In the circle

An oasis in a desert of appalling misery

Just back from three weeks in the Mzuzu area of Northern Malawi, with mixed emotions of delight, sadness, frustration, rage, joy, appreciation of my life and the opportunities it has afforded me, gratitude for the freedom that the hard work of my parents and ourselves has given me, freedom to do and give to others, freedom that an accident of birth has given me and which I am now hell bent on giving back.

In August last I got my first taste of urban poverty in Malawi, well in fact Mary did. I had been asked by three very positive and forceful women from the Mbawemi women’s group to look at their orphan day-care centre and see if we could help. I really had no interest in Orphanages; taking children from their communities, families and land rights… and only a little more in orphan day-care. I felt there were too many people doing it, with so many scams, waste and corruption, while I was trying to adhere to my abiding business philosophy of sticking with what you know. So like every good husband I chickened out and left it to Mary.

She checked the women out, in so far as one can and found an amazing bunch of sisters, who were volunteers; nearly as poor as the people they were helping, driven and desperate. They had begun this project in 2005, their building was awful, their hearts were big, their dreams were in technicolour, they were doing something, and they needed a hand – a helping hand and not a handout. We decided to, give it a go.

In November son number one, Éamonn and myself spent a busy week, doing a land deal, making the purchase, and employing a local builder. Bad mistake with the builder, as he was slow, just as useless as most men in the area and he stole half of our cement, but TIM (this is Malawi), corrupt from the top to the bottom, all Christians, very little Christianity. So we terminated him and his crew.

The blessing in disguise was that we found Peter and his gang, who are as hard working as you could meet. They took over on Dec 29 and the official opening took place on February 10. For the past few weeks we worked against all the odds; the rainy season, an unhelpful, and most times intoxicated chief, an indifferent and obstructive male population, dire poverty, a wet, low lying site, unhelpful neighbours and official bureaucracy who couldn’t care less. In fact very much like Ireland when you are trying to build something.

On the final morning, Mercy, one of the women hugged me and apologised for all the difficulties we had needlessly encountered, I just laughed and explained how I felt very much at home, very much like the planning process in Ireland I explained; You apply for permission on land where building is allowed and all hell breaks loose, obstructionists come out of the woodwork, like termites she asked; very much I answered; they object, tell lies, question your motives, defame your character, spread rumours, cost you money and after about two years the final level of bureaucracy say yes: always yes in my case. So what’s new: we laughed? She said you’re a tough customer, I smiled and let her know that we WILL realise all of our dreams.

In the circlePart of the dream was realised on February 9 with the opening of Áras Kate, a 1700 sq ft wonder. 260 little ones will be cared for and fed here every morning from 7.30 till 11. The one meal of porridge made from maize flour, soya, ground nuts with a little salt and a lot of sugar, will make a serious impact on their lives. Later in the year the sweetener will be honey from our 330 hives in the forest, the maize, soya and groundnuts will come from our land in Lusangazi and the vitamins from dried moringa leaves.

The process is simple really; its just community at it’s best. Of course it’s not a million kids, it’s not a Madonna affair, it’s only each one of 260 beautiful creations, who may now be given a shot at life by the generosity of a doting grandfather six thousand kilometres away.
Next we plan a drop in centre for battered and bruised women, for grannies and carers, a place to meet and laugh a little; a homework club for students, a little enterprise centre, small business loans at zero interest, first or second chance learning for young and older mothers and whatever needs arise.

All this is happening in the middle of the most serious depravation, starvation serious male alcoholism and all the abuse that goes with it.
Did someone mention a UN charter for children; would that person stand up and be counted?
If you think you can help, I assure you that you can.
Lend us your hands.
Thank you all for allowing me a little rant after a 32 hour journey!