I imagined Miriam Whittle as a 10 year old when she emailed to say exams are over, all is well and when can I go to Malawi? Elaine got into action, booked the ticket with those very efficient people in travelpaths.ie and she was on the plane with us to Malawi. The imaginings of an old man were well and truly shattered when she came to help with preparations, finding that in a few short years, she had blossomed into a stunning young lady, attending Trinity College no less!(Joking, I knew all about her).
Four weeks in Malawi and we returned a confident, grown up young lady to Mary and Dave and of course the very understanding boyfriend at Dublin Airport. As with many volunteers before her, she had done it all, including staying on the farm overnight (only for the brave!!). She was inspiring, smiling, loving, caring, perceptive and challenging. She was a real darling to the children and adults alike, BUT don’t leave her in charge of the fire !!!</em
On Holidays from college this summer with no plans or prospects of a job, I had nothing but time, much like many Malawians. Going to Malawi was meant to happen for me. No sooner had I contacted the Coynes when Elaine was helping me book a flight to Lilongwe in July.
In the week before my trip I was quite nervous; the furthest I had travelled in my life was to Turkey, for a package holiday with my parents. The idea of 24 hours travelling made it quite clear that I would be very far away from home, in a whole other world. Then there were the vaccinations and the realisation that there were dangers to be protected from. But worst of all (though with the best intentions of course!) were my friends and family telling me to take care of myself and how good I was to be going.. This made me wonder if I had bitten off more than I could chew. My nerves were so bad in fact that there were tears in the airport, the thought of which only makes me laugh now!
I was very lucky to travel with Mary, John, Elaine and Catherina, all seasoned travellers to Malawi. My many questions had been answered by the time we got to Addis Ababa and though the others caught 40 winks on the flight to Lilongwe I was far too excited to sleep. On the drive from Lilongwe to Mzuzu all I could do was stare out the window and try to take it all in. I didn’t want to miss a second even if it meant a few painful bumps off the window as sleep began to take over. On first impressions the poverty is not overwhelming, but I soon learned that spending time with a Malawian means the slow and painful uncovering of what hardship may be hiding under that dazzling smile.
The work (though it did not feel at all like work) we did from day to day was extremely varied. I instantly realised that four weeks were going to fly and made sure to make the most of each day. As it turned out I managed never to have two days the same. Spending time in Aras Kate is very rewarding. The children are full of fun and so happy, it does the heart good. For more “grown up” days we spent time on the farm where the workers were more than happy to befriend us, even if only to doss off work! The birthing centre is also an interesting visit and a perfect example of the amazing work of Wells for Zoe. The old and new centres are such polar opposites. It still baffles me to think of how Lillian could have worked in the old birthing centre and it’s lovely to think of babies now being born into the clean, bright and dry conditions of the new centre, so that at least they start off life on the right foot.
Some days we did things like visit Luvuwu, an area where the DIT students, with Wells for Zoe, have built a school. The first day we visited the children were off school, but having made the journey we decided stay a while. We met the principal, his family and neighbours. We played Hokey Pokey with the local children and games like Duck, Duck Goose. In those situations it’s hard to believe but language is never a barrier, as long as you have tickles! Nonetheless I did try to pick up a bit of the local language, Tambuca, as apart from anything it is an excellent way to bond with the Malawians. They greatly appreciate it too. They certainly are an amazing people.
If you ask me for the highlight of my trip, that’s easy, it was when we went with Harisen and William to repair a well. Though Wells for Zoe are sure to have a contact for each well they install the Malawians are still not always great at recognising a helping hand and often don’t call for help. In this case the well had needed repair for about a month. The alternate well was miles away. The women from the area came singing and dancing for us, it was a warm dry day and it couldn’t have been more African.
But if you ask me what the best aspect about my trip was, I couldn’t tell you, there are far too many options. Was it the people I met, whether Irish, English, Australian, Canadian or Malawian? Is it the way I feel I have grown as a person? Having seen the things I’ve seen and experienced the whole thing it would be impossible not to alter your outlook and perspective on life. Or maybe it was the way that, unlike any other experience or trip I have made, it never ends. When I was home a few days I was settling back to my usual life style, spending time surfing the net, doing things of little importance in comparison, when I saw on the Wells for Zoe website that the preschool which was little but foundations when I left, had been completed, and was being whitewashed by the volunteers who remained. Wells for Zoe is something which will stay close to my heart forever and I want to thank Mary and John for it. They are so amazing to me and I am honoured to be involved.