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Buddhism for orphans in Malawi

 The Big Issue Malawi 09 July 2019

In a secluded area surrounded by blooming macadamia trees lies an ornate oriental looking structure. This is not a new theme park but rather a home to many of Malawi’s orphans. The Amitofo Care Centre is ran by Buddhist monks and offers a safe and secure home for vulnerable children. (709 Words) - By Omega Chanje-Mulwafu

Big Issue Malawi

The Amitofo Care Centre where orphans can learn in a safe environment. Photo: The Big Issue Malawi

Located just outside Blantyre near Mapanga, the Amitofo centre, which is run by Buddhist monks, is unlike any other orphanage in the country. The architecture is something you'd expect to see in China or Taiwan as the roof edges curve outwards to give that distinct oriental look.

So how did it all come about? In the year 2000 a Taiwanese representative, from the Buddha's Light International Association, Venerable Hui Li, visited Malawi to donate 150 wheelchairs to the government. It was on this visit he became aware and concerned about the situation surrounding HIV/Aids and the impact it had on many of the country's children who were left orphaned. Upon successful negotiations with the Malawian government, a parcel of land was donated to him and building of the care centre began in 2003.

Amitofo, which means 'everlasting' or 'everything', is perhaps the perfect name for the centre, as for many of the orphans it is the only thing or place closest to a home. The centre has 259 children in its care, with age's range between 3 and 14.

I'm met with merry and cheerful gazes as I go around the buildings, which I'm told are still undergoing construction. Initially all building materials were imported from Mainland China, with financial support from generous donors. "There is great vision of what the centre is yet to become," says Social Worker, Simon Masauko. We currently have a clinic, which is in the process of registration at the General Medical Council, a library, a computer room or laboratory and a school, which is comprised of standard 1 to 7 of the primary school education. The standard 8 building is still undergoing construction and lessons will soon be on offer. The centre has 24 houses and each house sleeps 20 children and 4 caregivers.

A typical day for an orphan at the centre starts with an early rise at around 5am, at which point some orphans have the choice to practice Shaolin Kung Fu or attend the temple for meditation. Breakfast is then served at 6am after which every child is to report to his or her classroom. The centre also has a nursery school that offers a fresh start for their young orphans. As part of extra curricular activities, lessons in Mandarin are on offer. Other activities offered include martial arts, football, music and singing. The centre's Principal Director, Mrs Huang Hsiu-Lin tells me that upon successful completion of their studies, every child will have the chance to travel to Taiwan or China to further their learning.

The centre currently employs over 70 people who assist in the daily running of the orphanage but also welcomes assistance from volunteers. I'm told there are currently 6 monks volunteering at centre who've come from Taiwan and China.

Another striking aspect about Amitofo Care Centre is the work it does for surrounding communities. According to Simon Masauko, "we respond to different types of problems which surrounding communities bring to the orphanage. On a monthly basis, we distribute food items such as maize, beans, groundnuts, soya, salt and cooking oil to community-based organisations, which are 9 in total. We have about 1 400 orphans and vulnerable children in these organisations all of which we like to help."

As I'm led around the premises I'm told there are two fundamental aspects that make up the centre - the orphanage and the temple. The temple is to say the least, stupendous. With doors the size of what could've belonged to Noah's ark, the interior is absolutely magnificent. Adorned with incense sticks, cauldrons and statues depicting the deity of Buddhism, the temple offers a place of solace and peace not just for practising Buddhists but anyone needing to meditate. The pacifying jingles of chimes sound every now and then, offering a semblance of pure bliss. It is said to be the biggest Buddhist Temple in Malawi and the only one if it's kind. It offers provision of both, followers of Theravada and Mahayana teachings.

Before I take leave I'm left feeling a little more encouraged with the thought that somewhere in the plains of Malawi lies a place of peace that offers hope and life to victims of something that has decimated 'the family unit'. All is not lost.

 

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Originally published by The Big Issue Malawi. © www.streetnewsservice.org