I think life often happens while your mind is on something else. I first met Lillian in early 2008, while driving by her house to a new pump location. This smiling charismatic woman was standing by the road, waving and greeting the first vehicle to pass for maybe weeks. As we moved by I got the answer, “That’s Lillian, the local birth attendant”, so we reversed and jumped out. The broad smile became a hug for both of us (something unusual for Malawi, on a first date anyway!).
Of course Harisen knows everyone and their problems. We looked at her theatre. It was a tiny three roomed mud hut with panoramic views through the thatch, mud floors and a birthing stone in the form of a concrete slab the size of a small single bed.
On the outer wall was painted in Chipatula in Tumbuka or Hospital, in English. The place was spotlessly clean and the records of the hundreds of births were astonishing.
Harisen asked her how we could help, as it was obvious that she had nothing, meaning absolutely nothing except her bare hands. We got plastic for the roof, wellingtons, plastic gloves and aprons and panadol for pain relief. I cried that day and so many times since, about how unfair the world really is and I wonder where all these sisters are: the ones who did it for themselves.
Faced with such depravation we began the process of giving her a new building. When we arrived back in July, I visited and arrived just in time for another new birth, to find a frightened young girl, sitting by a charcoal fire in the second little room, holding a tiny baby for whom she had no clothes except a small, torn blanket. At that stage she was preparing to walk home the four kilometres in an hour or two. It was a custom in our family to put money into the hand of a newborn and so I did, but then I had to give the little girl a name. Since I have a mother, daughter and sister called Eithne, I felt that was the name. She is now a healthy little woman called Eithinis. Thankfully the building was well on and within a short time was complete.
Lillian’s new place has two rooms, a waiting room and a bathroom. She has a stock of all she needs for secure delivery especially with the prevalence of HIV/AIDS. She has a cupboard full of blankets and baby clothes for all the newborns.
The place is the centre for the gogos (grannies) to meet and discuss their issues and get some help. Our farm down the road provide food seeds and training. It is also the focal point for Home Based Care for the HIV/AIDS sufferers.
I believe that along our evolutionary way, someone takes a leap forward, who is years ahead of their time. That’s Lillian. She is one amazing woman and if this is all we achieved in Malawi, we would be very happy people.
Of course with Lillian there is always more. Both the Central Hospital and the Mzuzu health clinic have monthly clinics there. Foreign Consultants come there on a regular basis. She is the centre of everything involving health in her community and the driver of everything. In November 2011 she announced that the Ministry of Health had agreed to pay for a Nurse and Health attendant to work there. All we need now is an extension to her existing building and a house for the medics. The community will provide the bricks, sand and all the labour, while we will bring cement and roofing.
All Lillian’s work is done on a voluntary basis. If there are Angels, then she has to be one of then.
To finish, Lillian has no English, not one word. But we have no need for words, we are on the same frequency.