Category Archives: The Hunger Project

“I wonder what are the poor people doing?”

If you’ve ever made that throw away comment whilst floating around a resort pool with a cocktail waiting for you on the side… I can now give you an answer…

For a complete change of pace, we headed to Majete 5.  A new community for The Hunger Project bordering a game reserve in southern Malawi (and yes, it’s the 5th surrounding the reserve.)

This area has been working with The Hunger Project for only a short while on their mindset change, and have just had their first Vision, Commitment, Action (VCA) workshop.  Their communities surround a reserve for tourists, now hosting the Big 5 and was once the source of their food and income.  Now, relocated on the outside of the fence, life is harder than ever before.

This means that what we’re seeing is pretty much real Malawi and the lives people lead faced with chronic, persistent hunger.  Many who are fortunate, eat twice at day.  At the moment, there is no Epicentre building, and the work has just begun.  They are skeptical that any real changes can be made in their lives, resigned to the lives they lead and yet hopeful that change can be made by partnering the THP.

We witnessed history in the making during the morning, when locals expressed their hesitance and reluctance to engage, believing that life had always been ‘this way’ and that it probably always would be.  They were also cautiously optimistic that maybe this time, real change could be made, but hardly convinced.   And before our eyes, after a rousing talk by the THP Director of Malawi Rolands Kaoatcha and THP employee Grace shared their passion, changed their minds, so hopeful for their children, that change was indeed possible.  It made us reflect later on how much our own limiting beliefs keep us imprisoned to the ideas we ‘choose’ to partner with.

Maternal and infant health is a huge issue in the area, with women in labour having to walk for 27kms (around 7 hours+) to the nearest health facility to give birth.  Many are too tired to make the full journey and give birth along the way.  Any complications mean possible death for the mother, infant or both.  To say the tears were flowing on hearing their stories is the understatement of the trip so far.  Knowing that I would have died trying to have my daughter without medical assistance made the stories more poignant for me and we were moved to tears with one man begging for a health service and ambulance for their women during our visit.

We were soon divided into four groups and braved epic Malawian heat as we were each welcomed into the homes for four local families who shared their personal stories with us.  One family married their daughter off at 12 (apparently she was willing) so that the dowry could feed the remaining family for the rest of ‘the hungry season.’  Others shared their stories of love and loss, of saving 10 years for iron sheets for their roofs and their struggle to feed their families at least twice per day.

To not be moved by such every day battles, and put our own ‘first world problems’ into stark perspective, we’d have been heartless indeed to have not been touched.

Malaria is still a huge issue, and the Majete Malaria Project is working in tandem with THP to improve the lives of those in the villages.

Despite the confrontational day we had, we too were optimistic about their future based on the Epicentre we have seen reach self-reliance and knowing that the work ahead can make positive and real change in their lives.

Their vision that their children may one day end up as President, or even doctors or nurses is more possible right now they could ever believe.

My question for myself as I settle in to bed with a full belly tonight is, as ever, “what’s holding me back?”

A visit to Champiti

Our travels today took us to an Epicentre of The Hunger Project (THP) called Champiti, which has been awarded the status of self-reliance, a huge effort by the local community!

Our bus trip took a couple of hours to head North-West of Blantyre and we passed much barren territory, a lasting effect of the past three years of El Nino which has devastated the country.

Our first stop was the home and shop of the inspirational Sarah Dzenza and the local women greeted us with song, dance and some serious ululating (which we later practiced in the bus!)  Sarah embraced the philosophy of The Hunger Project early and has had 6 loans from the rural bank to expand and grow her businesses (selling supplies and sarongs) and improve her home, now a burnt brick dwelling with rendered walls and an iron roof – quite an achievement!

It was a little overwhelming for me to walk up to her home with memories flooding back of my previous visit to Uganda, being surrounded by children whose folks are doing everything they can to give them a better life, the incredible heat and noise and sunlight that is Africa.

We then headed to briefly meet the first chairman of the Epicentre, Mr Hiwa and his lovely wife of 50 years who explained what life was like for the villages prior to THP and how their lives and that of the community has improved.  Next stop the Epicentre!!

Another amazing traditional dance from both the men and women greeted us on arrival and it felt like we were walking into a National Geographic spread.  We were proudly shown around the maize mill, food bank, medical facilities and rural bank with the local team on hand to answer questions about how they’d managed to achieve the status of self-reliance.

A deeper dive into the various works that committees arrange, such as Women’s Empowerment, Nutrition, Health, HIV & AIDS, Water & Sanitation, Food Security, Micro-finance, Education and Literacy were all covered.  No handouts here, just education across all that’s necessary and massive mindset changes required to move past the resignation and into a place of hope.

Spending time with Everton, the young bank manager and learning about his family and job was lovely.  He tells me women are educated before taking out the loans and strict warnings are given not to pass on the funds to their husbands as they are still responsible for the loan and any associated interest (around 2%) even if their husband’s spend the money!  A warning that women the world over would be wise to follow!

Sex Ed was also fascinating with the mindset changes required for communities to embrace male and female condoms and HIV testing and increasing health and sanitation practices.

After hours of learning and inspiration from the local Malawians we were all invited to join in final songs and dance.  We all need so much more spontaneous song and dance in our lives!  An uplifting and beautiful way to finish our visit.  Then time for selfies, hugs, goodbyes with the kids, more pictures and long waves…

On the way home, a brilliant sunset occurred to our west, as the supermoon rose from the east in epic African skies.  A fitting end to a fabulous day of learning and laughter.

 

Time to be Transformational!

It’s so lovely to take time out in our busy lives to reflect, and on the first day of the Business Chicks Leadership and Immersion program to Malawi with The Hunger Project, we got to do just that.

To start our day, we reflected on all those things in our lives that we were so grateful for which was very special.  Families featured strongly, along with hot running water and electricity and the gift of being born in a country like Australia.   Now at the conclusion of our fundraising journey and before we head out to visit our Village Partners, we visited what we’re most proud of and the leadership lessons we’ve learned so far.

It’s so great to just stop and think about everything we’ve achieved to be here.  Often when congratulations are offered or people praise us for the work we’ve done, we’re quick to wave them aside and move on… but it has been an epic journey to raise $10,000 for a cause that means something to us and step outside of our usual operating space and into where the magic happens.

Many realised how we’re capable of so much more than we thought possible, others thrived on the importance of collaboration and some shared that Fear was their greatest teacher.  Also, it’s ok to prioritise ourselves and that receiving help can be empowering. So many learnings!  My notebook is bursting already!

We learned how to be more present to take in comprehensively what we’re about to encounter in the villages, and that in being uncomfortable or challenged means we’re ready for growth.

A lesson learnt in Uganda last year was highlighted – that we need to “stop being so transactional and start being transformational” – definitely words from the wise. (Thank you Joel!)

Next was taking on the true understanding of chronic persistent hunger and how the symptoms we’ll see are merely the visual from deep rooted social and mental structures.

“It’s hard to create a vision when you don’t even believe that you’re worthy of having one.”  We identified and confronted our own fears for the coming days and weeks and those we’d face on our return home.

It was then time to learn how The Hunger Project tackles the huge issues of poverty and hunger with 5 seemingly basic steps:

  1. Change in Mindset
  2. Good Leadership
  3. Vision
  4. Commitment
  5. Action

Sounds so simple right?  Yet the mindset training alone takes up to two years!  It also makes us challenge what holds us back?  What are beliefs we have that keep us back from achieving all that we want?  Some deep diving to be done here!

The fabulous country director of The Hunger Project Malawi, Rolands Koatcha then spent a couple of hours explaining his own background in the villages, personally facing poverty and hunger with his eight siblings and how education has transformed his life, and of his passion and purpose in changing the lives of his fellow Malawian brothers.

All in all, a very long, epic day full of sharing, love, laughter and tears and preparation for us to head out into the field tomorrow to see one centre firsthand already at the stage of self-reliance and meet the people whose lives are being changed every day.

A Visit to a Child Bride in Mbarara

The Mbarara Epicentre was our next stop on our tour with The Hunger Project (THP.)

Set in lush green hills flanked by towering mountains, it’s a spectacular backdrop for the centre.

Daisy, the Country Director of THP told us that this was where God sat when he made the rest of the earth. I’m inclined to agree.

After a winding walk through magnificent country not far from the Epicentre, we found the home of Rosette (now 34) and her husband Christoph (41.)

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Rosette was 15 when she was married to the handsome businessman, then 21. She is a strikingly attractive woman, dressed in a matching blue top and skirt and was obviously quite house proud and not shy to share her story with us. A dowry of 750, 000 shillings changed hands (about USD$250, or the value of a cow.). Her first child Edith, was born when she was 16 followed the next year by Victor.  Asked if she was afraid of marriage so young, she said that she wasn’t really as she viewed it as the end of her childhood and the start of life as a married woman.

The legal age for marriage in Uganda is 18, but child marriages are still common, especially in rural areas.

They now have 6 children, having added Darius, Owen, Jonan and another to the family. Edith is now 16 in P7. She likes maths and wants to be an accountant. Victor wants to be a Doctor.

When asked if she’d like Edith to be married young, she replied that no, she wants her to wait til she’s finished her schooling at 28!

Happily for Rosette, things have turned out well. Christoph sells coffee beans to a factory and can provide a basic lifestyle for his large family. They have a modest but clean home and raise poultry amongst the banana and coffee plantations lining the hills. When asked if Christoph loves his wife, he replied ‘too much’ leaving us to all awwww at his admission.

Another woman seated in the crowd there to welcome our arrival was Caroline. She too was a child bride, married at 14 and is now 24. Her husband is four years older than her. Her first child was born when she was 15 and she was nursing baby Henry, her 4th child, while we spoke. Like Rosette, she too was excited to be a married woman.

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These concepts that seem so foreign to us are ‘just another day’ stories here.

Thankfully THP is in the area now, and providing Functional Adult Literacy (FAL) classes, a health centre, food bank and Microfinance for those also looking to improve their lot. Rosette and Christoph are thinking of joining soon.

Kiruhura Epicenter lays it on for the visiting Business Chicks

Well it’s not often you arrive to the energy, colour and fanfare of a brass band welcome but this is exactly what awaited us when arriving at the Kiruhura epicentre in South Western Uganda.

Despite the light rain, hundreds from the local community in the local catchment area of The Hunger Project epicentre, were there to welcome the Business Chicks from Australia, and more kept arriving throughout the day.

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Dancers from the Functional Adult Literacy classes sang their thanks to us for funding. Other dancers expressed welcome and joy at our visit. Small children clambered to sit on the laps of the visitors and quickly stole our hearts.

imageWe split into four groups to meet with committee members and be given a tour of the amazing work THP is doing for the area. This centre also has the added distinction of being the first to head to self-reliance, likely meeting this target in the coming twelve months.

A few years of the girls and I were assigned to the group to learn about IGA or Income Generating Activities and we discussed the 9 ways that are utilised to create profit, most of these being agriculturally based. The centre grows and sells food, seeds and is even planning a hostel to charge visitors who come a long way, a modest fee to stay.

The committee members all personally introduced themselves and explained the volunteer nature of the work they do at the Centre, as animators, and farmers. All were rightly proud of the part they’ve played in the area’s success.

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This centre is truly something special and their greenhouse, irrigation displays, piggery, grafting facility, milling rooms and farms were an example to all the area.

This centre also houses a rural bank for Microfinance and a health centre, food bank and meeting rooms.

Around 1000 from the local community turned out for speeches to farewell the chairman of the past 8 years and gift 20 animators bicycles to help assist them reach further in their work.

More celebrations, group dances and song wrapped up an amazing welcome for the visiting Business Chicks to Kiruhura.

A visit to the Namayumba Epicentre in Uganda

Well, today we started our trip on the road to visit the Namayumba epicentre, a couple of hours west of Kampala.

We jumped on the bus in high spirits ready to finally see firsthand the work that all our fundraising monies have been put towards, and it was really rewarding.

We split into three groups to tour the centre, first visiting the nurse’s quarters and the health centre. These lovely ladies assist with vaccinations, HIV counselling and basic treatments required. The centre itself is equipped with rooms for a children’s wing, male and female wards, treatment wings and counselling rooms. At present, one Dr Paul is on duty and the recruitment process is underway for more healthcare workers.

Our next stop was the nursery school, but many children are currently on holidays. Little Josephine was the only girl amongst all the boys but they were happy to break into song and do an impromptu dance as well. Their friendly faces and curiosity were gorgeous. We sang Twinkle Twinkle little Star for them to say Thank You.

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Tearing ourselves away from their epic cuteness and their 15 year old volunteer teacher, we next stopped at the rural bank to see Microfinance in action.

Four women had arrived at the centre for the first time, and we’re waiting for loans to improve their small businesses. The local branch manager Stella gave us a great tour of their small facility.

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We then met in the epicentre directors office, checked out the clean water facilities, viewed the crops on site and planted our trees, leaving our permanent gift to the Namayumba epicentre – mine was an avocado tree.

Next followed a fabulous welcome to their meeting hall with energetic dancing and music, where many local committee members, animators for The Hunger Project and government officials welcomed the Business Chicks in an official ceremony.

Focus groups were next on the Agenda and I landed Women’s Empowerment – and it was brilliant to see how proud the girls were of their accomplishments; share their hopes and dreams for their children and future and we especially loved how the men were so supportive of their wives efforts.

The other group covered HIV/AIDS and the Ugandans were surprised to learn the disease occurs in Australia too. Much is being done to promote testing, and provide counselling. Health & Sanitation was the focus for the final group which discussed its services in educating the community to hygiene issues, nutrition and maternal health.

Finally, it was time to cuddle some babies, board the bus and say goodbye before the epic ride of six and a half hours to Mbarara, our home for the next few days.

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The Gang’s All Here! Let the Adventures Begin…

Well, yesterday saw the arrival of all the gorgeous girls joining us on our adventure with The Hunger Project.

All have undertaken a personal journey to be here and have had to commit to raising the $10,000 in fundraising… No mean feat.

We shared a lovely welcome dinner last night and settled in for a big sleep prior to kick-off today.  A club over the road however blasted away til about 4 am making a full nights’ sleep a little difficult.

After another great breakfast and gorgeous sky started our day, and we headed off for our leadership program to begin.

Today started with a brilliant dance session by a talented Ugandan group who had us all shaking our tail feathers after receiving our gorgeous gifts of scarves and skirts.

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We then settled in to learn lessons in leadership, forged closer bonds with our fellow travellers, and heard from the local country director, Daisy who inspired us with the work done in the epicentres around the southern part of Uganda, some of those we’ll visit on our travels.

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We’ve been encouraged to dream, confront our fears, be mindful, respectful and challenged as to how we truly listen.

Making the most of this journey will involve being open to the new, letting go of past beliefs and future expectations and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable.

“To understand the immeasurable, the mind must be extraordinarily quiet, still.”  Jiddu Krishnamurti

After the confront of yesterday’s paper, today’s ran a 20 page feature focussed on Mother’s Day – reminding some of us of the babies we’ve parted with to be on this journey and restoring faith that motherhood is a gift, and a usually, a universally appreciated one.

And we’re all completely loving the buffets for breakfast, lunch and dinner! It seems so surreal that surrounded by such luxury and comfort that we’re actually here to visit some of the most marginalised people on earth… not that far away…

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