2012 marked my 8th trip to Malawi with Marion Medical Mission. I spent seven weeks in Malawi and helped install 0 shallow wells. None. Not even one of MMM’s 2500+ wells. How did that happen? Come with …

Carol  & Frank Nyirongo - a teacher

Carol & Frank Nyirongo – a teacher

Almost everyone knows about the shallow wells program that MMM is so involved with. Wells are tangible, quantifiable and make great pictures! A lesser-known part of MMM’s work in Malawi is support to a number of schools across the country of Malawi. Over the years, these schools have received support in the form of school block buildings, teacher houses, transportation scholarships, school supplies and chalk allowances. A box of chalk doesn’t make a very impressive picture! Two of these schools have a special place in my heart: the Embangweni School for the Hard of Hearing and the Karonga School for the Hard of Hearing. So in 2012, I did no wells but during the first week did “down and dirty” speech/language evaluations for 51 learners in Karonga — held teacher workshops — did some demonstration therapy — enjoyed a terrific pick-up game of “keep-away” morphing into netball with the learners — and at the end of the week rode a “chicken bus” back to Mzuzu. (The only other option was to walk – not a good choice!)

Classroom in a tent in Karonga

Classroom in a tent in Karonga

The next six weeks were spent at Embangweni at the school where I am known as “Mama Carol” who happily disrupts normal class routine in pursuit of better language skills. As at Karonga, I did therapy — demonstration teaching — teacher workshops — took a turn leading chapel — enjoyed daily tea break — taught the staff a bit about handbells and how to read music — enjoyed the 200 learners on and off campus. Had the unimaginable joy of watching the newest learner arrive and begin to take her place! She is about 6 years old, dropped off by an aunt (without assessment or formal invitation to come) several weeks before the new Preschool 1 class was planned to arrive. The general consensus was “let her stay”. “She can be in Preschool 2 until Pre-1 arrives.” The first two days we saw those big brown eyes dart everywhere, watching, watching. Pink dress, green sandals – she comes about up to teacher Mishak’s knee. By the end of the week she had produced her first sign – “banana” – and was waiting after lunch to lug my pack over to my office. Her adoptive “big sis” followed discretely to be sure small one got back to her side of campus safely.

Sunday mornings were special, as always. Sharing worship in the Loudon church is always deeply moving and sitting in the side pews with my deaf students brings such joy and peace — even as I struggle to accurately sign a hymn or sermon for them. The morning we all signed “Kumbaya” as the congregation sang, I thought my heart would burst with joy! Often I am the lone msungu at the English service but never feel alone. The “warm heart of Africa” surrounds me figuratively and literally. Malawi is home.

Carol signing at Loudon church

Carol signing at Loudon church

There must be words better than “pride” and “joy” to describe a visit I made with headteacher Mr. Hara to one of our former students. Fannie was one of the charter class at the school and in September 2012 began her year of student teaching at Emphangweni, which is about 4 km from Embangweni along the Jenda road. At the end of her first week, the school headmaster called to tell us “Fannie can’t do this. She must leave.” Fighting words to a dedicated headteacher and msungu gogo! We know Fannie. Fannie can do anything she makes up her mind to do. A week slipped by before we were able to rent a car and get out to her school. We found Fannie at work in her classroom of 71 hearing students — Standard 4, learning Chewa. She was, by then, well settled into the job and we were seeing the Fannie we expected: a young woman poised, confident and leading a class that didn’t seem to know or care that she is deaf. I asked her, as we corrected lesson books together, if back in preschool or even Standard 8 she had ever dreamed of this time. With tears in her eyes, she replied “No, never.” Marion Medical Mission can be proud of its part in providing a school where students like Fannie can learn and dream and move forward in life.

Class Nine

Class Nine

Seven weeks in Malawi — but not one shallow well installed. Dinners out—conversations in English and Tumbuka—so many friends old and new to greet each day—handshakes followed by hugs when I finish teaching in Preschool 2—laughter—singing together—praying together—a hundred questions answered about America—a thank-you note from a young man in Standard 6—dancing—signing—sharing a Coke at day’s end—worshiping the One God in Malawi and in America. Preaching on almost a moment’s notice at Loudon congregation. But not one single, solitary shallow well installation! Maybe next year.