5 July 2018:
When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day,
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what the man has to say…
At the start or the week I used the word exciting.
Excited about what I would see, excited about what I would do and excited about what I would take back with me.
Over the past 7 days we have experienced a range of events that we will be able to recall when we return home. Different tastes, smells, €20 bespoke canvas paintings, Rastafarian knitwear; Sister Mary the rockstar nun (I like to think of her as the Keith Richards of Catholicism)…
…and then there are the children.
It’s not often that I, a man of 35, feel comfortable calling a collection of small people gorgeous. But on this instance I can’t think of another way to describe them. If wealth was measured in gratitude and smiles, then I think we would all agree that they would be top of the Forbes 100.
The word excited.
At the start of the week it was fitting.
What word would we now use to describe our time in Malawi?
What memory have we taken home?
As someone who requires children’s sunblock after the trurma of Great Yarmouth 1996; the thought I’ve taken home is the difficulty of the African sun on the Albino children.
Don McCullin spoke about his photograph ‘Albino Boy Biafra 1969’ (paraphrase) “being a starving African is bad enough, being a starving Albino in Africa is cruel.”
It is only now that I can quantify that statement. The pain of just getting through the day must be excruciating. Not to mention the threat from unfounded ritualistic traditions.
I feel an element of regret like I could’ve done more prior to the visit; previously I thought merely partaking was worth the ‘pat on the back’, perversely it takes this experience to fully comprehend the mission that the Malawi Trust is on.
(For) You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass.
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.
1 July 2018: Today we had an early start. Edgar picked us up from camp at 7:30 in order to be at church by 8:30 when Mass started. Mass was brilliant; the choir were outstanding and it seems everyone in Malawi has a talent for singing – it was incredible. Abbie and myself took up our offerings starting from outside the church dancing up to the alter with the locals. The priest in Mass spoke about how Malawi is not yet independent as it still relies on other sources.
We left Mass at 10:30 heading towards Lake Malawi. On the way we picked up Edgar’s son, Wellington, and his nephew Joseph. We drove past a roundabout with two children on it. Wellington explained how those children, who were no more than years 10 old, were homeless. They were waiting for the bin lorry to drive past so they can take food out of it. This was quite upsetting and shocking as I know there is a lot of poverty but I never thought about people being homeless and children being on their own. I think this is because of how strong the sense of community is here.
After about a 2 hour trip in the truck we arrived at Lake Malawi. We were in a private safari residence. As soon as we drove in we saw the monkeys run past which was amazing. We’ve become very used to goats so that was brilliant.
We walked through the pool area which was divine, down numerous stone steps surrounded by trees and rocks. The lake was stunning, it was like being at the beach, it was superb. The water was extremely blue and you couldn’t see where the lake ended. I don’t think I’ve been anywhere more beautiful. I sat with Wellington and Joseph and they explained how the people next to us in the boats were the fisherman getting ready to go out and get today’s catch. They told me how they were a very musical family and music is the thing they love most, which is made a lot easier when you are as musically gifted as those guys. Wellington told us how he writes and sings his own songs. Joseph constantly playing the guitar beautifully added to the beautiful atmosphere and scenery.
We had lunch on the sand and the monkeys made an appearance with babies wrapped around their waists. We then went and got some drinks and soaked in our surroundings. When we returned to get our things from the beach Wellington was sat with the guitar and he started playing and singing one of his songs. That shut us up straight away – could honestly listen to him play all day, he sings with pure passion and he believes in what he sings.
We then left the lake at 5:00 and it got dark very quickly. Lying on the back of the truck we got an absolutely outstanding view of the stars. I’ve never seen so many in my life. That along with the boys singing was magical, it was a beautiful way to end the day.
30 June 2018: Firstly, at the beginning of the day we were all very excited to travel to Kasina to meet Sister Mary again at her house and, as breakfast passed by, which was quite pleasant, we had twenty minutes to get our things ready because our driver, Edgar, was on his way to pick us up, which if I may add put us into a slight rush. However, we got all our things ready and all the donations ready to give to Sister Mary by the time Edgar arrived. So in the end there was not much of a rush.
Then, we got onto the truck and had a pleasant journey to the market where a few people from the group went to purchase some fabric whilst the rest of the group stayed on the truck to look after/protect the objects on the truck.
After this, we had to make a quick pit stop to pick up a spare tyre for our journey ahead and approximately five minutes after we had to stop to collect Griffin and then we were well on our way to Kasina.
We then arrived at Sister Mary’s house in Kasina and the mood suddenly changed as soon as we saw her and may I say we were delighted. Shortly afterwards, we sat down in her house and had some drinks and snacks and a chit chat. We found out that Sister Mary doesn’t have the patience to be a teacher and I’ve never agreed with someone as much as with her. On former trips some said that Sister Mary was a very wise lady and I can now say that yes she is a very wise lady.
After a little gossip Sister Mary invited us for some food, actually it was a lot of food. But it was very tasty and we were very grateful full for the lunch. After we had finished eating we handed in all the donations we had collected and we gave them to Sister Mary, who was overwhelmingly pleased, which was beautiful to see. We then sorted out the donations into piles and we placed the clothes for the children/toddlers in one area and all the medication in another area.
But, after all the fun we had it was time to say goodbye and we said our goodbyes (I got a cheeky kiss from Cecily) but it was time to go and so we jumped onto the truck again and headed for the pottery place in Denza.
When we reached the pottery place in Denza we all shopped and bought what had caught our eyes, and then after that we visited the restaurant and had a nice sit down. After that little session we jumped onto the truck again and headed back for home (Mabuya camp).
Then we arrived back to camp and put our belongings back in our rooms and waited for James to arrive with our items made out of wood and then James arrived and handed out our goods. We then went for dinner where we all sat down and said grace before we ate. We then ate and then I stupidly ate some really hot chilli beans and my mouth was burning. After dinner we went to the swings and I read a poem I created for my reflection and I think everyone enjoyed it.
Today was a very good day and hopefully we can look back on it with fond memories.
29 June 2018: Today we got our first ‘lie-in’ meeting for breakfast at 8:00 instead of 7:15 as we had a slightly less scheduled day ahead of us. First, we went to the wood market again for some souvenirs. We travelled by tuktuks (a motorised rickshaw). The more relaxed and less persistent atmosphere was apparent as for many of the tradesmen we were their first customers of the day.
We were then picked up from the Kiboko Hotel by Edgar with the truck with two teachers from St. Harry’s School to buy maize and fertiliser for the feeding program at St. Harry’s. The first shop we went to to buy supplies was a bit of a flop as we saw practically empty shelves and cardboard boxes strewn across the floor. We found that this was because the store was closing down so it was back on the truck for us to find a shop with what we needed.
We found a farmers world in area 26 which had all of the feeding program supplies for both St. Harry’s and St. Matthew’s.
After hauling the heavy sacks in to the back of the truck we met with Dr. Wilson to buy medical supplies for the students at both schools.
After buying the medication we went back to the camp and after a little rest we started organising the pills into bags for the students that needed them.
During the day I think a bit of homesickness settled in as well as the overwhelming mixture of emotions. So after a mercurial day we sat on the swings outside and had a reflection led by Abbie. I feel as though we were all much more grounded and ready for tomorrow.
28 June 2018: After feeling very inspired by the day we had at Kasina Clinic yesterday, we were very excited to be visiting another primary school today. Despite the rain in the night, we enjoyed a lovely reflection led by Eleanor and the sun was shining all the way to St Matthews.
Arriving at St Matthews, like St Harry’s, was fairly manic. The children were very excited to see “Azungus“ ( loosely translating to white people) and greeted us very enthusiastically!
Initially, we met with the headteacher who briefed us on his plans for the day. We first met several members of their 19 staff (who were not all present due to illness, etc) and presented each with a bag supplied by Coventry University which we filled with stationary and other gifts. Once we were all well introduced, the students had prepared traditional dances and poetry for us. Despite the very excited crowd, the entertainment was very enjoyable – a favourite of mine being the acrobatic performance. Their display was lovely to watch and demonstrated the variety in their culture. The poems were fluently spoken and showed the high level of education the students were benefitting from despite the unfavourable circumstances.
Following this, we took 38 children to the Luanar Health Clinic to see the doctor. Many were receiving treatment for ringworm and other common illnesses in Malawi, but we tried to make the experience more exciting for them by playing games such as Tig (known as Chikowa in Malawi). We also had letters written by year 7 students at Cardinal Wiseman that they could respond to. Unfortunately many of the children , mostly between ages 7-10, struggled to read and write in English, but we helped them to write their names and draw some amazing pictures!
The lasting impact of the day’s activities were most enhanced by how happy every child were. The small gift of a bar of soap, toothbrush and toothpaste, a pen and sanitary towels was so appreciated and made us realise how important necessities such as these are to the children in Malawi.
To end the day we ventured into the market to barter for the cheapest maize sacks we could find to use for the feeding programmes we support at St Harry’s and St Matthew’s primary schools. The experience was very interesting, as not only was the bustle of the busy market very new to us, but many passers by would hiss or whistle at the group to get attention for what they were selling. Although slightly uncomfortable, we felt it was refreshing to experience being a minority in somewhere: something we have never felt before. It reminded us that Malawi still suffers with social issues such as sexism. Examples of this included a salesman refusing to shake Lauren’s hand, and a poster in St Matthew’s’ headteacher’s office of daily expectations of women, e.g cooking and supporting the husband.
Overall, the day taught us some very valuable lessons, exposed us to the day to day reality for many Malawians, and helped us to realise just how fortunate we are to live in such luxury.
27 June 2018: The day began just like yesterday at 06:30. After a slightly rushed breakfast we were on our way to the clinic with our driver Edgar in his truck. The journey through the picturesque Malawian countryside was greatly enjoyed by me but sadly not by the whole group as most were asleep.
As we went past the scenery of Bunda mountain we eventually reached Kasina, where we were greeted by Sister Mary and her team. Initially we were split so the groups could all see the parts and wards of the clinic while being shown around by Sister Stella. We also brought pillowcase dresses for the clinic’s orphan program and made a very nice yet persistent friend on the way. The clinic has a great focus on treating prominent conditions such as HIV virus, Malaria and high blood pressure. Moreover, a major component of the clinic’s work is in supporting local mothers. Therefore we managed to visit the maternity ward and luckily enough we just managed to catch a new born!
Then afterwards we met up with Sister Cecily and we were introduced to all the members of the Palliative care programme: a programme which lets members of the local community act as carers for people inflicted by chronic and permanent diseases eg heart patients, people bedridden due to the effects of epilepsy. This programme supports and trains volunteers to practise the palliative care program and after 5 years of volunteering the members can claim the bicycle they have used for the past 5 years for the programme. After being greeted by traditional welcoming chants, we as a group discussed the work and where the trust could take this forward. Seeing people who clearly don’t have as much as the people we come to help, give such service to the local community shows the awe and unity the Malawi community has.
Later, after the end of the meeting we were kindly invited to Sister Mary’s home and we were served an exquisite homemade lunch thanks to her and her team. As we had lunch we discussed the history of the clinic and the medical situation in Malawi and we were extremely pleased to know that the situation had been exponentially improving and with further support we could help the clinic to cater to its 33,000 possible patients in its catchment area. However what mostly ingrained into my memory is the commitment the Sisters have to the clinic even though the staffing is severely limited. Hearing how both Sister Mary and Sister Cecile felt about their roles as a vocation deeply inspired us as a team as it was the emphasis of the selflessness that is central to the core of Catholic teachings. This experience today further propelled us into the working spirit for this trip as us the team will try the best to emulate this in our work for the whole trip.
26 June 2018: After packing care packages, sorting through donations and getting an early night last night , today we experienced our first full day in Malawi. We visited St Harry’s Primary School and I think there was no better way for me to get a proper sense of Malawi. We were greeted with a swarm of children chanting for us as we pulled into the school. Since the trust visited last year the school has built a staff room in which they invited us in to sit and integrate with their staff. We learnt that there are only 21 staff to over 1300 children! This to me is completely shocking , practically the same amount of children at Cardinal Wiseman but we have 80 staff plus help. The teachers there told us that sometimes there are 200 children to one teacher which obviously comes with all the added marking etc. So I was very glad we were able to give the teachers packages with note books, pens and other essentials because it is clear that these teachers are doing so much out here. The deputy head teacher then reported back on the harvest of maize that is available through the feeding program the trust has set up and we later got to see the bags of dried maize ready to be ground into flour. But then came the best part of the day and, it may be too early to say but also the best part of the trip.
They took us outside, their choir sang for us followed by their students performing their traditional dances for them. This was the most amazing experience seeing how vibrant and talented the children are. Really they were all just happy and that was infectious, every single child was smiling. That’s something I’ll take from this trip. In comparison to most they have nothing but there were no complaints, they were just enjoying celebrating and entertaining.
Again the teachers invited us back into the staff room where they gave us out biscuits and fizzy drinks and we had the opportunity to get to know the staff better. These moments at the school were something I will really cherish , they were so happy to be in our company and spoilt us in any way they could.
For the last part of our trip we took 38 children from the school to the clinic. This was such an eye opener. The amount of children with skin diseases was so sad but still they were all smiling and up to play and run about. I got to witness the doctor Wilson examine the children and then I sat with the children while they drew on the canvas bags we gave them which had inside soap, a face cloth , toothpaste and toothbrush and two items of clothes. Seeing the children so impressed with the clothes we gave them was so lovely. To be in amongst the children was great, they really enjoyed sticking star stickers all over themselves and they loved a good selfie!
To finish off our day we ventured into the wood market, which to say the least was an experience! I found out I’m not the best haggler but I now know for the next time.
I now sit here finishing this ready to eat our dinner and I am so excited for the rest of our stay here. The camp we are staying in is beautiful and the children we have met are equally as gorgeous. I feel so grateful to be here and experience everything I have already and everything I will do.