Looking for the perfect Christmas present?

One of the Open Arms foster homes

Whenever I’ve had a bad day, or a frustrating moment, or just really missed home, I’ve gone straight to Open Arms Infant Care Home and immediately felt better.  You would not necessarily think that an African orphanage is a place to go to be cheered up.  It conjures up images of pain, sickness, protruding ribs, flies on mouths, and hollow, haunting eyes.

Open Arms couldn’t be more different.  Open Arms is a bright, cheerful place full of healthy happy babies, attentive and loving caregivers (‘mothers’), excellent health care, and even a small paddling pool.

Dinner Time

In Malawi, orphans are classified as either single or double.  Single orphans have lost one parent (usually their mother) and a double has lost both parents.  Often, Malawian family units are so tight that the extended family will care for orphaned children, but many don’t have the resources to care for the child in their critical first few years.  That’s where Open Arms comes in.

Open Arms cares for infants until they are two or three years old, when most of them return home to their father, aunt, uncle, grandmother, or other guardian.  Often these guardians have visited the children during their time at Open Arms so that they have already formed a bond.

Doreen in her crib

At the infant care home, each ‘mother’ cares for about five children and there is a registered nurse who acts as the matron.   The children who can’t go home (either their family can’t or won’t care for them or they have been abandoned) move on to Harrogate House, which is located on the same property as the infant care home, where they attend preschool.

Once they have outgrown Harrogate House, the children will move to one of the foster homes in Blantyre.  In these foster homes, 4 to 6 children live together in a house with a designated ‘mother’.  They attend school and live life in a family unit.

Open Arms welcomed me as a volunteer when we first arrived and I was without a job.  Going to visit those sweet children and dedicated caring staff kept me sane when I was feeling bored or homesick.  Since then I visit about once a week and get that little shot of happiness that only a giggling happy baby can give you.  Open Arms might be my favorite place in all of Malawi and I was so fortunate to find one of those amazing volunteer opportunities where I always feel that I get more than I give.

They're definitely not shy

As many of you know, times are tough here in Malawi.  They are certainly tough everywhere, but especially here where the cost of living has gone up an estimated 51%  in the past four months.  These changes have seriously affected Open Arms and the care they are able to give.

If you are looking for an alternative gift this Christmas, consider making a donation to Open Arms. Even a small gift can make a huge difference.

Sibusiso – $5 a jar – a peanut-based protein supplement provides a nutritional boost for children who arrive malnourished or who suffer from chronic illness.

Formula Milk – $6 – This will provide all the nutrients a baby needs for one week. The youngest baby ever admitted to Open Arms was only 12 hours old.

Weekly Physical Therapy – $7 per visit – Children such as Edina, who was born with Cerebral Palsy, need regular physiotherapy to make progress and maintain mobility.

Malaria Instant Test Kit – $22 for 10 – In Mangochi, where medical services are less developed, yet Malaria is more frequent, instant test kits help the Matron to catch instances of Malaria early.

School Fees for One Year – $190 – Our Foster Houses provide a home for children with no viable family. Education is provided through private schools to give them the best opportunities for the future.

Open Arms is superbly run and acts as a model for other orphanages in Malawi.  Your gift will be used effectively and efficiently and will directly help children like these:


When Wyson arrived, he was so malnourished he screamed when fed.  Today, a year later, he is healthy, happy, and recently took his first steps.

Wyson walking!


Pemphero’s mother died in childbirth and her father was unable to cope with a newborn and Open Arms welcomed her in August 2010.  Her father and grandmothers visit her often and she will go home when they are able to care for her. She is a favorite with the older children who call her “Lo Lo Lo.”

A happy Lo Lo Lo


Charlie lived at Open Arms for over two years and now lives with his grandmother.  He has been reunited with his older siblings and has adjusted well to his new life in the village.  Open Arms continues to support Charlie as they have  a sponsor who regularly helps his grandmother with the costs of supporting four children.

Charlie at Open Arms


Isaac was found abandoned and immediately brought to Open Arms.  While he struggled to put on weight at first, he is now healthy and rarely stops smiling or giggling.  He loves to be held.

Isaac is now healthy and happy

To learn more about Open Arms, visit their website: http://www.openarmsmalawi.org/


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7 responses to “Looking for the perfect Christmas present?

  1. Alex

    Another great, and touching article, Kate.

    • Anonymous

      Merry Christmas Kate and Sandy. Chuck and I are so sorry that we will not get to see you this year for the holiday when you are in Atlanta. We will be celebrating Alex’s first Christmas in Nashville with my parents 🙂 I wanted to let you know that Chuck and I made a $100 gift donation to Open Arms. We miss you and hope you have safe travels home.


  2. Susie Carter

    These children are so precious. Last year at this time we were lucky to be in Blantyre and visited Open Arms. What joy to hold these tiny babies and see them smile and coo. The Matrons are angels on this earth, indeed. We will make a Christmas gift to Open Arms too, Kate! Thank you for this wonderful article about the selfless work being done for these children.

  3. Kate,
    Thanks so much for sharing your lives in Malawi with us. I have to say that reading your blog has been a life-changing experience for me as I am so much more aware of the challenges Malawians face on a daily basis. My daughter likes to remind me that most of my problems are “first-world problems” and she is right! Thanks for helping me keep things in perspective.

    • Suzanne thank you so much for your sweet comment! Our time in Malawi has been life changing for us as well – even the little things keep everything in perspective – I remember walking to work one day before Christmas (walking b/c there was no petrol) and feeling a little sorry for myself becuase it was a long way, hot, and my laptop was heavy. And then a woman walked by with a huge suitcase balanced on her head, a baby on her back, not complaining at all…I immediately quit whining! I hope you all had a lovely and happy holiday!

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