|Brian Kamwendo sought and received assistance from the Active Youth Initiative for Social Enhancement, a UNICEF-supported non-governmental organization that helps child domestic workers attend school.|
By Victor Chinyama
BLANTYRE, Malawi, 1 October 2008 – His is a perfect picture of adversity, tenacity and hope – a sensational, if not disheartening, drama whose final chapter, one prays, will end in glory.
Brian Kamwendo was born an only child in 1988 in southern Malawi. He lost his father when he was only a day old and was single-handedly raised by his mother, an accounts clerk at a local security company. Well-off by the standards of his community in one of the poorest countries in the world, Brian grew up a happy child, basking in the singular attention and warmth of his mother’s love.
His world fell apart unexpectedly with the death of his mother in 1997. Brian stayed with his stepfather until he, too, died in 1999. At 11, Brian was taken in by his grandmother and whisked off to her village. Life was never the same again.
Heavy chores for a young boy
Brian struggled to go to school and, in 2002, did well enough to be selected to secondary school. Unfortunately, his grandmother could not afford the fees and Brian was forced to stay home. The situation he faced highlights the need for all countries to abolish school fees in order to ensure that children like Brian don't miss out on education.
“It was then that I decided to come to Blantyre to look for work,” he says. “I found a job as a domestic worker in Bangwe, earning 400 Malawian kwacha [about US$2.80] a month. I was unable to save because I was getting so little.”
Brian’s chores were so heavy that he needed to wake up early at 4 a.m. every day. He would light the fire, prepare breakfast, and sweep and mop the house. Then he would be off to the local market to buy groceries, after which he was required to cook lunch and do the dishes.
His afternoon routine included washing and ironing clothes by hand and preparing supper for members of the family. Since he was living with his employers, he was expected to work seven days a week.
Negotiating for better conditions
In 2003, Brian sought help from the local councillor, who referred him to the Active Youth Initiative for Social Enhancement (AYISE), a UNICEF-supported non-governmental organization that helps child domestic workers attend school and negotiates for better working conditions.
AYISE asked Brian’s employer to allow him to go to school, to raise his pay to 1,500 Malawian kwacha (US$10), and to limit his working hours to four a day. When the employer refused, AYISE advised Brian to leave.
“I had nowhere to go,” said Brian. “As I went round looking for shelter, I met an old neighbour of ours who was good friends with my late mum and was prepared to look after me.”
‘I want to attend college’
In 2004, Brian enrolled at Bangwe Community Day Secondary School. In 2005, he obtained his junior certificate in education, emerging as the top student. By then, AYISE was paying for his education.
“In 2006, my guardian lost his job and moved to the village,” Brian recalled. “I had to stop school and follow him, as I had nowhere else to stay. In 2007, we came back to Blantyre and I was able to continue with my schooling.
“I am grateful for the support I receive from AYISE, because without it, I don’t know where I would have been,” he added. “I sometimes fear for my future, but I want to attend college and become a doctor. Only the lack of money may hinder me from realizing my dream.”