Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Team Member: Steve Bixler describes his trip to Malawi, Africa

This post is written by Steve Bixler, a 2011 Malawi team member.  He spoke at our annual Ripple Effect Banquet and agreed to share his talk on our blog.  We appreciate Steve and all those that put their trust in us and believe in the mission of service to the "others". 

Thank you for your willing heart.  Enjoy.
Diane Bouchard
drops of grace - Malawi Team Lead

Steve with Home Based Care workers in Mgona

Teaching Desires how to level bricks in Kalimbira

Lake Malawi FUN!

Muli Bwanji -

3 years ago, I had the opportunity to go to South Africa and Swaziland for 3 weeks to work with Chris McLain and Richard Bosart. That was an incredible experience, so when I heard drops of grace was putting together a team to go to Malawi, I jumped at the opportunity.

When I tell people that I went to Malawi this summer, I usually get 3 questions:

1. Where the heck is Malawi?
2. Did you see any Lions?
3. What did you do in Malawi?

--Malawi is located in south/east Africa, on the banks of Lake Malawi (the 3rd largest lake in Africa, 360 miles long and 25 miles wide). Malawi is surrounded by Tanzania, Mozambique, and Zambia, and it is known as “the warm heart of Africa” for a reason - the people are wonderful - peaceful and happy.

--Then I explain that I didn’t see any lions.

--Then I get to talk with them about why I went to Malawi & what we did.

There is a 2 hour version of why I went & what I did, and there is a 10 minute version. Tonight I’ll give you the 10 minute version.

In late July, our team of 13 traveled 12,000 miles over 40 hours to get to Malawi. We stopped in Johannesburg to pick up Chris McLain, and then headed over to Malawi to work with Somebody Cares - Malawi.

As Gregg Bouchard mentioned, Somebody Cares was founded by Chief Theresa Malila about 10 years ago. Their mission is to empower local churches to reach out to the poor and vulnerable, orphans and widows, and to those affected and infected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Some of you may have met Chief Theresa when she visited Austin early this year – it was a pleasure to work with her and her team, and to support Somebody Cares.

Chief Theresa has a staff of about 20. They do amazing work supporting the rural communities in central Malawi, and they do it all from their home base…which happens to be Chief Theresa’s house.

That staff of about 20 has a big impact on the communities they serve. To add to what Gregg shared with you earlier, and to give you a feel for the scope of what they do, they:

• work with 148 teachers & caregivers
• oversee 24 Feeding Centers

• partner with local leaders in the communities – each having 5 Traditional Authorities and approximately 131 Chiefs

• They coordinate over 500 volunteers who work with over 600 Home Based Care Patients

• Support over 6000 orphans and 2000 widows

• And they work with over 200 pastors, 45 churches, 70 youth leaders and ~1500 youth

Somebody Cares has a big job, and they do big work, and they are Proof that God is Big Enough!

Our group of 13 people was organized into 4 sub-teams: Education, Sewing, Medical, and Construction. Most days, each team worked in different communities, but….

• On the first day, we all visited Mgona, one of the largest communities (think of a slum – dirt paths, no electricity or water, mud huts/small brick houses).

• In small groups, we went into the homes of people who were very sick or nearing death to provide Home-Based Care. We went to give comfort to people who really needed someone to just sit with them and pray.

• My team visited several homes, including the home of Magdelena, a young mother of two who has HIV/AIDS and is not doing well. We talked with her and prayed with her and her daughters, and helped her with some small chores like fetching water and sweeping the dirt floor. They got a kick out of watching us try to sweep with their brooms! It was a powerful experience for all of the teams, and a good way to start the trip. After that,

• Our Education team spent days working with teachers and kids. They worked in classrooms, helping with activities and projects with the kids. They provided teacher training in 3 communities, and they shared information on how to manage a class of over 200 kids, compared to the 20 or so in our classrooms at home… There were lots of games, smiles & laughter with this team!

• Our Sewing team (in Malawi they are called Tailors) taught widows in several communities how to make things that they can sell; income generating activities. They taught them how to hand sew and to use the sewing machines, and gave them skills that will help them earn money and begin to break their cycle of poverty. They also donated 5 sewing machines to the communities, and formed some great friendships.

• Our Medical Team was busy! These ladies held health clinics in numerous communities – they even held an impromptu health clinic at the doors of our bus one evening as we were working late in Kalimbira. They saw over 1300 people in 8 days. They provided healing, pain relief, caring, education and hope to people with all kinds of sicknesses – ranging from minor aches, pains, and illnesses to far more serious conditions. They worked tirelessly, and they were awesome. What an inspiration!

• Our Construction team. Well, let’s see…we provided some manual labor for Chief Theresa. We built things, improved things, and repaired things around the office and her home

o We laid carpet in a small room, and we used lots of glue….

o We built beds to house future teams. We built those beds out of the most crooked, rough lumber you’ve ever seen, we did it mostly without power tools, and without plans….and they turned out great!

• More importantly, though, we worked side by side with the youth who were interested in learning a skill. The youth are critical group in Malawi: ½ the population is under 15 years old!

o In a community called Kalimbira - we sifted the clay soil, added concrete mix and water, and using a manual Brick press, we made bricks with the youth

o We used those bricks and taught them how to build a brick wall to complete their community center

o We worked with the youth to repair a concrete floor, replace window glasss, hang doors, install door hardware, and many, many other things…

o In a community called Chikudzuliri (chik-a-chik-a-boom-boom ), they have a vision of having a rec center where tournaments can be held among all the communities. We helped them get the rec center started by laying out a Net Ball court (it’s like basketball, only without the backboard or net, played by girls)

o We were told that this was the 1st time anyone had worked side by side with the youth and taught them what to do, and they were all excited!

o The youth were eager to learn, they took pride in their work, and they worked hard. Everyone in the community pitched in, from the tiniest kids to the elders

o Thanks to the donations of some of you in this room, we were able to provide a set of tools to some the youth who worked hard and had an interest in carpentry or masonry.

While we were in Malawi, the country was dealing with a massive fuel crisis. As you can imagine, moving around a team of 13 plus the Somebody Cares staff and volunteers requires multiple vehicles and a lot of fuel. Our drivers had the tough job of finding fuel, and waiting in long lines for fuel - sometimes overnight, so we could work during the day.

Some days we weren’t sure about our plans because we weren’t sure if there would be gas to drive us 30km - 40km into the various communities where we were working.

Some days we had to deal with power and water outages. Some days we had to deal with schedule changes and uncertainty about where we would work or what we would do next.

Throughout it all, the team stayed flexible, and patient. We learned how to wait, wait, wait, and then sprint to get things done.

Our two weeks in Malawi flew by.

I was truly impressed with my teammates. Our team was made up of people of all different ages, who all had different backgrounds and experiences, and all brought unique talents & passions to the team.

Even with all the differences, one thing was consistent – all the team members truly had a servant’s heart, and we were blessed by the people we met and the experiences we had on the trip.

So in closing…let me leave you with this: As you talk to people who went on this trip, ask us about:

The People We Met: people like Memories, Blessings, Desires, Hudson, Magdelena, and others

The Places We Worked: Kalimbira, Chicuzdulire, Mgona, and others

The Singing, Dancing, and Praying: entire communities sang & danced to welcome us, to say goodbye to us, and to celebrate with us. We had fun attempting to sing & dance along with them, and rumor has it that there are now youth in some communities who know how to 2 step… ;^)

Ask us about the Worship Service that we attended in a mud/stick building in a community called Nadzunuwa. We were blown away!

So, on behalf of the entire team, we appreciate your support and your prayers, and I would ask that you continue to support drops of grace so they can carry on their work with Somebody Cares in Malawi. This trip was the beginning of something much bigger…and there will be more trips in the future.

I would encourage you to consider coming along when those trips happen! THANKS!!

/Steve Bixler
2011 Malawi Team member

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