Posted by Will and Claudia Gaston.
Subject: Our visit to Malawi May 2010.
During our visit to Malawi we got to see many examples of the work that SAFE-Africa is doing. There are projects going on in villages to help grandparents who are raising their orphaned grandchildren; preschools for young children have been funded, feeding programs established and their teachers have been trained; and there is a life skills curriculum being taught in many schools, which includes an AIDS prevention component.
We went to several schools where we toured the facilities, watched several aspects of the life skills training, spoke to teachers and administrators. There are great statistics verifying that dropout rates and teen pregnancy numbers have been lowered in schools where the “Why Wait?” curriculum is taught. The premise is to teach the children that they are special and their lives have value. A few of the schools were comparable to what we might see in inner cities, but many had no books, very few teachers (one school had 8 grades, 980 students and 4 teachers) and were grossly overcrowded. The children were very respectful, excited to have visitors, genuinely enthusiastic about learning and happy.
In the villages, we were often greeted by singing, dancing and hugs from the grandmothers. They usually gave us gifts of bananas, tomatoes and peanuts and in one village, they cooked us lunch. They made crafts to be sold in the US to help raise funds and, as with the school children, they displayed great joy in spite of their humble circumstances. One really amazing event that we were part of in a village was when a 17 year old girl who is raising her younger siblings (their parents died) was given a house built by a nonprofit group. She was brought to the group’s attention by SAFE-Africa; she had been living under a tree and some of the villagers sometimes let her stay with them when it rained. It was another highlight to see the keys to a brand new (very modest) home handed over to Flossie one of the first days we were in Malawi.
We also visited several of the preschools and youth centers supported by SAFE-Africa. Some of the buildings were funded by our group, all had feeding programs, trained teachers and lots of adorable kids. Some of the older children performed drama skits for us and we were always greeted warmly.
When we visited the hospital, we went to the malnutrition ward – very touching. And we briefly toured the pediatric ward, where families were lined up outside, sitting in the dirt, awaiting access to the hospital. We also toured the “kangaroo ward”, where premature babies were swaddled tightly against their mothers’ chests to simulate being in the womb while they gain weight and get healthy. This eye-opening part of the trip was one of the many places where we felt more than grateful for the blessings we often take for granted here.
The physical conditions in Malawi are extremely poor. Most homes do not have electricity or running water. In neighborhoods in the city, the electricity goes out several times a week. A “market” is often simply piles of used items in heaps on the ground on the side of the road. Only a few roads are paved and the dirt roads are very rocky and full of deep holes. It is not uncommon to see women with small children washing their clothes in streams on the side of the road. We saw lots of women are walking along the roads everywhere carrying large buckets of water or maize, laundry or even logs on their heads.
The other conditions we observed included people who are, without exception, smiling, happy, joy-filled, welcoming, generous and hard working. We met countless people who spend the bulk of their time helping others and trying to find solutions to the problems and poverty in Malawi. These people were in the airports, on our planes, in our hotel, at the game park; they included teachers, nonprofit employees, volunteers, medical workers, missionaries and retired executives.
We very much appreciate the prayers, encouraging words, thoughtful or funny emails and kind understanding of our friends and loved ones. It made a huge difference and cheered us up when we needed a boost and we will be forever grateful. Thank you and we hope to be able to return the favor someday.