On a hilltop just outside of Blantyre, in fiercely Christian Malawi, stands Africa’s first Buddhist orphanage. The Amitofo Care Centre, founded by a Taiwanese monk, provides 400 orphans and vulnerable children accommodation and, possibly, a means to a better future.
Amongst rumours which circulate local villages that Buddhism is an evil religious sect, the Centre attempts to provide an upbringing based on local Malawian culture, Chinese culture and Buddhist philosophy. Many orphans arrive having lost their parents to HIV or Malaria, with the belief that the Chinese and Taiwanese carers are going to eat them. The children are not eaten but while they live here they must adhere to a Buddhist philosophy: meat is banned on site and the orphans must attend two ceremonies of worship at the Buddhist temple per day. In the primary and secondary schools on site the children are taught fluent Chinese and English as a third language.
Children are also offered the chance to learn Kung Fu from Chinese instructors. Practicing martial arts increases strength, discipline and many of the most able children have travelled to Asia and Europe to take part in displays.
The directors and teachers at the Centre hope that the bilingual education, spiritual and physical discipline will produce individuals who can affect real change in government; individuals who might be able to pull Malawi out of the corruption and poverty which affects the country currently.
Amitofo is now one of three centres in Africa together with centres in Swaziland and Lesotho. For founder Master Hui Li, this is only the beginning, as he plans to spread the Dharma across Africa by opening a similar centre in every country on the continent. This may seem ambitious but Master Hui Li has vowed to not only devote this lifetime, but to return to Africa in a reincarnated form to continue his quest.