On one of my first trips to Malawi, I learned that these kids LOVE seeing themselves. We often have our phones out with the cameras in selfie mode so that the kids can see themselves. As soon as the camera is on them, they light up with excitement! They squeal and laugh. It has made me think about how I should be filled with that kind of joy when I see my reflection.
Hygiene kits – Keeping girls in school
School girls in Malawi often start missing school when they start menstruating because they lack basic hygiene supplies. Missing one week of school each month usually causes the girls to fall behind, and they eventually stop going. Dropping out of school at this early age continues the cycle of poverty.
Before I left for Malawi, I shared a story about how hard it was for parents in villages to provide basic essentials to the girls in their families. A sweet friend here quickly jumped into action and made a big donation.
We visited a village in Northern Malawi where a friend in Malawi was donating hygiene kits he had gathered. It seemed like the perfect place to share the donation I had brought with me. The girls were very grateful for the hygiene kits, but exploded with energy, singing and dancing when they saw what I had brought. Tears filled my eyes seeing how happy they were. Sometimes the simplest gifts bring the greatest joy. Thank you Tracie❤️❤️❤️!
I love visiting villages. I mean I really LOVE visiting villages!
There is a reason they refer to Malawi as the Warm Heart of Africa. Malawians are some of the most genuine, friendly, welcoming, generous people I have ever met. From the first day of my first visit it became a second home for me.
I visited a single mom in a village in northern Malawi. She is a farmer and takes care of her 5 children and her mother. Malawian culture is to make every visit to a home memorable and inviting. This was the first time I had been invited into a families home. I felt awkward about just showing up, so we filled the car with food and supplies to take with us. In this remote village, very little English is spoken. I am always thankful to have a Malawian friend with me to translate and explain etiquette along the way.
During this visit I experienced a truly life changing moment. The Malawian way when guests arrive is to feed them. While I was visiting and touring the farm, a meal was being prepared for me. We were visiting during the end of the rainy season, which means food supplies are extremely limited. It is a time when most village children go days without food. The meal that was prepared was nsima, (a Malawi staple), pumpkin leaves and an egg. There were 5 adults and 3 children, and yes, only one egg. I was told I had to eat the egg. It would be extremely offensive to the family and the village if I refused to eat it. It was one of the most difficult and incredibly life altering moments for me. In response to my refusal, and requests for the children to eat the egg, the backstory was explained to me by my friend.
This family was aware I was coming. They new they would need to feed me. They wanted to make sure I had the best of what they had. At this difficult time of year, they didn’t have any more chickens and sent the children to ask the villagers if they had a chicken or an egg to donate to their family to feed a visitor. One family had 1 chicken and 1 egg left. They chose to donate the egg. The last egg from the last chicken in the whole village.
Imagine for a moment having 3 very young children sitting on the concrete floor of their 2 room house, hungry, and watching the last egg be served to the visitor. I didn’t know what the right choice was. It has haunted me ever since. I might not ever know what I should have done. But the memory will never leave me.
Have you ever wrestled with determining the better ‘right’ choice?
I was introduced to a football team in Malawi a few years ago. It brought back precious memories of watching my children play American soccer when they were younger. T even spent a couple of years reffing teams younger than him. I loved sitting in my chair at the grassy field basking in the sun. The games were filled with energy and emotions when calls were deemed unfair, winning, and sometimes losing. I loved it all. The brand new, matching uniforms, brand new shoes and shin guards, team photos, orange slices and gatorade. Sweet memories!
When in Malawi, I was invited to watch a local youth team play I was very excited. All of the memories came flooding back! It was hard to wait for the game day. The team we were going to be watching was put together by my friend, Aaron. It was his way of trying to keep young boys active and out of trouble. He created multiple teams to accommodate boys in different age groups. He dreams of creating even more. The only thing holding him back, is funding. There aren’t a lot of opportunities for young athletes to participate in sports in Malawi. With the lack of job opportunities for youth, many end up making poor choices. He wanted to give them the opportunity to stay focused, build relationships, and enjoy the game.
Game day finally arrived. Aaron kept reminding me that this was going to be different, not what I was used to. Even with his words of caution I was not prepared. He was right it was not what I was used to. The field or pitch, was red clay dirt, was not close to being level and had rocks on the playing field. There were no freshly painted white lines, no nets in the goals, and the ball looked like it was at least 20 years old. The shirts were similar in color, mismatched shorts, random socks, no shin guards and they shared the shoes which they call boots. When a player would sub out, he would remove his shoes and sometimes shirt so another player could wear them and participate. A referee was there, but very few calls were made. Sportsmanship was natural. The energy was high. The sidelines were packed with spectators, mostly from the neighborhood and youth of similar ages. The boys played hard and cheered each other on.
I might always look out of place, but feel like I am home. In spite of all of the differences, my love for the game is the same.
I am humbled by the experience. Grateful for friends who filled my suitcase with equipment to take to the team the next season. Inspired to do more. My goal is to take team supplies on each trip.
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.
Participating in a program to empower village women is one of my favorite experiences. The team has been training the farmer families on improving their skills and their crop yields have increased significantly. Now that they have more than enough to feed their families they have started a next step program – empowering the women to start their own businesses.
Malawian village receptions never get old. Being greeted by a group of women to welcome guests by singing and dancing.
We gathered under some large trees and heard messages from the local chief. He shared his appreciation for us visiting and for the team who has been coaching them. He shared how much the teachings have improved the lives of the people in the village. He also shared that other nearby villages are seeking advice from them. He also spoke to the village women encouraging them to share their “truth” with us during our discussion. He then said all of the men had been directed to stay away from the area so that the women would feel more comfortable about sharing with us.
The words they shared included many trials and also a desire to do more. They shared that some of the challenges were abuse from their husbands. Some of their husbands were drinking alcohol and spending time away from the family. Others were trying to limit what their wives could earn and taking all of the money from their harvests and not leaving any of it for the women (who do most of the work). This creates problems because although they have their crops and gardens, they do not have money to by soap or other necessities for the family. Some of them shared that their husbands feared that if the women became empowered that the women would go find new husbands.
The organization had already met with them prior to our visit with instructions for their first assignment…form groups of 10-12 women and decide what type of business they would want to start. One group chose selling farm vegetables, another was selling eggs, another was selling chickens. Each group of women would work together, and as they earned money, they would add to their business until the point that they could be successful enough to use some of the money for the things that they would each need.
After sharing their challenges, they shared their business ideas and their initial strategies. The team will follow up again with them next month to see how they are all doing
After seeing their gardens, hearing their stories, we were dancing with the women. They love to watch this American girl struggle with learning to do it properly, and then get so excited when I finally get it right. I love the strength of these Malawian women. They are inspiring. They are resilient. They are strong. They are grateful. They are filled with hope and unwavering faith in God.
THIS is my happy place!!! Seeing their hard work continue to improve their lives, health, education and families by following the teachings of this incredible team. These families are still eating well, when in many parts, they are going through very tough times. The things they have been taught are making a difference. Malawi needs more of this!!! Once your heart has been in Malawi, it never really goes home.❤️❤️❤️❤️
I have so much to learn.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”African Proverb