My experience with Marion Medical Mission was an experience of a lifetime. It was the perfect opportunity to go beyond the ones self and express the love that ties us all together.

Waring Blackburn, 2008 Volunteer

Waring Blackburn, 2008 Volunteer

The gratitude for the help in getting safe water was incredible and expressed in a variety ways: In song, dancing, handshakes, tears, thoughtful speeches, joyous body language, children washing under clean, cool and safe water and of course the gifts of food such as live chickens. More often than not the words of gratitude were mixed with words of encouragement to help other villages.

Marion Medical Mission and their partners have put together an impressive and sustainable organizational infrastructure that I believe could be used as a model for other self-help and sustainable projects. As a representative from the ministry of health said in praise of MMM, ‘now for this village we only have to worry about malaria.’ The impact of the shallow well program is on the quality of life is huge.

Here are a few verbal snapshots, key words, if you will, of my trip to Malawi. I think it was an experience worth sharing. I won’t give you a lot of details but some impressions of the rural areas I worked in.

It’s a long trip to Malawi. I left before seven AM on Friday and arrived at Embangweni my home for most of my stay Sunday at 8PM. It involved lots of waiting at airports, a 17 hour flight from JFK, an overnight in Johannesburg, an one hour flight to the Capital of Malawi and then a five hour drive.

The landscape is varied. Some is mountainous and hilly and other parts relatively flat with occasional steep rugged formations poking skyward. There are occasional trees but most of the landed is farmed in small plots. Most of landscape is brown during the dry season but turns a lush green when the rains come.

The villages are very small ranging from just a few houses to a hundred or more. Most of the houses are quite small and made of brick produced in the village with metal or thatched roofs. Cooking is done outside. Sanitation facilities are usually shared. Families tend to be large and multigenerational.

Agriculture is slash and burn. Smoke often filled the air but the smoke filtering the setting sun made beautiful sunsets. I saw no mechanization on the small farm plots. A simple hand hoe is normally used and occasionally oxen and a simple plow. Fertilizer is just beginning to be used due to governmental polices that now make financing easier. Irrigation is used in less than one percent of the plots but I think it will increase rapidly.

There are a few primary roads in good condition but most roads are dirt and required four wheel drive. Driving is hazardous and driving at night is discouraged because people, animals and bicycles are hard to see.

Waring with loaded truck

Waring with loaded truck

Seventy year old white men with sunglasses are a curiosity for barefoot children in tattered clothes. They would often stare at me when we arrived at a village to install a well. Sometimes I would pull out a Frisbee and teach them how to toss it. At one village I gave it to the village headman as a gift to the village as the children seemed to enjoy it so much. My second Frisbee disappeared so at the encouragement of one curious boy, I entertained children by drawing on their hands with a felt tipped pen.

The Malawian culture is gentle and polite. I was invited into workers homes for meals on several occasions. A bowl of warm water is provided before and after dinner for cleaning hands. Meals tend to be short affairs with women appearing only to serve. Meat is treated more as a condiment with rice maize, nsima (cornmeal) and beans the major source of calories. One meal per day is often the norm.

The national language is Chichewa with English designated as the official language. In the area where I worked Chitumbuka was the primary language. English is seen on stores fronts and signs but is not taught until primary school. When we gave our well dedication talks one of the workers served as an interpreter.

The music at the well sites was spontaneous, melodic, and always in perfect pitch and haunting in that, although the words were not understandable, the melody remained long after we waved goodbye.

Funerals are a common occurrence with an average life expectancy of under 44. Branches in the road are a sign that a funeral is taking place and that vehicles should slow down.

Poverty is evident everywhere but there is hope for a better future. We can learn much from the cultures of Malawi.

How can it be that in the US with classroom size of 20 to 30 that one of the biggest challenges for a teacher is discipline where is Malawi classroom size of 150 is not unusual and discipline is not a problem.