Welcome to Malawi—the warm heart of Africa. The country shares its borders with Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique, and lays claim to beautiful Lake Malawi.
With a population of 15 million, this diverse country is troubled by low life expectancy and high infant mortality as it battles the prevalence of HIV-AIDS. The country relies heavily on an economy based on agriculture, including sugar cane, cotton, tea and corn production, along with cattle and goats.
It’s difficult for me to tell in words the two sides of the story of Malawi. On one hand, I recall a unique handshake and the warm greeting, “Welcome to the warm heart of Africa.” While this happened I was greeted with joyous singing and warm smiles. The people laughed openly and were respectful of visitors from Canada.
On the other hand, I observed great need that presented itself in ways that were shocking and personally moving. I quickly become acquainted with the letters OVC, which stand for orphans and vulnerable children. Worse than that, I came up with my own assessment of what I saw: more children than I could count with no shoes, no toys and many with no parents. My heart cried out, “Enough!” Let’s do something.
Let me tell you the rest of the story and invite you to look closely at the images and reflections that follow from my visit to Malawi last February.
Human trafficking is seen through a different lens when you are invited to have supper with 40 children who have been trafficked for farming, domestic and sexual slavery. There is a safe place at the Army’s Mchinji Anti-Trafficking Centre located near the Mozambique border. Before being rescued, Moses was 12, with no parents, and never got paid for his work, only receiving one meal a day. Precious was 11 and was a cattle herder. He was promised schooling but his uncle sold him. Margaret was 13 and endured sexual relations with a stepfather with no way out. This centre offers them counselling, schooling and training with an aim to reconcile families and offer hope to young lives.
I ate my rice and chicken that night but greater joy was taken from their enjoyment of a special meal because Canadian visitors had come.
I also carry the scourge of being beaten at checkers by a 10-year-old. Twice! As I tucked into my bed under my mosquito net that night, sleep did not come easily.
The Army in Malawi is strong and growing. I conducted worship at the officers’ training college in Blantyre. We had earlier asked the training principal what we might bring as an encouragement gift for the cadets. The answer was Bibles. After the presentation, the captain on staff made a comment in Chewa and everyone laughed. I inquired and found out they were instructed to return the Bibles they had borrowed from the staff. I didn’t know they did not own their own Bibles. Can you imagine?
I later viewed some of the appointments where they would be sent and realized how much that Bible would be a treasured possession.
Our own cadets in Winnipeg are raising funds to buy bicycles for the cadets in Malawi. A bike means everything in this country.
The one-hour drive to Bangwe was fascinating, yet as I write a few words, I am forced to reflect on what was, for me, the most difficult day. At the Army building, I viewed the records of a project for an HIV-AIDS testing centre. As I looked through this huge book with 38 names on a page, I was taken aback by the more than 50 percent who tested positive. I tried to count the pages and do the math, but they produced more books. Unfortunately, the funding had run out and I turned away with a heavy heart and too many questions.
I wasn’t really ready for what came next. A part of the program was the provision of home-based care. The workers had continued despite the lack of funds, so we went to visit those they cared for. We were walking, yet I had no idea where we were going. It was a path leading to a simple mud- brick house and we piled into this darkened room to meet Gloria, 34, mother of four. She is frail and dying. Her sister, Victoria, will pick up the pieces. I feel we have invaded a private space and I sense it’s time to go and I hear the words, “Commissioner, they want you to pray for Gloria.” How would you pray?
Walking back up that path, I led the way, not because of a needed quick exit, but to hide how visibly shaken I was.
We didn’t get back in the vehicle. Another visit was on the list. Susan, 22, with two children. Her husband had left and her mother had died of AIDS. She was receiving anti-viral drugs and would live to see Thomas and Phyllis grow up. This time the prayer came a little easier. It was a quiet drive home that evening.
Partnering Through Self-Denial
If you’ve ever second-guessed the importance of giving to the Partners in Mission Appeal, a trip to the Shire Valley would change that. Lalange and Madziabango Schools host hundreds of children, all in uniform, providing education and support. Key to the experience is a food program, providing porridge called Loconi Pala made from soya beans, maize flour and salt. Volunteers start cooking at 6 a.m. Classrooms are mostly outside with limited resources (one book per 10 children) and large classes. As I remember this day, I wish I could pass you my iPod so you could listen and see their small choir singing, “By the grace of God we are saved.”
In the drought-stricken Shire Valley, the river still floods. It flooded just before we arrived. Two died in the flash floods and houses were swept away. We were taken by the corps officer to meet the displaced families. With little or nothing to call their own, they greeted us with singing. The money raised through Partners in Mission helps maintain and strengthen the Army’s work in Malawi.
There is one more point that must be made. The Malawi people are smart, able to create solutions and, most of all, willing to be accountable for what they receive. The international Army’s financial support ensures that countries such as Malawi have the infrastructure in place so that the projects I have shared with you can be implemented. Please give generously to Partners in Mission!
Love to Orphans
On this Valentine’s Day I experienced a true expression of love. We travelled two-and-a-half hours to Phalombe. We sat in the hot sun as the OVC Kids Club sang, did drama and recited poems. The adults who run the program are called great mothers and fathers. They welcomed us with singing, “Let’s take care of the children for they are the future of our tomorrow generation. Let’s take care of the orphans.” It’s not unusual to have hundreds in attendance and, like all children, they have dreams. Doreen, 13, tells me she wants to be a nurse.
My brother and I have stopped exchanging Christmas gifts. A couple of years ago, Rosalie and I started buying Gifts of Hope and sending cards. So last year I bought a pig and sent a card. I visited a family with two pigs and shared her hope for 16-18 piglets. When I asked what difference her gifts of hope would make, she could not suppress the smile. A better life, school and uniforms, education, more food. I sent my brother a picture and told him his Christmas gift is doing fine. For a family of five, can it be that simple?