Tag Archives: Malawi

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.

 

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.

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…