The least of these

An elderly local villager labelled as a witch receives love and practical help from OM Malawi.

Saini Vahando, an 87-year-old man living in a grass hut outside Chiukauka village, Malawi, where he’s lived his entire life, is lonely. 

People think he’s a witch—though he’s not—and he was kicked out of the village three years ago. It’s not uncommon for elderly people to be branded as witches, though no one will ever publicly accuse them of this. 

Saini is missing several teeth and wears a thin white beard across his wrinkled face. He carries a warm smile and is often pleased to meet new people. When he’s not tending to his field, or sleeping in his house, he can be found sitting on a reed mat making straw hats that he sells for 100 kwacha, or roughly 28 US cents.  

Throughout his life Saini has fathered seven children, though three have passed away. His wife died 20 years ago and he never remarried. His children have moved away from the village, and he doesn’t receive help from them.

Lying on the floor of his hut are a few old plates, cups and buckets. Next to those a few sticks and bricks are arranged to make a small fire. Two metres away a few blankets on the ground and a hanging green mosquito net make up Saini’s bed. A few pairs of tattered trousers and t-shirts hang on two wires that cross the room.

Saini has a rough life. He finds it difficult to draw and carry water, and he lacks fertiliser for his crops. He complains that no one helps him when he gets sick. When asked about what makes him happy in life, he responds that he enjoys a good harvest, “because then I know I’m okay. I’m having peace because I have food.” 

Recently OM Malawi decided to spend Wednesdays serving local villagers in need—people just like Saini. Local worker Stephano Franciso, who lives nearby, introduced the team to Saini.

After seeing the condition of his grass hut they decided to build Saini a new house out of mud bricks. Each Wednesday for a few weeks the team rode bicycles to the village, armed with saws, buckets and tape measures. 

The work was tiresome in the hot Malawian sun, but brick by brick the walls went up. The team wasn’t alone in the work. The local chief, Dasiyano Mwamabi, showed up each week to help. Dasiyano welcomes the work OM does: “It is an encouragement that some people are coming into my village and helping some people. I feel proud they are coming to work with us.” 

He explained that OM has shown other villagers practical ways they can help elderly members of their community. “We have a big part to play, like to take care of these elderly people,” he added.

In Matthew 25:40 Jesus says, “…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (NIV). Saini is one of the “least of these”, and OM Malawi considers it an honour to serve him. 

The team hopes that as they show love in a practical way, Saini and others like him will give their lives to Jesus Christ and one day find themselves in heaven where their troubles and hardships will cease.


By Brad Livengood