Today was a very emotional day for all of us, and I personally felt like I experienced the entire spectrum of emotions throughout the course of the day.
We started out at Tilerane Orphan Care, where we were greeted with so many smiling little faces it made my heart sing. All the kids were so receptive to us, with every age group from infant to teenager running up to see the Azungu. Meeting with the volunteers, it was clear that there are ways in which SLIM can help in the future. One interesting IGA that I had never thought of was chairs. Yes, chairs. Tilerane wants to rent out their space for weddings, receptions, and meetings to various community members, and having a large amount of chairs at their disposal will allow them to accommodate such events. This is a simple endeavor that I hope SLIM can consider in the future to help support a great CBO that provides wonderful support to their orphans. We were also impressed at all the handmade goods the volunteers were selling. AIDS awareness beaded pins and bracelets, along with wristlets and bags made from chitenje material were being sold. We naturally had to pick up a few things for ourselves and souvenirs for our loved ones back home. We all bought some extra pins to sell back in the States and hopefully make Tilerane a nice little profit.
We all naturally fell into our various play areas and provided the kids with much entertainment. I broke out my secret weapon: bubbles, which the kids loved to catch and pop, their little hands reaching up and over one another’s. Ross discovered his talent for jump rope, and got a little too into the game when he landed on the side of his ankle (don’t worry Mamma Ross, all is well). Emily broke in the new soccer ball with the little ones, and quickly learned that maybe barefoot soccer isn’t the best idea from now on. Lauren and Ashley worked diligently collecting research before joining in the fun with the rest of the group. Nick tried to resist the bubbles, but eventually got caught in the action, and wandered around the grounds playing with all the children.
Paulina, one of the volunteers, led the kids in song and dance, with one of the tunes sounding familiar as I did the motions to “I’m a little teapot”. One of the little girls looked just like Nia, my partner child from Jumpstart back in Pittsburgh, and I was nearly brought to tears. Just thinking of the differences in education and other opportunities little Augusta would have compared to Nia was a little heartbreaking, but I know the volunteers are providing her with all the resources they can to help her have a successful future.
Our good mood from Tilerane was quickly dampened when we had to travel over to ESCOM, the Malawian electric company (the only electric company I might add), to sort out some service issues for Mchenga and Mwana WaZako. The shifty little man that met us was a little too jolly for my liking, so I sat up nice and tall next to him to make all six feet of me as intimidating as possible (I think it worked). Sadly, even though customers are still paying for installation of transformers and connection of service, the electric company does not have enough materials to supply all the customers. The man told us that while Mchenga has waited a year and Mwana WaZako almost 3, the government is still connecting customers who paid in 2008. It was disgusting to listen to the circumstances surrounding this situation, and I couldn’t help but think of the “structural violence” Paul Farmer describes many oppressive governments inflict on its people. Ross gave the gentleman a good piece of his mind and a new orifice or two might have been torn, but we still felt a little defeated after leaving the office.
However, no time to feel sorry for ourselves, as we had a Board of Directors meeting to attend with the Trustees of MPALUTI. Mr. Francis of the Ministry of Social Welfare and Ms. Irene from the REACH trust attended, and it was very encouraging to hear their kind words for the network. Francis echoed SLIM’s goals with MPALUTI saying that, “We must conceive solutions with the people as we are moving with them.” Better words couldn't be spoken. He mentioned how our yearly visits to the CBO's boosts their morale and encourages them to keep working hard at what they are doing. As he said this, all I could think of is how the CBO's do the exact thing for us when we visit them. He also remarked on the importance of psychosocial well-being of not only children within CBO’s, but the volunteers as well. This made the psych major within me giddy with delight. We discussed plans for training sessions for MPALUTI volunteers in the near future, led by Miriam, and she seemed quite happy with how things turned out. The icing on the cake was when Nick brought up our ESCOM situation and Francis nonchalantly mentioned his close relationship with the head of the Ministry of Energy, and how he would like to pull some strings to get this issue resolved for us. We were all so happy and thankful, I thought I would cry. I really didn’t even know how to react. I'm very hopeful that things will come through, but really can't believe it til I see it.
After getting back to Budget Lodge, our mental exhaustion kicked in and we relaxed, getting in a good night’s sleep to help decompress after the day. It’s on days like this that I feel the fire start to burn inside me, and I hope I can continue to help these people in their fight against the challenges that no individual or group should have to endure.
Love you Mom, Dad, Zac, and as always…
Peace and love