Inside Self-Sustaining Program Supporting Poor Families at Malawian Catholic Parish

A well drilling project at Don Bosco parish of Malawi's Archdiocese of Lilongwe. Credit: Fr. Joseph Czerwinski

Malawi’s Atumiki Achifundo, a lay movement working with the poor people across Catholic Parishes in the Southern African country offers invaluable lessons to Dioceses and Parishes that are looking to sustain themselves.

At Don Bosco Parish of Malawi’s Archdiocese of Lilongwe for instance, the program ensures that poor people, especially the widows, receive food donations from the Parish reserves, which hardly run dry.

Every harvest season, households bring maize and rice which is stored at Don Bosco Parish and distributed to the poor on pastoral visitations and during calamities.

Fr. Joseph Czerwinski, the Priest in charge of Don Bosco Parish describes Atumiki Achifundo as “a very beautiful and unique program” developed by the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM), which he says is complimenting donor funding that Salesian Missions extends to the Parish.

 “We try to help each other with the resources we have,” the Polish member of the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) told ACI Africa in an interview. 


He added during the August 25 interview, “I have been to another country where the Bishops' conference provided home-based care to the poor with funding from Europe. When COVID-19 struck, the whole program was stopped and the poor were left more vulnerable. This explains the importance of a self-sustaining program such as this one developed by the Bishops in Malawi. The program we have here doesn’t rely on donor funding.”

According to Action on Poverty, “Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world, ranked 174 of 189 countries on the Human Development Index. Over half the population lives in poverty, and one-fifth in extreme poverty.”

Fr. Czerwinski told ACI Africa that poverty in Malawi is manifested in a different way compared to many other African countries.

“Ours is the lack of natural resources which, in a way, is a blessing because then, Malawi is a very peaceful country. Malawi doesn’t have conflicts that are associated with the presence of natural resources,” he explained.

The SDB Priest, who has ministered in Malawi for over a decade, and has been Parish Priest for over a year continued, “People here work very hard on their farms, which are very fertile. There is also an abundance of water. What we struggle with the most is the lack of electricity.”

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He said that the narrative propagated in most western media platforms that Africa is a poor continent needs to change. “The media should rather talk about the challenges that Africa grapples with. In Malawi, there is fertile soil and a big lake that can supply farms with water. People here don’t have food challenges.”

In Malawi, the Salesians also run a “Distant Adoption Program” through which they provide education support to children from needy families.

Currently, 120 children are on the school fees sponsorship program that is hinged on donor-funding from different countries.

At Don Bosco Parish, donor funding from Salesian Missions, the U.S. development arm of the Religious and Missionary Institute, is also being used to provide food, help maintain the house and pay for utilities of the SDB community of 25 people.

With the support, the community has also been able to repair its damaged borehole.


Credit: Fr. Joseph Czerwinski

The Salesian community in Lilongwe includes a technical school and the pre-Novitiate house (Postulancy), where three pre-Novices (Postulants) are preparing for the next phase of Salesian formation. 

In 2000, the Don Bosco Technical School started providing technical instruction to 150 youth. Students could take courses in auto mechanics, carpentry, accounting and tailoring.

Today, the school has developed into a large technical college with more than 1,000 students in more than 12 departments.

“Our college is one of the biggest Salesian schools in Southern Africa,” Fr.  Czerwinski told ACI Africa in the August 25 interview, and added, “The college received a reward from UNESCO in 2014.”

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Salesians in Lilongwe also run grant-aided primary schools with a population of around 15,000 – 20,000 pupils.

Salesians came to Malawi in 1995 as a part of a larger “Africa Project”, Fr Czerwinski recalled during the interview, and explained, “This was one of the best projects that the Salesians carried out. Soon Salesian charism spread all over the African continent.”

“Presently there are many Provinces and vice-provinces on the African continent and there is a steady growth of the vocations. This gives us a lot of hope and the young congregation and church at large will grow,” he said.

The Salesians' charism is mainly devotion to Mary Help of Christians and the Holy Eucharist, the SDB Priest said, and added, “In many countries we have built and erected beautiful churches and shrines dedicated to our Lady Mary help of Christians.”

Agnes Aineah is a Kenyan journalist with a background in digital and newspaper reporting. She holds a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism from the Aga Khan University, Graduate School of Media and Communications and a Bachelor's Degree in Linguistics, Media and Communications from Kenya's Moi University. Agnes currently serves as a journalist for ACI Africa.