This April, I was privileged to be able to visit David and Lynda Mills and see their work among the poor in Malawi, first hand.
I arrived at Blantyre airport, surrounded by impressive mountains on three sides and was glad to see David & Lynda waiting to collect me.
I was woken at dawn by the sound of the local people working happily in the fields. This year the rain has been good and the harvest had arrived. People sang, laughed and chatted as they worked.
My first day was spent visiting a hospital with one of the project staff. We feared he had contracted malaria, which is endemic in the region. The state hospital is free but often only has paracetemol, so instead we went to the Christian hospital where they usually have drugs. It comprised of three bare rooms, the first with a table, chair and a stern looking nurse who questioned my companion on his symptoms. We were then ushered into the treatment room, bare but for a bench, a microscope and a small tray of chemicals. “What about the needles?” I asked, concerned about Malawi’s frighteningly high HIV rate. They had a supply of new needles, - I don’t know what they do if they run out. Blood test completed, diagnosis malaria. Unfortunately they had no medicine today, so he would have to return tomorrow.
Back at the house, Lynda was visited by a young woman, Esther, who had heard that “Open Hand” - (the Projects’ name in Malawi), - “helped the most needy.” She thought that she was maybe 18 - dates and time mean little here and few people know their exact age. She cradled an 18-month-old boy in her arms. Married, her husband had built a traditional house of two rooms from mud and grass and then promptly deserted her. Things got desperately difficult and she and her young son ended up in hospital with acute malnutrition. A month later she returned to find the life-giving rains had washed away her house. She had been living in the open for the past month and was hungry. When we visited her, we found her living in the ruins, surrounded by her entire world possessions, comprising of: the clothes she stood up in, one small cooking pot and a broken washing up bowl.
At the same time we observed that the village water pump was not working. The Government installed the pumps years ago, and trained some villagers to maintain them. Sadly, with malaria, TB and HIV, often the trained people die before the pump does and the knowledge with them. Even if someone knows how to fix the pump, the cost of spares is beyond the resources of the local people.
At this point I witnessed the work of David & Lynda, establishing Community Gardens. We went to visit the Village Head - in this case a woman. At first she was apprehensive, alarmed at the sudden appearance of three “azungo’s” (white people), but her appearance was gradually transformed to elation as the prospect of a new Community Garden was explained. “Open Hand” gives seed, fertilizer, training and administration. The village gives land and volunteers. The harvest is freely given to the poorest in that community, especially orphans, the elderly, disabled and the chronically sick. In tight knit communities such as these, the locals want to help their needy but lack the resources to do so. The news that we would also like to fix their well brought a big celebration. Three villages used that well and it had last worked 5 months ago. People had been walking miles to the nearest bore-hole to collect water. Working, the whole community would benefit, and there would also be water to irrigate their Community Garden. We planned to rebuild Esther’s house.
“A Visitor’s View” ....... By Jim Huegett, May 2006
I feel very privileged to have had such an opportunity to visit Malawi, and also to be able to share a little of it with you.
All too soon my time in Malawi was at an end and it was time to face the roads back to Blantyre. I could write very much more about my time there but have picked just a few highlights.My overwhelming memories of Malawi, are of its wonderful and friendly people. Although desperately poor and many are dressed in rags, people have time to greet each other and are overjoyed to welcome a visitor.
I was also struck by the meticulous accounting of David & Lynda. They pledge that every penny given to Aid Africa will go to the poor and I can assure anyone that this is what happens, in a way that fosters dignity and responsibility in the recipient. The desire is that people are empowered to help themselves and the needy around them, not become dependent on aid or westerners, - giving a hand-up, not hand-out.
So the community gardens continue to increase, the staff administrates them all from planting to distribution of harvest, on foot or push-bike, covering many miles in the blistering heat.
Therefore, a motor-bike is desperately needed, as the most economic and appropriate transport for these road. Any ideas anyone?
I was surprised at the density of the population stretching out in every direction and charmed by Malawi’s children forming the vast majority.
My first impressions as we drove out of town en route for Chiringa, a rural village close to the border with Mozambique,where Aid Africa/Open Hand Projects is based, was everything I had expected of Africa. It was colourful, noisy,and chaotic, but nothing prepared me for the roads we would negotiate for the next four hours. At the edge of town the tarmac ends and the road becomes something akin to a dried up mountain riverbed. In places it amazed me that any vehicle could get through at all. We arrived in darkness at a house with no electricity, set up the mosquito nets, consumed a small bowl of goat stew and settled down for the night.