Monday, May 20, 2024

A farm and a priest: the Nigerian youth changing a village in Malawi

MALAWI—Just when he was beginning to enjoy the comforts of priesthood in Lagos, Kelvin Ugwu was posted to Chamama, a village in rural Malawi where no one spoke English and poverty was viral. He could reject the posting and return to Nigeria, instead he chose to stay, as officiating priest of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Parish, Kalembe. Four years after, Kelvin is now a farmer, a social worker and a spiritual beacon in the middle of nowhere, for a community where, on many occasions, families wait out their sick to die.

“In three months I learnt the language, Chichewa. You can’t operate without it…I have seen poverty before but nothing like what I met here. A 2-year-old child once died of malaria in my hands because his family didn’t have the equivalence of N2,500 for medication. There are people who don’t have electric bulbs because they can’t pay for power.”

In choosing to stay, Kelvin had to work with what he had: a piggery without pigs, and farmlands awaiting cultivation. Man can neither live by bread alone nor without it. The farm would feed him and occasionally feed parishioners in need of food. As corn is the major staple in Lilongwe, Kelvin also set up a corn mill for commercial use. The proceeds may be insignificant given the community’s economy, but they could save a life in dire times.

“The farming isn’t easy though. Here we have rainfall only four months in a year,” he told Nigeria Abroad. “So the poverty is also from nature. Poor harvest, poor storage and, no matter what you get from the farm, it can’t last the rest of the year.”

“In the parish, sometimes we get help—charity,” he says. “But that’s never enough, still we survive.”


Though prayer can help the poor, actual work is great too—the work to reshape the social dynamics that sustain poverty and keep a people trapped.

“I see girls get pregnant at 12, boys who sit at home and do nothing. It might be easy to judge them, until you understand the social conditions responsible. There are no decent schools here, no infrastructure, no jobs, only farming. I want to change these in my own small way.”

The poverty recreates itself and Kelvin is trying to find a way around it through reorientation and education. Though planning to build a school down the line, he is raising support to build a hospital to keep the people safe.

These socioeconomic conditions may be harshest in rural Malawi, home of over 80{c45cf338a462ca509edbe47468f20bc08b80b46a3d7b36f5657b2a6bc418ef14} of the populace, but the entire country is equally swamped albeit in differing degrees. A country dependent largely on foreign aid, its 18 million people are being pauperized by a political elite defined by graft. Power supply is fairly stable though, and Malawi’s democracy may have begun to evolve from a shambolic past.

Peter Mutharika, current president who was reelected for a second term in 2019 in sham elections, had his victory upturned by the courts February 2020. Fresh elections were mandated within 5 months but are pending over the coronavirus outbreak. With prospects for foreign aid shrinking amid an emerging economic downturn, Malawi’s stability may be under threat. For its rural communities, conditions may worsen.

“I am planning to build a school here, but first a clinic,” Kelvin enthuses. “The only functional clinic around is four hours away. Even at that, the crowd of patients there hardly inspires hope. We can change that. The people need the Word of God but they also need these interventions, especially a clinic, more so in these trying times around the world.”

Kelvin’s philanthropy may be rooted in priesthood but, as a child, he had always wanted to help those in need. Yet that childhood vision about devotion and service may have influenced his priestly vocation, for which he turned down the prospect of studying medicine, and that of starting off on an auspicious family business.

“I took the vow of poverty,” he declares, referring to the three priestly vows of Chastity, Obedience, and Poverty. “That vow means wherever I’m sent, I’ll go no matter the condition.”

In an era where religious devotion is dwindling, the Catholic Church, at least in Africa, appears to still have a surge of yearly applicants seeking to become priests.


“In my time, over 1,000 applied; 12 were chosen, and only 7 were ordained,” Kelvin says. On the sentiment that many seek priestly ordination for economic reasons, others, for not wanting to marry, Kelvin recalls his colleagues who abandoned family wealth for the vocation.

“And for you to be a priest, you have to be whole, including being sexually and emotionally whole. You have to be giving up something, not join because you are deficient in one way or the other.”

An intellectual, his ministry seeks to balance spirituality with intellect. With the rise of irreligion on the wings of technology and knowledge, Kelvin is eager to raise Christians who are knowledgeable in science and basic philosophy, enough to defend their faith with reason.

“God would not give you reason for you not to use it. The West is stuck on reason as if faith doesn’t matter; in Africa, we embrace faith to the exclusion of reason. We need a balance.”

Using his #FacebookTelevision series, Kelvin has been spreading intellectual Christianity online. One of his most popular articles on the internet was a rejoinder to a piece in which former presidential aide, Reno Omokri, attacked the Catholic Church.

It is this sense of crusade that has turned a 34-year-old Nigerian priest into an agent of change in faraway Malawi, where he is sharing the Christian message, rousing the intellect, and impacting a village. As he mobilizes support to build a clinic for strangers who have now become family, he is full of hope.

“I like it here,” he cheers, in pure joy. It is the joy of a young man who is making the act of faith, giving, and devotion more fashionable in a time of global vanity.

Help Fr. Kelvin build the clinic by donating to his GoFundMe here.

♧Adapted from Nigeriabroad 


Signature TV
Signature TV
Signature TV is a multi-media company, owners and operators of and producers of The Signature Show on AIT and Corruption Tori. Our programmes are broadcast on the AIT Network and on Seven NTA stations across the country. We are content providers for a number of television networks and some State TV stations, with a respected 24/7, high online and offline followership. We are also Communications/Media Consultants to MacArthur Foundation, Ford Foundation and OSIWA.

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