Carlene Evans, from Farnworth, will become the first woman with a disability from the ‘western world’ to carry out mission work at a children’s orphanage and disability centre in Malawi.
Carlene is a welfare officer at The Well on Trafford Street and a board member at Bolton at Home. As a volunteer with Passion For Jesus (PFJ), she will spend the next 10 days working to make a difference to the lives of children and families in Blantyre.
PFJ volunteers set up the children’s home in 2011 and sought advice from staff at a nearby disability centre who knew of children with disabilities and without parents in the local area. This helped to identify children who would benefit from care at the home. Now Carlene is going to visit the home and disability centre to inspire both groups of children.
Carlene flies out on Tuesday with PFJ member and local volunteer Carla Pickering. Carlene, who is diagnosed with cerebral palsy, is full wheelchair living. This means she will be the first wheelchair user from abroad to take part in this mission work according to the local Bishop, and Carlene admits to facing a personal challenge in switching to a manual wheelchair whilst in south east Africa.
Carlene said: “The infrastructure out there is just not suitable for an electric wheelchair and it could give out the wrong message anyway. My focus is on empowering the villages we visit. I want to connect with young people to show them it’s possible to overcome perceived limitations and hopefully inspire young Carlene’s in Malawi to think, if she can get a paid job back home then so can I. Though it’s not just about disability. Many of the children out there have sadly lost their parents and as I didn’t grow up with my natural family I’ll hopefully be able to relate to them in this way too. I’ve also tried to learn the local Chichewa language to remove potential communication barriers.”
The long-term aim of the children’s home is to build a school, leaving children attending a local school until finances allow. In a bid to help generate more of an income stream, Carlene is taking out bridal dresses that people have donated, so communities can set-up a wedding dress hire business to support the children with more money for food, clothes and school resources.
It will be the second income-generating project established to support the children after staff and students from Bury Church School raised funds for a piggery and to extend the children’s home in 2014.
Carlene has been supported by individuals and organisations as she has fundraised more than £1,000 herself to go to Malawi. Bolton Wanderers have also given Carlene some team kits to distribute to children, many of whom are primary school aged.
At The Well Carlene provides advice on welfare, benefits and budgeting, and supports people with benefit appeals. It is a role that Carlene was supported to create, after she saw a need whilst working as a foodbank volunteer. Over the last two years, she has worked with over 400 clients. In her role as a Bolton at Home board member, Carlene influences the delivery of social housing and regeneration projects across Bolton.
Carla is a member of the Willows Action Group and won Bolton at Home’s annual ‘Rising Star’ community award in December for helping to set-up and run a community café and supporting people doing English classes. This will be Carla’s fourth visit to Malawi with PFJ, which is a registered charity helping some of the world’s most vulnerable communities whilst providing opportunities for volunteers to experience short-term mission overseas.
Source: Bolton at Home