I met a family that lives far from the city. This group is required to stay at one location. On my first visit there I felt that it was very different than what I’ve seen in other villages in Malawi. This is possibly the most poverty stricken location I’ve visited to date. There are approximately 40,000 people who live in this area. The homes that they live in were very primitive to say the least. Basically 4 walls and a door. Many sleep and eat in the same room. One home six family members that were living in three very small rooms. The main room had one kitchen table a small bookshelf for chairs and a box for the food and kitchen items. The other two rooms were used for sleeping. The sleeping rooms had a simple mat on the floor with one blanket. The sleeping rooms had two small boxes of clothing for the whole family.
Don’t know who wrote it, but it’s spot on.
WE ARE NOT IN THE SAME BOAT …
I heard that we are all in the same boat, but it’s not like that. We are in the same storm, but not in the same boat. Your ship could be shipwrecked and mine might not be. Or vice versa.
For some, quarantine is optimal. A moment of reflection, of re-connection, easy in flip flops, with a cocktail or coffee. For others, this is a desperate financial & family crisis.
For some that live alone they’re facing endless loneliness. While for others it is peace, rest & time with their mother, father, sons & daughters.
With the $600 weekly increase in unemployment some are bringing in more money to their households than they were working. Others are working more hours for less money due to pay cuts or loss in sales.
Some families of 4 just received $3400 from the stimulus while other families of 4 saw $0.
Some were concerned about getting a certain candy for Easter while others were concerned if there would be enough bread, milk and eggs for the weekend.
Some want to go back to work because they don’t qualify for unemployment and are running out of money. Others want to kill those who break the quarantine.
Some are home spending 2-3 hours/day helping their child with online schooling while others are spending 2-3 hours/day to educate their children on top of a 10-12 hour workday.
Some have experienced the near death of the virus, some have already lost someone from it and some are not sure if their loved ones are going to make it. Others don’t believe this is a big deal.
Some have faith in God and expect miracles during this 2020. Others say the worst is yet to come.
So, friends, we are not in the same boat. We are going through a time when our perceptions and needs are completely different.
Each of us will emerge, in our own way, from this storm. It is very important to see beyond what is seen at first glance. Not just looking, actually seeing.
We are all on different ships during this storm experiencing a very different journey.
Realize that and be kind, be human and humane.
When we visited this family they invited us in and introduced themselves. They told us a little bit about their history (filled with tragedies and resilience beyond your imagination and told us about their dreams. They also shared with us their hardships. They explained that there is no work in this area. They are shunned if they leave the property and are often in danger. They are currently living off of the equivalent of three dollars a month per person. This income needs to cover all basic necessities like food, medicine education, transportation, and clothing. I would’ve expected this family to be sad and broken but they were quite the opposite. This home was filled with love and compassion and gratitude. They constantly spoke about their blessings. This family has also taken in a Malawian teen who did not have a place to live. I experienced extremely intense emotions while visiting them. The first emotions was pure love and kindness and instant family. The second is inspiration of their exemplary resilience and humility. This was the first time I recognized I really have such little impact changing these lives. As we traveled to visit this community I had stopped and purchased a 50 pound bag of rice and a 50 pound bag of beans that I had planned to give to another family. I asked this family what I could do to help and they first replied “just pray for us we have what we need and God will deliver us”. This put a lump in my throat and I felt barely able to communicate. I gave them the rice and the beans and told them I would be returning with something more and would we prefer that they at least tell me what would be helpful so that I don’t waste the trip. My eyes are filled with tears as I write the simple requests that she made. She asked for food, some basic cereal for children, maize flour, salt cooking oil, sugar, toilet paper, Laundry soap, body soap and diapers. She showed me the cloth diapers that she has for their young baby and explained that during the raining season which we are currently in there is so much water the clean diapers never dry. It broke my heart to think that this five-month-old beautiful baby was constantly wearing wet diapers. I assured them that I would return with all of these items in quantities enough for nine families. I also left some baby blankets I had in the car but I had planned to give it to another family but this family seemed to need them so much more. When I left this house I felt like I had just met my sister. My heart aches to see her still. We returned in two days with the items they had requested and threw in a few extras like peanut butter, juice, soya pieces and bread just to make it feel like we did something a little extra. When we loaded this into the car you could feel how heavy it waited down the car. This is a large SUV. I left enough money so that the sweet children could be enrolled in school for the next semester. These families with what little they have dream of having a farm to help them be self sustainable and to provide a little extra to share with others. The amount of food that we delivered seemed like so much when we looked at it in the back of the car but when we got it out and sorted it into the 9 families I felt like we were leaving very little, I know this family is being left in this area with no access to the outside. They have no way to go to the city to get supplies. They have no way to purchase or sell any of their own items. I can’t imagine what that feels like as a mother trying to take care of her family. I am not sure how I would respond in a similar situation. I am so extremely blessed and I feel such guilt for having what I have just because I live here instead of there. I must do more. I just hope that it happens soon enough to help them struggle a little less. I have been working with these families to help them set up a business plan they can implement and allow them to work for a better future.
I felt like we were on track and then COVID-19 took over our lives. This virus has shut down this location and is preventing them from leaving the area to even access food. I have sent money to my Malawian partner and will continue to send money until I know they can get these businesses up and prospering. I can’t wait to see that I am no longer needed, other than to be just part of the family. I have started funding their business ventures when they present their plans and path to success. I want them to be able to find their own success and to be in the background and watch them begin to thrive. I want more than anything for them to succeed so whatever it takes to help them achieve it. Long-term goal is to help these families move to a new location. This will take a long process, a very expensive process which will need help from more than just me. But I will not stop until I see all nine of these families in a new location.
What did I learn from all of this? I find it difficult to even put into words. My gratitude for what I have has intensified 10000%. I recognize I cannot fix the situation, but my goal is to coach and guide and cheer them on. I will continue coaching them to build sustainable, smart, successful small businesses that can help them until they can thrive on their own. My ultimate dream would be to have them live next-door. This has been the most impactful experience I’ve had in Malawi so far. So much to do, and I feel their time is running out. I look forward to sharing their successes, their learnings and their dreams for the future.