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10. Chief Onga’s Story

Heartbreak, Despair and Hope in Africa

The Visit

In early August 2015 Julie and Sam from World Vision bought in Chief Maxwell Mathews Chisale, Chief of the 19 Chiefs of Onga in Milawi. For close to three years each of our stores has supported a child in Onga – there are 60 children in total; and I hope we are making a difference. Maxwell is 38 years old, small in stature, with a wiry build. I’ve never met a more humble man. There was a shyness in his eyes, mingled with worry and acceptance. With Sam interpreting, he told us his story:-


Maxwell was born from a bloodline of great Chiefs to a very poor family. He was one of the youngest of 8 brothers and sisters. Half of the children were lost to disease, HIV and aids. Further heartbreak followed when his father died suddenly; he was 5 years old. He felt a huge responsibility to provide at this early age and spent the next 12 years working long hours in gardens to try and provide for his mother and siblings…. and to learn to read and write.

A Natural Leader

At age 18 Maxwell was voted by the 18 other Chiefs to join their ranks and become the youngest ever Chief of one of the 19 districts. A natural leader, over the next few years he made a huge difference to the lives of the people in his district. Such was his impact that he was voted by all the other Chiefs (who were twice his age) to become Chief of Chiefs at the tender age of 22.

Despair…. and Hope

Becoming Chief of Chiefs and having the livelihood of 20,000 people in his hands was a huge responsibility. For many years the villages would work tirelessly to plant crops, only to find that drought would wipe them out. There was no money for bore holes meaning vital water was scarce. Hunger and death was a constant companion, as was the scourge of HIV, Aids and Malaria. He told us that many times they felt nothing but despair. Then, four years ago he told us World Vision arrived with vital aid; suddenly there was hope.


Chief Maxwell let us know our Overland funding had made an unbelievable difference to the lives of his people. New bores had been sunk, schools facilities improved, more cows were bought to provide nutrient rich milk for the children. We’ve lost 3 of our children to malaria over the last 3 years, something that deeply upsets our people because they write and receive letters from these kids and their families. As a result more mosquito nets have been bought, saving many young lives.

A Humbling Gratitude

Chief Maxwell lives with his wife and two children. They have also taken in four other children to care for. He kept saying “Thank you, thank you, thank you”. There were tears in his eyes - causing a similar reaction in all of us. It was a humbling and moving visit…