Coming to Malawi, I didn’t know how much of a connection I could have with someone who lives in a remote, rural area of Malawi. The travel to arrive at this place was over 24 hours. Surely that means the distance between New Jersey and Sakata would influence the differences between myself and a VIP staff member of Malawi. However, I’ve found that I am able to connect with members of the local team without any difficulty. Gracious Mtemanyama has been by my side every step of the way it seems. Explaining the nuances of the Malawi culture whether I asked him a question or not. Kondwani and I rode in the truck together eating Malawian donuts, chatting and laughing as if I was on a road trip with a buddy from back home. As Gracious and I chopped up maize husks and peanut branches at Sitaubi Village, the villagers sang a song that accurately describes my experience. The Chichewa lyrics translated as, “We are all the same.”
Friendship and Medical Trips
This is my second trip to Malawi— the first time I came was for only 5 days in 2016 on a medical mission trip. This time, I am lucky to be able to stay for three whole weeks, participating first in a Friendship Trip and staying for the following medical trip. It’s impossible to comprehend that today is only our second full day here. A Friendship Trip is exactly that— we have gone into different villages and met villagers and helped alongside them with some of the work required of village life.
When I was trying to describe it to a friend before I came, they suggested this was really just “3rd World Tourism” and wasn’t that being incredibly condescending? I assure you nothing could be further from the truth. VIP is genuinely partners with its Villages. Even though the participants on the Friendship trip change, we are all welcomed as part of the Village family. Today, as we arrived, the Village we were entering had gathered early in anticipation.
As soon as they saw our trucks, they leapt in the air cheering and singing and dancing. This wasn’t some elaborate stage production waiting for its cue— it was genuine, passionate, cracked-wide-open love, and there aren’t words to describe how free and unabashed their expression was. As a doctor, I’ve been with people at the very best and very worst times in their lives, but this collective expression of unbridled joy is something I’ve never experienced.
Going into Zomba Central Hospital, we had no idea what to expect. It was an eye opening experience that we will never forget. Walking up to the buildings, they looked run-down compared to the standards we are used to in the States. There were people walking around the grounds, almost like it was a bustling marketplace. We had the opportunity to meet with the specialists at the hospital, as well as the chief nursing executor. We had wonderful conversations about the challenges that the hospital faces, as well as the progress they have made. We then were fortunate enough to go on a tour of the hospital.
We were shocked at the nurse to patient ratio—one nurse to 20-40 patients on a good day. Each ward consisted of one large room, with multiple beds inside. It’s hard to put into words the conditions of the patients and their families there. So much of what we take for granted in the States—clean gloves, gowns, isolation precautions, sometimes electricity & private rooms—was lacking. We returned from the visit humbled and with a new appreciation for the healthcare system that we are blessed with in the States. The frustrations we are used to at home regarding healthcare do not even scratch the surface of the healthcare system here and what we were exposed to today. We all walked away forever changed.
Written By: Allie Schindler and Molly Babb, Xavier Nursing Students
Today at Clinic I had the wonderful opportunity to care for a Chief of one of the villages that we were serving. All of a sudden this woman was brought to the front of the line and sat down right away. I was then informed by my interpreter that she was a chief. Knowing how important she was I got very nervous as I was taking her vitals. She was honestly one of the friendliest women that I had met so far. She was extremely grateful for the care that I was providing and spoke to me very enthusiastically and friendly. Once I had gotten her vitals and taken down her chief complaint it was time to send her on her way. I enthusiastically shook her hand and thanked her for all that she did. Taking vitals for the chief today was one of the coolest things I have done since coming to Malawi.
After church we hopped in the truck to go and visit some people around Sakata whose houses had melted (literally) from the rain and floods of Malawi’s rainy season. The houses are made out of mud bricks, that are hardened from being in the sun, but unfortunately they simply don’t stand a chance against the torrents of water that gushed towards them.
The first house we visited, an entire half of the house gone, the resident, and older Malawian woman told us how she now had to live with her daughter. The second house, a young couple – the wife expecting – had their house collapse while they were inside sleeping! Praise the Lord no one was hurt, however, their entire backside of the house had melted away, and the roof was structurally unstable, not even safe enough to stand under. They were also forced to find other housing accommodations. Standing next to their collapsed houses, these people did not complain or cry, but simply found other solutions and carried on.
It’s shocking and amazing to watch how resilient the Malawian people are – they have no help when disasters like this come, no government aid, no temporary housing solutions, no resources to rebuild. Yet, they continue to exude joy and gratefulness. How convicted I felt of my complaining about much smaller issues.
Written by: Tessa Mills, Xavier Nursing Student
Going to church for 3 hours was never a desire of mine, but I have never laughed, smiled, danced, and sang at the top of my lungs (not well, mind you) as much as I did during those 3 hours. The happiness, the joy, the faith, the love, and the hope was overflowing out of the small sanctuary and was something beyond inspiring. I have never felt God’s presence within a community as much as I did being surrounded by the villagers, dressed in their best and greeting us warmly. In the words of Liz, the best word to describe it was truly agape. It was pure undeniable love, hope, and belief that even in the hardest of times, God will provide. Just as our reading taught us, even when we struggle and begin to sink, God will always be with us. In Malawi we are surrounded by those who have nothing and struggle day to day to survive, to feed and protect their families, and yet they have the most faith and joy in God’s grace. You will never know a stranger in Malawi, only friends. My poor singing is nothing to be sought after, but seeing the room light up when we started to sing our song in Chichewa is something I will cherish forever. We were truly marching in the light of God (Hallelujah!).
Written by: Rachel Hesse, Xavier Nursing Student
Today was my first initial day in a Malawian village called Liti. Here, I am pictured with a group of amazing children who thought I spoke Chichewa, the Malawian language, because of the color of my skin. They were eating pumpkin and offered me some, and wondered why I wasn’t responding. I told the translator to inform them that I was American, but, I’d love to learn their language. They asked me to stay, I told them I’d be back next year in which they replied, “that’s too long”. The children here are so joyful and full of life. I am so grateful to have this opportunity experience the culture and tradition of the Malawian village.
The first day of clinic is always a mix of emotions. There has been such a build up leading up to the moment we open and see our first patients. Pulling up to the clinic site and seeing all the people sitting under the tree waiting for us to start is always a nerve wracking moment. All the nerves dissipate as the day goes on and we can start to see the impact we are truly making. I love interacting with all the different people. From the elders of the community, to the littlest of babies. Seeing the smiles on their faces, being present with them, playing with the children at the end of the day- these are all of my favorite things. Being in these moments I am reassured as to why I am called to be here. Today I had an experience that I know I will never forget.
5 am start to the day. It’s the first day of clinics and we need to load all of the supplies for the clinics. We carry hundreds of pounds of supplies from storage and await the truck which we are to load. As the truck arrived I find myself doubtful that we will be able to fit all of our supplies. Thankfully we are able to get everything we will need loaded onto and tied down to the back of the truck. our next obstacle to over come is how we can get people we need to unload the trucks from Naming’azi farm to the clinic sites. The cab of the truck can only hold 3 people and it would be a monumental task to unload the truck with just 3 people. The solution we found was to have 2 of us to ride on the back of the truck, clinging to the ropes which are tying down the supplies all the way to the clinics. Thankfully our driver is a pro, we all worked extremely hard to unload the truck, and we were able to transport the supplies to the clinics without incident. what an exhilarating start to a wonderful day!
Written By: James Reist
As this year comes to a close, we want to recap the amazing work God has done through you and the VIP family in 2018. Your dedication to our mission and compassion for the people of Malawi is helping us fight poverty every day. Through our mission trips, your gifts, and the lasting partnerships, we’re so excited to see the continued impact we’ll have on our brothers and sisters in the years to come. On behalf of our Malawian family, we send thanks!
This year, VIP had our first college student, Lucius Phiri, graduate from the University of Malawi. We met Lucius after his family exhausted their resources trying to pay college tuition for him to continue his education. He dropped out of college for a semester. Then he heard about Villages in Partnership. After learning of his struggle, VIP provided the funding through the John Nathan Anderson Scholarship to complete his degree in agricultural studies thanks to Gayle and Phil Anderson.
We implemented solar irrigation this year thanks to your generous gifts. The irrigation system covers 12 acres and will benefit 70 households. The introduction of solar irrigation will completely change farming practices leading to full harvests. VIP is moving towards our goal of having farmers in Malawi becoming self-sufficient and not relying on inconsistent weather patterns due to climate change.
The 2018 USA medical team, composed of 29 nurse practitioners, physicians assistants, nurses, medical students, and our support team, paired up with Malawian medics and VIP’s Malawi staff and served over 4,600 patients in Malawi this summer. The teams saw all these patients in the time span of just three days. Our trips bring our team members closer to God while developing a deep love for Malawians and the medical profession. With such a high demand for health care, we decided to take our mission to the next level by hosting two Medical Trips in 2019. Click here for more trip information.
God put a calling on our heart in 2018 to build a medical clinic in the remote village of Khanda. The villagers have prayed that we bring medical care where there is none. We felt the calling in a powerful way this year and began our efforts to build this clinic brick by brick. We kicked-off the giving season with Giving Tuesday in 2018 and we’re so excited to see how God will use your gifts in a powerful way. The building of the clinic will be an ongoing project and we’re still accepting donations. Click the link to learn how you can help! https://villagesinpartnership.org/khanda-clinic/
This July, I returned to Malawi with VIP for my second medical trip. As a nursing student, I had experience with patients and hospitals, but never imagined a healthcare system like Malawi’s. When you don’t know where your next meal is coming from, it’s hard to fathom why you should care about a mosquito net over your bed or why you should get that sore on your leg looked at. You do your best to survive in an unforgiving environment with little resources. Malawi’s hospitals differ so greatly requiring family members to support the patients’ needs including meals while getting treatment. Going to the hospital as a mother means leaving your children home alone or with a relative to care for them. Going to the hospital as a child means having a family member come and cook for you. The hospital means taking time away from harvesting fields and providing food for your family. Treatment is often withheld until the disease progresses, making it even more difficult to treat.
My first day in the medical clinic my instructor, Lucy Goeke, said that I was needed to help a patient that just arrived. She told me the patient was an injured young girl named Aristina and that I should prepare myself. I entered the room with another instructor, Jackie, and immediately was taken aback. The young girl was my age, in her early 20’s. The mother told us, through our interpreter, that the girl was epileptic, suffered a seizure, and fell into a fire. Her shirt was holding on by threads as the fire had devoured the skin on both of her arms and even more so on the girl’s chest and breasts. She was covered in blisters as the burn had just taken place earlier that morning. We were limited so we applied ointment to the blisters and kept them from drying to the bandages we placed to keep infection out. The next day she returned and we were able to debride the burns and clean the edges to allow for new skin to grow. Another day passed until we saw the girl again. She seemed in much better spirits as the burns were feeling less painful. We set her up with dressings and arranged for her to return weekly to meet with a Villages in Partnership clinician. VIP employees and several clinicians came to continue care and meet with the most vulnerable patients. Leaving the girl in the hands of a Malawian clinician made it much easier since we had trust in their work. I received an update about five months later showing her progress and that only made me want to return to see her more.
Returning to Malawi this past July, I was amazed to see Aristina in such good spirits along with her family. We were welcomed to sit with her and the family as we conversed over how the past year had gone. Her burns were fully healed and she was smiling from ear to ear, something that I had yet to see. The mother said that Aristina stopped talking after the incident since it was so traumatic to her, but recently started talking again. Aristina faces many obstacles living in a rural village, but because of the care she received from the VIP clinicians, infection will not be one of them. When VIP asked the villages what they could do for this region, they responded saying the number one resource needed is access to healthcare. Building a clinic nearby means quicker access and less detrimental outcomes for villagers. The clinics treat illness along with disease and help with prevention including of fetal abnormalities and sickness by providing prenatal care through VIP’s partnership with Vitamin Angels. The clinics also offer access dental care. The dental clinic grows each year, continually advancing. Not only has VIP been able to remove teeth through these clinics but now they have been able to save people’s teeth and conduct cleanings. VIP supports thousands of Malawians and I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of a wonderful team enriched with heartwarming people.
During my trip this past summer in Malawi, I had the privilege to meet with Mrs. Chimenya from the Kalupe Village. A VIP staff member mentioned she had tremendous success with conservation farming practices she learned from Villages in Partnership. After hearing this news, Jordan Heinzel-Nelson and I made a visit to speak with her in person. We were both excited to hear about her success first-hand. As we pulled up to her house, we noticed she had a produce stand set up outside by the dirt road with a variety of vegetables and grains. This stand was a good sign since this meant she was making a form of income and had extra crops to sell.
As we approached her home, she came outside to greet us with a big smile on her face. She seemed so happy and full of life as she greeted us. We also met her children who eagerly accompanied her along with her husband after they heard of our arrival. Soon after we finished our greetings and introduced ourselves, a bamboo mat was laid out for us to sit on and spend time with the family. Jordan asked the translator if we could ask her some questions and she eagerly replied saying “yes”. We quickly learned a lot about Mrs. Chimenya and her family after asking a few questions about her life in the village.
She told us that after her husband suffered from a stroke, it was up to her to support them along with their 7 children. Her husband previously had a job with the government which kept them stable so this sickness was a shock for their family. On her own, she would only collect on average 8 bags of crops during harvest. After VIP provided her with conservation farming training, she doubled her harvest and was able to gather 15 bags of crops from her fields. With this abundance, she was able to sell the extra to pay for school fees for her children.
Mrs. Chimenya explained to us how conservation farming works for her crops. She was taught to use maize stalks similar to hay which prevent the immature crops from becoming damaged from the heat of the sun. This technique also helps to lock moisture into the soil and keep the ground from becoming dry. As the maize stalks decompose, they return nutrients into the soil. With this technique, she planted an assortment of crops including maize, cassava, sweet potatoes, and ground nuts. After talking to her and the family, she then showed us her fields where she does her work in addition to her stand in the front of the house. At the end of our visit, they brought us sweet potatoes to eat and showed so much gratitude for VIP’s work.
On this my 4th time to Malawi I still find my heart leaning in with the Agogos. I love these women. They have already had a long full life and yet here they are caring for their grandchildren and orphans as well. Life here is not easy. These women have been gathering water for their families their entire life. This entails walking varying distances and carrying about 20 lbs on their head and neck back to the home. They have also been preparing food over open fires and literally stooping completely over to cook the food over the flames while smoke barrels into their faces. I won’t even mention the pit latrines and how there are no toilet seats …. All this to remind us of their way of life and what it entails to survive physically and mentally in the villages.
Most have also lost children and husbands. No time for grief, water must be fetched and dinner made ready. Now in their later years, they are not resting and enjoying their golden years they are still raising children only it’s grandchildren and orphans this time. Their parents either have died or simply left. They still must carry babies on their backs, work their field, and pray for God to provide in their time of need. These same women are the ones that greet the team with singing and dancing. They praise God for the blessing of the visitors and share their joy with us. It is contagious and captures my heart completely. Their strength and resilience is amazing and it is a gift THEY give to me. I can hear them even now (back on American soil) and I pray for them. Father in heaven, hear their prayers, hold them in your hand and love them as only you Father God can. Amen.
Malawi leaves an unforgettable imprint on the hearts of everyone who takes the journey to walk alongside our brothers and sisters. Trip participants leave learning much more than they ever imagined. Through singing, praise, and an unshakeable sense of hope, the power of the human spirit is revealed. Love is exchanged with every smile as the team travels through the villages. VIP’s projects show trip participants the transformative power of giving back first-hand. Our July Friendship team felt deeply moved as they came to the end of their trip. Before traveling back to the airport, everyone expressed their excitement to share their life-changing experience with their family members and friends. See the team’s takeaways below.
“I felt called to come to Malawi for work and the experience, but what I received was a connection, meaning, and my own healing.” – Megan Sanders from Wylie, TX
“This is NOT a sad place. The colors and sounds are wonderful” – Anne Diebel from Allentown, New Jersey
“The joy on the people’s faces is amazing. I have prayed about coming here for a while and I am so glad I am here. This place has hope; these people have GRIT! So inspiring!” – Wende Liebert from Wylie, TX
“The Malawian people are just like us, just poorer. They have the same basic desires as we Americans. If there will always be poor people, as Jesus says, perhaps that is so that we with more resources can show compassion by sharing ours.” – Bart Hubbard from Garland, TX
“I expected this to be a great experience, and it has. I feel that I have acquired a great deal of knowledge about the lives of the people of Malawi and I feel great love and compassion for them.” – Kent McCully from Dallas, TX
“Going to Malawi gave me a new perspective on life reminding me how small gestures of kindness can make a world of a difference for families with very little. The work VIP is doing is truly life changing. To see the transformative power of giving back first hand was incredibly moving.” – Carissa Rea from Lawrenceville, New Jersey
When we walk into the dusty clearing surrounding a quaint little hut, an old man hobbles out to meet us. He calls something in rapid Chichewa to a couple boys nearby. They run and grab some burlap sacks on which we sit to avoid getting our cloths too dusty.
After we are seated, he totters over and greets each of us. After greetings, he sits to talk. The sweetest eyes peer out from his round face and a toothless smile stretches from ear to ear. We are immediately charmed.
We are here for a home-visit, an essential part of every trip to Malawi – even for the medical team. Amidst the busy days of clinic, it is important to find time to come, be present, and chat with some of the most vulnerable families. It invites insight into the lives of people who live without secure food sources, without dry spaces on which to sleep, without clean water.
Today we are visiting Levision Dulana at Mpoola village. I am with my Mom, a team member named Carol, and our translator, Sydney.
“We are here to learn a little bit about your life,” Carol tells him. “Is it ok if we ask you some questions?” (Sydney is translating everything).
“Of course, it is fine,” he replies.
“Who lives with you?”
“A 13 year-old grandson, but he is gone now for Chinamwale in the Simba.”
Chinamwale is the initiation of boys to men – they are circumcised at the beginning and then spend a month secluded in a tent with men, learning about many… things. I shudder imagining this traumatizing experience as a 13-year-old.
We talk for some time – his story is like many others. He lives alone because his wife left when he grew too ill to work. He did not harvest enough food to last the year. He lives with the boy because he cannot care for himself. But the community helps him, sending aid. He is still not sure how he will make it. God will provide.
Finally, my Mom returns to the initial conversation. “Abambo, can you tell us about chinamwale? Or is it a secret? What do you learn there?”
To all who venture to Malawi, I encourage you to spend time with my Mom – she asks the best questions!
“They teach the boys to respect their elders. They tell them they must work hard or women will not like them. But I can tell you nothing else.” He chuckles. “There are many things regarding women!”
“Do you expect your grandson to be a better helper when he returns? More respectful?”
When conversation dies down, we ask him if he has any questions for us. Questions about our lives, America. He retorts – “I have never left this village! How should I know what I should ask?” He laughs some more.
At the end of the visit, we present him with some gifts, including a pair of soccer cleats. He lights up. Although he can barely shuffle around the house, he tells us he is an avid soccer player. The toothbrush makes him smile even more – “I have only 1 tooth – it will be a clean one!” He points to the back of his mouth.
As we take leave, my Mom takes a picture of us together. “Will you bring me this photo so I can tell my friends that I hosted azungu (white people)?”
“We will try – next time we come, maybe we will dance together because the vitamins will make you so strong.”
“Next time you come, I will be on the football pitch!” He says, bent at a right angle because he cannot support his body upright. He sends us off with his laughter echoing through the air.
A few days ago, Sokoso, our veterinary officer, told me that a happy man lives long. I think this old man has many years yet to live.
Filled with singing, dancing, and celebration, graduations are a lively part of Malawian culture even at preschool age. As we pulled into the ceremony, there were hundreds of parents, teachers, and students gathered to witness this exciting occasion. Over 18 preschools were in attendance with 200 children who will now be moving to Standard 1 (First Grade) at Primary School in September. Upon request from the villages, VIP supported all preschools in attendance making this graduating class possible. Our group was directed to sit with the chiefs of the villages in a highly respected front row tented area. The MC then invited us along with the chiefs from the villages to get a glimpse into what the students were learning during this past year.
We were brought into a crowded room with different sections representing various areas of teaching and learning. For example, there was an outdoor playing area, creative art area, block and building area, music and instrument area along with others. The children beamed with excitement as they demonstrated their new skills learned over the past year at each station. By observing, we saw the well-rounded approach taken by these preschools. As we made our way back to our seats, a play or “drama” began in the center of the event. There were two men dressed up speaking loudly in Chichewa as the crowd roared with laughter. The translation of the play was hard for me to follow; however, the Malawians definitely appreciated their humor. After their performance, each preschool was invited up to the microphone to show case what they learned.
I was surprised to see each school represented in this way. Back in America, a group this large would typically be addressed as one group. Malawian culture has a way of making you feel individually noticed and appreciated. As the preschools came forward, the children presented a skill they learned. Some recited their ABCs into the microphone, counted as a group from 1 to 100, while others sang songs together. After each group, the DJ played music and the crowds would break out into a dance including the MC. Following the 18 preschools that were presented, speeches were given from Mwalabu and Liz. The last stage of the graduation was to hand out certificates to each student; however, everyone decided the ceremony went on for too long. Instead, they brought up two students from each preschool to represent making the flow more manageable. As the ceremony came to a close of course the Malawian way called for more celebrating by sharing Obama bread (named after our former president) and drinking Coca Cola. Sharing this joyful occasion with the Malawian community reminded me how important it is to celebrate every accomplishment in life no matter how big or small.
I was barely aware that she had a baby with her, much less that she was breast feeding while she quietly handed over her medical passport. She spoke to my translator and described her reasons for seeking care for her baby and he turned and carefully chose the English words to translate her Chichewa (the local language) into terms that I would understand. I could use this description for dozens of the patients that I’ve seen over the past two days at a small medical clinic in the village of Liti in rural Malawi. Today was the second of three clinic days. Our team saw just over 280 villagers over the course of 6 hours. They come to us with fevers and wounds and a variety of conditions that would warrant admission to most U.S. hospitals, and they patiently and quietly wait to be seen. There is no visible frustration on their faces, no sense of entitlement or voices of impatience, a subdued yet determined demeanor permeates their culture.
I chose to come on this trip with Villages in Partnership with very little persuasion from my clinical instructor at Xavier University. I have worked in a busy U.S emergency department for nearly 6 years and I saw this as an opportunity to regain the perspective that made me want to be a nurse in the first place. Too often I leave work with frustrations of the American bureaucracy that healthcare has become with more thoughts about whether I had diligently documented than the care that I provided. Nursing schools emphasize the concepts of beneficence and non-maleficence (do good things for your patients, don’t hurt them) and this experience has allowed me to get back to the root of those tenets and that has been more refreshing than I could have imagined.
The baby was done breast-feeding and stared at me with giant brown eyes and a full head of matted kinky hair that stood at least three inches off her little head. I asked my translator, “Tell her that her baby is beautiful and has more hair than I have ever had”, he quickly complied. She let out a soft laugh (I’m completely bald and likely to be the first white person she has ever interacted with). Her nine month old had a cough and a fever, symptoms that many American parents would simply treat with over the counter children’s Tylenol and rest. Things get a little more high-stakes in a place where there is no counter, and Malaria is a very real threat when these symptoms appear. We tested 122 patients for it our first day, 59 came back positive, and still they wait patiently to be seen by a provider to receive their prescriptions and plan of care.
I close my eyes and listen to my fellow Malawian VIP team member recite a prayer in chechewa at the start of my first day of clinics. All I could think about was that I, an American nursing student, would be providing care for the sickest of sick and I had no idea what I was doing. My mind was racing in a thousand directions and I was overwhelmed. As the work began at our clinics, we started off at a slow pace. As I took vitals, I made sure to look each patient in the eye to say “muli bwanji” – “how are you.” The connections I made with each patient helped me get through my work in triage. Our work progressed and as we began to work efficiently as a group, we were able to make deeper connections with our patients.
When doing vitals, I saw a little girl with her grandmother who flashed me a smile. I could see it in her face that she was ill and in pain. My translator and I asked the grandmother what the little girl’s chief complaint was and she told us she had a fever, headache, and stomach pain. As the grandmother was explaining the symptoms, the little girl brushed her hand up against mine to hold it. As I held her in my arms I could feel her distended belly and her pain. The grandmother then explained how the little girl had a twin sister who passed away from the same symptoms and she was worried about this twin getting sick. She explained how her mother left after her twin sister passed away because she was so sad and was now in the grandmothers care. As tears rolled down her eyes, we comforted the grandmother as she told us her story. The well being of her grandchild was secondary to the rashes and burns all over her body. The story of this family and the care I provided on the first day will be something I will never forget. Each Malawian smile, tear and heartbeat I heard were all joyful in the midst of sickness.
- written by Sarah Herr
This medical mission trip has proved to be one incredible journey. This is my first time in Africa, first time doing a mission trip, and my first time being a part of the Villages in Partnership. To say I was overwhelmed, at first, is an understatement. I had moments of pure doubt in myself, but knowing that I am doing all that I can for the Malawians truly is something special. The team has been such an incredible group of people all coming together to do something bigger than ourselves. Being in the clinics truly put everything in full circle of how we are helping these people. I am so thankful to be a part of trip, to be here with the team, and to help in any way I can. The clinics can be overwhelming with so many people who need relief and are in pain, and to be able to help these people is nothing short of amazing. To be a part of a group that is doing all that they can for others with nothing in return is phenomenal. In the clinic, today, I met this young girl with a deep wound on her leg. The entire time we were washing, cleaning, and bandaging this wound, the girl made no sound. However, you can see it in her face that she was in extreme pain. It is this kind of bravery and courage that kept me going throughout the day. The Malawians are such strong and incredible people, and I am so blessed to be able to give them my time and energy in order to give them better outcomes. What a trip so far!
The team splits into three groups in the morning. The first group is going to harvest honey with village bee keepers. I was originally intending to travel with them but my newly acquired cold makes me fearful of being stuck in a bee suit with no way to reach my nose. The second group is going to help some construction workers move bricks to the construction site – as thrilling as this sounds, I think I will pass. So, I join the third group. We are going to work with a group of village women to prepare lunch for the team. A village lunch is always an interesting affair. But before we travel into the villages for lunch, we must make a stop to pick up groceries.
We pull up on the tarmac (not an airport, just another word for paved roads here in Malawi). Mada, our community health worker, runs to the car and climbs into the back. She individually asks us all how we are doing in typical Malawian politeness and then directs my Mom to the next stop – the butchers.
Farther along the road, we park. There are two wooden stalls here surrounded by a cohort of men. Hanging from the roofs are large chunks of freshly butchered goat meat. A leg is identifiable but the rest is ambiguous. On the table underneath the stall, I see pieces of liver, and one man even holds up the testicles. Mada informs us later that the testicles are her favorite part of the goat – very soft and juicy. They put the meat on scales balanced with metal weights on the other side to determine weight and price.
While the butchers are measuring out the meat and chopping it into pieces with a machete, one man tries to talk with me. He is speaking rapidly in a language I do not understand – I assume it is Chichewa that has simply exceeded my limited vocabulary. When I try to communicate my lack of understanding, “Pepani, sindikumva,” which literally means “Sorry, I don’t hear,” he starts laughing. All the men do. I blush. It can feel very disconcerting to have a gang of men speaking a language you don’t know and laughing at you. Finally, he recovers his composure.
“Yao!” He says. Understanding crosses my face. He is not speaking Chichewa; he is speaking Yao. I join them, laughing at myself. We azungu (white people) must look very silly.
The goat meat is ready and we drive along to a much larger market. Piles of tomatoes, oranges, bananas, lettuce, potatoes, rice, and other produce stretch as far as the eye can see. They are laid out on the ground, in piles, on cloth, on plates, in trays, or just on the dusty ground. There are some more unusual food stuffs too – dried insects, live chickens, fried mice. We pick up firewood, tomatoes, rice, cooking oil, and six live chickens. We put them under the seats of the car where they squawk occasionally.
When we finally begin moving again, we are a carload of Malawians, Americans, chickens, goat testicles, firewood, and an assortment of other goods. Mada leads the car in song. As we sing, the chickens fall silent. Little do they know, this is their funeral dirge.
Joy is the best word I can use to summarize the past few days here in Malawi. With every visit to a new village, we are welcomed with open arms and thankful hearts for our partnership. It’s so powerful to see first hand how our churches back home in America have impacted the Sakata Region VIP works in. We visited the Libwalo well this week with our Friendship Trip team providing us with a clear understanding of how clean water can dramatically alter life. Prior to constructing this well, villagers had to walk miles just to collect water. Now, the local well allows children to spend time in school rather than gathering water for the household. The accessibility of this well also gives women the extra time to focus on other daily activities to help bring in an income to support their families.
Once we arrived at the Libwalo village and piled out of the Land Cruiser, a group of women joyfully greeted us by singing and dancing. They eagerly invited us to see their well that Canyon Creek Presbyterian Church from Texas provided funding for in 2015. The villagers happily shared their success stories by explaining how the community is experiencing less sickness overall by drinking clean water and traveling less to collect it. Everyone continued to show their appreciation through songs, dancing and clapping during our time there. Our Canyon Creek members on our Friendship Trip team; Megan Sanders, Wende Liebert, Kent McCully and Bart Hubbard, all had a chance to pump the well to celebrate the life-changing difference this project is making.
As we began to wrap up the visit, the villagers walked us over to our Land Cruiser singing and dancing once again. Liz encouraged me to go dance with the group before we left. As I slowly approached them, a woman grabbed my hands while everyone crowded around me celebrating their answered prayers for clean water. The village’s love for VIP was strongly translated as they graciously showed their appreciation to each one of us. Seeing the well in person opened my eyes to the impact clean water has not only on their health but everyday lifestyle as well. The generosity of Canyon Creek Church was a direct answer to prayer in this village.
Waking up to the call of a rooster was a gentle reminder of how different life is here in Malawi. We started our first day at breakfast together reading a passage of scripture and talking through the message’s impact during our time here. The verse was reflective of the power of love through hospitality and selfless care for one another. Love was a keyword that stood out to me today becoming very real as we journeyed through the Villages. Culturally, Malawians are different in plenty of ways; however, love joins us together and in the end makes us much more similar than I realized.
The first trip we made was to the Chimpeni Primary School. Our Land Cruiser rolled up catching the eyes of students as they began racing towards us with gleaming smiles. As we piled out of the truck, they were bursting with excitement and curiosity about our visit. The VIP staff gave us a throughout tour of the grounds along with a great overview of the school’s progress since construction. This progression was a clear demonstration of how villages partner together with American “villages” through selfless care and giving. I was blown away by how much progress has been made since the first structure was completed in 2012 thanks to our VIP supporters. In Malawi, the average teacher to student ratio is 1 teacher to 100 students. Here, the average was closer to 1 teacher to 40 students creating a more productive work environment. Our teacher housing at the school along with solar lighting retains more teachers contributing to this success. The passion from them along with the students was noticed immediately after stepping into the first classroom.
During our visit, they radiated happiness and graciously thanked us for the work VIP contributed to enhance education in Malawi. Every teacher greeted us separately with warm smiles asking for our names and welcoming us to the school. Malawians have an incredible way of making you feel so welcomed and appreciated. Experiencing the classrooms in person was so eye opening to me. A common question the teachers asked students was what they wanted to be when they grow up. Individually, students responded saying doctors, police office, teachers, and so on. Through VIP’s love, we really are able to make dreams come true for these students. The scripture we read on paper this morning came to life in person today and helped me to shift my focus to the life-changing impact of love, hospitality and selfless care for others. First hand I was able to witness the transforming love from VIP reflected onto this community.
We drive over rocks, bumps, decayed wooden bridges that look on the verge of collapse, dirt roads that look as though no vehicle has ever driven there before. When we finally stop, we are deep in the village of Phetembe. No other vehicle in sight. No other white person in sight. An older man greets us but, before formal introductions, we must wait until his son joins us. When the son comes, Mr. Mwalabu, the project manager of Villages in Partnership, Malawi, leads the introductions. He introduces himself, the field worker Matope, and my Mom. In Malawi, she goes by Mayi Liz, Mayi Nelson, or Mayi abusa. Mayi, meaning mother in the local language, Chichewa, is the prefix given all women. Mayi Abusa is the name given to the wife of a pastor. Mr. Mwalabu refrains from introducing me and allows Mayi Liz to try her Chichewa.
“Uyu ndi mwana wanga” she says – this one is my daughter. She turns to me, “how do I say lastborn?”
“Womaliza,” it is probably the only word I will say for the entire visit. Hierarchy is very important in Malawian culture – as a younger person I am expected to be seen and not heard. And in an important meeting like this, I am all too happy to just observe.
The men laugh, happy to see white people at least try to learn their language.
In their own turn, the men from the village introduce themselves. Everything is translated as neither speak English. Mr. Ndala and his son are here to show us a piece of their land. VIP is in search of land where they can build a secondary school. Here, in the heart of these villages, any student who makes it through middle school must travel miles to a secondary school. Hours of walking increase dropout rates, as it cuts into time to study and quickly becomes a wearisome walk. A new secondary school would be a gift to everyone in the community.
Mr. Ndala walks us around the perimeter of his land. There are no markers to indicate the edge of his property, and as we walk through the brush, it is difficult to understand how they have decided where the property ends. We seem to be trudging through the middle of a field as far as I can tell. To our left lies a line of trees and I cannot understand why they are not the property markers.
It seems like a sizeable piece of land although even this is hard to tell when we are walking on foot. When we arrive back where we started, Mr. Mwalabu indicates we should go to a more private area to talk in depth. We retreat to Mr. Ndala’s house. My Mom and Mr. Mwalabu drop behind to confer. I hear her whisper “should I ask about price now? Or should we wait for another meeting?”
In a land where I will never fully understand the culture or customs, trust in our Malawian staff and partners is of the utmost importance. They guide us through proper ways of showing respect and teach us the correct customs. I am reminded of the importance of honoring this relationship as a partnership. We are not the experts – we are collaborators coming to learn as much as we teach. I am always impressed with my Mom’s ability to honor this aspect of the work.
When we reach Ndala’s house, we sit on a reed mat and begin the meeting. First my Mom admires the land. She compliments the beauty of the area, the hospitality of the community. In turn, Ndala and his son speak to the importance of having a new school where young people can be propelled into new stratus of life and ideas. It also might help keep them away from the bars and opposite sex, which is an added plus. A secondary school, they say, will bring light to our village. It is a beautiful sentiment.
After 20 minutes of compliments, the conversation circles around towards the main point. “When we came to consider land,” my Mom says, “we had to consider 3 things. Size, if it was flat, and price.” The word lingers in the air. Price. “So… what can you offer?”
Of course, they will not make any decisions during this meeting but at least we will walk away with a baseline. It is clear the men are ready for the question. “If you were a business man, we would charge you 12 million kwacha. But because you are coming to build a school, we will charge you 9 million.”
My Mom says she was hoping to pay less. I can see her excitement rise – the negotiation. I hate this part. She loves it. “I will have to go ask my superiors. Maybe you can meet us somewhere in the middle?” I smile. Of course, the superiors comment is only half true. She is, after all, executive director. They agree to compromise when she returns from her “superiors.”
More pleasantries are exchanged. After another 20 minutes, we depart. In America, an exchange like this would be infuriating. 1 hour of meeting for what added up to about 5 minutes of actual exchange of information. But in Malawi, we take it in stride. At least it wasn’t 3 hours.
Packing is one of the most important steps when preparing to go on a trip to Malawi. Proper planning will ensure you have all the items needed to make your experience the best it can be. The trips also give us the opportunity to bring over supplies, gifts and clothing to vulnerable families. To avoid feeling overwhelmed by this process, this post will cover everything you should have in place before leaving.
Travel Packing: When preparing for your flight, don’t forget to bring your passport along. Remember to check if your passport expiration date is valid, at least 6 months from the departure date, prior to leaving. Once you arrive at the Blantyre airport, there will be a $75 visa requirement that will be paid in cash. Malawi largely remains a cash only economy. We suggest you bring $100 to $300 along with you on your trip in cash since there are very few ATMs. Cash can be exchanged at a Foreign Exchange Bureau. Since the flight is long, we suggest wearing comfortable clothing while traveling.
Clothing to Pack: Women in the villages dress modest and avoid showing their legs and shoulders. We ask that all women pack long dresses and skirts well below the knee along with a slip to avoid see through fabric. For shirts, plan on packing tops with sleeves; t-shirts are acceptable to wear. For men, pack causal light pants only (no shorts), t-shirts, and collared shirts. Everyone should plan on bringing a dressier Sunday outfit for church. In addition, pack light jackets, rain jackets, sweatshirts, pajamas, sturdy sneakers or shoes for rough terrain and sandals. Women can also wear chitenges which is a large piece of cloth that is wrapped around your body like a skirt. During the trip, we’ll stop at a fabric store for those of you who would want to bring home this beautiful fabric.
Additional Items to Pack: To make the most of your trip, we suggest you bring the following items. Headlamps and flash lights are suggested to pack for night. If you would like to bring food from home, bring items that can easily be stored like granola, trail mix, and power bars. Pack a refillable water bottle. Jugs of clean water are provided at the farm to refill your water bottles. In addition, pack a backpack, a Bible, books to read, a journal, cards or games, pens, paper, hand sanitizer, soap, shampoo, and small gifts for Malawian colleagues. Often, one suitcase is packed with items specifically for the villagers including tooth brushes, tooth paste, light blankets, t-shirts, fabric, soap, Vaseline, and picture books with dark skinned characters.
Are you thinking about joining a trip with VIP to Malawi? You may be feeling called to join; however, questions are filling your mind from logistics of travel to the culture. Friendship and Medical Trips allow us to come along side our brothers and sister in Malawi to develop lasting connections and provide healthcare to the most vulnerable. This country is faced with extreme poverty and our presence is deeply appreciated, life-changing, and transformative. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be discussing these topics and answering questions you may be asking yourself. Our first topic is your health and steps you’ll need to take before taking your trip.
How do I start preparing?
Your health while in Malawi is important and we’re sure that if you follow these steps you’ll greatly reduce any risk during your time there. After signing up for a trip, we recommend you start gathering your past medical history of vaccinations to evaluate what you’ve already been treated for. Once you have this information, schedule an appointment with your health-care provider at least 4 – 6 weeks before your trip. This time frame will allow your vaccines to take full effect before arriving to Malawi.
What vaccinations do I need exactly?
First, make sure you are completely up to date with routine shots including the measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria/pertussis/tetanus (DPT) vaccine and the poliovirus vaccine. Once you confirmed you’re caught up with these shots, speak to your health-care provider to see if you were vaccinated for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Typhoid. If not, these three vaccinations are recommended for this trip and are all given in shot form. You may need to see a Travel Health Clinic since many doctor offices do not carry the vaccine for Typhoid.
Do I need to take Anti-Malaria treatment?
Yes, Malaria medication is a must for travel in Malawi. Typically, health-care providers recommend that you start taking the medication prior to your arrival to ensure its effectiveness. When speaking to your doctor, be sure to tell them that you will be spending time in the sun since some malaria medications can cause your skin to become sensitive to the sun. Anti-Malaria treatment usually comes in pill form and can be taken orally, this is not given as a shot.