Brian’s Story of Loss, Redemption and Hope
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 however fell apart unexpectedly with the death of his mother in 1997. Brian stayed with his stepfather who also died in 1999. Aged 11, Brian was taken in by his grandmother and whisked off to the village. Life was never the same again
He struggled his way through 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.
“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 a month (US$2.80). 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 4am 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 was hand-washing and ironing clothes for members of the family and preparing supper. As he was staying with his employers, he was expected to work seven days a week.
In 2003, Brian sought help from the local councillor who referred him to the Active Youth Initiative for Social Enhancement (AYISE), a UNICEF-supported NGO which helps child domestic workers to attend school and negotiates for better working conditions.
AYISE requested 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. He refused and AYISE advised Brian to leave him.
“I had nowhere to go. 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.”
In 2004, Brian enrolled at Bangwe Community Day Secondary School and in 2005 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. 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 feel sorry for myself because I have lived through very difficult situations. I am grateful for the support I receive from AYISE because without it, I don’t know where I would have been.
“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 realising my dream.”