As the doors of the plane open, Africa fills our senses.
The brightness, the heat, the smiles, the smells, the humidity. As we drive out of Blantyre, back onto the dirt roads, shaken and dusty, we see simple village life all around. But it’s tough here. Out in the bush, most live in acute poverty, and many struggle on a daily basis to feed their families. But we’re privileged to be here and the six weeks passes all too quickly. So what did we do?
All boreholes repaired are still working well, just in the last few months we’ve restored clean local drinking water to thousands of people There are still more to do!
This programme is still gradually expanding at a household level. As a pilot-scheme, it was decided to place goats in “Goat Clubs”, run by proven volunteers, the milk being given to vulnerable children in the villages. Two kraals have been built and each will initially house 3 female goats. It’s anticipated that this may ease monitoring and improve care, though each will still remain the property of OHP until redeemed by a female kid. Training in goat husbandry and milk production followed for all volunteers involved.
Over 60 rain-fed Agri-Gardens have now been harvested - so far many tons of maize has been treated and stored ready for distribution to the acutely vulnerable as the situation worsens. This will be the basis for tens of thousands of meals for the poor. Figures are a bit down - difficulties included water-logging, unavailability of suitable fertilizer, and an invasion of Army Worms! However, the subsistence farmers aren’t so fortunate, as the coupons promised for the Government-subsidised fertilizer failed to appear. It’s likely therefore that many will face serious shortage and hunger in a few months, despite all the hard work they did in their fields. Those in our target group – the orphans, elderly, disabled and chronically sick – always bear the brunt of scarcity, so we’ve bought in a few extra tonnes of maize while it’s at it’s cheapest to help them out later on. A 50Kg bag of fertilizer has soared to K4310 (over £16) - manure training is urgently ongoing. Vegetable seeds and fertilizers have been issued for irrigation gardens.
Report of Malawi trip - Apr/May 2007
Our goatman expressed the need for more expertise, so we engaged our local veterinary officer to prepare a two-week course to train staff in effective goat welfare and dairy management. This training - including feeding, milking, health care, breeding, record keeping and group dynamics has revolutionised the understanding of these men and given each a new perspective regarding the value of the project and their part in it.
We need to generate more milk and thereby increase our impact on the community. So we heard about, and sought, Saanen females - a non-African breed that apparently has the highest milk yield and quality but doesn’t fare well in the African climate. The plan is to establish a breeding programme to acquire 75% saanen breeding stock. However nothing is simple in Malawi. There were allegedly a few saanens in Lilongwe, a days’ journey away at the main Agricultural College, but they had none available.
Then we heard that there were possibly some about an hour and a half away, imported by an NGO, but tucked away deep in the bush with volunteers. We went over to see them, and were confronted by some of the scruffiest goats we’d ever seen! But their “pedigree” oozed potential, so hope to use one as stud.
Four orphaned babies and an extremely vulnerable little boy are currently being helped with goats’ milk. Helpers have seen radical changes in the health of these little ones - from “marasmas” where the whole body swells with malnutrition, and constant malaria, to a gradual increase in weight and well-being. Locals have been amazed and impressed by the effect the milk has had on these children.
Concerned that the guardians receiving OHP milk may have been redirecting it to their own children, wives of our staff formed two voluntary teams to supervise and ensure that only those on the Milk Programme received it.
Because many of the guardians are reluctant carers, the team have been bathing the children, washing their clothes and cleaning their environments.
Secondary School Fees for the 2nd term 07 were paid, along with relevant exam fees, and uniforms for new students. Unfortunately three of the girls sponsored had become pregnant, so have been replaced.
(More children are waiting - sponsorship costs £37 p.a. (2007)
In later weeks of our trip, this concept developed into the “Play Centre”. The ladies suggested gathering the children together first thing, feeding them a nutritious breakfast, then bathe them, do laundry, help them play and develop with loving attention and finally give them a fortified lunch before the guardians collect them again.
Just before we left we engaged a builder to renovate a building for this purpose, loaned to us free by the government and given the personal blessing of our Village Head. We could do with a sponsor to finance this ongoing work specifically! (about £35 - £50 p.m.).
We paid transport and medical expenses for the sick, supplied dozens of mosquito nets, blankets and emergency food for the poor. Unfortunately, one of our staff lost his 10 year old son, so we financed his funeral, and also supplied the coffin of one of our volunteers. Funerals are all too common in Malawi.
Our car - an ancient Toyota 4x4 - needs ongoing repair all the time. The roads in the remote areas are appalling - so we need something more reliable. While we were there the engine was taken out again, the pistons, rings and bearings replaced. Our motorbike and push-bikes have also been repaired. We remain desperately in need of another motor bike for Muona to cope with the enormous distances covered by our staff monitoring our Agri-Gardens, all currently done on a push-bike or by foot!
One of our groups of volunteers has re-roofed 5 houses of the elderly, and also banded together to do voluntary work at the local hospital, clearing litter, and supplying soap and other help to patients.
It was a fruitful, if exhausting trip!
We’ve made small business investments - usually between £5 - £10 for ladies to start a little business buying and selling maize, rice or vegetables. We also gave seeds to create market gardens.
We rebuilt this collapsed house - devastated by floods - for an elderly widow who is struggling to care for 3 orphans, and replaced a roof destroyed by fire.
The old stick-built milking stations had proved quite effective in design, but needed to be more permanent, so the brick-built version was just being completed as we left. There are 2/3 milking stations, designed for ease of useand cleaning, a store room, packed with 50 x 50kg sacks of maize bran, and an office for effective record keeping.
Additionally we’ve built a two-roomed khola for
males,fenced paddocks, and also bought the
fridge/freezer kindly donated by Ian & Jude Evans,
which has proved invaluable for milk storage.
And finally, we’ve met some of the children that are being sponsored by our friends in the UK, and all are very eager to let you know how much your kindness means to them, and how much they appreciate your help with their education.
In turn, they’ve been carrying wood and sand to help build the Dairy Unit, fencing, and new Khola being built for our male goats. Many have also benefited from the mosquito nets donated as part of our Christmas Gift Scheme last year.