A Reflection on Malawi
Aug 18, 2010
I am home from Malawi about 3 weeks now. I got my photographs developed today. Deciding which ones to print was difficult so in the end I just printed them all. The reason I couldn’t decide was because they all have a memory, a story behind them. Its al lot of pictures for anyone to look at but for me they relive my experience of Malawi and the wonderful people I met. The striking thing about all my photographs is that in everyone of them, the people are smiling, whether it’s the children in Áras Kate, playing or painting, playing outside or drawing, they are always happy. The photographs of ourselves show clearly that everyone wants to be there and is only too delighted to participate in whatever activity is taking place.
The question everyone asks me now is “How did you get on in Malawi? And “What was it like?” These questions cannot be answered in a couple of sentences, they are almost impossible to answer without first explaining what the place is like. In reality it is a world apart from Ireland. A short explanation doesn’t do it justice, there’s always more that can be said about the place, the people, the schools etc.
Malawi has changed me. It has changed my outlook, my perspective on so many things, but especially the issue of poverty and inequality. We were born lucky; we have so many opportunities on our doorstep. We can complain about the recession, blame the government, banks, complain about gender inequality in the work place, salary cuts etc. If we lived in real poverty, dealt with real inequalities and violations of human rights; we would have something to complain about. If we lived in Malawi we would have something to complain about. I think we all need a reality check every now and then, at least then we might appreciate what we have rather than complain about what we don’t have.
We know about the lack of education in Malawi, the poor education system, untrained teachers, poor attendance. Maybe in Ireland we need more education too, maybe we are not as knowledgeable and educated as we think, maybe we need to learn more about the reality of what is happening in our world and how we can have empathy for the children of Malawi and realise how privileged we are, perhaps then w might change what we view as poor, disadvantaged and celebrate the opportunities we were born with and put them to better use.
Wells for Zoë is a wonderful organisation and I’m delighted to have been part of the amazing group of people who travelled to Malawi this summer. I had an unbelievable experience, I don’t think words will justify it, but Ill try anyway. I left Malawi with many new friends, genuine friendships were made in Fáilte House. The first difficulty we had to overcome was deciding what to do at Lilongwe airport when we realised Sharon’s flight was not arriving until the next day, but we had to think logically and on the spot, something we got lots of practice with in Malawi. We came together and reached an agreement that everyone was happy with, Michelle and Miriam stayed in a hotel in Lilongwe for the night. Myself, Aine and Mary went on to Mzuzu. Meeting Ciara, Miriam, Elaine and Caitríona when we arrived at the house was great, their enthusiasm and positivity was contagious. We went to Pine Lodge that evening and bonded over dinner. It wasn’t a difficult bond to make as we soon discovered, we were all there for the same reason, to do the same thing together, our expectations were not all that different either. When Melissa, Niamh and the Feeney group arrived, they added fresh enthusiasm to our group, they jumped on board and joined in with whatever was going on. I thoroughly enjoyed painting at Aras Kate in the first few days, it was great fun and a fantastic way of getting to know and chat with everyone. I t turned out to be a great bonding session although it wasn’t intended as that.! I got so many compliments for my art work which I never got before I couldn’t tell if they were joking or serious, but it’s nice to hear it anyway!!!
The highlight of my trip was working with the children. People ask what did you do in Malawi, I really have to think about how to answer that question, I usually say, I painted, I taught in Áras Kate, did some in-service in Luvuwu. But the truth is none of these tasks measure up to the satisfaction I got from the children in Áras Kate. Doing games, painting, indoor and outdoor activities and drama and role-play did so much for those children. They got to have fun, enjoy their childhood, and be imaginative and creative in their own way for a short precious time. Their childhood is too short, their innocence taken before its time.
The biggest challenge I seen in Malawi was the gender inequality, I found that quite disturbing at times. This inequality was evident in all aspects of life in Malawi. The women did all the work, reared the children while the men mostly drank and chatted. One particular time which has stuck with me is one day in the last few days of our trip, I was at a well with Harisen, this well was broken and needed to be fixed. The concrete slab covering it was broken. The well was left open. There were a few local people gathered around. One man stood beside me and proceeded to inform me that this well was broken for about a year at that stage and no-one had come to fix it. The women couldn’t get access to clean water and the well was very dangerous for children as they could have fallen in. As he was telling me this I wondered why he or anyone else had not even attempted to cover this well, never mind fix it as it clearly was extremely dangerous. It just beggars belief that these men just sit and wait for the someone to come and do it for them. I wish I had asked him the question why didn’t he do something about it?
These are just some of my thoughts on Malawi. I had a wonderful time and came home with some amazing memories as well as great friends. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Wells for Zoë again for letting me be a part of their amazing work and wish them all the best in their ongoing work. They truly are an inspiration to us all.