Muli bwanji!

malawiblogpic1_6dg_hopehivThat’s hello in Chichewa. Welcome to the first blog from the 6DG Hope trip to Malawi. The first impression we got, from the moment our feet hit the tarmac at the airport in Blantyre, was “it’s chaos”. Everywhere you look, it’s chaotic; ramshackle buildings and facilities with some strangely serene people relaxing amidst the hustle and bustle.

Malawi is a study in contrast. It’s one of the poorest countries in the world but also one of its most beautiful. Craggy mountain ranges frame the view from almost every angle, surrounding vast valleys with sprawling rivers, the lowland terrain flat as a pancake.

It’s a kaleidoscope of colour. The ground is a riot of reddish and orange hues, an auburn autumnal shade the likes of which youmalawiblogpic2_6dg_hopehiv don’t find anywhere else. The mud is baked hard by the sub-equatorial African sun but the sky sprinkles just enough rain around to paint the terrain with lush greens from grassland and trees. The majestic rivers add blue to the palate and provide an environment for the odd hippo, crocodile and elephant to relax.

Our first visit was to Kanyenda, a village about an hour’s drive outside of Blantyre. We were greeted on arrival by about 100 people running up to our car, singing and dancing. It was overwhelming and touching and incredibly joyful.
 The project here is a success story; HOPEHIV stopped funding it a year ago after three years in partnership with them – sustainability is crucial to their model – and it was previously managed by the Salvation Army. The guys who ran the project for the SA were Bosco and Mozeo who acted as our translators.

On arrival we were led into the Community Hall built by the SA to be introduced to everybody properly. There are 108 children in the community, many of whom are orphans and many others have only one parent. All are poor. Poor but happy. They opened up with a show – drums and singing and dancing.

We next heard about kids clubs and the work that the “AA Club” does. They are the “Great Mothers and Great Fathers” who look after the vulnerable children to ensure that they get the support they need, stay in school to get an education, and ultimately that they’re safe.

malawiblogpic3_6dg_hopehivThe children shared stories from their “memory books” and their “journals of life” – tools that the guardians at the Kids Club use to help them to remember who they are, who their parents were and other key facts from their lives.

A central tenet of the programme is to teach them Child Rights. The most important rights are the right to protection and education. If they are abused, they learn how to report it and to whom, then it is dealt with by the elders, sometimes via the police. Other rights include the right to have a name, the right to life (and to go to hospital if sick), the right to play with their friends, the right to “appropriate work” (e.g. not being forced to collect water in 30 litre buckets when they can only really carry 10 litres), and the right to help their parents.

After the formal parts, it was play time. We brought bubbles, Frisbees, stickers, kicked a ball around and joined in with sack races and dancing.
malawiblogpic4_6dg_hopehiv

The children love just to shake hands, high five, have their photo taken, any interaction is appreciated.

malawiblogpic5_6dg_hopehiv

Bubbles are always a favourite!

malawiblogpic6_6dg_hopehiv

After we’d played with the children it was time for more serious matters. We went on three home visits to help us understand the scale of the challenge. We’ll give you more details when we get back to the UK but for now, we’ll tell you the story of Eric.

Eric is 9. His dad died last year and his mum has lost most of her sight to disease. He is one of four children living in a hut the size of a garden shed. Like most in Malawi, they exist on a dollar a day or less. His elder brother, aged 14, has to do “piece work” – hard manual labour for pennies. Eric has to look after his mum and two younger siblings, doing all the cooking. But he still manages to go to school and to kids club and wants to be a doctor.

Their situation is common; it’s not hopeless but it’s only one rung up from desperate. They’re on a positive path. If Eric can stay in school, he has a chance. They haven’t got much but they still have hope. We’ve been stunned by the joy, despite the poverty, that these children have. Their bravery in coping with circumstances beyond our comprehension is breathtaking.

We’ll talk to you again tomorrow. Zi komo!