The St. Joseph’s Centre, Likwakwanda, Malawi
After Doug Spesia’s death in 2010, and with the generous donations from his family, friends, and lawyers at Spesia & Taylor, a memorial fund was started to help the people of Malawi. With the insight and assistance of Fr. Philip Mbeta, who had returned home to continue his ministry in Malawi, plans were made to construct the St. Joseph’s Centre in Likwakwanda Village, located in the Thyolo region of Malawi.
Having grown up in Likwakwanda, Fr. Phillip’s vision for helping in Malawi was clear from the beginning. First, because there are no educational opportunities for children under the age of 6, Fr. Phillip wanted to build a primary school. Second, to create an incentive for parents to get children to school and provide some economic opportunities during the school day, Fr. Phillip envisioned a community centre building.
Shortly after Doug’s death in 2010, Fr. Phillip along with the Montfort Missionaries and St. Theresa’s (a Malawi not-for-profit) began the process of acquiring property and constructing two (2) buildings to house the school and community centre. In June of 2011, Lori, her daughter-in-law Mary, and 4 of the Spesia grandchildren travelled to Malawi for the groundbreaking ceremony for the St. Joseph’s Centre. Local villagers had been hired to make over 130,000 bricks that would be used to construct the building. Construction began in earnest in July of 2011.
St. Joseph Primary School
The Spesia family next visited Malawi in June of 2012 to attend the grand opening of the primary school. With the assistance of a kind donation from the Joliet Montessori School and some hard work sanding and painting, Montessori materials were refurbished for use in Malawi. The materials were packed into duffel bags and carried to the St. Joseph’s Centre where they were placed in the classrooms. With the help of volunteers, and follow-up visits to a training site in Blantyre, teachers continue to be instructed on how to use the Montessori materials.
Today, the St. Joseph’s Centre boasts a class of around 50 students. School uniforms were made in Malawi with funds from a generous donation. Each day, the students are served a hot lunch, which during much of the year is likely their only meal of the day. Fuel to boil water for the local staple food called “tsima” (a cornmeal paste) is provided by firewood collected by the students and staff. To assist with the process, a steel cooking pot and stand were acquired was generously donated.
St. Joseph Community Building
Once the school building was completed, all attention was turned to the community facility. By July 2014, the Community Centre was completed and with donations from longtime friends of the Spesia Family, book shelves, desks, tables, and other necessary furnishings were constructed by local carpenters. The Community Centre now houses a library stocked with books collected by the grade school children from St. Jude’s parish in Joliet. The books were packaged for delivery by students at the Joliet Montessori School and shipped by a not-for-profit shipping agency. The community building is also used by villagers for meetings and adult education instruction. A pending grant from the Rotary Foundation will equip one of the Community Centre rooms with sewing machines so that adults can be productive while children attend school.
Take a walk through the classrooms in these videos with
Spesia & Ayers partner, Chris Spesia, who helped put the finishing touches on the building: