Another View

I found this on Graham’s blog today:
Katie was just as enthusiastic, energetic and caring as her letter suggests.

FRIDAY, APRIL 10, 2009
These days are more than we’d ever hoped for
I think we’re going back to Malawi in June so Katie wrote a letter she’s going to use for sponsorship.

Maybe she can put a different perspective of what we got up to.

Dear Family,

I am all too aware that this letter is long. Probably too long! But please, I assure you that the read is worthwhile and it will perhaps give you an insight into something that I am now passionate about, whether you have before now agreed with it or not. Thanking you in advance!

As you may or may not know from the 26th of January to the 9th February myself and seven of my fellow Griffith College classmates embarked on a journey, The longest, and hardest journey we had experienced in our sheltered lives so far. A journey from which we knew not what to expect. Truth be told, my expectations could never have lived up to the reality.

We spent two weeks in the Mzuzu area of Northern Malawi, working with an amazing charity Wells for Zoe, run personally and entirely by Mary and John Coyne, a retired couple, and two of the most hilarious, inspiring and amazing people I have ever had the pleasure of knowing. Mary and John’s primary work in Malawi is the spread of clean water and they have successfully developed a unique, cheaper and more efficient way of doing so with their pumps that are now installed in a number of locations around Malawi. They have accomplished great things, including crop growing, schools, bee hives, chicken farms and now thanks to the help of my friends and myself, an orphan daycare centre. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg for them and their aspirations.

I look back on my time in 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 has given me, freedom to do and give to others, And the freedom that the hand that I have so luckily been dealt has given me and which I am now hell bent on giving back. This is why, in June of this year, with a group made up of old friends from the last trip, and new ones not knowing what to expect, I am planning on going back. I hope the rest of this letter will give you an idea why.

One result of my trip was that I got my first taste of urban poverty in Malawi. The most serious depravation, starvation, serious male alcoholism, and all the abuse that goes with it. People dying and not knowing why, Women and few men working from dawn till dusk desperately trying to stay afloat. Children either working or aimlessly roaming the streets every day, Not being able to afford the tiny sum required for an education, scantily clad, hungry and thirsty, with no hope for the future, never having known a life any different.

In relation to the project we worked on, three amazing strong women from the community of Sailsbury line decided something had to be done for these vulnerable children. They had begun this project in 2005. Their building was awful, their hearts were big, their dreams were in Technicolor, they were doing something, and they needed a hand – a helping hand and not a handout. We decided, as a group, to give it a go. In the weeks we were there 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. We laboured, painted, dug foundations, carried materials even did brick laying anything possible to get the daycare centre ready for opening day.

Unlike Ireland today, and the majority of the people living in poverty in it who scrounge off the generosity of the wealthy and the taxes they are forced to pay because of their hard work, the Malawian women, children and few good men are so generous and in awe of the little help we were able to give them which I think alot of people do not realise. These people do not want to be spoon fed. They want a hand up, not a hand out, and they want to make a better life for themselves to ensure their future.

I found the children’s behaviour the most shockingly beautiful and humbling part of my stay. They regarded every wave, every smile, hug, kiss, tickle or tidbit of your time and affection as a dozen Christmases put together. These children’s parents have no time for affection and sometimes just do not know how to give it. You would truly have to see it to believe it. One older boy, aged 12, named Mateyo who went to school and had simple English came up to me at the end of every day, took my hands in his firmly, looked into my eyes, and said; “Thank you for coming here, you make us very, very happy in here,” and he reached down to press his hand on his little brother’s heart. That was it. Malawi had irrevocably stolen mine.

These children are starving. Not the kind of starving we get from missing lunch, or being in too much of a hurry to have breakfast, but the literal sense. They have a constant ache in the pit of their stomachs that they have become accustomed to. So accustomed to not having food that when one day, as a treat from our group to the children, we gave each child a half a bread roll and a minuscule sweet banana. Three out of five children got sick afterwards. Their bodies rejected the unfamiliar. Food. I cried that day.

The day care centre we built is a 1700 sq ft wonder and a place of refuge for so many children. 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 Wells for Zoe’s 330 hives in the forest, the maize, soya and groundnuts will come from Wells for Zoe’s land in Lusangazi and the vitamins from dried moringa leaves.

A characteristic that the children of Sailsbury line possess in far greater amounts than I could even fathom, is patience. These children as I have pointed out are starving. When it came to introducing this new porridge scheme they would politely sit, waiting for us to get around with food to them all. This could take up to an hour. They did not push or shove or grab from other children, just waited. But it was their reaction when the food was handed to them that made me want to reach out. There eyes bulged, a startled expression crossed their gaunt faces and there hands shook with shock at receiving food, then as the realisation hit, a smile spread. Their reactions remained the same. Every day.

One day, I remember, after the other children had finished choking down the scalding, tasteless substance, I noticed a little boy. His plate full. I went over to see why he had not eaten. He looked up with me with a devastated expression and looked down. Then, the penny dropped. I had not given him a spoon. So he had not eaten. This beautiful child had stayed hungry, even with food on offer. Because of me. Because he feared my reaction at his ‘impoliteness’. I was heartbroken.

Everybody has their favourites, and I had mine. His name is Precious. He is seven years old, and the size of the average 5year old. Although he is beautiful, this was not why I favoured him. We were singing songs with the children one day and I felt a grip and a pull on my arm, instead of just my hand, tighter and more urgent than any of the other children’s were. I looked down to see this fragile child in threadbare shorts and a soaking wet jacket that was three sizes too big. He was freezing. For the duration of that day, his grip never loosened.

From that day I looked out for him, and made sure that he got to the day care centre for his chance at simple education and his bowl of porridge. I went up to his house if that’s what it took. I met his family. His twin sister, younger brother, his three older sisters and his widowed mother. I have never seen a woman as happy as her when her son proudly presented me to her. I had taken a shine to him, and for that, she told me, she would be eternally grateful. I looked after him and cherished him for the duration of my stay.

She had chosen his name fittingly, not even knowing its meaning. Upon my arrival each day he ran and jumped into my arms hugging as tightly as his little body could muster. I favoured him, taught him the alphabet, days of the week, months of the year. Gave him drinks of clean water when the other children were not around and rubbed Vaseline into his cracked knees and elbows which were swollen and sore.

The most rewarding part of my relationship with Precious was the change I saw in him. At the start he was shy, would not speak when others were around and could barely look people in the eye. By the end, due to the affection he had been given and also in large part to the energy he now had in his body each day from the porridge, he was a happy, hyperactive child. Dancing, singing and laughing hysterically, playing with the others in the group and I even had him winking! He even proved to be quite the talented singer so we used to walk around singing on the top of our lungs, him repeating me!

On a whim one day at the local market, I thought of Precious. I bought him an Addidas tracksuit, three polo shirts and a pair of shorts. I went up to the house to present them to his mother. His family were delighted. His mother cried, his sister made him try everything on and precious was embarrassed. I then became frustrated. There was so much I wanted to say to his mother and so much she tried to say to me but it all got lost in translation. The language barrier was too much. So, she got up, went outside, rustled about for a while and came back inside, holding a live chicken upside down by the legs. This was my thank you. I must inform you now that chickens in Malawi are worth more than a week’s wages. They are worth 900kwacha. This, to us, is 4euro. I was touched, but politely declined.

That’s the thing about the wonderful people I met in Malawi, whatever you gave them, they were determined to give something back. Whether it was the chicken, a carving made from wood, a song they wanted to perform for you, or a handwritten letter. Or then there was the woman, who was HIV positive, had two twin daughters, a son and a deceased husband who were also HIV positive.

One day she was trying to light a fire to help cook the porridge for the orphanage children. I, without thinking, gave her my lighter, and told her to keep it. She then blessed herself. Actually blessed herself and for every day I spent at the orphanage from then on she would insist on fixing my hair in elaborate plaits, twists and braids. Everyday.

On the final morning, Mercy, one of the women, hugged me and apologised for all the hassle we encountered with various things. I then apologised for the hassle she has encountered everyday of her life due to the hand she was dealt, the circumstance she and so many others have been born into. She didn’t seem to understand and hugged me. It was enough.

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 the people who care enough to give, from thousands of miles away.

Don’t get me wrong. I am by no means any Mother Teresa. Nor am I trying to be. I had an amazing time in Malawi, and I did not for a second think of it as work. Malawi has given as much to me, if not more than I have given to it. I loved it, truly loved it, I had a great time during the day working on the project and a great time each night, back at the lodge, making new friends and learning about different cultures from the many people staying there also. And learning that you don’t actually need electricity, or indoor showers, or any of the luxuries that we have become so accustomed to.

I have no idea what project we will be undertaking in June, or what it has in store for us. That’s down to Wells For Zoe who we are in talks with consistently. You may say, ye, been there done that why go back? It’s because now we know what it’s about, and the in’s and out’s to a certain extent. We know what to expect, and this time the first few days won’t be wasted ‘fannying’ around as John Coyne would say finding our feet! We can get straight in with our own personal goals and get our hands dirty.

I realise by me going back again and actually being there I get the good part. People buy the Smarties and I just get to hand them out! I am aware of that but I think that this cause is an amazing one. €50 euro is 10,000 Kwacha. €5,000 Euro is 1,000,000 Kwacha. Imagine that?

Any donation is greatly appreciated. And if your generosity gets the better of you and you want to donate.. If you think you can lend a hand, I assure you, you can!

You know my address. Cheques can be made out to: Wells For Zoe GCD.

Thank you for reading my stupidly long, babbling letter and thank you for any help you can give.

Lots of love

Katie is really set on going but it makes me question why I want to go again. It’s going to be a month this time and I dunno if I’d able to handle it for that long. I’d be missing the Betrayed show, aswell as the Have Heart & Shipwreck AD show. And I havn’t really got the 900 quid to shell out for the flights aswell as a months worth of food unfortunately. It sucks when money especially when its not in vast amount holds people back from doing some cool things.

Timeline Malawi

Timeline: Malawi BBC News
A chronology of key events:

1st century AD – Bantu-speaking tribes invade the region inhabited by Twa and Fulani tribes.

13-15th centuries – Further migrations of Bantu-speaking people to the area. New settlers work with iron and dominate earlier inhabitants who are considered to be “stone-age”.

1480 – Bantu tribes unite several smaller political states to form the Maravi Confederacy which at its height includes large parts of present-day Zambia and Mozambique plus the modern state of Malawi.

17th century – Portuguese explorers arrive from the east coast of present-day Mozambique.

1790-1860 – Slave trade increases dramatically.

1850 – Scottish missionary David Livingstone’s exploration of the region paves the way for missionaries, European adventurers, traders.

1878 – Livingstonia Central African Mission Company from Scotland begins work to develop a river route into Central Africa to enable trade.

1891 – Britain establishes the Nyasaland and District Protectorate.

1893 – Name is changed to the British Central African Protectorate. White European settlers are offered land for coffee plantations at very low prices. Tax incentives force Africans to work on these plantations for several months a year, often in difficult conditions.

1907 – British Central African Protectorate becomes Nyasaland.

1915 – Reverend John Chilembwe leads a revolt against British rule, killing the white managers of a particularly brutal estate and displaying the head of one outside his church. He is shot dead by police within days.

1944 – Nationalists establish the Nyasaland African Congress.

1953 23 October – Despite strong opposition from the Nyasaland African Congress and white liberal activists, Britain combines Nyasaland with the Federation of Northern and Southern Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe respectively).

1958 – Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda, “the black messiah”, denounces the federation and returns from the US and the UK, where he has been studying, to lead the Nyasaland African Congress.

1959 – Violent clashes between the Congress supporters and the colonial authorities lead to the banning of the organisation. Many leaders, including Banda, are arrested and a state of emergency is declared.

Malawi Congress Party is founded as a successor to the Nyasaland African Congress.

1960 – Banda is released from Gwelo prison and attends talks in London with the British government on constitutional reform.

1961 – Elections held for a new Legislative Assembly. Banda’s Malawi Congress Party wins 94% of the vote.

1963 – Territory is granted self-government as Nyasaland and Banda is appointed prime minister.

Independence

1964 6 July – Nyasaland declares independence as Malawi.

1966 6 July – Banda becomes president of the Republic of Malawi. The constitution establishes a one-party state. Opposition movements are suppressed and their leaders are detained. Foreign governments and organisations raise concerns about human rights.

1971 – Banda is voted president-for-life.

1975 – Lilongwe replaces Zomba as capital.

1978 – First elections since independence. All potential candidates must belong to the Malawi Congress Party and be approved by Banda. He excludes many of them by submitting them to an English test.

1980s – Several ministers and politicians are killed or charged with treason. Banda reshuffles his ministers regularly, preventing the emergence of a political rival.

1992 – Catholic bishops publicly condemn Banda, sparking demonstrations. Many donor countries suspend aid over Malawi’s human rights record.

1993 – President Banda becomes seriously ill.

Voters in a referendum reject the one-party state, paving the way for members of parties other than the Malawi Congress Party to hold office.

Muluzi elected

1994 – Presidential and municipal elections: Bakili Muluzi, leader of the United Democratic Front, is elected president. He immediately frees political prisoners and re-establishes freedom of speech.

Banda announces his retirement from politics.

1997 – Banda dies in hospital in South Africa where he is being treated for pneumonia.

1999 – President Muluzi is re-elected for a second and final five-year term.

2000 – World Bank says it will cancel 50% of Malawi’s foreign debt.

2002 – Drought causes crops to fail across southern Africa. Government is accused of worsening crisis through mismanagement and corruption, including selling off national grain reserves before drought struck.

2002 September – Railway line linking central Malawi and Mozambican port of Nacala reopens after almost 20 years, giving access to Indian Ocean.

2004 May – Government says it will provide free anti-viral drugs to Aids sufferers.

Bingu wa Mutharika, ruling United Democratic Party (UDF) candidate, declared presidential election winner. Observers, opposition criticise poll.

2005 January – Three UDF officials are charged with treason after carrying guns to a meeting with President Mutharika. The president later pardons the trio.

Mutharika’s struggles

2005 February – President Mutharika resigns from the UDF over what he says is its hostility to his anti-corruption campaign. He forms the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

2005 June – President Mutharika survives an impeachment motion backed by the UDF. The speaker of parliament dies after collapsing during angry exchanges over the motion.

2005 November – Agriculture minister says five million people need food aid as Malawi bears the brunt of failed crops and a regional drought.
2006 April – Vice-President Cassim Chilumpha is arrested and charged with treason.

2006 July – Ex-president Bakili Muluzi is arrested on corruption charges.

2006 October – Controversy as American singer Madonna is given temporary rights to adopt a Malawian baby.

2007 May – Malawi begins exporting 400,000 tonnes of maize to Zimbabwe, after producing a surplus in 2006.

2007 July-August – Political row over defecting MPs delays approval of new budget in parliament.

2008 January – Malawi ends diplomatic relations with Taiwan, switching allegiance to China.

2008 May – Several opposition figures and ex-security chiefs are arrested after President Mutharika accuses his predecessor, Bakili Muluzi, of plotting to depose him.

2008 October – President Mutharika is endorsed as his party’s candidate in presidential elections scheduled for May 2009.

Volunteering with Elaine

Lusangazi

Lusangazi


My thanks to Deirdre for sending a copy of TOAST, the DITSU magazine

Malawi trip

Wells for Zoe is an Irish charity organisation which was set up in 2005 by Mary and John Coyne. Wells for Zoë concentrates on low cost, small scale, appropriate and sustainable water technology. It has been worked out that a single euro can provide water for life to an individual. Water is the source of life, it is the Wells for Zoe belief that clean safe drinking water is the most important starting point for all development. Firstly, it is a basic need of any healthy community. Secondly, its local availability will mean that the women and children will not have to get up before dawn to search for and carry water for miles. A local water supply will benefit the community as the children can attend school and the women will have more time to tend and irrigate the much-needed crops, along with all their many other tasks.
Since its introduction, it has also moved into other areas of importance such as schools, farming, orphan centres and more. They help the people of Malawi by giving hand up’s, not hand out’s. Meaning they can learn how to help themselves and not be so dependent on aid from others.

Malawi itself is a small country bordering Zambia and Mozambique, with a population of just over 13million. Life expectancy here is about 41 years. HIV/Aids infection rate according to the government is said to be about 14%, whereas hospitals would suggest 40 – 60%. The area in which Wells for Zoe concentrates is Mzuzu in Northern Malawi. I will be travelling out there on April 5th for the third time along with a group of 15 others from DIT. The work done over there is incredible and there is nothing like the feeling of going out to work in the villages. Last March, 10 students including myself travelled over to do three simple things: Inspire, Educate and Challenge. Our major task was to complete a three-classroom school in a village called Luvuvwe in a timeframe of two weeks….and the mission was miraculously complete. We did very little but it went a long way, we provided the materials necessary and gave guidance and motivation to achieve. The local people did everything else. The spirit of community was truly amazing, everyone helped, from children aged as young as four to adults as old as sixty. Women carried bricks on their heads, the men plastered, laid bricks, the children did all they could to give a hand and be a part of the project. They themselves could not believe the work they got done in two weeks. Along with the school, a garden was created, a youth group was formed and a HIV group. This shows the huge impact that you can have on a single village. I cannot describe the fulfilment one gets from being involved with a community that wants to help themselves. The people are so friendly and are constantly smiling, regardless of the troubled lives a lot of them live.

The newly built orphan day care centre will be the main focus of our trip this year. The centre provides a good meal and care for more than 420 orphans each day. For a lot of these children, the meal they receive here is their only one of the day. We will be bringing large quantities of clothes, toys and materials for the children so as they have something to take from our visit over. I am counting down the days to set off again and I’m sure it will not be my last visit.

To return to the same villages each trip and be greeted by welcoming smiles, handshakes and hugs make all the organising, long flights and injections worthwhile.
It is truly a lifetime experience, one with both enjoyment and fulfilment.

The one question asked over and over to me by friends and family when I returned was ‘Is it sad?’. But my simple reply was ‘It is not sad unless you make it that way’. You can stand back and pity the poor or you can get so involved that you don’t even notice the difference in your lives.