DIT Students in Malawi
A number of years ago Mary read me a passage from a book called the Secret, one of those positive thinking style compositions that went something like this.
If you work with all your heart and soul for something positive, the Universe colludes to help you. Well feel is that the Universe certainly colluded and brought us into contact with the students in DIT. For those of you who haven’t heard of The Dublin Institute of Technology, it is the biggest Third Level educational establishment in the country with 23,000 students and an amazing array of disciplines.
We have had our fourth annual group of Easter Volunteers and like the others before them they were astounding. Each and every one of them made their own unique and lasting impact on people who have just the most tenuous link with existence imaginable. It just leaves me speechless each time they come, as to how they relate to the world’s poorest as if it is something in the Irish psyche that bonds us to those who are seeing the poverty of our ancestors. Or maybe those chosen to come are, in themselves, open to doing good, or maybe both.
What we ask of our volunteers is to inspire, educate and challenge, to be themselves and walk with the people. What we try to do is provide opportunities without handouts, and give back their dignity to some amazing, remote, rural women, most of whom have no formal education
I feel that this Easter 2011, one volunteer got the idea and wrote:
“Going home, I know why I am here. I am not here to do the jobs that the Malawi people could do in half the time. I am not here to teach or to preach, to lead or to be followed. I am here to work with the people, to build friendships, a network of support and encouragement that can be continued long into the future. I know that while I may be back in Ireland soon, Wells for Zoe will continue to be here in Malawi, and will continue to be a community of people that will always be there, that will always offer help and support, that will always extend the hand of friendship and that will never give up.”
The DIT students who come make a huge commitment, they raise their own funds, give up their time, pay their way and do it all with a smile. They do very early mornings, work all day and plan for the next day in the evenings. They analyse and advise and suggest ways of spending any donations they bring. We fully realize it’s a big challenge to go to such a poor country, not to go to the hotel and beach, but to work with the world’s poorest in their homes and schools and villages, playing with their children, eating their food and empowering then. It’s a big challenge, but no bother to these bravehearts
I am not a fan of the volunteering as it is commonly perceived and practiced by many nowadays. Come when you like, commit to nothing and take no responsibility, after all you’re not getting paid for it. My view is, that if you volunteer, it’s the real deal, you must be totally committed as if you were the most highly paid imaginable.
I also have a problem where people raise money from the general public to fund trips for volunteering purposes, where the output is often way short of the expectations of the donors.
I often wonder is my own quest the best way of spending my money, or should I send it to the village and stay at home myself. In reviewing the past six years in Malawi, I have now defined something of a philosophy:
I feel 40% of my effort was helping the villagers to remember what they knew themselves; 30% was encouraging them to believe in the skills and abilities they had rekindled; 25% was the pure spirit of Northern Malawian women; remote rural women, who are strong, intelligent, determined, bright, cheerful and powerful, against all the odds. Maybe I get 5% for showing up.
I imagine if the crisis in Sub Saharan Africa could be solved easily, it would already have been done alrady, after numerous studies, reports, strategies, plans and billions of dollars. But it’s not easy. It’s complex, confusing, frustrating annoying, amazing, challenging but never boring or bland.
The rural women we work with deserve canonization, considering what they achieve with nothing. Imagine what they could they do if they didn’t have to spend their lives having and feeding squads of kids, spending untold hours carrying water, and firewood, having to cook and clean and till and sow and harvest.
These thoughts come after twenty two visits to these communities. We have worked through a programme, seen joy, sorrow and frustration. I now realise it’s not about imposing what I know or can do, but finding what they can and are willing to do, and then inspiring them to move on. We have started on a path to understanding, trust and respect, and patience on my side. It takes time and effort and I’m pretty sure that little could be achieved by one whirlwind, volunteering visit by anyone. But that said, the way DIT groups slot in to an existing strategy, has an instantaneous and lasting impact