It was our final day being among the people. We picked up Mary and Agnes, our treasured angels, and headed out to Mtandile. This is the village of Agnes. We were excited to meet her people. This community was a hustle and bustle of activity. Many street vendors selling their wares, music playing, and people were out and about. This was very different than all the other locations we had been at and Agnes was smiling from ear-to-ear. It was a special day for her bring the azungu. She most especially wanted us to see her school, meet her teacher friends, and meet her husband Godfrey and her daughter. We pulled into the school yard - it was a locked school area and all the children were there along with the women to greet us. They sang to us and brought us into a school room. This was the first school that we saw that actually had buildings for the various subjects - reading hall, administration, etc... In the center of the small courtyard was a playground. It was run down by our standards - there weren't any swing seats on the swing set; the teeter totter was rusted and unsafe, the slide looked like it would collapse at any moment but the children were having so much fun playing and laughing it was easy to overlook the conditions and focus on the joy of the sounds of children playing. One of my most favorite sights is to watch a child soar like an eagle on the swings and watching their face scrunch right before they get the courage to jump off and land back on the ground...the look of wonder and accomplishment at themselves as they brush their knees off to go and do it again makes me feel that I've eaves dropped on a moment and I tuck it away in my heart. As I watched the children in this school play on their one tire swing I knew that I was eaves dropping on special child's play and I have tucked it into my heart. Children inspire me to be more than I think I can be; children, no matter what, hold hope in their hearts.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
I'd like you to meet Agnes (on the left). Agnes is a native Malawian woman who volunteers for Somebody Cares - Malawi (Theresa Malila). She spends her days as a Community Leader working with village volunteers within the surrounding villages of her community. She is an angel on earth. Her smile is contagious and her sweet and humble nature is calming. Her energy for her people, especially women and children, is boundless and it is an honor to be in her presence. Mary (on right) is yet another volunteer who spends her days visiting women and children in her community. She, too, is a community leader with Somebody Cares-Malawi. Mary has a little spark to her. She has a keen sense of humor and gives new meaning to joy that is found in everyday life. She is a born teacher and takes every opportunity to help the azungu (white person) understand her culture and people. You will always have a homework assignment with Mary. She is a treasure.
Monday, July 20, 2009
When the service was over we started the much anticipated 'football' tournament. Many of the youth leaders came forward to show us their teams. We had 8 teams all together - only the 14-17 year olds played. This was a serious village to village competition. Girls are not allowed. Small children are not allowed. It is just the real men of Lilongwe who will be playing this day. As we set up many people started to show up to line the perimeter of the field. You could feel the anticipation the excitement in the air. They told us that although they were there to worship as one family under God when it came to football they were going to be looking to win. And they were right in telling us that. The guys lined up for the uniforms. They were so excited. Shirts and shorts and socks and shoes... WOW! They couldn't believe it. You could feel the excitement in the air. We didn't share with them that they would get to keep the uniforms right away. They thought they were just borrowing. Each team played. Nearly every game ended in a shoot out. They are very good players for sure. They didn't like playing in cleats and socks. They were way more comfortable barefoot.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
Genuine diamonds are known for both their beauty and their strength. The same is true for strength of character and how this priceless trait is developed takes place through an unexpected process - experiencing joy when you're suffering under pressure. As your character grows stronger so does your HOPE. And this, my friends, allows you to find genuine joy, even in the middle of suffering.
Today Cheryl and I visited the community of Njawa. It was similar in appearance to Deya Center in that it is supported by Somebody Cares but it did not have the same feel for sure. When we arrived the women were dancing and singing for us. It was so sweet to be greeted in such a way. They were smiling and having a good time and you could see their genuine happiness that we were there to help. What bothered me was that I did not see the children right away. I was looking for them but they were not there and that was strange since this was supposed to be a location for widows and orphans. We brought bubbles and books and though the women were singing loudly I was looking for small smiling faces. After we enjoyed the singing and dancing for some time Mary, our community leader, took us on a walking tour of the village. They have a new well so we were excited for that once again, but still there were no latrines.... and as we were walking I realized we had some children following us. I excitedly turned to say Hi! but I paused. The children were not smiling; they were not laughing; they just were there. Curiosity? Maybe. But their eyes told me the entire story and I knew in that instant that I was never going to be the same. You know eyes are the way to see the soul and these childen were telling me volumes without even speaking.
Overcoming my reaction instantly, I smiled and said hi and I as I bent down and shook their tiny hands one of the women spoke to them and they ran off. I was confused and in that moment I put my video down and just walked and looked and listened and watched. Mary asked if we would cook the meal and of course we said yes. We went into a small room with some young girls and they showed us how to cook the fortified porrage for these orphans only meal. I stirred the huge pot on an open fire pit and the smoke was so thick I couldn't see and my eyes burned so bad. While the porrage cooked we went and got some water from the well. Cheryl and I filled the tubs with water and the young girls asked if we wanted to put it on our heads and of course we said yes. They were allowing us in to their life and asking us to see the daily chores of their lives and so two girls lifted the bucket and placed it carefully on my head. UNBELIEVABLE! I could not believe how heavy that bucket was. I seriously thought my neck was going to break. We walked for about 25 feet ever so slowly because there was no way I wanted to spill the water and the young girl stopped me and took it from my head. Now you must know and I am ashamed to tell you, but that young girl took that tub of water and put it on her head and as she turned I saw a baby on her back too! It was so humbling. We washed the cups and by then the porrage was done and we filled 92 cups 1/2 full with porrage. Smiling and excited because we accomplished a chore for these sweet women - maybe even eased their life for a moment when Mary came in and told us we did not have enough. Are you kidding me? That isn't a choice and in that instant we bowed our heads and prayed that God would multiply those cups. We counted the children again...but while counting more children kept coming and we were getting nervous and I could feel my chest start pumping - this is their only meal! are you kidding me? Where is the food? I was telling myself not to panic or make a scene they were watching me. I had cooked everything they gave us to cook. The head teacher had lined up the children and they were watching us; starring at us with huge eyes filled with hope for their daily meal. Cheryl and Bianca were pouring some of each cup into more cups to make enough for everyone there. The children waited and watched. There was no shoving or pushing. There was no shouting or excitement...they just waited and watched. I watched and listened and prayed there was enough. Cheryl, of course, was not going to accept anything else and I watched her and I trusted her that she would make it happen because for some reason to me she was going to be the miracle worker. She looked at Mary with hands open as if to say, "Come on lets get these children fed" Mary got more cups and filled them with the scrap from the bottom of the pot and while the last child waited for his 1/2 filled cup of food for the day we found the amount we needed at the bottom of that pot and handed it to this young man and he said, "Thank You" I know that I was not breathing until that moment. Praise God! He fed the children for this day.
Sandi, Operation HOPE's manager of operations, had a HUGE bag of lollipops. YEAH! After they ate we got to give every child and mother a lollipop. They thought they were funny. They had never seen anything like it before. Isn't that funny? While they were eating them, Cheryl was blowing bubbles and they were laughing and having a good time. Cheryl has glasses that are reflective and so she thought the children were curious about her because they kept starring at her and following her, but what it was they were looking at themselves in her glasses! We laughed about that. They have never seen themselves before it was so interesting to watch them and Cheryl was so wonderful with them because she would just bend over and let them look. I just wonder what they thought about that?After that we went on a home-based care walk and visited the community and their sick people. I did an interview with an aging gentleman. He was super sick and I obviously don't have the skills to know with what but luckily we are with doctors here and so we sent a note to Somebody Cares and they are going to get him to our Doctors. That was fabulous. We talked with a woman who lives is a concrete house with not a stick of furniture. She was so happy to bring us into her home. She has AIDS. She has 7 children and her husband left her. We fetched water for her from her borehole and washed some dishes and then sat and chatted with her. She didn't have food. That was her biggest problem. She needed to find a way to get food for her and the children. We seriously need to work on getting the communities a means to get food for their children. It is not a question of whether or not they want to work it is just a matter of not having the resources and tools to grow food. After our visit with this wonderful lady we visited a 14 year old girl with Malaria. She was laying on a straw mat covered in blankets. It was stunning to see this sick young woman laying in the dirt on a straw mat and feeling so sick and everyone just going about their business around her. It is a way of life here in Malawi. What choice do they have? We talked with her mother and tried to talk with her but she was too sick and so we just prayed over her.
Today I didn't take any pictures. Today I learned to not judge and just love. I love Malawi. I love the people they are truly warm-hearted. We feel so blessed to have this opportunity. They are so very thankful for anything and so accepting of that which we would never accept in the States. Please pray for them. Please love them. Today my character was challenged. I will never be the same.
God Bless you all.
Peace and Joy,
Friday, July 17, 2009
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Cheryl and I have finally arrived in Malawi, Africa - The Warm Heart of Africa. It was an adventure getting here for sure - 2 days worth. However, as we were loading our ridiculous amount of luggage (oh, let's just say we had over 40 pieces of luggage so you can imagine the spectacle we caused; I think we were for many this days reality TV show) on the roof of the little car that was taking us to our hotel, a school group of little children, probably the ages of 4 - 8, were having a "field trip" to the airport and there was probably 50 kids. They were dressed in their school attire; some were looking at us with curiousity and others would smile and say hi. It didn't take us long to wipe the sleep from our eyes and defeat the fatigue in our bodies as we watched them skip along swinging their arms and laughing while their teachers tried to keep them all safe and in the group - it was like watching cats being herded. All of us were smiling and laughing as well and it just instantly changed our attitudes and reminded us what it is we are here for.
The hotel is fun. We had the electricity go out about 5 times already. It doesn't last long but it is still interesting depending on where you are in the building. ;o) It didn't take me long to take my small flashlight every where I go!
We are excited to start our work here with Operation HOPE. Dr. Thomas, Sandi, and the medical team are amazing. For now I just wanted to let you all know we arrived safe and sound and ready for God's work! We can't thank you all enough for your support in getting us here. Without all of your contributions - be it time, resources, or gifts we would not be able to help these beautiful people, and especially the vulnerable children. Malawi has a staggering 1.5 million orphans due largely to the AIDS/HIV pandemic - a number we were told this evening will grow if something is not done to over 2 million by next year - remember Malawi is no bigger than Pennsylvania. But also, disease and sickness runs rampant as the water and food crisis continues here. We will be working in the communities with Somebody Cares-Malawi an organization that is run by an amazing woman named Theresa Malila.
Please come back and follow us on this journey. Please pray for us that we can be God's eyes and see what it is He would like for us to see. Our hope is that we can partner with local community leaders - such as Theresa - and assist in the communities to help set up an infrastructure that will provide transformative solutions to empower the people and let them know that we care and that everyone deserves a few little drops of grace during hard times. God Bless.