families with children at the kindies but Mrs Power said they needed more help.
“It’s unimaginable poverty,” Mrs Power said.
But she said because COVID-19 was a global pandemic, people might be more empathetic to those who were suffering.
“And it’s Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, He prayed more earnestly because he was in agony and when humans are experiencing pain, we have more empathy for others,” Mrs Power said. She was hoping people would respond in greater numbers to the needs of the world.
ABC Brisbane Radio Interview for Catholic Leader Awards
96five Radio June 3, 2018 (click title or here for podcast SoundCloud)
by the 96five radio station, May 25 2018
(or read below and use this download link to listen)
“Project Kindy – a Brisbane mum’s journey with the world’s poorest kids.”
By Justin Rouillon, Friday 25 May 2018, 96five
Size: 3.81 Mb-5:32
It was 2011 and Donna Power was catching up with a friend who’d been overseas for 8 years.
It seems like a pretty normal occurrence – but the difference was that Donna’s friend was Sister Melissa Dwyer, a nun who’d been serving with the Canossian Daughters of Charity in the African nation of Malawi. She mentioned that the kindy attached to her convent was about to close down. The country is one of the world’s poorest, with the population being extremely vulnerable to food insecurity. In fact, just 2 years ago the UN categorised Malawi at the highest level of food crisis – meaning one in three people faced starvation.
On enquiring why the kindy was closing down Sr Dwyer responded that many of the parents could not afford the $4 per month fee. With the 40 children in the kindy needing only $160 per month to cover the fees Donna thought this was an achievable outcome.
“I’d just finished up a job which I’d been in for 10 years and I was looking for a new adventure. I thought 40 children at $4 a month is achievable, and I decided that this was going to be my new adventure.”
Donna recalls her amazement at the cost of sending a child in Malawi to kindy for a month, especially considering our lifestyle in Brisbane. Daycare costs in Brisbane average around the $100 per day mark, which is mind blowing when you consider a class of 40 kids in Malawi can be fed and educated for $160 per month!
Since 2011 the organisation has grown to the point where they now support 9 kindy’s and over 800 children per month. As a teacher and former school chaplain Donna is passionate about the outcomes that early education achieve in developing countries.
“Early years education in poverty stricken nations, is the most economic way to raise the standard of living. Investing in a child before school prepares them for school, and results in the families and communities valuing education. It also helps them succeed all the way through to tertiary education, and results in more active citizens and leaders.”
And on her first trip to Malawi last year, Donna found out the impact that the kindy’s were having, not only on the parents and children, but on villages as a whole.
“ The village chief spoke to us and he said – ‘no one visits us, we are the forgotten and neglected, but what you are doing us is remembering us and feeding our children, and for that we thank you’. When someone says that you realize why Jesus said reach out to the forgotten. How dare we forget these people who are suffering.”
To find out more about the work of Project Kindy check out the website www.projectkindy.com or find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/projectkindy
“Brisbane Charity Gives Food for African Kindies”
In The Catholic Leader, May 27, 2018 p7
RELIGIOUS sisters and volunteers caring for kindergarten students in Malawi have picked up their latest ration of breakfast foods thanks to generous donors from Australia. The Canossian Daughters of Charity and a group of volunteers bought a year’s worth of grains to feed nearly 800 children in Malawi.
For many families, sending their child to kindergarten is a guaran- teed way to secure a meal. But the local food staple of rice and corn are difficult to come by, as the Malawi harvest time is between May and July. The timeframe is the equivalent of having the local Australian grocery store closed from August to April.alawi who would otherwise starve. The grains will be turned into nsima, a Malawian dish made with milled corn, rice and water and fed during mealtime to the children in the kindergartens.
Since 2016, Australian charity Project Kindy has financially sup- ported the kindergartens. Donations are sent to the Canos- sian Sisters at the beginning of the Malawi harvest. Project Kindy founder Donna Power said the charity provided nearly 800 meals a day, five days a week for the school year, which normally lasted nine months.
“This provides much-needed food security for these vulnerable children,” Mrs Power said. Next month the charity will hold its first trivia night at St Wil- liam’s parish, Grovely, to provide even more meals for the Malawi children.
– Emilie Ng
Good food: A volunteer for the Canossian Sisters’ Malawi kindergartens carries a bag of maize that will be turned into food for their 800 children.
Photo: Sr Josephine Allieri
Articles in The Catholic Leader: