Tag Archives: Africa

Meet lovely Charity

As part of my recent trip to Malawi, I met lovely Charity.  She is a mother of 4 children – 3 girls and 1 boy.  Charity is fortunate as she’s had the opportunity to put all her children through school.

Our welcome to her village started with a beautiful dance, songs and welcome from the local women and we were all happy to join in, when we could take our eyes off the gorgeous children who were amazed to meet all the nzungu (white people) who’d invaded their humble homes.

Some years ago, Charity had no business and no form of income.  Today, she runs a hair salon at the local trading centre and employs 2 local women to work in her salon.  The braiding to keep that incredible African hair under control is very popular!

Thanks to the SACCO (Savings & Credit Co-operative) introduced by The Hunger Project in her area, she was introduced to microfinance and had the opportunity to take out small loans.  She was able to increase her shares in the SACCO as her income improved to continue to borrow more.

Aside from her salon, she has ivested in pigs, and has now bought and sold around 15.  She currently has one left and 2 piglets.

Her largest loan to date is 100,000 Malawian Kwacha MKW (approx AUD $186.)

Like all true entrepreneurs, she’s staked it all, backed herself to get her family out of poverty and isn’t slowing down!  Next step, she’d like a loan of 500,000 – 1 million MKW (AUD$929 – $1,858) to expand into a new hairdressing salon.

She has been able to influence 19 other women in her village so far to see the benefits of microfinance loans and couldn’t even begin to list all the benefits she’s personally seen so far.

Other advantages have also spread to include farm input credits and assist those living with HIV.

Charity had every reason to believe her life would remain below the poverty line where most of those in rural Malawi are, existing on less than USD$1.25 per day.  Yet with a change of mindset and some incredible leadership skills, she’s amazingly chosen to turn it all around.

A true inspiration!

 

“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.

 

Arrival into Malawi

So after around 32 hours of travel door to door from Australia to Africa, and with my calves and ankles now merged into their usual long puffy sausages, we finally arrived at our hotel in Malawi and over the next few hours, all the lovely women I’ll be spending the next 10 to 14 days with, arrived to take part in their coming immersion into the work of The Hunger Project (THP.)

As always, that first shower was spectacularly satisfying… and the massage to follow was pretty great too.  A couple of drinks, introductions, a dinner and an early night were next on the cards.  (I can’t help but think back to my visit to Uganda last year when it was all still so unknown, and also as another group are touring from there simultaneously with our Malawi trip.)

It’s now 4.30 am and with the body clock still out of whack, we’ll soon start our first day of the Business Chicks Leadership and Immersion Program.

It’s so fabulous to meet a bunch of ladies who you know for the past few months have gone above and beyond to be here; going so far out of their way to each raise $10,000 for this great cause and hear of their trials and tribulations on the way.

Yet, the stories carry the same interesting themes.  Surprise at those who were so supportive of their efforts… and also at those close to them who weren’t.  And gratitude for the lessons along the way.  The incredible personal achievement of having ‘made it’ and to finally arrive in Blantyre after the culmination of months of plotting and planning.  Most have never done anything like this before, but are approaching their coming adventure with open minds, and just a little trepidation.

Over the next nine days we’ll be visiting various Epicentres and learning lessons in leadership from those who’ve stood up and made a difference in their own lives, in those of their extended families and their communities, and who also happen to be amongst the poorest people on earth.

If you’d like to follow our journey over the coming days, I’ll be sharing more about the work of The Hunger Project, their efforts in Malawi and thoughts on what we’ve seen and experienced on our visit.

For those who are unfamiliar with the work of THP, they start with Three Pillars:

  1.  Start with Women – studies show when women are supported and empowered, all society benefits.  This is why THP focus on building the capacity of women;
  2. Mobilise Everyone – building knowledge, skills and leadership so the locals can take action to improve their own communities;
  3. Engage Government – empowering people to communicate their needs to local government ensures they too are effective and accountable

You can read more about their work at THP Australia or follow along and enjoy my adventures!  I look forward to sharing more with you.

Now it’s time for that early cup of tea…

Gorilla Trekking in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

Our drive from Lake Mburo took around 6 hours and is mostly due to the appalling state of the roads in most of rural Uganda. Some appear to have never been graded and most are deeply rutted and potholed. Even surfaced roads are covered in multiple speed bumps and allow little respite from bumps. (Ladies, a sports bra is a must, or you’ll spend most of your time clutching ‘the girls’ as they’re jolted mercilessly on your travels!)

Thankfully, our 4WD Landcruiser handled everything and our driver Baker was amazing at getting us everywhere safely.

image Continue reading Gorilla Trekking in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

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.

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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