I have just arrived in Malawi to work on water and sanitation projects with students from the University of Sheffield.
The first thing I noticed as I stepped out of the airport in Lilongwe was the light. No matter what time of day it is, everything is bathed in a warm rosy gold light. There seems to be an overall feeling of happiness here, at least for me. As I sat in the taxi from the airport and chatted with the driver, I couldn’t help but let the smile creep across my face. I knew instantly that I’d love it here.
After settling into the lodge, I caught up with the students to learn more about the projects.
The first of two projects that I’ll be working on is called Tapping Potential, run by Enactus Sheffield, which takes a 3 pronged approach to supporting a better life for people in communities just outside the capital, Lilongwe.
As water borne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea are such big killers here, educating about cleanliness is very important. The first step; clean water. The team will be teaching local school leavers to maintain the boreholes in their villages to provide their people with clean water. We will also be teaching them how to explain to people why using clean water, rather than water from the river and streams is so vital. Step two is soap. We’ll be supporting the group to set up a business where they will make luxury soap, which they can then sell on to the villages and hotels in the area. The proceeds from the soap business will not only give our school leavers a living wage, but also brings us to step three: medicine. Without medicines, countless people die each year from water borne diseases. Profit from the soap business will go into buying medicines for the local clinics. So, it’s a very simple structure, but one that could change the lives of many in the community.
On our first day we drove an hour to the village where we’ll be carrying out the training to meet the school leavers that we’ll be working with.
We spent some time doing icebreaker exercises and then moved onto teaching about sanitation and business skills such as sales and marketing. We explained to the group that we will be helping them to set up their business, but that it is THEIR business and it is for them to run as they believe is right. We will give them the skills to make it a success, but then it’s over to them.
At lunch we ate a traditional meal of nsima (pronounced seema) – a porridgey dish made from maize flour and water, which is served in a big lump that you have to break off and roll in your hands before dipping in a watery tomato based sauce and eating with cabbage and a boiled egg. It’s an incredibly filling dish which isn’t entirely offensive, but no matter how much of the nsima you eat, the mound never seems to go down!
In the afternoon we did more team building and training before heading out on a rescue mission to a remote village an hour away where one of our vehicles had broken down. As we drove through villages the setting sun turned the sand and bricks a warm baked orange as the streets came to life with children playing and people selling fruits, fly-covered meat and used clothes by the roadside.
When we pulled up alongside our broken down 4-wheel drive, kids flocked out to see what we were doing and began showing off for my camera.
They all enjoyed posing and then looking at their pictures on my LCD screen. One of the really little ones was terrified of us because he’d never seen a white person before and stood wailing behind his older brother’s legs, peeking out now and then to see if we’d gone. When we asked the kids their ages we were surprised to find that they were twice as old as we thought; they are so tiny, no doubt due to malnutrition. Despite the hard lives these kids must lead and uncertain futures ahead, they all seemed perfectly happy.
After a quick jump-start and a bit of tweaking, both cars were back on the road. As we drove away, we were followed by the call of ‘Azungu, Azungu!’ – ‘White person! White person!’