Act of Compassion
“My father died when I was a boy. One of his colleagues once told me how one winter night he saw my father on his way home from work talking to a homeless man. The man was obviously distressed & underdressed for the cold, wet, night. My father, a man working long hours to feed & educate his seven children, gave the man his woollen overcoat - which he had proudly purchased that very day for himself” recalls Sam Crawford of Sydney-based Sam Crawford Architects who offered their services earlier this year on a pro bono basis to a help design and build a youth centre for a small community based organization called Friends of Claude Ho in Thyolo Association (FOCHTA) in Malawi, South-East Africa.
He continues, “Perhaps my father’s action was out of a short lived sense of guilt about one less fortunate. Perhaps it was out of a keen understanding of the joy to be gained in giving.”
Making a difference
“What really appealed to me about the FOCHTA Youth Centre project is that the centre is not intended as an orphanage – but rather as a place that will educate & empower children orphaned by AIDS. Orphanages tend to institutionalise children. They have a long, and now well recognised, record of abuse against children - in Australia, and throughout the world. FOCHTA assists children so that they are able to remain in their own homes – as part of their existing social networks and near to any remaining relatives” he explains.
After numerous emails back and forth to the FOCHTA staff in Malawi, Sam quickly realised that the only way we would truly be able to design a suitable building, to understand the needs of the centre, and the peculiarities of the site, was for him to travel to Malawi.
“What I saw shocked me” he recalls. “It was my first visit to sub-Saharan Africa. Malawi is a very beautiful country. The people are open and giving, and not once did someone ask something of me. AIDS has devastated the population. Rural people, subsistence farmers, are hungry. They have few possessions and basic dwellings. And yet – children arrive at school, immaculately dressed, smiling and friendly – having likely not eaten that morning – and perhaps not the day before” explains Sam.
The visit affirmed Sam’s initial confidence that the Association is making very real differences to young peoples’ lives – through education and social support.
Friends of Claude Ho in Thyolo Association (FOCHTA)
The Association aims to complement the work of MSF in the Thyolo District - 45kilometres south of Blantyre, Malawi’s largest city - by addressing the non-medical needs of those left destitute by the HIV/Aids pandemic. Of the 500,000 strong population of Thyolo, 23 percent are infected with HIV/Aids and there are 36,200 orphaned children registered with the Thyolo District Social Welfare office. Sadly, this reflects a nationwide problem – there are approximately one million orphans amongst Malawi’s population of 13 million people.
FOCHTA’s primary aim has been to promote education; it now supports 350 secondary school students - paying their school fees and providing clothes, uniforms, shoes and a substantial lunch each school day. Seven young people have been supported in technical school studies in 2005 and two university students will be supported in 2007.
In addition, the Association provides small income-generating loans to those who are particularly impoverished, including many women who have been widowed and have no financial support. So far over 200 people have used this funding to set up small businesses producing poultry, goats, milk and vegetables.
In February 200, the architect visited the Association in Malawi to meet the young people who will use the new centre, and their mentors, to gain an understanding of the site, the culture and local building practices. From his observations, the architect was able to draw up a clear design brief for the proposed building: