At 22 years old, Tusayiwe Mkhondya is a beacon of hope for orphaned and abandoned children in Mzuzu.
She is one of thousands of teenagers in Malawi who fell pregnant while still under aged.
Tusayiwe gave birth to her child at the age of 16. And at 20, she founded a non-profit organisation that supports young mothers, provides early childhood development services, special education and educational support to orphans and street children.
The predicament she faced during her pregnancy instilled in her the desire to start an organisation called You Are Not Alone (Yana).
Yana is a youth led baby organisation born in 2020 to a mother organisation called Empowering Young Mothers which was founded in 2017.
She said: “I started the Empowering Young Mothers organisation because I got pregnant when I was very young. During the period of being a mother, I discovered that many young mothers fail to progress because of the many challenges they meet.”
Tusayiwe gave birth to a son with special needs who she said was constantly abused by his teachers at school.
Upon discovering this, she decided to open a special needs school at home to cater for other children like him.
She said: “I opened my first school at home, in the boy’s quarters that used to house our chickens. There were many reasons I decided to open a special needs school, the main one being that I found out my son was abused at the pre-school he was attending.”
“At the time, my son couldn’t talk so there was no way of him telling me what was happening to him. However, one day I went by his school and found a teacher beating him badly. I was extremely hurt and afraid to send him back, so I decided to fix the boys quarters at home and form a school.”
Tusayiwe’s preschool started with 10 children. Since then, the school and orphanage she opened under Yana has grown tremendously.
Since the organisation’s formation, they have sent back to school hundreds of children in their catchment area of Dunduzu.
It has two preschools consisting of more than 100 children—one junior primary school and an orphanage that houses 25 children.
On top of that, Yana also has support groups for women, young mothers and the elderly.
Through their programmes and groups, they have managed to reach over 300 people in their catchment area.
“Our main aim is to help people who are facing challenges and who feel like they are alone. We believe mental health support is important and we do our best to support and empower people to bring change to our community,” said Tusayiwe.
Through its various programmes such as girls and women empowerment, Yana has provided girls and young mothers with essential knowledge about self-stigma and sexual reproductive health.
Their mental health empowerment programmes are also vital in supporting the community with material, emotional and psychological support.
In addition, Yana has sent young mothers back to school, connected them to mentors to help and motive them.
Tusayiwe has nine workers across her orphanage and schools.
Hernon-governmental organisation (NGO) depends on well-wishers and donations from the public.
They also have some donors who support Yana in various ways.
The donors include Fun That Counts Kids (FTC), an American based empowerment centre that funds Yana’s special needs primary school.
Tusayiwe was born on March 9 1999, but was abandoned by her parents at a very young age.
Fortunately, she was taken in and cared for by her grandparents.
Since she was six years old, Tusayiwe was sexually abused.
And as a result, she suffered from depression and post traumatic stress disorder.
She lost her grandmother when she was 16 and struggled with that loss.
Tusayiwe said: “So much has happened with my family, but despite it all, I thank God because it made me who I am today. After my son was born, he was later diagnosed with autism. I found this out after he had to undergo several surgeries due to his inability to talk.
“This was the most heartbreaking time of my life, but it made me strong because I started looking for ways to support him as a single mother. The relatives who abused me kicked me and my son out of my grandfather’s house. I became homeless until we found temporary shelter to live in.”
Tusayiwe reflects on the day she became homeless, saying that it was one of the hardest days of her life.
“In 2017, I came up with the idea for
a support group for young girls and mothers. I was 18 years old at this time. I confided in my friend Chimango and he polished it out and agreed to to develop it further.”
“After Chimango left, in the evening, some of my relatives came and beat me badly, accusing me of dating him. I took my son and left the house and started walking towards town in the dark. As I was walking, I met a guard who told me to go back home because it was too late for me to be walking around with a child.
“I told him that I had nowhere to go and I was heading towards Lafiki Orphanage. Because it was late and not safe to be walking around, by the grace of God, he gave me somewhere to sleep for the night. He took me to an incomplete building that was under construction and I slept on the bare floor with my son. I woke up the next morning and walked for over two hours and finally reached the orphanage.”
Tusayiwe returned home in 2020 after being away for three years and later on opened her first nursery.
Currently, she has projects, programmes and groups in Mzuzu as well as Likoma.
In Likoma she has collaborated with an NGO known as Likoma Conservation Foundation.
Overall, she has helped more than 6 000 people in a multitude of ways.
She added: “Starting my own NGO is a big achievement that I am proud. Despite the many challenges I faced, I managed to rise up and become a mother to the motherless. I am just a messenger or a bridge that connects vulnerable people to the right people and services that can help them.
“I would like to encourage people, especially young girls like me, to not give up, especially on your dreams and always remember that you are not alone.”
Tusayiwe’s dream is to one day open a village for vulnerable people that can be accessed by and cater to anyone in need across Malawi. n
Some of Tusayiwe’s foster children are a library