Tomorrow Mariah and I will be en-route to Malawi! I have to share that I am very much excited by the opportunity to travel to Malawi and spend the next 4 weeks working with the local team there.
In order to understand a little about what I will be doing in Malawi, I need to explain a little of the structure of how Hands at Work operates.
Community Based Organisations (CBO’s)
The first level of Hands at Work are the Community Based Organisations (CBO’s). These are the Care Workers on the ground – and are my heroes! – who day in and day out visit the homes of children, cook and provide a hot nutritious meal a day for the most vulnerable children in their communities and support these children in any way they can, entirely voluntarily. This is in addition to caring for their own families where most of them have anywhere from 4 up to 9 or 10 children of their own!
Then we have the Service Centres. The Service Centres exist solely to support the CBO’s. A service centre can be supporting anywhere from a 3 or 4 CBO’s up to approximately 10! The Service Centres work alongside the CBO’s to skill, equip and enable them to care for the kids in their communities. Work can include helping the CBO to identify their weaknesses, what they need to work on, to make priorities, to plan, to run projects etc. There is also a role of discipleship that occurs by the service centre team to the care workers. The Service Centres are all headed up by local people who most often started out as a Care Worker’s at a CBO.
Regional Support Teams (RST’s)
Then we come to the Regional Support Teams (RSTs) and this is where as an international volunteer we start to get involved. The RSTs exist solely to support the Service Centres in their region. The RST helps the Service centre to make plans, priorities, to help skill and equip, support and encourage the service centre teams.
Then it comes back to the HUB or “head office” so to speak here in South Africa which undergirds the whole structure and provides administration / finance/ project support / HR and all other manner of centralised support.
That is a very basic overview that probably does not quite do justice to all the ins and outs of how Hands works, but at least hopefully gives you some context to what I will describe next.
So what will Mariah and I be doing in Malawi?
Mariah and I will be arriving into Lilongwe, Malawi on Friday morning. It is then a 2 1/2 hour drive to Dedza town where we will be based for our time in Malawi. The Service Centre is located in Dedza and is headed up by Royie and Violet (I have heard such great things about them, so very excited to meet!!). The Service centre in Malawi supports 4 communities (or in other words, 4 CBO’s).
On the Monday and Friday of each week Mariah and I will be working in the Service Centre in Dedza with the team there. We have been given no agenda of work for the coming month. The time is simply to learn and experience, to get alongside and understand how things really work on the ground. Our orientation period has taught us the theory of how Hands at Work works. Now this is the time we get to experience the reality in the field; to gain an understanding of the challenges / strengths / weaknesses etc. of the work on the ground. And to just be a general encouragement to the Service Centre team, Care Workers and Children in the communities we will be visiting. It is a time and opportunity to really invest into, and build some deep relationships.
From the Tuesday – Thursday each week Mariah and I will be staying out in one of the 4 communities on “Community Stay” (and as we are there for 4 weeks, should have the opportunity to stay out in all 4 communities the service centre is supporting). We will most likely be staying with one of the Care Workers and their families in each of the communities. Living in the community is very much the best way to really get to know the people and the community – so I am very much excited for this aspect of our time in Malawi!
When we are staying in town from Friday through Monday Mariah and I will be in a double room in a lodging facility. We will have cooking facilities so we can prepare our own food. Hopefully we will also have electricity to be able to charge our phones!!
The communities in Malawi are very widespread. The closest CBO is 12km from Dedza, another 2 CBOs are approximately 20km from Dedza and the fourth community is 60km from Dedza. Hands at Work do not have a vehicle in Malawi, so there is lots of time spent walking and cycling to the communities. The region is also in the mountains…so it should help keep me fit!
The shopping and food situation in Malawi is very basic. I may be living on a diet of pap and cabbage for a month! The supermarkets stock the basics – rice, pap, white bread, peanut butter, salt, oil, sugar, tea. There is a market where we will be able to buy fruit and vegetables that are in season. There is not much access to any dairy, other than perhaps some long life milk if we come across it, and we have been advised to not buy the meat (with frequent power outages, the refrigeration cannot be trusted) so other than perhaps live chicken when we are in community I might just come back a vegetarian 🙂
Malawi is nicknamed “the warm heart of Africa”. The people are meant to be incredibly wonderful and the scenery sounds absolutely breathtaking! Hopefully I will be able to post/share some pictures with you!
I will not have a laptop with me in Malawi, just my blackberry for communications. So you will have to excuse the blog posts for the next month. I will try to get short ones out when I can on the blackberry (electricity permitting :-)) and also based on my patience and ability to type on a blackberry!! We will be travelling to Zambia from Malawi around 20 April. So as soon as I am in Zambia I will be back online and able to give a proper update 🙂
Thank you so much for your ongoing prayers and support!