I went to Malawi to introduce educational materials to teachers and conduct teacher-training work-shops at the Embangweni Full Primary School. I went to teach, however, I learned a lot!
The people’s lives are reduced to the basics. People struggle every day for food and daily needs. Women arise at 3:30 to 4:00 a.m. to make a wood fire and prepare the family’s breakfast. Water (carried from a well or surface source) is heated over a wood fire for bathing. Bathrooms are outdoor toilets with dirt floors and a hole in the floor (no seats). Homes are tiny and plain by American standards. Electricity is rare. Medical care is uncertain.
In the rural areas where we were, pizza is unheard of. No one eats ice-cream. There are no hamburgers, hot dogs or potato chips. Dairy products of any kind are hard to get. I saw no toys that were not hand-made. Ox carts are common.
School children wear second-hand clothes, many in very poor condition. Some kids have shoes; many do not. Teachers teach in classrooms with no electricity, packed with students (60-100 per teacher), and not enough textbooks for each student. Library books are practically unknown. Children and teachers are working in three languages (Tumbuka, their native language, Chichewa, the official language, and English).
What did we learn? The people are joyful and generous. People with nothing take in orphans. Teachers shrug their shoulders at the over-sized classrooms, the lack of materials and language challenge. They do their best with what they have. Children laugh and play with home-made hoops and wire “cars” they steer with bamboo sticks. Pastors travel on bicycle to minister to their congregations. People with little share their food with visitors. Teachers work even when their pay checks are delayed a month or more. Malawian volunteers tutor children in the schools for no pay. Churches are crowded, and the people are constantly thanking God for his many blessings. Christmas celebrations are centered in the church (no Wal-Mart goodies in Malawi).
Malawians are courteous and formal. The children rise to greet their teachers or recite a school lesson. Adults call each other Mr. or Mrs. (no first names or nicknames). No one is too busy to stop and greet a neighbor.
It makes one think about our own culture. Do we complain more than we offer gratitude? Are we too busy for family, friends, neighbors? What will we celebrate at Christmas… reindeer and snowmen? After the packages are open, will we wonder “Is this all?” and feel a sense of disappointment?
Yes, I learned a great deal from the sweet, gentle people of Malawi. I intend to truly appreciate friends, family, neighbors…even the stranger I pass on the street. I want to share more of my wealth (and that’s what it is, folks, no matter how poor we think we are) with those less fortunate. Christmas services at church are going to be special for me this year. And I hope I think twice before I complain about anything! Maybe I can become a little bit Malawian.