I thought you might like to know how things are going out here in the African Bush. As you may know, my husband David, and I, came out here for four months, to work with orphans and help in any way we could. We’re half-way through our trip now, and despite the challenges of rural life, we’re loving it.
AID AFRICA - our local appeal, has been startlingly effective in the UK. Unexpectedly an avenue of opportunity to help the very poorest and most vulnerable in the remote villages here in Malawi, has opened up before us. The finance raised by AID AFRICA has the potential to change hundreds of lives here.
“OPEN HAND PROJECTS” is the working title of our programme locally. Malawi has had another disastrous harvest, and just in the past couple of months, the price of maize - the staple diet - has gone up 35%. It’s already out of the reach of the poorest, and they’ve only their own “gardens” (in drought conditions) to sustain themselves and their extended families - often including orphans. Our first project has been establishing “Community Agri-Gardens”. These are not the English rose-garden type with manicured lawns, but small fields of previously rough land, worked by volunteers, to feed the poorest in their cluster of villages. “Open Hand” supplies seed, pesticides, fertilizer, some tools, agricultural advice and training. The volunteers do the work, and the poor reap the benefit. We’ve met the local “dignitaries”, the Group, and Village Headmen, who’ve embraced our scheme with enthusiasm which is not surprising as hunger is always their biggest problem, especially among our target group - orphans, the elderly, disabled, and AIDS-affected. No welfare state here!
So our gardens are in varying stages of preparedness and growth. Mustard is a common and valuable crop. It looks like a long, full lettuce, but you strip off the outer leaves, leaving the crown growing, to make “relish”, the accompaniment to “nsima” - a maize porridge. I was presented with an armful of mustard leaves this week - the first fruits of the project, to be passed on to the vulnerable - an exciting experience!
Letter from Malawi - July 2005
We have over twenty gardens now, mostly around this area, but also four just about to come onto line further south in the Nsanje region It’s very hot down there, and even though the ground is more fertile because of past flooding, the area is very poor with the children in rags. We expect the crops in these gardens to save lives. Where there is a water supply now, we’re urgently planting a winter crop, so the harvest will be available about Christmas, when hunger is due to turn to starvation for many. It’s a lot of hard work, but I love it. We have our own Agricultural Advisor, a retired government advisor, who monitors the gardens, advises on and calculates the most economical treatments and will train the volunteers in all the newest and most productive ways of farming. In the more southern region the Agricultural Advisor of World Vision is enthusiastic and has offered to help sort those gardens as they’re about 7 hours drive away from here.
Malawi is a beautiful country in a mess. AIDS is reaping a grim harvest.
The orphan situation is in crisis, healthcare very basic, and education minimal. The level of poverty out here in the remote areas is hard for me to grasp. I was chatting to one lady, a retired teacher, and I asked her about life in her village. She told me about her negligible maize harvest, destroyed by drought, and cotton - her cash crop - also failed. So I asked about how she buys food. She doesn’t. A ruined harvest means no income, and I mean NO income. I asked if her fellow villagers would have any money in their own homes? Probably not a single kwacha (1/2p in England). I can’t conceive this kind of poverty, what
with our credit cards, bank accounts, and internet banking - it not
only seems a different world, but a different galaxy!
However, most of the people we’ve met are hardworking, gentle,
they smile easily with a quiet nobility - it truly is a privilege to be here.