Posts Tagged ‘Malawi’

A Reflection on Malawi

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

This is a reflection I wrote for the quarterly newsletter of the Blantyre Synod Health & Development Commission (BSHDC)

Our group of eleven Canadians landed at Chileka airport at noon on a Saturday and our whirlwind tour of Blantyre Synod began. For the next fourteen days, as we visited the various BSHDC programs, we would experience many things, meet many people, and have many of our assumptions, about Malawi and ourselves, challenged in abrupt and unexpected ways.

There were a few particular words we heard often during our stay in Malawi. One was, of course, ‘azungu’, but another, heard even more often, was ‘welcome’. There was a third word, however, that I heard only twice or three times during the whole trip but it is the one word that has had the most impact on me: Chisomo. Grace.

Malawi: Day Twelve

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

20120502-DSC_6029Ok, be honest. How many of you noticed that I skipped day twelve? I’m sure you were all just too polite to say anything…

20120502-DSC_6043Our only full day in the Zomba area began with a trip to the Domasi Likuni Phala production facility. Likuni phala is a fortified maize flour that has certain nutrients added to make it a more balanced food. The Domasi facility was started by World Vision Canada in 2001 but has been wholly owned and operated by BSHDC since 2008 – which is convenient as it is located on the Domasi CCAP Mission itself.

20120502-DSC_607420120502-DSC_614620120502-DSC_6154After seeing the milling process and learning a bit about small-scale flour production, it was on to our next stop, H. Parker Sharp Medical Centre, also located on the Domasi Mission. This was perhaps the most troubling visit of all. While parts of Ndirande were worse off, there was always an air of hope there. H. Parker Sharp was the first time, twelve whole days in, that we experience a sense of hopelessness. The maternity ward had recently closed due to a lack of resources forcing women to walk or get transport to another hospital many miles away. The clinic still looked after the needs of the children from the schools located on the mission – but it seemed only just barely.

20120502-DSC_6171We returned to Naming’azi for a rather somber lunch after our visit to H. Parker Sharp before heading out again to visit a village that was having an “open house” of sorts to celebrate the livlihood programs that BSHDC was providing. The phrase “Open House” doesn’t quite match what we saw when we arrived. There were over a hundred men, women, and children dancing and laughing and generally having a good old-fashioned block party, Malawian-style! There was a shaded area for the VIPs (evidently there would presentations and speeches) but we were somewhat relieved to discover that we were the second-tier dignitaries. Eight of the local village chiefs would also be attending the event – which is apparently quite a big deal.

20120502-DSC_6198We were treated to presentations outlining each of the BSHDC livelihood programs present in the area – and the senior chief even tried his hand at sewing which brought howls of laughter from everyone – especially the women! When the speeches were done, we, along with two dozen or so villagers, walked a few hundred metres to a small farming plot where we learned about the benefits of growing sweet potatoes versus maize.

20120502-DSC_6236The excitement and energy of this community was just what we needed to see after the morning’s visit. We laughed and danced our way back to the coaster (well, some of us did) and headed “home” to Naming’azi. On the way, we made one more stop to hear a personal story of the “goat program.” Under this system, qualifying families are given a female goat – the only condition is that they must give the first-born female goat to a neighbour – arranged through BSHDC – and that goat starts the process again. We heard how a single goat (and its progeny) would allow a family to send its children to school – or provide enough income and food to simply sustain a family.

Malawi: Day Thirteen

Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

20120503-DSC_628920120503-DSC_6300The last of our official stops on the study tour was Zomba Theological College (ZTC) – the seminary for the Church of Central Africa – Presbyterian. It was an important stop for our group because one of our own PCC ministers is currently a professor there on assignment through International Ministries. Rev. Dr. Todd Statham has been in Malawi, with his wife Annika and two children, for just over year.

20120503-DSC_631120120503-DSC_6326We began our day at ZTC with the daily morning worship service in the chapel. Rev. Matt Brough, one of the group members, gave a short sermon on a text from Esther and then, after introductions, it was off to class for all the students. We were given a short talk on the challenges facing theological education in Malawi and then headed off to class ourselves! We split ourselves up among four different classes and I chose to attend Todd’s second-year “History of Christianity” class.

After class, we were treated to a tour of the facilities by three senior students. The tour took much longer than it should have because we struck up so many interesting conversations along the way! Following the tour, the group sat down with Todd and Annika to talk about life as missionaries and the challenges they face.

20120503-DSC_6358After a lunch with the ZTC faculty and staff, our last official visit was complete and there was an audible sigh of relief as we boarded the bus. While we enjoyed the wonderful hospitality of the Malawian people and were honoured to have been greeted so warmly so many times, being representatives of an entire denomination for thirteen straight days is exhausting. We headed north to Liwonde where we would spend one night at a safari camp before heading back to Blantyre to prepare for the trip home.

20120503-DSC_6458We arrived at Bushman’s Baobabs just in the late afternoon and witnessed a gorgeous sunset. As we ate dinner and relaxed afterward we could hear the nearby hippos begin their night of grunting and groaning. They sounded as if they were just metres away, but despite our best efforts in the bright moonlight, we didn’t see any. Seeing hippos would have to wait until tomorrow.

Malawi: Day Eleven

Thursday, May 24th, 2012

20120501-DSC_5638Today we said goodbye to Likhubula and Mulanje – but not before spending 3+ hours hiking up the mountain to the waterfall. The views were breathtaking and the waterfall itself was beautiful. The members four of our group from Trinity Presbyterian in Winnipeg braved the cold water and went for a dip.

20120501-DSC_6000After lunch it was back on the coaster and onwards to Zomba (north of Blantyre) where we would stay for two nights. We arrived at Naming’azi Farm and Training Centre just as dusk was approaching – but we had time for a tour of the property and a look at the various crops and animals being grown and raised there. There is a local connection to Naming’azi – it was founded by David and Miriam Barrie of Cambridge, Ontario where I live! Dave and Miriam were PCC missionaries to Malawi many years and have maintained a close connection with the country since then.

Malawi: Day Ten

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

20120430-DSC_5392We were up & ready earlier than usual on this Monday morning so Rev. Ted Creen and I took the opportunity to walk the few hundred metres from our chalet to the Likhubula Pools – it’s a gorgeous spot. Then we were on the bus and headed into Mulanje.

20120430-DSC_540720120430-SDC15735Our first stop was Apatsa School – an off-shoot of the Mulanje Mission – where 150 children, mostly orpans, are educated and fed. Presbyterian World Service & Development pays for the tuition, books, shoes and uniform for up to seventy-five students. The school was started by three retired Malawian teachers and these three women – now in their seventies – are still running the school day-to-day. To say that they are amazing women doesn’t begin to describe them.

When we arrived, the children had prepared several presentations including songs, dramas, and “acrobatics”. They then went to their classes where members of the PCC group were invited to help out with the various lessons. The children were then fed a meal of nsima porridge and it was suddenly time to say goodbye.

20120430-DSC_5528We stopped in Mulanje for lunch where we had what must be the best pizza in Africa. The group was glad to lounge a bit while our lunch was prepared. While the temperatures were not terribly hot (mid-20s celsius) the intensity of the sun so close to the equator can be quite tiring.

20120430-DSC_5565After lunch, we visited the Mulanje Mission Hospital where we given a tour and a presentation on the healthcare situation in Malawi. To protect the privacy of patients, of course, there aren’t many photos of the hospital.

20120430-DSC_5571Our last stop of the day was a village that is a member of the Uchembere Network. The Network, a project of the Blantyre Synod, that “aims to attain sustained comprehensive integrated Sexual and Reproductive Health services that are accessible, acceptable, effective and safe to individuals, couples and communities.” Each participating village has an Uchembere committee and this was the group we met with. They explained how the Network had helped improve maternal and reproductive health by encouraging births to happen in hospital and by discouraging teenage or other unplanned pregnancies.

Malawi: Days Eight and Nine

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

The weekend in the middle of our trip was a “home visit” weekend. This meant that each member of the group was paired with a member of one of the CCAP churches in the City of Blantyre Presbytery. Most of the team were extremely nervous about this experience – but the anxiety had very little to do with being Malawi. Most just didn’t feel comfortable staying with strangers.

20120428-DSC_494520120428-DSC_507320120428-DSC_5095After being picked up by our host families on Friday evening, the group gathered together again on Saturday morning to participate in an orphan-feeding program at one of the churches. Most of the host families joined us as we prepared nsima and “all the fixins” for about 165 children.

Saturday afternoon was spent with our host families and/or churches. Arminta and I were lucky enough to be staying together with a host family from Michiru CCAP. Stephen and Annie Kamwendo were great hosts and we had lots to talk about and share with one another. The most shocking moment came when we realized that while my grandfather was teaching at Blantyre Secondary School (BSS) from 1965 to 1967, Stephen was a student attending nearby HHI (H. Henderson Institute). Due to Stephen’s involvement on the football team, he was at BSS quite often – and knew my grandfather. Let me say that one more time. The husband of our host family knew my grandfather 45 years ago. Amazing.

Back to Saturday afternoon – after a very nice lunch a local Italian restaurant, we were taken on a tour of the neighbourhood around Michiru CCAP by the Session clerk. We saw the primary school that the church is building and then the church itself.

Malawi: Day Six… and Seven

Friday, May 18th, 2012

20120426-DSC_4756By the time we approached the end of the first week, I was clearly exhausted. It wasn’t clear to me then, mind you, but when I look at the photos for Thursday and Friday, well, the low number of photos alone tells me I was tired. What photos I did take are not good at all – well, most of them aren’t. I took so few photos on these two days that I’ve combined them into a single post – but still with separate sets and slideshows.

20120426-DSC_4762Thursday morning we went back into Ndirande to visit Malabata Health Centre, a BSHDC owned and operated private health-care clinic. This was our first glimpse of health-care without doctors and it was staggering. We saw the maternity ward and a new in-patient care wing. Beyond the complete lack of doctors, a chronic shortage of medications makes caring for patients extremely difficult if not impossible.

20120427-DSC_4827For lunch and the rest of the afternoon, we were back at BSHDC headquarters in Blantyre talking about HIV/AIDS strategies and the impact of BSHDC programs. There are so many factors contributing to the epidemic – from health infrstructure to cultural traditions to illiteracy to poverty – that it is difficult to imagine how the BSHDC staff feel that they can make any difference at all. One thing is clear, however, they do believe they can make a difference and are passionate about doing just that.

20120427-DSC_4906On Friday morning, the group split up again to visit two Community-Based Childcare Centres. Similar to the children’s corners, groups of children played educational games, learned songs, practiced English and Chichewa and, most importantly, had a meal of nsima porridge made from maize flour.

Friday afternoon was spent packing and preparing for our home visits. Each member of our group had been paired with a family from one of the congregations in the Blantyre City Presbytery and we were due to be picked up in the late afternoon. More on that experience in the next post.

Malawi: Day Five

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

20120425-DSC_425220120425-DSC_428020120425-DSC_429620120425-DSC_433420120425-DSC_436320120425-DSC_4384Wednesday: The day began with a short drive out of Blantyre north to Lirangwe. Once there, we were greeted by a sea of school-children who just happened to be out in the yard when we arrived. The Blantyre Synod Health & Development Commission rents office space from the school.

Once through the small army of very excited children, we were briefed by the BSHDC staff on the various programs that are undertaken in the Lirangwe area – funded through PWS&D. From there we were taken to see some of the programs in person. First was a “bore-hole” water pump. This differs from a “shallow-well” water pump only in the depth that is drilled. A bore-hole, while enabling the pump to be farther from a surface water source (and therefore closer to where it is needed in the villages, is also much more expensive and difficult to construct. The BSHDC uses a combination of bore-holes and shallow-wells to improve the water supply needs in its program areas.

20120425-DSC_4488We were then taken to see a bore-hole that had been installed about six months ago. The local committee told us that they had experinced a complete elimination of water-borne disease in their community since the installation of the bore-hole.

Were were then taken to an agricultural program where BSHDC is encouraging villages to modernize their planting practices and diversify their crops. This means moving away from the very common “ridge farming” and shifting from maize-only to cassava, ground-nuts and other crops.

20120425-DSC_4721We were back to Blantyre for lunch at the BSHDC head office where we had a lengthy discussion about the challenges and opportunities of the work that BSHDC does.

For the afternoon, we split into four groups to do some home visits to patients of the BSHDC’s Home-Based Care program. In the group I was in, we met Stephen who suffers from a variety of illnesses and relies on this program for his very survival. Rev. Mike Burns presented Stephen with a prayer shawl that had been donated by Knox Presbyterian Church in Waterloo, Ontario.

Then it was on to a BSHDC-run program called Children’s Corners where activities are planned for neighbourhood children. The group was split into two, and there are photos here from both groups.

After an early supper, it was off the Prayer House meetings. Again, we split into two groups, each attending a different prayer house. The photos here are from Thanthwe Prayer House. You can read more about Thanthwe on the Burns’ blog here:

Malawi: Day Four

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

20120424-DSC_3813Tuesday: Half of our group went to Chichiri Prison to participate in a bible study for inmates run by our own Rev. Mike Burns. No cameras were allowed at the prison, so that outing is not represented here.

The other half of the group went with Debbie Burns to visit the homes of some of the members of the Tidzalerana Club in the Ndirande neighbourhood of Blantyre. We were accompanied by Hamilton Banda, a local community leader and volunteer. The group reunited at the Tidzalerana Shelter where some of the most vulnerable Club members live.

Back to Annie’s for lunch, Ted and I snuck up the road to check out St. Andrew’s International High School where my grandmother taught and my mom attended back in the sixties.

20120424-DSC_4114In the afternoon it was back to Ndirande to visit the regular Tidzalerana Club program for diabled adults and children. Here the club members and there caregivers come together every Tuesday for worship, a meal and fellowship.

At the end of a long day, the group gathered after dinner for a time of devotion and reflection on our first real day of witnessing the struggles facing the people of Malawi.

Malawi: Day Three

Monday, May 14th, 2012

20120423-DSC_3634I’ve already covered part of this day in my earlier post about my visit to Blantyre Secondary School. The intended itinerary was wiped out by the state funeral and accompanying national holiday for the recently deceased President Bingu wa Mathurika.

20120423-DSC_3708As a result, it was a fairly easy day with a visit to the market in morning. We were advised not to take photos at the market, except within the one fabric seller’s stall from whom we had permission. Later in the day, we had a team briefing and then took some time to organize all of the various donations and supplies we had brought with us. We would be visiting several schools, child-care facilities, hospitals, etc, over the next several days and we had to ensure that our gifts were appropriately distributed among them.