Club Fun

This past week was a busy one for us here in Malawi!   As you might know, part of our job entails setting up after schools clubs in primary schools in the Malikha school district of Lilongwe.   “Why afterschool clubs,” you ask?   In Malawi there is a serious lack of extra curricular programming in the public schools.  The teachers are so worn down from teaching 100+ students in a class (or under a tree if there isn’t enough classrooms) that planning extracurricular activities sometimes gets lots in the list of things to do.  The teachers and administrators generally use extra time to lobby to the government to provide them with more classrooms, desks, books, and chairs that they desperately need.   When these kids don’t have anything constructive to do after school, they often engage in activities that aren’t exactly age appropriate.  Children here start having sex very young (often involuntarily) which is a huge problem, but an even bigger one considering the HIV/AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa.  Alcohol abuse is also a huge problem in some of the villages.   So, in our clubs we offer something constructive to do afterschool!  We focus on creative writing, which helps develop their language and writing skills, with an added benefit of psychosocial support, as journaling is often very therapeutic.  We do many workshops on HIV awareness, which helps the kids to learn how to identify behaviors that could lead to getting or spreading the disease, and how to cope with stigma.   We teach them to create s.m.a.r.t. (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goals for different projects that they decide to take on as a club.  Some clubs decide to make a goal of growing a small garden, while other projects range from planting trees to visiting the elderly in the community.   It also is a great opportunity for the kids to take leadership positions that they otherwise would not be able to get in school.

Image

After traveling on some seriously bumpy dirt roads, we were able to visit all 11 of the schools we are working in and it was a joy to see all of the little ones at school! The first you notice when pulling up at a school in Africa, is just the overhelming number of children. 40% of Malawi’s population is under the age of 14.  Being in the schools truly brings this statistic to life.  Some of the schools are much more involved in the club than others.  It seems to me that the main difference between the schools that are very involved and those that are not is simply leadership within the school.  The schools that lack strong leadership have a hard time pulling together to support the students in the clubs.  To help encourage leadership and accountability, we have a matron and patron in every club, who are generally teachers at the schools and work as club advisors.   Our first club meetings were mainly meeting with the matron, patron, head teacher (principal), PTA members, and the school management committee.  It is so important to have all of these people on board so that the students get the most out of this experience.

Image

Something that Andrew and I kept noticing is how some schools were much poorer than the others.  The children’s clothes were more tattered and the school was in disrepair.  The children in these schools also seemed more lethargic than others.  However, when we arrived at one of the schools, Chata, we couldn’t help but notice how lively all the kids were.  They all seemed so happy and excited to be at school!   The difference in Chata is that it has a feeding program sponsored by another NGO.  It is such a simple concept, feeding children breakfast before school and lunch during school, but it makes such a huge difference.  Many students walk many miles to get to school every day, often on an empty stomach and only after fetching water for their families and completing their chores.  This makes it extremely hard for children to concentrate, let alone excel at their studies.   I was so happy to see these kids looking so vibrant and also so sad that there aren’t feeding programs in every school.  Recently in Malawi, a huge scandal has come to light involving government officials stealing tax money.  I can’t help but feel more than disgusted when you think about all the wasted money within their government when there are hungry children everywhere. 

ImageIt is so easy to get in our routines and forget to be thankful for something as simple as a nutritious meal.  We are so privileged to get to work with these resilient kids.  These children were a wonderful reminder to me of how blessed I am, and I hope they can serve as a reminder to you as well.

Three Weeks In

This week is our third week in Malawi!  So far things have been really good.  We haven’t ventured out of the city yet, but that will change this Sunday when we head to Zambia for 4 days of safaris and relaxation!

The past three weeks have been consumed with work.   This past Friday it finally hit me that we had been going nonstop and I was so thankful for the weekend.  Since we’ve been around the house and city a lot, we’ve gotten a lot more settled in in Lilongwe.  We’ve found some favorite restaurants and cool cafes.  We have found a good running path that takes us through the neighborhood behind us.  We’ve gotten used to the power going out every once in a while.  (So far we’ve been lucky that it has only gone out twice and only for 20 minutes or so, so it hasn’tbeen an issue at all.)  We’re getting used to seeing people carrying huge loads of firewood, buckets of water, suitcases, and the occasional chicken in a box on their heads.  All in all, we feel much more settled here now.  I think yesterday was the first day since we’ve been here that I didn’t feel homesick at all.

Image

The house & rovers

Now that we are settling in, the fun is also starting!  While we will be working during the week, we have a lot of exciting adventures coming up.  This weekend we will go on safari in Zambia and I have to say I am thrilled to be going back to Croc Valley, the same lodge we stayed last time I was here.  We are planning a short visit to snorkel and enjoy Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi, Liwonde National Park for another safari and to see the Zambezi River, and the Zomba Plateau for some hiking!  The great thing about Africa is that once you are here, travel within is pretty inexpensive, so we’re going to be able to do a lot of fun things!

While we’ve been getting acclimated the past few weeks, we’re also seeing the great need that is present Malawi.   We’ve had a friend with a sick daughter who could not see the doctor because they did not have the $35 that it took to admit her to the hospital.  Luckily, Andrew and I were able to help our friend and his daughter, but it is a somber fact that many people die because they can’t afford medical treatment that is much less than $35.  We have had employees ask us for a pay advance so that they can buy their children’s school uniforms when the price inexplicably went up to around $60.  (School fees are a huge issue for many families.)  We’ve had employees ask for a raise and tell us that they don’t have enough money even for lunch.  We’ve listened to Malawians tell us about the many problems in the education system in Malawi and how it is actually perpetuating the cycle of poverty.   We’ve also listened to Malawians tell us about their concerns of corruption in the government and how it seems that no matter who is in power, the people are still hungry and don’t have enough to put their children through school.   We’ve seen first hand how women are still second-class citizens in Malawi.  We’ve just seen a whole lot of people that are struggling and hurting.

John & his wife, Monica

John & his wife, Monica

But we’ve also seen a whole lot of beauty.   The people here are so eager to help us and to know us.  Our guards who are at our house 24/7 are kind and hard working.  Our cook/house manager extraordinaire, John, goes out of his way to make sure we are comfortable and have the food that we like.  Today his wife is at the house doing our laundry, and she is so happy to have a small amount of income.

The Malawians are so grateful for what they have and it is truly an example for me.   I have been thinking about the Bible verse Phillipians 4:12 a lot since we’ve been here.

“I’m glad in God, far happier than you would ever guess—happy that you’re again showing such strong concern for me. Not that you ever quit praying and thinking about me. You just had no chance to show it. Actually, I don’t have a sense of needing anything personally. I’ve learned by now to be quite content whatever my circumstances. I’m just as happy with little as with much, with much as with little. I’ve found the recipe for being happy whether full or hungry, hands full or hands empty. Whatever I have, wherever I am, I can make it through anything in the One who makes me who I am.”  Phillipians 4:12

 Many Africans seem to live out what we always seem to be talking about.

Back in Malawi

I’m happy to say that I am writing this blog post from the front porch of the house that I will call home for the next three months…in Malawi!   The last time I wrote, I was heading home after being here for two weeks.  Now I’m back working for the same non-profit, World Camp, that I visited the last time I was here!  Except with one very special addition…my fiancé, Andrew!

 

After I finished my MBA in May, I was so unsure of what I wanted to do next.  Andrew was also feeling that it was time for him to pursue something different. When Andrew and I began discussing the idea of returning to Malawi, we thought that coming here for a short period of time would be a huge adventure, but not something we were sure we could do right now, but we wanted to consider it.    Around this time, one of the World Camp founders approached me about coming back to Malawi for the summer.  Well, Andrew and I had just gotten engaged and I didn’t want to be gone for so long.  After discussing this with World Camp, they offered to take BOTH of us for this job!   World Camp wanted me to come and do management consulting and some accounting work, as well as a number of other jobs and it just so happened that Andrew has a business degree as well and is currently working on his MBA.  I guess we were the perfect fit!  After a number of other things simply fell into place, we felt like this was the right time for us to go on this adventure.  My awesome mom and I got so much of the wedding planning done before we left this summer, so when we return home in November all of the major wedding planning items will be done! 

 

Our time in Africa so far has been a whirlwind.  It’s hard to talk about everything we’ve done in the past two weeks, but I’ll try to touch on the highlights.

 

The first couple of days after we got here were spent exploring Lilongwe.  Lilongwe is a bustling city, unlike what Andrew and I are really used to.   We quickly learned we need to look right before crossing a street as the cars drive on the left hand side here.  In Lilongwe, there are lots of little shops and people selling fruits and vegetable on the streets.  There is a lot of activity here.  Our house is conveniently located right down the street from an outdoor market that sells fresh vegetables and a few grocery stores as well.  I’m always so surprised and humbled by how kind the people here are when we have to ask for help or directions.  We’re also getting used to the fact that grocery stores aren’t as well stocked here as they are at home.  Cheese is imported here and hard to find, but we just simply could not eat our spaghetti without shredded cheese on the top, so we walked to the grocery store and found two little cheese wedges in a ten foot long display case.  Success!

 

After a couple days of getting used to our new/temporary city, we headed down to Dedza for Camp Hope.  Camp Hope is a collaboration between Baylor Clinic (associated with Baylor University) and Paul Newman’s SeriousFun.  The three organizations put on Camp Hope once a year and by doing so bring together about 80 children that live near Lilongwe that are HIV+ for a week of fun and learning.  At Camp Hope, these sweet kids learn how to properly take their medication (they are all patients at Baylor), learn about the importance of nutrition, how to deal with depression and stigma, and perhaps most importantly, the campers were able to discuss their disease and their struggles in a positive, open environment with others who were dealing with the same issues.   Andrew and I were so happy to get to help out at this camp.  One of our favorite jobs was just serving food to the kiddos, and let me tell you, those kids can eat!  Andrew and I were always shocked at the portions they would want, (and eat!), but were happy to give out seconds.  You could truly see how much these kids loved learning in this environment.  In Malawi, a lot of times schools are more memorization based, rather than classes that encourage participation and hands on learning.  The kids were so engaged and loved getting to share their ideas and thoughts.  They also spent a whole lot of time learning different songs and dances.  I have never seen so much singing and dancing in my life!  Unfortunately, we couldn’t take any pictures of the kids for confidentiality reasons, but there was a whole lot of smiling faces at Camp Hope.

 Image

A couple other highlights since we’ve been here:

 

-Setting out goals for our time here and beginning to look at the current accounting issues

-Going to a social event for expats in the city (There are a lot of other expats here!)

-Navigating public transportation

-Riding in a packed van at night and watching Andy sit on a bag of onions instead of a seat

-Eating a delicious cheeseburger at a nearby restaurant when we were missing American food

-Having an awesome cook, John, to make us meals

-Having no hot water for two days…and counting

-Watching 6 Harry Potter DVD’s (It gets dark early here.)

 

We’ve had a great time in Africa so far even though we are missing our families so much.  We are so lucky to have so much to miss back at home, and I know it will make Thanksgiving that much sweeter this year.

 

 

Welcome to Africa

December 30, 2012

Today we arrived in Africa! I don’t think it has really set in yet that I am in actually here.  We traveled for well over 24 hours to finally reach Lilongwe, Malawi.  On the way we stopped in DC and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  It was neat to see a little bit of Ethiopia, even if only from the windows at the airport.  Addis Ababa looked more like a city than I was expecting.  Lilongwe initially looked much more like the “typical” pictures and scenes of Africa that we see on TV or in magazines.  The drive from the airport in Lilongwe to the World Camp house was the Africa I was expecting.   Except better.  Lilongwe’s trees and grass are impossibly green and the sky is such a deep blue it almost looks like a photo-shopped picture.

IMG_0631

Malawi Countryside

Once we arrived at the World Camp house we got settled in and showered before we went on a little tour of Lilongwe.  One of the places we visited was a small market that the locals shop at for fruits, second hand shoes and clothes, nuts and bolts…anything.  Men sit outside and in their stalls.  Flies are absolutely everywhere.  Some men were selling liquor in little packets that looked like soy sauce packets.  From the empty packets that littered the ground of the market, I’m guessing this is quite a popular item.  (Side note…why aren’t these in America?? Way more discreet than an airplane bottle.  Football games, anyone?)

IMG_0645

Farmers in Malawi

Walking around Lilongwe I noticed how everyone was outside.  Business is conducted outside in the open air markets.  People sit outside rather than inside their stalls or huts.  These people live outside among the filth and the beauty and the flies.

Sometimes when I travel I notice a very distinct smell that a country has.  It’s like everyone in the area has taken on this foreign smell.  Malawi is no exception. Malawi has a sweet stench to it.  The people, the stands, the market, the air.  Half sweet like something baking in the oven and half like the waste and trash that litters the streets.  Body odor hangs in the air every time you encounter someone or just pass someone on the street.  The men on the street are kind, speak fairly good English, and are desperate to sell their goods.  Many of them look ill.

IMG_0637

Thatched Roofs and Goats

I can’t wait to spend more time with these people.  The children here are sweet and curious.  I noticed one girl today running through a lawn of bright green grass, and I swear it looked like the picture of joy.  I know that God is in this place and that these are his people.  The colors look brighter here, as if God is reminding us that He is present and he has not forgotten these people.