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.

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