By Craig Manners
20th July 2017
We recently had a memorable dinner with the Very Rev. Prof. Silas Ncozana, past Principal of the Zomba Theological College, past General Secretary of the CCAP Blantyre Synod, and active participant in past Malawian political history, at his home in Blantyre, and were richly blessed by a brief but fascinating discussion on Malawi’s history. It reminded me of the importance of history, that it is not only helpful to know the history of things but it is most often fascinating, especially to see how God brings things about.
So, I thought I might risk boring some of you with a reasonably brief history of Orbus, something which is in order as we mark 10 years since the founding of Orbus.
How did Orbus come about? It started with reading God’s word the Bible and coming to the realization that God has a deep love and concern for the fatherless, the poor, those in need and without help, and that His people should share this same deep love and compassion and respond accordingly.
In the early 2000’s at South Yarra Presbyterian Church we had a family from Malawi. I had never even heard of Malawi until I had met this family! We got to know the Mbawa family over the following years. They told us about the devastating impact of the AIDS epidemic on Malawi and how there were hundreds of thousands of orphaned children. It is no easy thing to hear of this sort of tragedy and to sit back and do nothing. The question of “What to do?” exercised our minds and many of our friends from then on?
Colin and Shirley and their three daughters returned to Malawi in around 2006 and we kept in contact. Colin then soon became a minister in the CCAP. I was studying theology, as a private student, at the Presbyterian Theological College at the time, and studying God’s word made it clear that a desire to help was not enough, action of some sort was required. In February 2007 Jayni and I sent an email to Colin and Shirley asking if they would be interested in and willing to help us Australian’s to start a small home and school for AIDS orphans in Malawi.
With their positive response things got underway in Australia to establish Orbus, with the outlining of an initial plan, the choosing of a name (Jayni), designing of a logo (Rachel Stasse), the setting up of an advisory panel, the writing of a constitution and other things. There were plenty of like-minded friends at PTC, South Yarra PC and among our wider friends, who mostly all knew Colin as well, so there was no shortage of willing participants to help out.
The first Orbus funds were dispatched to Blantyre in June 2007 to register Orbus Development and Aid in Central Africa Limited, and thus Orbus was launched! With Colin and I to choose three directors each the founding directors were John Wilson, Vin Lopes, myself, Richard Chaponda, Elliot Mulange, and Hastings Thembakako.
Over the following years the strategy changed and the model changed, from one of sending money to one of sending people to work alongside our Malawian brothers and sisters to try to help more directly. My family and I had come to the realization in 2009 that we should go to Blantyre to help with the work. We made our plans and finally arrived in Blantyre in May 2010. Much to our dismay the Synod transferred Colin away from Blantyre to Zomba in around February 2010, leaving us without our key contact and friend and wondering whether we had made a mistake in coming!
This change of circumstances, model and strategy led to the disbanding of the old entity and saw a new Orbus structure, established on September 23rd 2010, in partnership between the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) – Blantyre Synod, the Presbyterian Church of Victoria and Orbus Australia.
A single donation from Australia earlier in 2008 had provided the funds to purchase the 20-acre site in Daniel Village, Ngumbe from the Malawian government. So, having surveyed the surrounding village chiefs, community leaders and church leaders it was decided in June 2010 that our plans should be changed to focus more on education for OVC rather than on a residential home, as the extended family most often steps in and cares for orphans, and they were better off in their villages with extended family.
From this new start the Orbus Centre was officially opened on 31st July 2010. Then we opened the Orbus Nursery School for orphans and vulnerable children on September 6th 2010. This was followed with the opening of the Orbus Primary School for orphans and vulnerable children on September 5th 2011 with a single Grade (Standard) 1 class.
While we did not see a lot of Colin after our arrival in 2010 or over the following years, the arrival of the PYV team in June/July 2017 saw us catching up with him again when we all had lunch at the Mbawa home with Shirley and two of their daughters. They are a special family and we give thanks to God for them and for their introducing the Australian friends to this equally special country of Malawi.
We give thanks to God for the many friends of Orbus over the years, you know who you are and I ask that you forgive me for not mentioning everyone by name. However, at this time it is fitting to make particular mention of the early work of some friends in Malawi such as our good friend Lameck Chitela (without whom Orbus would not be what it is today), and a special mention also to Blessings Kanike, also Colin, Richard, Rose, Elliot, Hastings, Flossy, Ellen, Rhoda, Felix, Leonard, Davey, Benson, Mjojo, Evelyn, Esme and Triphonia, as well as a special mention of our Head Teacher Wills Mbewe and current teachers, Grace, Martin, Mphatso, Elton, Florence and Samantha.
In Australia, trying to mention all the people God has built Orbus out of is fraught with danger, as some are bound to be missed due to the sheer number. But a special mention should be made of the initial directors (listed above), and each of the advisory panel members of the initial structure, being Jayni, Bill Medley, Rob Boyle, John and Sue Steendam, John Stasse, Stuart Bonnington, Dean and Sandy Carroll, and David Manly, who have all remained involved in varying ways since then. No doubt a second mention of the tireless work of Vin Lopes, Rob Boyle, John Steendam, Bill Medley and John Stasse is very warranted too.
Then there are some of the serial volunteers at Orbus including John, Sue, Rob, Doug, Diane, Steve, Michael and Dorothy. Along with the myriad other visitors over the years, and the numerous donors and supporters of Orbus, such as APWM, PWMU, PresAID, the faithful members of the Frankston PC, SYPC, Maroochydore PC, and others too numerous to mention. They are friends of Orbus, cherished and never forgotten, friends who have planted seeds at Orbus for God to grow. Praise God for these generous people and their selfless desires to help those in need in the name of Christ Jesus.
We give thanks for the way the relationship with the CCAP Blantyre Synod has worked so well over these past 5 years and we really thank God for the Synod. They are a blessing not taken for granted. Special mention should be made of the early friendship of our good friends Rev. McDonald Kadawati, and the current General Secretary Rev. Alex Maulana (the first and second Malawian trustees of the Orbus Centre), the past Education Secretary Lester and current Education Secretary Moses Kasitomu.
We praise God that now, in 2017 Orbus has 380 children enrolled from Nursery through to Standard 7 and is about to start Standard 8 and Form 1 of the new secondary school, God willing, in September 2017.
We praise God for all the people who have become such an integral part of Orbus since 2007, in both Australia and Malawi and we recommit this project to God’s glory and for the help of orphans and vulnerable children in His name.
"Blessed is he that considereth the poor" (Psalm 41:1). Many people give (or think they are) their money to the poor, the weak, the helpless, and the needy in a hurry and without thinking whether that is the best way to help them; and many more give (and do) nothing at all. Psalm 41:1 tells us that we should “consider” the poor i.e. we should analyze their particular situation, prepare plans that will really help them, not just on a short-term basis but longer-term structural help, we should involve them in these plans and then we should wisely and thoughtfully carry these plans out, again together with those in need. Perpetuating past practices of sending money or goods without really knowing where they are ending up will just achieve more of the same corruption and orphans and the genuine poor will continue to go unhelped. As Charles Spurgeon said, “We can do more by care than by cash, and most with two together.” Orbus aims to do what we can to provide this type of considered help for orphaned children.