Tales from Malawi: Blog #2

Earlier in 2017, Lucy and Gussie visited Malawi for the first time ever, to meet the Build A School team and visit the projects funded by EGG. Here is Lucy's second blog written in Malawi:

Today was absolutely unreal. Words cannot truly explain all that we have seen in just one day, but I will try to relay what we did, and how special it is for us to be here.

We were picked up by Ann at 9.30am, and first of all we visited the Shopping centre to get SIM cards and food snacks for the day. The contrast from the town and surrounding area to the shopping centre was just so surreal - two different worlds within a few hundred meters. We could have been home in New Zealand in the supermarket (until the power cut and the entire place was left in pitch black darkness!!).

We drove to nearby Kalumba village, where all the Build A School (EGG's partnered organisation) headquarters and ongoing projects are based. We walked through the village and into the area where Kalumba school is. Everywhere we walked, people stared or called out "Mzungu!!" ("White person!!"), and smiled and waved or came up to shake our hands the Malawian way (normal handshake, then clasped thumbs, then back to normal handshake). As we walked through the red-brown mud (it's well into the rainy season here and the roads are atrocious), Grieve (the chairman of Build a School) told us about the cultural practice of the Sangoma (a local person chosen by all the people to tell the fortunes of the community) and the Chichewa people (the indigenous and most populous group of Malawi). He explained some of the complexities in the struggle between cultural traditions such as dancing and ceremonies with western influences like the adopted religion of Christianity.

We arrived at the centre of Kalumba village, where the school makes up a large part of the communal space there. The school is a Build a School project, but not one that EGG has helped with (yet!!). It's hard to explain the kinds of challenges there are here for education but hopefully some photos might help show the struggles. We discussed how the government fails to fund any school construction, how water quality and sanitation issues prevent kids (especially girls) from attending school, and even prevents schools from opening in the first place. Here, teachers face enormous challenges (underpaid, overworked, and most move in from other areas so need accomodation provided). Kalumba school has a roll of 1138 children and a total of 8 classrooms (!!).

We walked around one of the classroom blocks, and the school principal came up to us, and was introduced to us by Grieve and Ann. Next minute, he took us into one of the classrooms where a meeting was being held between 14 of the chiefs from the surrounding area. We were totally put on the spot as they paused their meeting to meet us and Grieve explained the work we do in Malawi. He spoke to them in Chichewa (the native language) and translated to us in English. The head chief at the meeting then gave a speech thanking us for our work and outlining the challenges for girls here and the importance of education. Grieve then asked us to speak in return and we had the enormous honour of addressing the chiefs and explaining our work and why we do it. It was all so surreal and incredibly special to have been able to experience. Then, the chiefs asked to have a photo taken with us!!

We then continued a tour of the village, including seeing the construction of a high school by USA aid funds (a local working on the site made a chide comment about the funding drying up soon as a result of Trump's recent victory). We then had a tour of the Build a School land and headquarters before returning to Grieve's home for lunch. Another amazing experience to visit a true Malawian house (complete with thatched roof as is traditional)!

The afternoon was spent visiting Mitundu village and walking through the markets there. Here, we were completely immersed in village life and I've never been struck by such poverty in all my life. Again, it is hard to put into words what the experience was like so I hope photos will do it justice! Our eyes were on stalks taking in the surroundings. Children ran around in rags with bare feet and legs covered in mud, and carried their own infant siblings on their backs. Chicken feet sizzled in vats of cooking oil, cattle pulled rickety carts, and bicycles with enormous loads dodged the throngs of people walking along the muddy market front. These scenes are forever imprinted in my mind.

We bought some colourful chitenje (fabric used by the local women to wrap as skirts or swaddle babies on their backs) so hopefully we will stand out a little less tomorrow! On the drive home, Ann showed us the local university so we have an idea of all the levels of education here (tomorrow we are visiting an orphanage for babies up to 18 months). We also stopped by Ann's place before going into town to get things for the orphanage tomorrow (nappies, baby soap and powder, baby wipes), and then getting - of all things - KFC for dinner.

An absolutely unreal day, and one that I feel I have failed to sum up adequately here. It is becoming more and more clear what challenges and complexities there are here for people and for education of girls, but at the same time I feel like I can never truly appreciate what the people here experience every day. For now, it's a lot to process and quite emotionally draining, but overwhelmingly rewarding at the same time. I feel like I've been in Lilongwe a week already given all we have seen today. Tomorrow promises to be just as jam packed so I'll sign off here. Stay tuned! Lilongwe has much to teach us all.


Lucy Tothill