About Umwana vzw
Umwana means 'Child' or 'Childhood'
The roots of Umwana vzw go back to 2008, when Caroline (Spaas) first traveled to Malawi to volunteer in a girl's home for young girls previously living on the streets and/or involved in prostitution. The focus of her stay was to help the girls acquire better English language skills. Conversations -initially meant for practice- soon touched on fragments of their life stories, of memories... sometimes on pain that could be barely be expressed in English, nor in Chichewa. Arriving here, with complex, shared feelings of doubt, meaninglessness and powerlessness, we hoped someone could take up psychological care for these girls. Soon, however, we found out that no such help was really available in Malawi back then. That is when Caroline decided to study Psychology and ever since 2008 she continued to travel to Malawi, gradually becoming a psychologist with a mission.
As the years went by, Caroline got more and more involved in working with so-called 'witch children' in Malawi. Children being accused of witchcraft is a widespread and harmful phenomenon in the whole of Sub-Sahara Africa, it has various complex causes and devastating consequences.
Soon after, Caroline decided to complete her Master's in Psychology by writing a thesis on the subject. She conducted research on the psychological well-being of these so called 'child witches'. The research results reflected the harsh realities these children have known and still live through every day. But still, no true psychological care was realizable, though badly needed.
Two years later, in 2014, after a lot of hard work, more trips to Africa and much required contact with supportive others (among who Umwana co-founders Quirin Dalemans and Roel Smeyers) Umwana vzw was founded. In different African languages the word 'Umwana' means 'child' or 'childhood'.
Umwana vzw now aims to promote and protect the psychological well-being of children, adolescents and their families in Malawi and Rwanda. To do so we work in close cooperation with local partners and local healthcare workers. We focus mainly on developing useful training programs and carrying out clinically relevant research projects, rooted within sustainable working structures.
Caroline, Malawi, 2016.