June 22nd 2010
Well, a lot has happened since last week! We’re getting into the swing of things with the third term of after-school program. I’ve been so impressed with how smoothly-run and structured the RiseMalawi camp is, you can tell that the team has really developed a rhythm to which the kids respond well. I’ve been helping out where I can, leading a few lessons and games and helping to cook or serve lunch. Unfortunately for me, the 8th graders, who have the most confidence in their English, have been leaving early to return for extra classes at their schools to prepare for their upcoming national exams. So, my direct communication is often limited with the kids, although everyone understands smiles, laughs, and wheel barrel races! One of the grade 6 girls, Ivy, has made several special efforts to be my translator and make sure I know what’s going on at the program. It was really funny though, because during a red-light-green-light type game the other day, she was translating the English words “freeze” and “go” into “stop” and “run”. When I tried to indicate that I already understood, she got confused and we almost got tagged out of the game, so I just had a good chuckle and let her keep guiding me! Please keep those 8th graders in your prayers, these tests determine whether they are eligible to go to secondary school or not. If not, they can repeat 8th grade, which several of them have already done, or some may be tempted to forgo their education all together. We’d really love to see them all selected to go to high school and also have the means to pay the school fees that are required at that level!
As a hospital volunteer, I’ve had some opportunities to observe different areas, including pediatric ward, outpatient department, and the HIV anti-retroviral clinic. I’ve mostly been just shadowing the clinical officers (they do not have any full medical doctors on staff currently) and trying to understand how things work here. My limited training and language barrier make it hard some days to really feel like I’ve accomplished a lot during my morning shifts. How humbling to remember that I’m just one person with nothing to offer on my own merit except whatever gifts and love God fills me with! I’ve been reminded of how some friends at the Romero Center in Camden speak of “ministry of presence”, that sometimes the most selfless service we can offer is just to be present with someone else and not be concerned about fixing their situation or completing a project. I’m trying to cultivate that attitude here; listening, learning and validating those around me by being fully present each day and offering my prayers, if nothing else.
Our trip last weekend to Nkhata Bay, Tinashe’s parents’ village in the Northern Region, will definitely stand out in my memories from my time here. We were so graciously welcomed into her family’s home and spent our time visiting her extended family that populates the lush, green hills covered with trees and tea plantations. I had my first classic village experiences of eating raw sugarcane, pounding groundnuts into flour, and pumping water from the borehole, although I was a bit ungraceful and messy at all of these tasks! It was interesting to hear from Tinashe’s parents how they have tried to influence their community by promoting education. Her father is a retired schoolteacher and has really set the pace to break the cycle of poverty by supporting many members of his extended family through school, who have subsequently supported others. While major change efforts are warranted in Malawi at the level of systems and infrastructure, these grassroots efforts of family and friends lifting one another up by sponsoring children through school can really have more genuine and lasting effects. Most of the UrbanPromise International fellows have stories of how someone helped them and how it has motivated them to give back, so they are living proof of this phenomenon bearing fruit in Malawi. What a privilege to meet and share this time with the Saka family, it definitely makes the world seem like a smaller place to travel so far, but still feel so much at home!
Pictures: Me attempting to carry a bucket of rice to after-school program & some happy campers L-R Folace, Ivy, Christina, Florence, & Enala