At only 21, Idah Puliwa, the first girl to reach secondary school in her Nakhonyo Village in Senior Chief Mkanda’s area in Mulanje founded Othakarhaka Foundation to promote education among fellow young people in the district.
“My own education journey is inspirational. It took other people’s efforts for me to reach where I am today. My parents were having challenges paying for my tertiary education at The Polytechnic until a US-based woman Marquita Hill came to my rescue. I am now a proud holder of a Bachelor’s Degree in Information and Communication Technology (ICT).
Seeing a lot of children dropping out of school due to the same challenges, and consequently ending up in early marriages and pregnancies, I founded the organisation, to pass on the kindness by reaching out to others, particularly the less-privileged children in my district,” she explains.
Six years down the line, the organisation has supported over 30 girls and 27 boys in secondary education through bursaries.
Puliwa intends to scale up the number with an additional 35 students this September, a majority of whom will be girls.
“I realised that there are a lot of intelligent boys and girls whose dreams and potential to achieve more and participate in community as well as national development are hampered by lack of opportunity and access to education,” she added.
Working both as founder and director, Puliwa joins hands with over a thousand community volunteers and chiefs from 11 villages, who are helping her in the charity work, including identifying beneficiaries.
The organisation is also into other safety net programmes such as nutrition, health, food security and agroforestry.
“We encourage irrigation farming, where beneficiaries from the 11 villages are given inputs (maize seed and fertiliser) and in return, they give 10 percent of their proceeds to the organisation for distribution to orphans and the elderly,” she said.
According to Puliwa, the agroforestry project, which involves providing free seedlings to communities to plant along river banks within the outskirts of Mulanje Mountain, is part of an initiative aimed at responding to effects of climate change and environmental degradation.
Other programmes include providing basic amenities such as food (Likuni Phala flour, maize), blankets and clothes to the elderly and orphans, providing adult literacy education, tailoring school and running a community library.
“Although the achievements are collective and progressive, there are already some notable short-term impacts in the food security initiative as most households are now food-sufficient and, most importantly, several youths, particularly girls, are able to finish their secondary school education through our bursary programme,” she said.
The organisation depends on financial assistance from both local and international donors such as Peacework International, Ohio University and retired professors from various universities.
However, Puliwa is contemplating securing more donors, particularly towards the bursary programme, so as to reach out to those in colleges and public universities.
“Helping students attain secondary school education has less significance if they miss the opportunity for tertiary education.
“My message is that we all support programmes that are practically life-changing to our societies,” she said.
Puliwa also plans to expand and penetrate to more villages and districts for the initiatives to have greater national impact.
She says the journey has not been so rosy as some beneficiary farmers are unable to pay back the 10 percent of their proceeds, which defeats their theme of ‘Passing on the kindness’.
“Due to limiting financial factors, we are now looking for means to boost our financial base so that we do not entirely depend on donors,” she explained.