Tilinanu - Inspirational Alumni
Changing Lives in Malawi
When Faculty graduate Alice Pulford set off to Malawi on a gap year placement, she had no idea that just one year later she would end up setting up, funding and managing an orphanage and transform the path of not only her own life, but the lives of many Malawi orphans.
Alice’s drive to undertake a gap year in Malawi was inspired by her grandfather who had carried out aid work in India. When he died shortly before Alice finished school, she was determined to follow in his footsteps and help make a difference to peoples’ lives.
Alice initially went to Malawi on a teaching placement but it was whilst undertaking other volunteer work in Area 49 in Lilongwe Sector 4, Malawi, that Alice realised this wasn’t going to be a typical gap year experience, she was in this for life. In Area 49, Alice witnessed the support and kindness that local families had shown towards the hundreds in the area. Orphans who, without the kindness of these families, would not even have a roof over their head. Yet most of these families struggled to feed, clothe and care for themselves. Like much of sub-Saharan Africa, the HIV/AIDs epidemic has left many Malawi children without one or both parents. High death rates from pregnancy and birth complications, combined with poverty and poor health have added to this number, leaving somewhere between one to two million children orphaned, dependant on begging for food or money or the kindness of a family in order to survive. One in five of these children will not even live to see their fifth birthday.
When Alice first met the children of area 49 they were gathered on a wide dirt track where they would meet every afternoon to have supervised porridge, education and games. Darkness arrives quickly in Malawi and as the night drew in Alice noticed that the children were not going home. When Alice asked the local families where the children went, Alice learnt that they had nowhere to go. The dirt track was their home. Alice knew then that she was going to raise funds and return to the area to help support local community projects to help care for the orphaned children.
An opportunity that couldn’t be missed
It was on Alice’s second trip over that she came across the opportunity she had been waiting for. “I’d raised funds and gone over to build a toilet block for one of the schools when I came across a derelict, unfinished building consisting of just three walls and foundations,” Alice explained “The building had not been completed because of political unrest in the area but the family who owned the land had always hoped it could be transformed into a safe haven for the orphaned children to sleep, rest and play, but had never had the funds to see the project through. I saw an opportunity to give something back to the incredible people I had met and started investigating how much it would cost to convert the structure into an orphanage by getting quotes from local builders”.
Alice set up a registered charity and website to inform people about the project and used social networking sites, along with the support of family and friends, to spread the word about her aim to raise the £6,500 needed to transform the derelict building into a safe and secure home for the orphans. Using the quote, Alice was able to break the building renovations down into smaller components and created a wish list, on her Facebook page “People could buy a door, a bed or some cement and feel that they had contributed something tangible to the project” says Alice. She also put her organisational skills to great use, setting up various fundraising initiatives to support her vision.
As the funds came in Alice got renovations underway and in August 2009 she achieved her goal and watched 20 orphaned girls, aged between six and sixteen, settle into their new home, Tilinanu. These children now had a roof over their head and a place that they could rest, play and receive healthcare and education.
Alice recalls how “the girls were trying to take their mosquito nets down and hide them under their beds because they had never had one. They were trying to hide their individual towels because they had never personally owned anything. For the first few days they showered at least 4 to 5 times a day as most of them had never had running water”
Building a brighter future
Alice then returned to her second year at university where she carried on her studies alongside running the orphanage from afar and raising funds to take the project further.
The orphanage has since gone from strength to strength, trebling in size and expanding to provide a safe haven for a total of 34 girls, each of whom has had the course of their life changed forever. Two of the girls have just completed secondary school and will go on to become secretaries, a job they would not have been able to achieve without the education provided by the orphanage.
Thanks to the kind and generous donations since opening, Alice has been able to build a community centre, medical clinic and additional shower blocks. She organised construction of ‘the great wall of Tilinanu’, the name fondly given to the 8 ft wall surrounding the orphanage and keeping the girls safe. Alice also bought and planted fruit trees and vegetables to help the community to become more self sufficient.
The Tilinanu charity finances its own porridge fund which feeds an additional 175 children. The government provides the oats but Alice and her team raise the funds to provide the staff and utensils to cook and serve it and ensure the children’s weight, height and health are regularly monitored. The orphanage’s large communal space is also used by local children and their carers as a place to receive education, guidance and support.
As with many charities, sustaining the project isn’t easy and requires constant fund raising by Alice and her team which include mother Yvonne and sister Nina. Auctions, curry nights, raffles and car boot sales have all helped sustain the growth of the project. Social media and the website have helped source sponsorship for each of the girls’: ‘£3.81 keeps a roof over a child’s head for a week – that cost includes food, clothing, education, books and exams” explains Alice.
Clearly Tilinanu has made a huge impact to the lives of these 34 girls and to the other hundreds of children who receive food and support from the project but there is still so much more that Alice is determined to achieve for the orphans of Tilinanu, all set out in her 7 year plan to achieve sustainability. Alice is clear that her long term goal is for a self sufficient community without reliance on these funds. Alice wants to buy a maize mill to allow the community to provide for themselves and trade with other communities, sewing machines to allow for the production of clothing and chickens and more fruit trees to provide a sustainable source of food.
Alice is eager to point out that the orphanage doesn’t aim for a British Standard of Living “But rather just to give them a helping hand to living a life that children should be living. We still want them to learn their basic agricultural life skills but at an age where they can achieve their education first and live a life free of worry about their next meal, education, fees and health”.
With this achievement under her belt at the tender age of 22, it’s easy to see why Alice won runner up of the 2010 Britain’s Most Dynamisante Woman of the Year ran by YOU and Clarins and also gained the award for 'outstanding student volunteer' at the Liverpool Students’ Union ‘LSU loves you awards’.
Alice has certainly put her Working with Children and Young People degree to great use “The skills I learnt on the course have been put into practice out in Malawi and have really helped influence the lives of children and young people for the better’ explains Alice, who is currently working at the orphanage full time ‘I am so thankful to my tutors for all the support they gave and continue to give me and to the course for helping to clarify that this is what I want to be doing with my life”.
Here in the Faculty we think Alice is a real inspiration. We bet there are 34 girls in Africa who’d agree.
To support Alice’s work or find out more about the project, visit lovetilinanu.org.uk
Content owner: Katherine Geer