Siyireni Jonas, a 14-months old baby girl from Area 24 in Lilongwe was born with a rare heart condition – Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD).
She had a hole in her heart, about two inches, according to her father Jonas Nyalugwe who comes from Ulolo Village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mkhumba in Phalombe.
“For three months, we were admitted to Kamuzu Central Hospital (KCH). Doctors told us she needed to go for treatment in India. I wondered how I could afford the expenses, but somehow we got the idea to go to MBC (Malawi Broadcasting Corporation), present our case and appeal for support from the public.” explains Nyalugwe, a foreman who relies on piece work.
When the appeal aired on MBC, he received a call from a Malawian woman living in Ireland who offered to raise funds to send the baby to United States of America (USA).
“She linked us with her counterparts here and funds were raised for Siyireni to travel. She had a successful surgery and is back in better health and playing,” he explains.
Tawonga Kayira is one of the local women who went out of her way to facilitate the trip to Texas, for baby Siyireni’s surgery.
“I learned about the baby in November 2016 through Facebook; on a social forum Hot Tips for Women (HTFW). Somebody posted about her story on Malawi Television. Two of my friends tagged me because I had been working with an organisation that would send such children to USA.
“I had left the organisation that time, but fortunately, I got positive feedback and I started the tedious process of preparing the documents for the baby,” narrates Kayira.
The donor would cover the cost of the flight and the surgery and arrange for a Malawian host family on their stay in USA, but not the visa and passport costs. She then appealed for funds from members of HTFW Facebook group to cover those costs. The response she got was overwhelming.
“Never underestimate the power of women coming together for a good cause. What these women did; their prayers, financial assistance, their love and concern, still sends a chill down my spine. So, on February 21, they left for Houston Texas where Siyireni had surgery at the Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital,” says Kayira.
Asked what moved her to step in and save the day for baby Siyireni, Kayira said: “I knew something had to be done for her and fast. Her condition was not good. Through the organisation I mentioned, I was sent a child with a similar condition for a successful surgery. Another one died while we were still processing visa. So I knew if we didn’t act fast, we could lose Siyireni.”
Kayira has the passion of working on issues of child rights as such she could not underestimate the issue of right to health, especially when local indicators on infant mortality rate are so poor.
“Many babies, especially those that are from families worst hit by poverty, die from diseases they should not be dying from,” she points out.
Kayira notes that baby Siyireni’s condition was critical and was worsened by the fact that the family was too poor to provide for her. Apart from hospital provided soya porridge, the only other food the baby would get was breast milk. Consequently, she was severely malnourished and she laboured to breathe.
Siyireni had an open heart surgery after the women raised K1 million which apart from the visa and passport, also covered local running to meet doctors and get various documents.