A day after The Nation published a picture of needy villagers queuing for madeya at Mary View Home-Based Care Centre near Catholic University in Chiradzulu, police, reportedly on instruction from Chiradzulu district commissioner (DC) ordered the centre on February 16 2016 to stop distribution of the madeya to the hungry villagers.
While the villagers described the decision as heartless, DC Ali Phiri in an interview on Friday said they were concerned that the madeya could be hazardous to the health of the villagers. But he could not explain how the decision to stop the villagers from receiving the madeya was arrived at.
Instead, Phiri said he had assured the centre that his office would help it source maize from Agricultural Development and Marketing Corporation (Admarc) and he followed it up with a letter asking Admarc to allow them buy maize.
On Friday, a Nation on Sunday crew that visited the centre, found scores of villagers, including breastfeeding mothers, hopelessly waiting for something to take home to eat. Some said they were sleeping on an empty stomach since the DC stopped the madeya distribution at the centre.
The women complained that authorities were being unreasonable by standing in the way of the charity centre which was distributing free maize, rice, beans, cooking oil, blankets, and the madeya when the hunger situation worsened.
Founder of the centre, Brother Wladimir van Heck, 86, of the congregation of Brothers of Immaculate Conception, popularly known as FIC Brothers, said police—who told him were sent by the Chiradzulu DC—quizzed him on why he was distributing what they called “animal feed” to people.
“I told them the history of this place—that we normally distribute food, including maize, but we exhausted what we had,” said Wladimir.
He added that the madeya distribution was an alternative measure after noticing how severe the food crisis was becoming.
“I bought maize bran (madeya) worth K6 million which we have been distributing. Sometimes it was being mixed with maize,” he said.
Wladimir said when the police told him to use the DC’s letter to go to Admarc and buy maize, he asked them who was going to pay for that, and he got no answer.
“I also asked them if they knew the price of maize at Admarc, again they didn’t answer.
“I told them I have been doing this as an individual with help from well-wishers from Holland to save lives of Malawians in this critical situation. Those women outside are waiting in vain because there is nothing I can do,” he said.
According to Brother Wladimir, he has since 1991 been working with 28 village communities on HIV prevention.
He said the centre provides food, fertiliser, clothing, blankets and other life-saving aids to the most vulnerable people in its catchment area and also works to lessen poverty.
“Besides, our volunteers counsel people on health, farming and how to run small businesses. We experience our brotherhood as a call to be a ‘Brother’ to all people,” he said.
Brenda Foster, who had a two-months-old baby and was among women camping at the centre on Friday, said it was painful that the DC stopped the madeya distribution.
“This is cruel and unbelievable. If they have our interests at heart, why don’t they come forward and give us the decent food?” said Foster who is breastfeeding.
About 2.8 million Malawians are facing food crisis owing to poor weather patterns among other reasons. Government has been claiming it has maize in Admarc depots, but the situation on the ground is totally different. n