I still wake up some mornings, convinced that I’m in Malawi. I can hear Chitumbuka come through the window, maybe even some of the “flying pigs” (herons) squawking in the trees. It’s hard to shake the feeling of Africa on those days and even harder to explain it to people around me. If you have never travelled to Africa I would recommend that you do, if you have the opportunity of course. I know I am extraordinarily lucky that I’ve been able to go on these mission trips two years in a row. I’m not sure why I’ve been so fortunate, and I find it interesting to think about how my path led me here. For today, my purpose is to live a life of service and I make sure to count my blessings. My trips to Africa rank high on that list.
This was the second year that I went with Marion Medical Mission to Malawi Africa to be part of the installation of shallow water well pumps in remote villages. My traveling partner for the trip was my mother Ingegerd and I can’t think of a better companion. I had the time of my life! There were 19 of us volunteers on Team One and our group was dedicated, hardworking, passionate, and funny. We shared our stories and many laughs and they all hold a very special place in my heart. I really enjoyed the fact that this year the group was diverse in age. There were 4 of us under the age of 35 and, although the other 3 were involved in the serious car accident, I know that it was an inspiring trip for all. I hope our teams will continue to diversify since this is an opportunity for people from all walks of life and backgrounds to share the similar mission to provide health and life to the poorest parts of the world.
The mission trips are hard work from sunup to sundown. You have to convince yourself not to be concerned with the hour on the clock, but make use of the day’s sunlight. I found the first year that I had a mental block about getting up at 4:30 or 5 in the morning. It just sounded so early. This year I made the decision that they were just numbers, and we were in a different time-zone anyway so I set my internal clock to 4:30am and was in bed by 8pm on some days. I felt so proud, but realized that by the time I was headed out to the truck the local people had already spent a couple of hours in the field, fetching water, caring for their families, animals, and crops. They spend most of their day, every day, in a grueling struggle to survive. Women can spend thirty percent of their day collecting water for all their household needs. There is no rest and no giving up; their will to live is astonishing. We visited over fifty villages and were welcomed into each one as family. Their gracious nature inspired a deep sense fulfillment and belonging that is hard to find anywhere else. I’ve heard before from people who visit Africa (really visit it and spend time with the communities) that they are overcome by a feeling of coming home. This is how I felt, like I had finally come home. My first trip in 2007 marks a personal milestone of positive change and healing and now I had come back to where it all began and I was filled with love.
Marion Medical Mission is an organization that embodies the principle of peaceful, sustained development through self-help and empowerment, and it is evident that all of us have been led to this mission by our Higher Power. Mindful living and a generous spirit are qualities that we all strive for and can be learned from the people in the villages. If you are in need for spiritual healing, this is the place to visit.
My favorite memories:
- Watching mom take in all the new experiences, her excitement at the wells, meeting the women, our conversations about what we were witnessing and our deep connection that enabled us to process it all together. I have never seen her so happy or smiling so big, and my mom is a person who smiles often and generously!!
- Conversations with our Field Officer Mr. Mwanjikho and his Installation Supervisors, Boyd, Charles, Foster and Banda, which ranged from “staple foods” to politics to women’s rights. Some of the most fascinating talks were about our election and about democracy. As Mr. Mwanjikho says “when you are struggling just to survive, political slogans don’t have any meaning” and “people can’t feed their children on democracy.” I also heard this saying again (last year, it was mentioned by Mr. Nyondo) “when two elephants are fighting, it is the grass that suffers.” Nowhere is this more evident than in the rural African communities where suffering is a direct result of power struggles and the petty wars that are going on all around the world. Makes you think about your own priorities. We also talked about resentments and how they are like drinking poison hoping that the other person will get hurt. There can be no room for resentments when you are fighting to live.
- The children!! Giggling and staring at the strange people who roll into their village in a gigantic, loud truck with more stuff than they can even carry themselves, taking pictures, talking funny, attempting to dance, so much new! Walking to and from a well site and feeling a small hand taking mine and looking down at the sweetest little face and knowing that I have a friend for life. Sitting at a well site in the shade and one brave little girl sitting down on my lap, then having twenty other little children run up to sit beside me as well. My heart swells just thinking about them. Seeing one little boy entranced by the installation process, watching so intently that I could imagine him thinking “that’s what I want to do when I grow up.” Their absolute attention at learning new things, in school, playing games, anywhere, they just soak it up like sponges. Watching them drink the clean water from their new well.
- Women dancing and singing, trying to teach us how to move our bodies like they do. I was not successful, especially doing the “hump dance.” Those of you who have been there know what I’m talking about, those of you who haven’t…I simply can’t explain 🙂 But it’s fun! Women taking your hands and telling you how grateful they are that their children won’t fall ill and lose their lives because of unsafe drinking water. The joy of the people and the generosity. The smiles and laughter that follow you as you drive away; full to the brim with the knowledge that now they have a safe source of water.
- Driving through the bush, over nonexistent bridges, through water and sand and potholes, watching for the “bumps,” people, push bikes, motorcycles, animals, disappearing tarmac, trucks, emergency branches in the road, anything and everything, straining my eyes so much that I’m afraid they might pop out, feeling my insides jump up and down, getting calluses on my hands from gripping the steering wheel, the excitement, the thrill, the adventure, the sense of freedom, driving, driving, driving as the red African sun is setting. Beautiful!
- Seeing wild elephants and impalas, imagining what it must have been like when they were roaming free. The smell of fires everywhere, signaling the preparations for planting season.
- The constant laughter. They work harder than I could ever imagine, but they are always talking, laughing, enjoying themselves and each other. Greeting someone can take a very long time because they really want to know how you are doing, how the family’s doing, and catch up on news from different areas. Our conversations seem to have run dry due to too much television watching, movies, reading, texting etc. It definitely made me remember how much I like to have meaningful conversations with people that I love. In short, the trips shift your priorities and make you rethink what’s really important in this impermanent life. I am so grateful to have found an organization, the MMM family, that shares the values that I hold dear.
What fascinated me the most about Marion Medical Mission, and what interested me enough to want to be a part of the team full-time, is that it is not a charity. As Tom Logan often says, “charity can keep people on their knees.” The Shallow Well Program provides an opportunity for communities to grow and develop and empower themselves to change their overall health and wellbeing. The wells are inexpensive to build, I would never have dreamed that $350 could provide an entire village with safe and clean drinking water, and they use technology that is culturally appropriate. That means that the village can afford to maintain their own well. This differs from many other programs where the people have no means of repairing their $2,500-$5,000 water source if anything should happen to it. The well materials are purchased and manufactured in Africa by Africans, which is another important factor in a program that strives to uplift the communities it serves. Our field staff lives in the villages and directly benefit from the wells. They know the people they are working with, understand their struggles, and have unrivaled abilities to organize and educate their neighbors. This is not a program where outside “experts” force their opinions on people because “they know what’s best for them.” Instead the growth of the program comes from within and the ideas flourish from the people that it serves. This is truly a grassroots program where we only provide what the village communities simply cannot afford to provide themselves, namely the cement, the pump, and the skilled labor. The principles of self-help and sustainability are upheld by the villagers providing the sand, the brick, and the unskilled labor and by the volunteer maintenance staff who travel by foot to fix any well that breaks down within 24 hours! Without roads, electric power, phones, and transportation it is mindboggling that this system works. I have a hard time getting things repaired within 24 hours here where resources are unlimited. This is dedication on a level that is community oriented and selfless, which is the only way that they can survive.
On this side of the pond, the same values are incorporated into the organization’s fundraising efforts. All designated donations are used for their selected projects; all undesignated donations are used in the mission field. Administrative costs are covered by funds that have been designated for that purpose only and by interest income. There are no deductions for overhead and 100% of our donors’ money is used for the purposes that they have selected and to improve the lives of our brothers and sisters in Africa. Volunteers participate on the mission trips on their own expense and that speaks volumes about the work and how important it is for all of us. People gladly volunteer their time, money and efforts year after year to be part of this incredible story. From what I hear and from my own experience, once you have set foot on African soil and spent time with the villagers, singing dancing, and celebrating life, you’ll never be the same and you long to go back. I know that I do and maybe I’ll see you there sometime in the future.