Love at first sight
My first trip to Malawi was by assignment. I was asked to design and lead an employee service trip to Malawi. I have spent many years at the company building engagement by developing leaders, employees and by executing employee events. This assignment was different from what I had done in the past, but I was excited. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I booked a flight to visit Malawi to gain context. The flight from the US was 24 hours in air…plus layover times. I hoped the trip would be worth it.
When we arrived at the airport, I was so surprised that it was so small. It looked like we had landed at a storage unit. I could see a group of Malawians sitting in chairs on a balcony to watch the planes land. I later learned that this is a common Sunday afternoon activity. I loved the heat and humidity!
We headed for the campus about 90 minutes form the airport. The roads are extremely narrow in Malawi and in poor condition. Goats and people are always at risk of being hit as they walk alongside the road. I felt like I was on an emotional roller coaster.
Driving along this road was my first real experience with seeing poverty, real poverty. While driving, I noticed a young boy, maybe 4 years old, taking an empty water bottle and filling it with water from a ditch along the edge of the road. He took a drink and my heart sank.
The next 30 minutes in the car I was trying to figure out how I could get out of this project. I told my boss he brought the wrong person. I wasn’t cut out for this, I didn’t think my heart could handle it. He asked me to meet our contacts at the campus and if I felt the same after meeting them, we would leave and I wouldn’t have to finish the project.
When we drove up to the campus, a crowd of women and children came running towards us. They were singing and welcoming us. They were the best greeters I have ever seen. I climbed out of the car and they continued to sing and dance. I felt instantly connected. It was one of the most powerful experiences of my life. I felt like I had just returned home after a long trip. The only thing missing was my family.
I turned to my boss and said, “Send for my family, I don’t think I can leave this place.” I felt deeply connected… It was a very unique experience, but one I will never forget.
And that was it, I was hooked.