Bring­ing hope to Malawi

Ahead of Chris­tian Aid Week in May, I vis­ited Malawi to see some of the pro­jec change, two prob­lems that were im­pos­si­ble to avoid in the area of Africa I visit

The Church of England - - FRONT PAGE - By Amaris Cole

Af­ter three aero­planes, two cars and 24 hours in tran­sit, I fi­nally ar­rived in Malawi - and the ‘warm heart of Africa’ did not let us down. Wel­comed by ev­ery­one and sur­rounded by lush green scenery, it is easy to see why aid work­ers who come here of­ten spend a lot longer in the coun­try than they planned. We trav­elled from the cap­i­tal Li­longwe to the south­ern city of Blan­tyre and checked in to the first ho­tel of our trip for a much-needed night’s sleep.

But there was no chance of a lay in; at 8:30 we were en­ter­ing gated Government build­ings. We were there to meet the Di­rec­tor of Cli­mate Change and Weather at the Me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal De­part­ment. Twelve of the hottest years since records be­gan have hap­pened in the last 20 years in Malawi.

The rainy sea­son, once pre­dictable and con­sis­tent, is now er­ratic and in­con­sis­tent. Flash floods wash away crops and flood roads and build­ings. Cli­mate change is hav­ing a dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect on this al­ready poor coun­try, caus­ing de­struc­tion to the 90 per cent of the 40 mil­lion pop­u­la­tion who rely on agri­cul­ture for liv­ing.

Chief Me­te­o­rol­o­gist, Win­ston Chimuaza, ex­plained the changes the coun­try is fac­ing. “What nor­mally hap­pens is the rainy sea­son starts from Novem­ber and pro­ceeds up to March or even May,” he said. “But th­ese days it’s very dif­fi­cult.” Farm­ers are now notic­ing the rains be­gin­ning as late as De­cem­ber and stop­ping in Fe­bru­ary.

But there is hope, with the in­tro­duc­tion of a Chris­tian Aid project in part­ner­ship with the De­part­ment, farm­ers can now eas­ily ac­cess a five-day forecast, help­ing them plan when to weed their fields, plant their crops and or­gan­ise their agri­cul­tural plan. A text from Chris­tian Aid brings some as­sur­ance in an ev­er­chang­ing cli­mate, and the farm­ers are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the ben­e­fits first­hand.

We then drove to one of th­ese af­fected ar­eas to see the chal­lenges caused by the ef­fects of cli­mate change for our­selves. About 100 kilo­me­tres from the city lies a build­ing be­long­ing to a coali­tion of char­i­ties, CARD, Act Al­liance and oth­ers, or­gan­ised and funded by Chris­tian Aid. The staff in­side are keen to show the help they are giv­ing to some of the coun­try’s poor­est com­mu­ni­ties.

We set out to visit a vil­lage in the shadow of the moun­tain that has been taught to deal with the ef­fects of global warm­ing by in­stalling an ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem on their land. Vil­lagers spoke of a com­plete change in farm­ing there, help­ing them to man­age the ef­fects of flash floods and un­pre­dictable rains.

Grant, the project leader in the area, ex­plained what Chris­tian Aid’s money was do­ing. “The com­mu­nity has been trained in how to use the ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem, how to do busi­ness and mar­ket­ing.” The big com­pa­nies who visit the vil­lages here try to get the al­ready small prices low­ered even more, and in dif­fi­cult times, vil­lagers give in to this. But the project is teach­ing the farm­ers to work to­gether to keep prices at rea­son­able lev­els.

Dur­ing droughts fam­i­lies went to bed hun­gry and women left their chil­dren from 5

in the morn­ing to at least six at night to work in the tea es­tates - an hour-and-a-half walk away. But now, the farm­ers were proud to say, they can grow enough food to look af­ter their chil­dren, and even grow a lit­tle sur­plus to sell.

“Now that this scheme is here it will change our lives,” Mag­gie Mweka, one such farmer in the vil­lage said.

The story of cli­mate change is a painful one in Malawi, but steps are be­ing taken to lessen the ef­fects and en­sure food se­cu­rity for those who need it most.

We were then taken to Mathiya Vil­lage to see a very dif­fer­ent project. Greeted by danc­ing and songs, we were told the peo­ple had pre­pared a demon­stra­tion for us to ex­plain the Chris­tian Aid-funded scheme that was help­ing them im­prove the qual­ity of their lives.

Til­im­bike Vil­lage Sav­ings and Loans is a com­mu­nity bank, help­ing vil­lagers col­lect­ing the sav­ings they have each week and en­abling them to bor­row from each other. We were shown how a meet­ing of the mem­bers usu­ally goes. There are now seven such groups in the area, with 154 mem­bers – all of whom at­tended this demon­stra­tion, proud to tell us of their suc­cesses.

The in­ter­est col­lected on the loans means an emer­gency fund is re­served, help­ing vil­lagers are time of se­vere need such as ill­ness and death in the fam­ily. Tshe­bily Man­dawala re­ceived the fund when her son was rushed to hospi­tal with a bro­ken leg. “It was go­ing to be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult,” she said, “I do not know how I would have man­aged.”

A bumpy road lined by peo­ple walking home from a day at work took us back to city while we eat cooked maize, the sta­ple food in Malawi, pre­pared for us by the vil­lagers.

The next day was an­other early start, head­ing into the coun­try­side to visit Wildlife and En­vi­ron­men­tal So­ci­ety of Malawi schemes, sup­ported by Chris­tian Aid. We trav­elled along an un­be­liev­ably bad road to reach a com­mu­nity that is reap­ing the ef­fects of bee-keep­ing. The group that tends to the bees told us of the vast in­crease in their in­come since re­ceiv­ing the hives from the char­ity. Not only this, but the ben­e­fit of both the bees and the honey they pro­duce means not only fi­nan­cial re­wards for the bee keep­ers, but also medic­i­nal perks.

The profit on each bot­tle of honey sold is such that they are now able to sup­port five HIV or­phans in the vil­lage, pro­vid­ing them with soap, school uni­forms and other ne­ces­si­ties.

The last des­ti­na­tion on our tour was to meet a group who have formed a brew house for ba­nana wine. Lead­ing this was Gertrude, an HIV-pos­i­tive 30-year-old who was ridiculed by the vil­lage when she an­nounced in 2003 she had con­tracted the virus. Af­ter this, she found it hard to find work and there­fore could not af­ford the food needed to keep her healthy.

Gertrude ex­plained: “There is a stigma where peo­ple in the vil­lage think you are al­ready dead and you can be dis­crim­i­nated against.” But this project had made her feel part of the com­mu­nity again, she said, and pro­vided her with enough money to go back to school to take the last of her ex­ams, hopefully mean­ing she can ful­fil her dream of be­com­ing a school teacher.

Each vil­lage con­tained sto­ries of hunger and poverty, yet ev­ery­one wel­comed us with laugh­ter and smiles.

Trav­el­ling north next to Karonga, a 12-hour car jour­ney took us to a vil­lage of HIV-pos­i­tive fam­i­lies at­tend­ing sup­port groups and learn­ing how to man­age the virus in Tubak­isane, near Lake Malawi. The ‘Let’s help each other’ sup­port group are taught the SAVE ap­proach, ad­vis­ing on Safer prac­tices, Avail­able medicine, Vol­un­tary coun­selling and Em­pow­er­ment. While the ma­jor­ity of chil­dren who par­ents were HIV-pos­i­tive were also car­ri­ers, th­ese rates are vastly im­prov­ing thanks to drugs and ed­u­ca­tion.

The cou­ples here were proud to tell us how the lessons learned in the group means their chil­dren have been born neg­a­tive. Austen and Ef­ness Sim­b­eye, whose daugh­ter Anas­ta­sia is now 2 years and 8 months old, is healthy HIV-free, de­spite be­ing breast­fed. “We were ad­vised on proper preven­tion of mother-to-child trans­mis­sion,” Ef­ness ex­plained. Go­ing to hospi­tal early on in labour is a cru­cial part of prevent­ing the un­born child from con­tract­ing HIV, and the women in the area are be­gin­ning to take note as the see the sto­ries of success around them.

While the sto­ries we heard on this trip were of hunger, ill­ness and of­ten death, the peo­ple we met were full of hope. Ev­ery vil­lage greeted us with songs and hap­pi­ness, and many gave us gifts when we left, de­spite own­ing so lit­tle.

Read more about th­ese peo­ple and their sto­ries in more de­tail next month.

Gertrude hold­ing the pro­duce, which is earn­ing enough money to help her go back to school de­spite liv­ing with HIV

The ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem be­ing in­stalled af­ter work had to stop dur­ing the rainy sea­son

Vil­lagers en­joy­ing the new ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem that will change the way they live their lives

The ba­nana wine be­ing made in the brew house

Right, Two mem­bers of the bee keep­ing group us­ing equip­ment do­nated by the project

Mem­bers of the com­mu­nity bank­ing group demon­strat­ing the scheme

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