Reflection on Malawi
Trip Start Jan 13, 2009
11Trip End Mar 20, 2009
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Where I stayed
home of UCG member
Last week the LifeNets coordinator Mr. Salawila kept me bouncing around Blantyre as I researched LifeNets operations in that region. After finishing the "office work," the LifeNets staff took outdoor excursions through two wilderness capitals: Mt. Mulanje and the Liwonde National Park. Today's blog highlights three LifeNets beneficiaries in Blantyre and the natural wonders encountered on our return to Lilongwe.
Briefly, I'd like to share a personal reflection in light of this internship. Tomorrow I turn the ripe old age of 21. It's not an important event, but I confessed my age to the Blantyre UCG members last Sabbath and spoke briefly about how youth can do "big things," as some new friends have asked in light of my time here. Each day I'm reaping rewards from a strong family support. Maybe I can do "big things," as they phrase it, because I succeeded in doing the little things well with the help and instruction of my parents. On the surface that sounds trite. But it's through helping me overcome challenges everyday they loved me. Thanks for teaching me that lesson, early! It's helped me maintain clarity and focus. The bible says that those who seek correction are crowned with wisdom. What a tool for youth! Thankfully, I had a family in Malawi who also cared to give me guidance. Their help and sound wisdom has helped keep me safe. For the external dangers, I rely on God and His angels for protection-certainly unable to face on my own. But by learning to love sound instruction, any youth can "be strong and of good courage" to do "big things." Just a little lesson I've learned on this adventure.
Lilongwe members of UCG, LifeNets beneficiaries and I will say goodbye and celebrate our short time together on Saturday night. They have taught me so much about living and working in a developing country. About family and faith. And overcoming.
There are still many more LifeNets scholarship and business grant recipients. In my next and final entry, you'll see a photo gallery and list of their names. In all, I interviewed 43 LifeNets beneficiaries: 26 scholarship recipients and 18 business grant recipients. After seeing the faces, feel free to email me if you would like to know more about their efforts. With that, enjoy "Blantyre and Baboons."
1. MANES CHIRWA - age 34 and finishing high school
2. MIRACLE KACHALI -- Business Administration scholarship recipient
3. HONEY SWEET WITH APPRECIATION-- business grant
4. MT. MULANJE AND LIWONDE NATIONAL PARK
Many girls don't finish their high school education. Some get married and have kids. They lack skills and struggle to get find any work, let a lone a job. Manes Chirwa is over 30 and married with four children without a high school diploma. But with a LifeNets scholarship, she's now accomplishing this achievement. At Love of God Private Secondary School, Manes will soon take exams to finish her senior year and earn the Malawi School Certificate of Education needed to get a job. You can imagine the challenges to care for a family and deal with the social alienation from teenagers at school as a "mature student." But Manes had a big smile of determination as she told me about what this scholarship means to her.
GOAL: She's never worked but is firmly fixed on achieving her goal to become a secretary.
"I've realized that school is important, and I want to start [a] job," Manes said in broken English.
She decided to continue her education long ago, but failed to find money for school fees. Now she has the chance through a LifeNets scholarship.
FIGHTING THROUGH THE CHALLENGES: Her husband runs a hardware business and earns about K15,000/month ($107). "I can say that we have enough for today's food," she said about their current financial position. A secretary position earning around K6,000/month ($43) will really help the family with other needs.
The family is already reaping benefits from her education: "When I am reading, the children say, 'mom, can I go and read?' and we all read together."
VISION TO HELP: "I encourage others to go to school. I had a friend who said that she was too big to go to school," said Manes. "But I told her, 'no, you have to go to school.'" She's firm that education is the key to success and she wants to help others just as LifeNets did for her.
"My parents are both farmers...not commercial farmers, but subsistence farmers. We don't do much of the selling. My father can't manage to help us go to school...but he tries his best."
Miracle is in her second year in the business administration diploma program, now at Malawi College of Accountancy, Blantyre campus. She achieved her certificate (first year) at Mzuzu University-a government school of higher education of competitive entry. "Mom and dad went to the feast [of tabernacles] in 2007, and that's where they learned about the scholarship program. Last year all of us kids got to attend the feast and I met Mr. and Mrs. Kubik," she said. This January, Miracle began her first term as a LifeNets scholarship recipient, and she's thrilled for the chance.
GOALS: "When I finish, mainly I want to start my own business. [Right now] I want to know how life is when you are trying to administrate something....if I go much further I want to be a chartered accountant. I decided that a long time ago. I wanted to go further with accounts, so that's when I started to plan."
FIGHTING THROUGH THE CHALLENGES. Girls in Malawi marry at an early age. Many drop out of high school to wed and have children. Miracle said that she wants to be an exemplary example of strength for other girls-that they too can achieve a high education through sweat and perseverance. She cites that at school "sometimes we are defeated by boys" and that girls can loose their focus when the get to school and are involved in "immoral behaviors...those are some of the challenges."
"Here in Malawi, most of the girls, we ladies, we are not taken seriously in schools. They regard us that we can't go ahead with our education most of the time. But for me, I'm fighting hard to set the right example amongst the girls to show that we girls, we can also make it...we can make a difference in whatever we do."
More especially, she's fighting to set the right example to her younger sister who is living back home. Miracle laughs and speaks in a high voice to imitate her sister: "Oh, sissy's working hard and I should fight hard as well." She hopes her sister says.
VISION TO HELP: Miracle wants to be a role model to those in the village and help those girls in rural communities go to school. She says that "just as I have been helped, I want to do that for other people." And if there is the chance, Miracle wants to be part of LifeNets in the future: "I want help them as they have just done to me." After she finishes her course in business she said she can go and teach people around Malawi.
THANKS! : "We can see people's lives really changing. It's really been wonderful. One of the examples is me. I know that when I pass, I am changing. Life will be better for me. People's lives are being improved. It's something great. Thank you to all the people of LifeNets, up north. God should continue blessing them."
HONEY SWEET WITH APPRECIATION
Miracle's grandfather, Gilton Chakhaza, packages and sells honey under his own label called KASO ("something appreciated") Pure Honey. Nearly 80, Mr. Chakhaza is very energized by his small business. LifeNets provided Mr. Chakhaza with funds to run his business February 2008 which supplied the capital for his storage vats and 200 liter processing containers filled with honey, jars, seals and labels. Telling me about his process, he said that he "buys from the bee-keepers and bee-farmers [in the mountains] and bring it here to process it." Normally, honey is scarce during the rainy season but Mr. Chakahaza said that "thanks to LifeNets, I can have honey all year around."
Now he's self-sufficient on profits. A 250g honey jar makes him a profit of K250 ($1.79) with a sales price of K500. For the past few months, sales have been low-around 30 per month-but are normally around 50. Even though this seems little, the business is helping him "quite a lot." The success of his small business has helped him provide more for him and the many children he cares for.
"Sometimes we don't have food and someone comes and buys a bottle....I'll say, 'ah, Miracle, we have food,'" he said thankfully.
I bought six jars of KASO honey with the intention to give as gifts from Malawi back home. But coming from Blantyre they made a sticky mess in my clothes and book bag. ...So Mr. Rashid will be able replace bleached sugar with KASO honey for a few months-a substitute much too expensive to enjoy everyday.
MT. MOLANJE AND LIWONDE NATIONAL PARK
Within an hour driving distance from Blantyre is the third tallest mountain in Africa, Mt. Molanje (pictured above) with deep red dirt, thick tropical forests and warm spring waterfalls. The LifeNets board members and I took a two hour trek up the mountain. At 65, Mr. Salawila had never hiked and never been to a mountain. This was also a first for Mr. Rashid, the Lilongwe based coordinator whom I've been staying with. We were all ecstatic. Friends of Mr. Salawila know how he shakes his hands when he laughs-as if he's trying to make them dry. Many times we just looked at each other and he exploded in laughter. It's so massive; we couldn't see the summit through the fog. The water falls were like drain pipes from the clouds. Tea plantations lay for miles in the valley below.
Between Blantyre and Lilongwe we visited the Liwonde National Park, a 220 sq mile wildlife reserve. This safari was also a first for all-both native Malawians and USA foreigner. After a serene outdoor lunch at a visitors lodge inside the park, a guide crammed in the back of our full five-passenger car to identify the surrounding trees and animals around the park. There weren't any chickens crossing the road, but rather baboons, impala, water buck and warthogs. Unlike Kenya, the horizon isn't a desert-like savanna but rather a palm-spotted lagoon. Elephants abound during the dry season, but avoid walking around through the mud during the current rainy months. But we could see their trail. Bobo trees (like the one pictured) are chewed like sugar cane by the floppy-eared beast sucking for water during the drought of summer. Poachers have killed many lions and rhinos by poisoning water in the drinking holes. Sadly, few poachers are caught.
Most Malawians will never see the rich natural wonders of their country due to entrance fees and transport expenses. I wish they could bring their families to see the mountain and animals. I can only imagine the fun Paul (8) and Simeon (5) would have swimming in the waterfall and watching baboons play.
Thank you for your interest in my blog as you read of LifeNets education, business and health investment in Malawi. It's been a great privilege to learn how these developments are changing the lives of many lacking opportunity. The environment is tough and demands hard work! But diligent recipients are working to better their lives so that they can help others. As one scholarship recipient stated, LifeNets is "the net of our lives."