It was only through supporters that things were accomplished in the village in Malawi this summer. If you saw the pictures and read our blog- A well was built, bricks for a school building were made, an empowering woman’s project was started, 70 children started to receive a free meal a day and were educated in early language development. It was only because people in Montreal bought gift cards, supported me in my 40 days of water challenge, attended a fundraising BBQ’s, bought african jewerly and home baked cinnamon buns and bought raffle tickets for a concert that all this was accomplished in Malawi. We were only the vehicle for your good works :)
Please be patient as I will ask you again, or for the first time, to contribute in some way. It is only by people’s support that we can move forward in the next phases of the project and:
Pay for a local doctor to perform check ups on the children and provide medication
Pay for the construction of the various school buildings (Secondary 1 will hopefully begin in September 2012)
Hire teachers and a principal
Provide training for a group of women to start their own little artisan business
Fund salaries for Sarah the Pre-School teacher and Agnus the assistant teacher and for Rodrick to coordinate all the ongoing projects in Liwonde.
If you want to get involved by helping to plan fundraisers or you wish to go on a future trip to Malawi to train teachers, etc, please don’t hesitate to let me know.
Above all, please keep Liwonde, Malawi in your hearts and share about this little village with others. Soon my sister will have a introductory video about the project that can be shared.
Currently I am still selling gift cards through Fundscrip so look for my notices about this.
Once again, a big thank you for reading, reflecting, praying and hoping with me.
So here is my last blog, a little late, more than a month since I’ve been back in Montreal. I must admit, there was an abrupt stop to the blogs and the reason being was HEALTH. Meaghan, my sister, got sick with Malaria. It was our last few days in Malawi and we were back at Rodrick’s house in Lilongwe and had plans to write, edit, blog and to wrap everything up before our departure.
Driving back from Liwonde, Meaghan started complaining of stomach pains and headache. Nothing too serious so we weren’t concerned. When she wasn’t any better on the Saturday we talked about going to the clinic just to check up and be safe that there wasn’t anything serious or if she had some sort of bug we could get the medication in time before our flight home on Wednesday. That evening we took her to a Malawian run clinic since the western clinic was no longer open. It was a very short wait and we were in the doctor’s office talking about her symptoms and then listening to the doctor lecture Meaghan about not taking Malaria anti-viral pills and so on. He did a quick test by pricking her finger and dropping the blood on what looked like a pregnancy test. A red line appeared which apparently confirmed that the she had Malaria. Soon after we had some more official blood tests done which confirmed the same but right away the doctor wanted her to start on the hard meds to kill the malaria parasites now in her body that had traveled to her liver, destroying red blood cells. She was given an IV, an injection of pain medication as well as the oral treatment medication and we stayed over night in the hospital waiting to hear if the treatment was working and watching Meaghan’s fever. Whenever Meaghan was asleep or i left her for a second to get her clothes and tooth brush or to speak to a nurse i got very nervous. It was one thing to have her awake, joking around together and another to leave her side or watch her sleep and not know that everything was okay. I can’t imagine how my parents were feeling. I kept them up to date on all the treatments, Meaghan’s status and general mood. I left out how I was freaking out for obvious reasons. “Stay calm and composed Liz. Just get the facts and don’t worry” I kept telling myself.
Because this was the end of the trip I was really looking forward to wrapping things up and preparing to come home. I was looking forward to resting and having a break from constantly controlling my emotions and reactions. It was not easy to face noticeable poverty and a severe lack of medical care every single day. I was reading the interviews that Rodrick and Sarah had taken of woman who were living with HIV AIDS. I was holding children who had skin infections on their head, I was making sure one of the HIV positive children had her individual spoon and bowl when she ate her porridge so she didn’t catch a cold from another child. I was trying not to squirm when i saw a little girl with ring worm in her ear. I was frustrated when i couldn’t find a bar of soap to wash my hands and then reflected on how there was no soap to be found anywhere in the village. All of this, I realize now, was being bottle up inside me. To really dwell and get depressed about it would mean i wasn’t helping and moving things forward for better so i just kept suppressing it. Now, i found myself with my sister very ill with a deadly disease and again i had to keep it all inside, stay composed and make sure Meaghan and my parents were all alright. It was the hardest day that i can remember going through.
Health is a constant preoccupation, at home in Canada we worry about the delay in our next medical check up or we fret over our new born baby feeling too hot and debating whether we should rush him to the hospital. We care deeply about our health and those of our loved ones, pushing them to get a reoccurring cough checked out and we stress to our children the importance of washing hands thoroughly to avoid spreading a flu. In Malawi, in the village in Liwonde, I can only remember a few parents of the 70 who didn’t include Malaria on the list of illnesses their child had. We visited the local hospital which is too far for them to reach my foot and they had no supplies to test for malaria and medication was in short supply if not out of stock. The locals then turn to the Shawmen and pay whatever little they have for some natural concoction which is promised to treat the illness. Life just continues but I have no doubt that the fear I had for Meaghan’s health is shared by the mothers in Liwonde.
Meaghan is well, the following day after being discharged from the clinic we went immediately to the western clinic to get a second opinion on the treatment given and whether she could fly home the next day. It turns out everything had been done thoroughly and we were good to fly. Meaghan was weak but even the next day I noticed a real improvement. She flew to Lebanon and I to Montreal and a week and a half later we were reunited in Montreal. Apparently the strain of Malaria in Malawi is not reoccurring and Meaghan’s blood tests came back clean. Funny enough she will have immunity the next time in Malawi so she won’t have to take the anti-viral medication.
I think back and realize how lucky we were, we are, to have such quit access to drugs and health services. My hope now is to have the villages in Liwonde have the same opportunity. Before leaving Malawi we discussed with Rodrick and Sarah about finding a local doctor to make bi-monthly visits to the village and check up on the children in the Feeding/Pre-School program and give them medication as needed. This is another area of funding that needs to be raised but I am starting to gain more and more confidence through people’s verbal support since i have been back that we can raise enough money to improve the health standard in the village and give the parents some reassurance and peace of mind like I felt with Meaghan.
I am back in Montreal, back to my regular work days. I had a bad cold for a couple of weeks. It went away. I have some peace of mind that it didn’t end up being a tropical diseases. I hope the villagers in Liwonde to be so lucky.
If you would like to take part by supporting or being involved, please read my blog post about helping to make a difference.
It has now been a week since we started the Pre-school Feeding program. We are up to 70 kids who have registered. The program has been going well. Sarah seems very at ease teaching the kids. She brings a lot from her own experiences. In the mornings, before porridge, she will often lead the kids in repeating after her the 7 days of the week, the 12 months of the year and the alphabet. The children seem to love repeating what is said. One of the activities they do with the kids is to sing “I sit, I sit, I sit” or “I run, I run, I run” and the teacher does the action and the kids shout back and mirror her actions.
The porridge breakfast is usually ready shortly before 10am. When the kids are served, everything becomes so quiet. They all sit, with a bowl next to them and slowly spoon porridge in their mouths. Following breakfast, they wash their hands and have some free play time. We brought chalk for them to draw on the ground, some toys for active play and a book of letter s for others to sit and look at. They love to see you draw on the ground and will just continue to hand you their piece of chalk so you can draw something for them.
After free play the kids are gathered again and sit to play a listening game. The teachers handbook on phonemic awareness gave several suggestions so I have coached Sarah in leading some of them. Then the kids are taught a letter of the day. We brought a full alphabet that is taped on the wall every morning so the kids can see the letter they are learning. Sarah mentioned to Rodrick when we first showed her the items we brought that she felt privileged to be able to teach with these items. She didn’t know of any pre-school or primary school that was so lucky. To put things in context, I bought those letter posters and some little children’s ABC books for no more than $20.00 at the Dollarama back home. Very little goes a long way here!
After introducing the letter of the day, I have coached Sarah to lead the children in a letter game. I bought a Bananorama game that is similar to scrabble with letters on little squares. The game consists of 6 children being handed different letter, one of the children gets the letter of the day. Then the children are all asked to stand up and disperse in the room. They must go to up to the six children who have the letters and ask them to see the letter. They must figure out who has the letter of the day. A few minutes pass and the children are gathered all together and sit down but the six children stand at the front and one by one the teacher asks if this was the student with the letter of the day until they have guessed the right student and he/she shows their letter again to everyone. We have only done this game once so far and the children and Sarah had a more difficult time grasping the concept. What I am learning though is repetition, repetition. Things do not sink in on the first attempt.
It is exciting to see the children so energetic and smiley. Even the little ones haven’t been crying as much anymore. I think we are all learning a lot through this and adjusting as we go. The 1 ½ to 2 year olds will probably not stay for the lesson after lunch as they are often just crying. Agnes, the assistant teacher who is part of the village has been great at taking the little ones under her wing. Meg has also really liked taking care of the little ones, picking them up when they cry and letting them fall asleep in her arms.
We have three more days at the Pre-School program, I will be sorry to leave but I really feel like we are leaving the kids in good hands. The mothers in the community are volunteering to prepare the porridge and to wash up after the meal. Agnes and Sarah seem to have everything under control, and all the equipment is bought and a year’s worth of maize and soy to make the porridge is bought will be stored safely in a locked house in the community. What’s left now is to continue supporting and coaching Sarah with keeping a structure to the program, using the resources (teacher’s manual) and reminder the kids to go to the bathroom in the one designated area (yes, this unfortunately can’t be assumed as general knowledge, the ground is a free for all).
Yesterday I typed on computer all the information we gathered about the kids when they registered. We hope to look this over in more details and maybe target certain kids who could be sponsored. One girl named Catherine is HIV positive, the father has died and the family struggles to get support or medication for her. Others are part of a single parent household or may have both parents but the parents are unable to find enough work and can’t manage to find clothes. Others have health issues such as persistent fever or persistent stomach aches. We don’t have the means to get these kids seen by a doctor right now and the government hospitals don’t even have any supplies to be able to test for Malaria. Almost every registration we took mentioned Malaria as a known illness of the child. We will be looking into ways to address the health issues of these children. “If I had a million dollars” as the Bare Naked Ladies sing.
I am encouraged by the program and Rodrick seems to be too. I think we have both learned a lot from the previous Feeding program he started while at Scripture Union and we have gone into this knowing a lot already thanks to that experience. I think we are starting a solid program. Sarah will be able to keep us updated as well on the progress of everything. Eventually we will want to hire more teachers as the ratio 1-35,40 kids is pretty outrageous. Until then, Sarah and Agnes will hopefully feel everyone’s support. Courageous women they are!
We are going to be selecting women from the community to give them some training on making African jewelry that they can sell in Liwonde to tourists but that can also we shipped to Canada to sell as fundraisers. The hope is to empower the women and give them a small source of income. On Sunday we will interview a bunch of the women who are interested. We came up with some key guiding questions so that we can find out as much as possible about their financial, medical and family situation in order to select the beneficiaries of the training program. Are they single parents, have they taken orphans in, do they take care of the elderly, do they or their children/dependents have any health issues, and so on. I am excited for this and I think it will be wonderful to be able to take their crafts back and tell people about the women who have made them.
Unfortunately there has been delays in getting this off and running. The chief of the village is a challenging man to work with. God Bless Rodrick for having the patience to work with him. He tried to take over this initiative and select women who he wanted to do it (women he knew personally). We were suppose to start the selection last Sunday and he called Rodrick to cancel it because he said their was a death and the community couldn’t gather, they needed to grieve together. We of course cancelled only to later find out that it wasn’t a confirmed death yet and the young man was in South Africa so there was no telling when the supposed dead body would be brought to the village. Obviously this was just an attempt by the chief to thwart the plans. Dispite this man’s lack of character, he still seems willing to listen to Rodrick and even take in his advice and rebukes. Rodrick has an amazing way of openly confronting people while maintaining their respect and making them laugh at the end of the whole discussion. I am very happy that it is a Malawian, and that it is Rodrick specifically who is doing all this ground work. I am certain I would have become very frustrated and wanted to just leave and work with a different community. He is a man of endless patience and determination.
Yesterday we finally arrived in Liwonde. We are without a house but have instead found a hostel to stay in. We will be requesting our money back for the house as it was supposed to be ready on the 11th!
Today we went to the village where WHEAMS (Warm Heart Missions)is building their multi-model project. Before I left for Malawi I forwarded some money so two of the projects could be started. Firstly, we want to build a proper water well. Secondly we are having brick made which will serve to build the first building of the WHEAMS Secondary School. Today we checked on the progress of these.
Water hole: The water well is underway. It is being dug manually. It is now three weeks in and the well is over 8 meters deep. It should reach up to 25 feet in total. It was amazing to watch the man climb his way out of the hole!
Brick making: a father from the community has taken the brick making contract. He and his 4 sons were busy at work as we arrived. To make bricks, firstly the soil/clay must be taken from the ground when it is wet. It is placed in a mold and then left to dry. Then the bricks are piled in a tee-pee like shape leaving holes along the bottom so that wood fires can be built at the base and then the bricks can be cooked so that they turn red. As we watched them transport the bricks from piles to the firing site I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed at how huge a task it all was. Rodrick said that we should be there by the time they light the fires or kilns, to cook the clay into bricks.
In all there were 50 000 bricks.
Pre-school Feeding Program: Today, we met many of the children and the women who will take part in the feeding program. The children are roughly between 2 and 5 years old. The parents seemed very happy that this program will be offered to their children. Our program will be as such: The children will gather every week day morning at 8 to have a bowl of nutritious porridge, and then, they will be gathered to be taught a lesson of the day. The lessons come from a teachers manual about early language specifically regarding Phonemic Awareness (learning the sounds that make up words). The English resource teacher at my school gave this too me as an essential teaching document for any child whom you want to eventually teach how to read, write and speak. The basic program is a series of different games to lead with children to cover different topics in early language learning. After the children have their lesson of the day, they will put their lesson into practice by playing different games. Then they will have some time for free play where they will have a choice to play in 4 different stations (areas). Language station, chalk drawing station, pretend play station and finally a sports or outdoor games station.
Today we spent time gathering information about each child; name, age, date of birth, height, weight, known illnesses, allergies and family background. So far we have registered 40 kids.
What was most shocking to me is that almost every parent said that their child suffered from Malaria. This will need to eventually be investigated and if need be, provide some education to the community about the importance of using mosquito nets. We would hopefully also provide some treatment. For another trip and/or future fundraising project.I have to tell myself.
We expect to see other kids attending and registering in the coming days. Probably those children who are without a parent or grandparent who could have brought them during registration
Sarah, a young women from a neighboring community, will become the children’s teacher. As Rodrick and discussed the Pre-School Feeding Program we really felt that we would need an experienced teacher who is on salary to run the program. Someone who was dependable.
Someone who could speak and read English (so that the Teacher’s manual could be used), someone who could continue documenting about the children’s progress and keep in communication with Rodrick about how the program is going (Lilongwe is a good 270km from Liwonde). She is a wonderful women who is married and has a one year old girl of her own. The community is excited to have a teacher from an outside community.
I will write more on Thursday as we will go back and see the start of the program and set up the free play stations. Pictures say a thousand words so please check out the wonderful pictures Meaghan has taken from today. Just follow the link above.
It’s Wednesday, 9am. I’m up and ready, bags are packed and I’m just making sure they’re by the door and ready for a quick car load-up and take off. Today we head to Liwonde, the community where we will be working to start up the feeding and pre-school program. Yesterday we ran around Lilongwe running errands and buying odds and ends for the project. Rodrick spent all night in a filling station queue for the petrol we will need (see Lizzy’s entry about the petrol crisis). This morning he has gone to get the car windows fixed (I suppress the urge to tell him the car needs a lot more fixed than just the windows. We are working with a humble, fundraised budget, afterall). All we need now are the soya beans.
It’s 4pm when Rodrick comes home to see my packed bags. He sits down with a sigh and a shy smile. “Well, there are a few hiccups…” I’m in a good mood, feeling patient and poised after a day of reading and relaxing. Surely it’s no big deal.
“I got three of the windows fixed, but one is still broken.” Okay…
“They told me the house won’t be ready until Sunday.” Hmm…
“And the soya provider backed out.” Ah.
“So I will go and find some from someone else.”
“Yes, today. Or if I don’t find it today, then tomorrow.”
It’s Sunday, 3pm. I’m chilling out on the couch with Lizzy. We’re trying to make ourselves feel useful by planning activities for the project. This has become our source of distraction from the fact that we’ve basically been stranded for five days in a (remarkably warm and loving, but…) house, waiting for the green light.
It’s 5pm. Rodrick comes home, exhausted, but pleased. ”I found the soya. Let’s go get it.”
Why didn’t he bring it back with him, you ask? Because he has been riding around on buses from North to South, trying to save our petrol so that we don’t have to queue again. He has been sleeping on friends’ couches.
So we’re off toward the soya provider, relieved to be out of the house and finally seeing our departure in sight. Rodrick is driving remarkably fast (70 clicks versus his usual 40 (coming from Lebanon, this in itself requires a great deal of hardcore zen mental exercises)), perhaps out of excitement or sheer desire to finally get this over with.
We arrive. We wait in the car. Half an hour later, Rodrick comes back with some man with a beer bottle in his fist. “The man’s not here, but we’ll go see his brother.”
We drive for a minute, then stop again. Both men get out, and we wait in the car. Half an hour later (or so, I think. My approximations of time have become rough estimates between ‘short’: 5-15 minutes; ‘medium’: 20-40 minutes; or ‘long’: anything more), he comes back. We count the money out. He goes back to finish the deal.
A ‘medium’ time later, he comes back with two men and they start loading the bags in the trunk of his rental. Each bag weighs 50kilos. The car sinks with each new load. I cringe.
Rodrick leaves with them once they’ve loaded 4 bags into the trunk. A ‘medium’ time later he hands us two fistfuls of soya beans and jumps in the driver’s seat. We roll for maybe 2 feet before hearing a dreadful crunching noise coming from the right-rear wheel. He gets out to inspect. A ‘short’ time later, he and another man have unloaded all of the bags and we’re off again, empty-handed.
The story ends nicely, I promise.
First, let me just take a second to make a Note To Self: may I never forget Rodrick’s calm and kind smile after these past 5 days of endless trials and errors, backs and forths, and obstacles. If he can not only keep his cool, but maintain his poise, dignity and sense of perspective after all of this, then I have to learn to chill out when worrying about missing ingredients for dinner-parties, or when thinking about all the things that could go wrong in a meeting with my directors. End note.
By a stroke of genius, Rodrick speeds up, honking and flashing his high-beams excitedly at a van ahead. “Maybe they can take the soya.”
A ‘short’ time later, Lizzy’s in the driver’s seat, following a van 500 kilos heavier with soya. We are laughing and sharing our amazement at the absurdity of these endless complications. Lizzy’s enjoying left hand driving (Malawi was colonized by the Brits), which she says makes more sense. (She also called herself backwards earlier on. Just saying.)
We – or rather Rodrick, Edward and the boys (Tiyamike and Tandala) – unload, with obvious pains, the 500 kilos and we share a high-five with Rodrick. Tomorrow we’re off. For real. Unless, of course, something happens…