Friday, August 29, 2008

Servants of People

They are almost a perfect pair, one that lives to help those who cannot help themselves. Their message is that everyone can help in some way and that is what we should be doing.

True lovers, says old wisdom, never meet. They just contemplate each other, as the 13th century poet Rumi writes, "since the beginning of time".

But James and Brenda Nyondo, it seems, are lovers who met and have formed a pair that believes in giving out—everything from time to kindness and money. "We live on five percent of our income," says James. "The rest goes to people."

A journey from Lilongwe City to T/A Masumbunkhunda beyond Chigwirizano, takes not more than one hour. But one late afternoon in February, James and Brenda spent about two hours on the road.

It had been raining heavily for a month. And on this particular day, it rained for close to two hours. Yet that did not stop James and Brenda from seeing an old woman at group village headman Khumba’s area. On the way, their 4X4 vehicle, which they use as an ambulance for the poor, got stuck in the mud. James, on the drivers seat, tried extra gears, but the land was too muddy for the vehicle. The situation seemed hopeless.

"James," says Brenda, "let’s try prayer." There is no delay. "Let us pray," says James. "Our Father in heaven, thank you for this opportunity you have given us to travel and help people on your behalf. We are stuck. Take us out of this mud now. Amen."

Next James instructed his wife to buckle up because the 4X4 vehicle would leave the mud with force and he did not want any injuries. But it failed.

Yet he did not worry. All along there were men who wanted to dig and get the vehicle out of the mud. "It is their way of life," says Fiskani, a young brother to James. "They wait for vehicles to get stuck, dig them out and make money for a living."

So, they did their work and after about one hour, the 4X4 vehicle was out of the mud. The men were paid K1,500 "for beer" in their own words.

In ordinary thinking, James and Brenda were supposed to return home, to the comfort of their mansion. But that was not their choice. They continued to see the old woman who is well known as agogo.

She did not know James and Brenda were coming and she was happy to see her children, as she called them. "It is nice you have come," she says. "I have no food and insects are giving me sleepless nights." Her house, a small hut, is a product of Servants of the Nation, an NGO run by James and Brenda.

The two first came to help her when they heard a story about an old woman who was killed by a hyena in the same village because her door had no shutter.

"Why should we help a person when he or she is no more?" Asks James of the woman whose funeral attracted an expensive coffin from well-wishers in the village.

To teach the people a meaningful lesson, James and Brenda organised villagers into a group to identify the needy and help them in a way the community could. That is how the old woman they saw this evening was identified. She had a house without a roof. The community, with courage from Servants for the Nation, brought grass and trees and the organisation brought plastic paper. Now she has a house that does not leak when it rains.

"I am comfortable now," she tells the couple, "except the ants."

It was for this reason that James fished out a K500 bank note for "salt and sugar and soap" and asked the community’s leader to come to Servants of the Nation offices at Likuni to collect rice for the old woman. The next day, James and Brenda were on their way to Dedza to meet community leaders and people from villages outside the town.

But he went via the office in Likuni to instruct staff to buy insecticides for the old woman to chase ants from her house. Meanwhile, in Dedza, about 60 people had assembled at a house near Umbwi Secondary School. They discussed agriculture and business. James assured them of support from Servants of the Nation. He preached about love and an end to discrimination of any kind.

"We do not choose parents. We do not choose tribe. We must not, therefore, discriminate anyone because of tribe," says James.

Servants of the Nation, he says, is founded on love; love for one another as preached by Jesus Christ, who Christians believe is the Son of God. This love, says Brenda, sees no skin colour. This love, she adds, does not consider class or race and that is what Malawians must believe in.

It makes sense somehow because James considers himself a Malawian, not a man from Karonga. He grew up in Area 18 in a house that could afford only basic existence and knows he the smell of poverty. His father is a mwenecheni of the Lambya people in Karonga. He is the next in line and his son, Mulisya, will takeover from him.

"From an early age, I was groomed for leadership through my father’s tutelage," says James who has two bachelors degrees in law from University of South Africa and business administration from University of Texas at San Antonio.

It seems true. His organisation employs about 20 people, some of them graduates mainly from the University of Malawi but as James says, a degree without love and kindness and a serving spirit "is nothing".

"Leadership is first and foremost an act of service," says James. "Without servants serving the nation, we are a doomed people regardless of who governs this country. Leadership without service benefits leaders not people."

This is the reason the organisation is named Servants of the Nation. Their work includes fixing poor people’s houses, helping the sick access medical attention. One of their vehicles is used as an ambulance for the poor. They also give out wheelchairs to those who do not dream of getting any. Paul, in the rural areas outside Likuni is a typical example. He had no mobility. He used to crawl. Now he has a wheelchair and is able to go to church.

It is a special wheelchair, with a hole in the middle, so that users do not have problems in the toilet. Paul is just one of the beneficiaries. There are hundreds in Lilongwe, Balaka, and other areas of the country. The organisation has also been giving out books on leadership to Parliament, University of Malawi and other organisations.

"Servants of the Nation will serve anyone and everyone regardless of that person’s beliefs, language, skin colour, social standing, origin or any other considerations," says James and Brenda in statement. "We tell people that real leaders are for something that will benefit their fellow man. It does not take greatness to be against something. People who are against never build anything and never unite."

These are wise words befitting this season of political turmoil. They are words from a man and a woman who have found love.

That night, when they returned from helping that old woman, James and Brenda smiled at each other and thanked their God for looking after them. They planned for the next day, how they would travel to see more poor people, the desperate who do not hope for any intervention from anyone.

James and Brenda seem to make a perfect pair destined for a greater office, especially now when people are thinking of Malawi of 2014, after President Bingu wa Mutharika.

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