Madisi is an hour drive North East of Lilongwe. It is a town that reminds me a lot of Luchenza, where Sullivan and ProjectTEACH are based. For only six months of operation, RiseMalawi is well established and making a profound impact in its community. Roughly 45 students attend the afterschool program, with 5 camp leaders heavily involved in academics and leadership building. Every morning, Tinashe, Za and the camp leaders gather for morning devotionals. The camp leaders then spend the rest of the morning studying and teaching themselves subjects that they hope to improve on for the national exams. On Thursdays, since there is no afterschool program, the team breaks into smaller groups and visits children’s homes in the villages. This is an extremely important relationship builder that invites the parents into the program. Since Wednesday was the last day of the school term, RiseMalawi, held an end of the term celebration, where songs and dramas were performed, and prizes awarded. Many community partners attend the event, which is always great to see. Of course, the biggest request was for the program to grow and include more children. Once again, the children of Malawi stole our hearts.
The other day Kristen, Lindsey and I were outside playing with a couple children. Before we knew it, a crowd of thirty or so gathered to play. We spoke to a few older girls, maybe 12 years old, and asked if they knew any games and songs to lead the little ones in. For the next hour or so, the children played games and sang songs to our delight, and just like that, we were holding our own program with leaders and all! That afternoon reinforced our discovery that there is a huge demand for UrbanPromise International in Malawi. AfterSchool programs with holistic child development are unique and are enthusiastically embraced.
To what I can only imagine was a sign of gratitude for playing with him, one little boy brought a dead mouse for Kristen. All the children found it hilarious when she squealed in surprise. Another ‘you-know-you’re-in-Africa’ moment came when a little boy approached us and said, “My friend will ride a donkey if you take his picture.” Sure enough, Kristen got out her camera and took pictures of this boy riding his donkey. It was priceless.
Our trip is approaching its end. RiseMalawi was the final ministry to visit. Next on our agenda is an orientation at African Bible College in Lilongwe with cohorts 2 and 3, then off to Lake Malawi, where a retreat will be held with cohorts 1 and 2.
We have taken on a level of convenience as our group has grown. Traveling as a pack of five or more, relying on the aforementioned public bus system, and visiting YouthCare’s scattered sites, has led us to renting a vehicle. The only problem . . . . Who can drive a manual on the left side of an unmarked road where people and goats obviously do not know about jay-walking laws? It so happens that I gained much experience growing up shifting left-handed for my dad as he drove and drank coffee on the way to dropping me off at school. Partnering that with a few months of driving on the left-hand side of the road in Kiribati (granted there was only one road) and the art of orchestrated chaos that driving in Korea is, made me more than qualified to act as chaffer extraordinaire.
We saw both afterschool programs and visited SafeHaven (the orphanage for 11 boys). They were a silly group of guys. Most of them have lived there for the four years that SafeHaven has been in operation, and so you could tell that they are all close friends. We also had dinner with Maggie and her husband, Gilbert, who are Urban Promise International’s main contact at the African Bible College for recommending interns to enter into the program. She is actually taking a leave of absence to get a PhD at Eastern University (just outside Philadelphia). She and her husband will be coming to America at the end of August and will stay with Lindsey and I until an apartment is found. She had many questions for us; however, her main fears of freezing to death in America’s winter were put to rest.
Unfortunately we have not been successful in completing our trip without a hitch. Last night, while the four of us dinned down the hall from our rooms in the kitchen, Kristen’s shoulder bag went missing. There were multiple theories flying about, ranging from morphing lizards, to tiny hippos; however, it appeared most likely that someone had opened the window and reached through the bars to snatch what they could. The officials were notified, and shortly after six camo-sporting military men carrying an assortment of large semi-automatic weapons arrived on the scene. After some investigative work, they got their lead and sped off into the night, not before asking for gas money though (That’s just how things work, here in Malawi).
Incredibly, due to the tireless efforts of Malawi’s military, and the staff here at our hotel, especially Fred, Kristen’s hero, the bag was recovered with most of its contents. It has been an emotional 14 hours for Kristen, but the police kept reassuring her that they would get her bag back, and they did! So, we all tip our hats and give a gracious thank you to Malawi and the dedication they have shown us. This could have been a real trip downer, yet it has turned into an amazing story, with a happy ending. When we were relaying the story of what happened and the efforts by the police and hotel staff to the car rental people, they quickly laughed and said with a big smile, “that is why Malawi is the warm heart of Africa!”
The adventures continue as we head to Dowa in a few days to visit Za and Tinashe at RiseMalawi. I am not sure of the internet availability up there; yet, I will do my best to update in a few days.
We spent one more day with the children of ChristCares Ministry on Monday, sharing a meal, chit-chatting, getting to know them better and watching them sing and dance. You can see that they love the program and that it is having a holistically positive influence on them. It was wonderful to catch a glimpse into their lives and be moved by their smiles. Speaking of moved, on Saturday we visited the nine young women who are attending high school due to ChristCares. They are attending boarding high schools, meaning they live on the school compounds and only go home over breaks. When asked if they miss their families, they all responded “no” and giggled because this opportunity is so great. To have a safe place to get an education where meals are provided and there is time to study is priceless. Prior to the opportunity at these boarding schools, if these girls wanted to attend school, they had to travel great distances every day. One girl said that she had to walk 7 miles each way! The truly sad thing is that attacks and rapes are all too common among the paths that they have to walk. So, not only would she be required to walk 14 miles every day, but the constant threat of being raped is a heavy burden to bear. Could you make the trip? Not to mention you don’t get lunch (nor did you have breakfast), when you get home you need to help wash, cook and care for your brothers and sisters, then find time to study and do homework, all with the expectation of doing well in school. The obstacles are just too great. It is true that America is the land of opportunity. If you have the desire and ambition, there is a way to seek your dreams and better your future. In Malawi, if your lot is not right, it doesn’t matter how bad you may want it, it is impossible; unless there is something there to break the cycle, a catalyst to jump the track of despair . . . a mechanism like ChristCares. In a world where there is so much, it is amazing to see what so little can do. Meeting these girls and seeing the relief and hope in them was inspiring.
But now we have said our goodbyes, and although we are staying in Lilongwe, we are moving on to YouthCare Ministry, where we are meeting up with Gibozi Mphanzi. YouthCare has been established for five years, so it has had more time to grow roots and extend its branches. Lindsey and I will also meet up with Roger and Kristin Nielsen, who will be traveling with us for the remainder of our stay. That means we are at the two week/half-way marker of our visit. Traveling is funny, because there are so many new experiences, the days seem full and long, yet ‘time flies when you’re having fun’, so the weeks go fast. We will continue to soak up each and every moment.
Chisaleka is a village of roughly 2000 people. It sprawls over gentle hills across from a tobacco factory and corn mill on the outskirts of Lilongwe. The factory and mill employ some of the village’s men; nevertheless, it is a very poor area. Families of 8 can live on as little as (or as much as, depending on how you look at it) $1 a day. The conditions are difficult and survival depends on the crops you can grow. HIV/AIDS is prevalent and devastating. The cycle of poverty, though, is not predestined, nor does it need to be inherited from generation to generation. There is promise amongst the villagers and it lies in two young women. Melifa and Edith are the only children out of the entire village who are attending High School. The costs of school, the hardships of life and a broken education system have prevented thousands before them and will continue to prevent many after them. ChristCares Ministry, however, has targeted Chisaleka and its four neighboring villages, to holistically develop its youth through afterschool programs, HIV/AIDS awareness, and employment for potential leaders like Melifa and Edith to continue their education. Not only are these two young women able to afford an education due to ChristCares, but support, tutoring and encouragement are helping them flourish, in an otherwise impossible task. Their accomplishments so far have already inspired countless elementary and middle school students, placing them as role models in the village. To us, an education is taken for granted. Yet, something so seemingly simply, is incredibly powerful.
ChristCares, initiated by Robert Manda, has only been established for one year, yet its impact has profoundly touched the villages and families involved. Yesterday, we walked through Chisaleka and Chatata, meeting some of the afterschool children’s families and seeing their homes. We then saw the afterschool program in action, consisting of a feeding program, recreation, academics, and spiritual growth. It is obvious that the children love it, and many encouraging reports are coming back from their parents and teachers who say that the children are being transformed. The afterschool program is currently working with 40 children; yet, if there were doors, children would be breaking them down to participate. The demand is incredibly high. And as of today, nine young women are working with ChristCares to pay for their high school tuition. In addition, ChristCares has been confronting the HIV/AIDS pandemic by bringing leaders of the communities together and educating them through trainings and workshops so that they can in turn, educate the youth of their communities. As Peter and John return to join ChristCares, its capacity will increase, furthering opportunities for children and young leaders.
Lilongwe is a unique city in that there are pockets of highly populated areas, spread out and isolated by fields and trees. It is hard to see where the population of one million actually resides. As a result, transportation is an issue. Overcrowded, rundown mini-buses shuttle people on dilapidated roads, lined with vendors and those who cannot afford the buses and therefore walk. It is also a very dusty city. The red dirt that embodies Africa is fine grained and kicks up with the subtlest wind. White is not a recommended color to wear.
More to come . . .
July 6th is Malawi’s Independence Day. This year was the celebration of its forty-fifth anniversary of autonomy from Britain. In the bigger cities, like Lilongwe and Blantyre, activities such as soccer matches and traditional dancing are held in the stadiums. In villages like Luchenza, where we are staying, things are calmer, and families typically celebrate in their homes. This is not, however, the case for Project Teach and its 20 fourth and fifth graders, and six street leaders, who participated in the first annual Independence Olympics. A variety of fun games were organized for the children to compete in as teams. They really enjoyed themselves, and it was fun being a part of it. The most memorable moment came at the very end, when Sullivan gathered his street leaders for a “meeting”. In the meantime, we equipped all the children with water balloons. Inconspicuously we surrounded the street leaders and let fire all our water balloons, methodically soaking each leader. The children were SO excited! Lindsey also captured a great photo of the carnage in action. It was definitely a day to remember.
Tomorrow we are leaving Project TEACH and heading to Lilongwe to visit ChristCares, set up last year by Robert Manda. Sullivan will be driving us up the road to Lilongwe, which I hear is quite pot-hole ridden. Even if the trip is slow, the country side is incredibly beautiful, and there is always a lot of activity alongside the road, like markets, to view.
Visiting Project TEACH and spending time with Sullivan has been wonderful. We are looking forward to what lies ahead. Stay tuned . . .