As is our routine here in Malawi, Tuesday through Thursday each week we head out to stay in one of the Communities. This week Maonde, approx 22km from Dedza, was our destination. The journey to Maonde comprised a 40 min taxi ride to the junction, and then a 1.5hr bicycle taxi from the junction to Maonde.
This was our first ride in an African taxi. That in itself was quite the experience! Think a mini van, that in Australian standards would likely not pass rego, that they then cram with people, probably 20+ people before we can begin the journey. At the taxi depo, the taxi drivers all fight for business, so there was much conflict over who should drive the white people! Eventually Mariah and I were piled into the front seat of a vehicle and once filled we began the journey. Along the route you stop…thinking you are letting people out, to find they are managing to squeeze an extra 3 passengers in! Thankfully Ivy accompanied us for this journey! (The journey home was even more hilarious when a taxi that was already full stopped to pick us up. They managed to squeeze us in but I pretty much had a man semi sitting in my lap! Mariah and I could not stop laughing!)
Onto the bicycle taxi and we experienced our first bicycle taxi breakdown! So we stopped at a house where thankfully the bicycle was able to be repaired after 20 mins or so and we continued our journey. We finally made it to the community, much later than expected, at 1pm. We had lunch at the care point on arrival – Nsima (maize meal in Malawi, equivalent of pap in SA), beans and green vegetables. This is the most common staple food in Malawi. The children had already eaten, but curious of the new white visitors, all sat staring at us while we ate our food. It was a little funny to have an audience whilst eating lunch! 🙂 we spent the afternoon playing and getting to know the children. What’s the time Mr Wolf? Is a universal game that the african kids love to play! The children were then released for the afternoon to head to their homes and we went for a home visit.
The care workers advised us we would be crossing a river to visit the home. This literally meant taking off our shoes and wading to knee depth through a river to get to the children’s home on the other side. I admire the commitment of these care workers! The river proves problematic for these children in the wet season. When the river swells, it becomes too dangerous for the children to cross, so there are months of the year where these children are unable to attend the care point.
Our day on the Wednesday commenced at 6am with a morning bucket bath and some breakfast to be ready to walk to the care point at 745am to prepare for feeding the nursery school kids breakfast from 8am. They currently have 15 children in the nursery school. The nursery school is run by the care workers and is a stepping stone for the children to get used to attending school before they commence in Standard 1 at the primary school the following year. Breakfast is a bowl of maize porridge. Its school holidays currently so there were no classes this week.
After breakfast we played with the children. They taught us some songs in their local language Chichewa, and then it was our turn to teach them some English songs. We taught them My God is so big, Father Abraham, the hokey pokey, if your happy and you know it, and Mariah had some canadian songs about Mooses! It was a great time of singing, dancing and laughing together. The afternoon was spent on more home visits. And the Thursday much the same as Wednesday, with more home visits and eating together before making our journey back home.
When asking every home we visited what was the biggest challenge they faced, the answer was always the same. There is just not enough food. All families rely on farming for their food, and when that does not supply enough to meet the families need, at times there may be some piece work to be picked up in other peoples fields, and at times they will just go hungry. The soil in Maonde is not very fertile, so in order to grow good crops fertilizer is required. However in recent years the price of fertilizer has increased exponentially making it un affordable. To give you an idea, 1 x 50kg bag of fertilizer costs 17,000 Malawi Kwatcha. To provide some perspective, a loaf of bread is 220Kw, a bag of potatoes or tomatoes is 100Kw. What a family grows in their field may only supply 3 months of food for the family. It means for the other 9 months of the year they have no idea where their food will come from.
You can see how the malnutrition has affected the growth of the children. Many of the children are half the size of what they should be for their age. This is crazy in contrast to the western world where childhood obesity is one of the biggest issues we are faced with. The injustice hurts and is hard to comprehend.
One of the home visits that has stuck with me was sitting in the home of a very elderly grandfather who is the sole carer of his two grand daughters aged 10 and 12. When asked what his biggest challenges were he named two. The first is that the fields have not produced enough food for the family, and he is getting too old to do all the work required to harvest the fields. The second is the challenge of raising two girls, when this is always the role of a female to raise the children, so he asked for wisdom in raising them. We prayed.
To end on a brighter note, the Care Workers and Care Point are really a shining light in this community. As of February this year, they have been able to start providing the 3 essential services for 50 children in this community. As these children are now receiving a hot meal a day, it also means they are regularly attending school, and it is alleviating some of the burden these families face in feeding their children. The Care Workers recognize the need is still much greater than the current 50 children they are caring for and are believing in the coming years to expand and grow their centre to reach 100, 150 children etc. Their vision and commitment is inspirational, we were so blessed to be able to spend time with them, walk alongside our fellow volunteers, encourage one another. We truly are in this together!