For today’s trek to the Malawi College of Health Sciences, we were hoping to see some of the GAIA nursing scholarship recipients – a visit which had been inspiring to those on the last GAIA trip here who had seen young women who had been shy and timid orphans literally transformed into capable nurses with practicing certificates which would have been unthinkable without GAIA’s help. We were led to an administrator’s office and in the end it seems there was a mis-communication. Most of the students were on holiday and indeed there was uncertainty about the college’s financial status and whether or not it was going to be brought under the wing of the University of Malawi as had been rumored but not confirmed to them. It is early September and the College has no certainty of it’s budget for the upcoming session which begins in Mid-October. We couldn’t be too surprised given that we are from California where we seem to have a difficult time getting even the funding for elementary and high school education funded until the last minute year after year…
It was a disappointment but our first… We diverted to the best hotel in Blantyre where we sat in the lounge with cokes and used remaining internet minutes processing emails we had been otherwise unable to access for a number of days.
The next morning, we set out in the direction of the Zomba district and stopped in rural Blantyre at the Chigodi Women’s Center (“mvoma” – for some reason the Chichewa word stuck in my brain). We were greeted by Miriam, a preacher in charge of the Blantyre Synod of the Presbyterian Church’s Women’s Desk which oversees activities throughout the Synod. The facility we visited was on the side of a hill with a lovely view and had been donated to the Presbyterian church in 1967 by a Scottish woman. The various meeting and boarding rooms are used for training of women’s programs and such and was administered by a woman named Regina. She explained their work which involved training caregivers and women’s desk heads from 640(!) congregations throughout the area. Much of the training has to do with orphan care, setting up feeding centers, and HIV testing and care for HIV+ villagers which is relatively new since the sin attached stigma has evolved to an attitude of the need to deal with the pervasive prevalence of this AIDS pandemic.
We were welcomed by the women training in the adjacent room who sang us in and where we went through the usual formalities of starting with prayer and introductions. We asked each other questions with interest on both sides. Two of the women mentioned that they knew of GAIA’s mobile health clinics in their regions and were hopeful that the program might be expanded to include their areas. They prayed again and then sang us along our way.
We toured the grounds, saw a training class of women learning about nutrition and IGAs (income generating activities – mostly sewing projects) which can help them raise funds for their volunteer work. We then walked down the hill to a church where the local women’s group was in the midst of one of it’s 2 days of feeding orphans from the neighboring village. The children sang “We are walking in the light of God” as we approached – love that song 🙂 and we were warmly greeted by them and the 5-6 village volunteers who use their own personal funds for this feeding program. Here they pointed out that they used an outdoor “kitchen” which was unusable when it rains and hence there is no feeding program on those rainy days. Also they feed the children in shifts since there are insufficient bowls to feed the 50-60 orphans at the same time. Since the children had been waiting for us before they ate, we encouraged them to carry on with their meal of likuni phala enriched porridge for the children who gratefully lined up and ate. The women explained to us that this was not only food for these children but also a welcome break from the deplorable living conditions from which they come. The women said that we would not like to see the houses where these children lived or particularly the latrines. The children are nonetheless amazingly able to smile and enjoy having the azungus take their pictures and show them the images on our cameras.
Day after day in varying places the same story again and again – so many orphans in such need and thankfully at least some in the communities with compassionate hearts to give them some support, however small. These communities are all poor but clearly the Malawian way is about helping those in the community in need even if you are in need yourself.