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Health at home -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Health at home

Mwandida Bayisoni, an 8-year-old AIDS orphan, moved into a clean, decent Habitat house with her grandmother early in 2011. The safer environment
already has led to improved health and a better quality of life for Mwandida. ©Habitat for Humanity/Chris Mattle



The Bayisoni family’s three-room house features an iron-sheet roof and lockable doors. They also received mosquito nets to help prevent malaria and a private, safe latrine. ©Habitat for Humanity International/Chris Mattle


Series homepage: Why We Build


A clean home and family support change the life of an 8-year-old girl in Malawi

By Phillip Jordan

Every two months, Mary Tawonda borrows a rusty bicycle so she can take her 8-year-old niece, Mwandida, to the nearest hospital, 30 kilometers away in southern Malawi. Mwandida rides in front, balancing herself on the frame of the bike, while Mary straps her youngest child, Gifts, to her back.

Mary usually starts pedaling around 5 a.m. in order to get to the hospital by 9 a.m. Once there, Mwandida receives a checkup and another two-month supply of her HIV anti-retroviral medicine. Mwandida, the youngest of three children, was born with HIV. Her mom was an ambitious businesswoman who sold baked goods and vegetables in the local market. She contracted HIV/AIDS from her husband. Both parents passed away about seven years ago.

Since then, Mwandida has been living with her grandmother, Hilda Bayisoni. Mary helps out often, but she didn’t have enough room for them in her family’s humble home. For many years, Mwandida and her two older brothers lived in a small, dark house made of mud. A torn mat served as the home’s door, and a patchwork thatch roof could not withstand Malawi’s fierce summer thunderstorms.

In early 2011, Habitat Malawi selected Hilda and Mwandida to receive a subsidized Habitat home through its Orphans and Vulnerable Groups program. Habitat began the initiative in 2009 in response to the rising number of HIV/AIDS deaths, which has orphaned many children and left special-needs adults vulnerable in substandard conditions. Called Abwenzi Athu — “Our Friends” — the program also attempts to make families feel less ostracized in their villages, a key step in getting families to test earlier for the disease.

In addition, Habitat Malawi teaches partner families how to draft wills and to know their inheritance rights, something especially important for widows and orphans. For instance, Mwandida is the actual owner of her house. If her grandmother dies, Mwandida will have legal rights to stay here and cannot be forced out by neighbors or anyone else.

‘There are so many orphans’

Habitat Malawi aims to build 400 houses for orphans and vulnerable people in the Mulanje district, where Mwandida lives. Sangwani Nyasulu is Habitat Malawi’s field officer here. She travels by bicycle three days a week in Mulanje to reach all the families Habitat works with around here.

“There are so many orphans in this area, we have to do something like this,” Nyasulu says. “We can see people respond to the differences. Each and every house is a story in itself. You see a distinct change each time. Each and every house is a story of a family transformed, for me.”

Mwandida’s transformation is easy to see physically. With a lowered immune system and a weak body, especially early in her treatments, Mwandida suffered tremendously in Hilda’s old home.

“She got sicker more often,” Mary says. “She had pneumonia because of the bad, damp air inside the house. And she got malaria often from mosquitoes.”

In Mwandida’s new Habitat house, where she has lived with her grandmother for more than a year, her health is improving. Mwandida has doors she can shut to keep out the rain, wind and dust. She has windows, a clean floor and more space for herself.

Next: ‘It is a great improvement’
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