Having spent the past week and a half in Zambia (attending the Hands at Work Annual Celebrations which have been incredible and will feature in the next blog post), I have found some timeout to reflect and process some more around my time in Malawi and just wanted to take the opportunity to share some final thoughts.
For our last community stay in Malawi, we spent time in a community called Chinku. This community is the furthest from town, approximately 60km, so the 2hr+ journey consisted of an hour in a taxi, followed by just over an hour on motorcycle (of which I am sad to report we ran over a baby goat on the way home! 🙁 )
This was by far the poorest Community we visited in all our time in Malawi. The first thing I noticed on arrival was the children. So many were half naked / or clothes were torn / ripped / had so many holes / and were ever so dirty. In the small area of houses where we were staying, a number of buildings had fallen down (many buildings crumble and collapse in the rainy season), and the houses were very small and basic.
In this community, the Team of Care Workers for Chisangalalo CBO, home visit 87 children every week and run a nursery school for 37 children. For the 37 nursery school children they provide hot breakfast of porridge every morning from the combined resources of the care workers who are not necessarily any better off that the families that they are supporting but they choose anyway to be generous and to give. To use what they have in their hand to bless and benefit others. It is truly inspirational and extremely challenging to my own concept of generosity. They have been working tirelessly at this since 2009. It is my prayer that a partner will be found soon to support the truly AMAZING work they are doing.
Once again on home visits, the primary challenge facing all the homes we visited is simply having enough food. As I sat and chatted with one of the caregiver grandmothers, I asked her more about her food situation. She shared with me that her family only eats 4 meals per week (i.e. one meal in the afternoon approximately every second day). Due to overpopulation in this particular community, access to farming land is limited, so most families only have small areas to grow crops. Add to this the exorbitant cost of fertiliser which I have mentioned previously, families cannot grow enough food. Simple as that. If they are lucky they may grow enough for 3 months of the year. To supplement their food supply, Care Givers will source out piece work. To give you an idea of what piece work entails, for a day’s work they will often walk to neighbouring Mozambique, which can be up to a 2-3 hour walk. They will work a full day’s work in the field, to be paid 5kg of Maize Meal (assuming they are paid fairly which is not always the case). 5kg of maize meal will feed a family for lunch and dinner for ONE DAY.
So when access to even enough food is out of reach, and soap which would be a secondary priority is out of reach, things like blankets (approx. 4000 Kwatcha), School uniforms (approx. 1500 Kwatcha), mosquito nets (approx. 1200 Kwatcha), don’t even rank on the list of priorities.
A note on blankets – these communities are in the mountains of Malawi and are COLD!! One evening staying in community Mariah and I were without a blanket for approximately 1 hour and we were SO COLD. I could not have even imagined sleeping through the entire night on a cold mud floor with no blanket. I honestly don’t know how these grandmothers and orphans we meet face each evening knowing how bitterly cold they will be for hours through the night and yet this is their reality.
The thought I have not been able to reconcile in my head from all I have seen is, how do these families ever break out of the cycle of poverty they are trapped in? How do they ever get ahead? If a day’s work only pays enough food for one day… it’s a vicious cycle.
So what should my response be to all this? This is the question I have been wrestling with. I came across this comment in a book I have been reading on prayer:
“I dare not meekly accept the state of the world, with all its injustice and unfairness. I must call God to account for God’s own promises, God’s own character.” (Phillip Yancey, Prayer)
There are so many scriptures in the bible that speak of God’s justice and compassion for the widow and the orphan; of his promises to rescue the poor and oppressed and to bring about His justice. I have been challenged to pray, to call these promises into being, and I would ask those of you who have faith to join me and do the same.
And yet in the midst of all this hopelessness and heartache, if I take a step back and zoom out to the bigger picture, what is happening across Malawi, in all the communities Hands at Work serves in, it is a STORY OF HOPE.
There is so much forward movement in the work being done, the number of children being reached and cared for and the families whose lives are genuinely being improved and impacted by all the amazing Care Workers and Hands at Work team in Malawi.
The CBO in Mngwere Community is headed up by Francis, who has a background in agriculture. Francis has been using his agricultural skills to cultivate an amazing field of maize and vegetables of which he has involved the Care Workers, Care Givers and Children in helping to tend to the crops. This has had a two-fold benefit. Firstly, the produce from this field enables the Care Centre to feed an additional 50 children every day that they would not be able to if they did not grow their own crops. And secondly it provides an education to the Care Givers and Children in the community on how to best grow and tend to the different crops being grown.
In Mncheneka Community, Georgina is a Care Worker. A widow with four children, who faces the same challenges as everyone else in her community; she struggles to find enough food for her family and often has to seek out piece work for food. And yet, as of February this year, she has opened her home and her kitchen as a third Care Point in this community. Every day the nursery school runs in her home from 7am – 12pm. While the school classes are running, Georgina cooks for the 20 children that come to her home for the feeding point in the afternoon. She is also responsible for caring for 10 orphans which she visits in their homes twice per week. When asked why she does this, she simply says she enjoys playing with the kids and caring for them.
On so many of the home visits we were told so many stories of how the Care Workers have totally transformed the lives of the families they are visiting. Another widow we visited is caring for 6 of her own children and 5 of her sisters: 11 children! Before the CBO met this family, life was very bleak; it was a struggle to survive. Maria, a Care Worker at Umodzi CBO has been visiting this family for 3 years now. Today all 11 children attend the daily feeding point at the Care Centre. The 9 elder children attend the Government school, and the 2 younger children attend the nursery school run by the CBO. And the CBO has provided the family with 6 blankets. More importantly Maria has introduced the family to Jesus and they now have a hope for a future. The widow is so thankful to God for all these things he has done and provided for her family, she now knows that God is in control.
Finally, in every community we visited, the CBO leaders would reflect to us: if we had met the children they are working with 4 years ago, we would not have recognised their sad and sullen little faces. Today the children are genuinely transformed and you can see it in their faces; in their eyes, in their smiles and in their laughter. One child by one child, one family by one family, there is transformation occurring in these communities. This is the HOPE I will cling to.