Emma Patton: footprinter report from Malawi

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So much has happened recently in the village that I’m going to need to keep things short and sweet to fit it all in for a proper update of my last month in Malawi…

In my last blog I mentioned that I had taken to creating first aid lessons for the village schools and they have become very successful. Each Friday afternoon I attend the teachers meeting and lay out the plan for the week ahead, I explain in English and then the head of the schools, Anderson, translates into Chichewa to ensure there is no miscommunication and all teachers have the same level of understanding. I like to create imaginary emergency situations and then ask the teachers how they would react if they were on hand, it amazes me some of the techniques they would use as many of them are completely wrong and could possibly end up making the injury worse. We have covered six topics so far; check for danger, cuts and wounds, dressings, slings, burns and spinal injury; all of which both the children and teachers find exciting and interesting. The plan going forward is to have First Aid events in some of the local villages to educate the adults and get the children to help us demonstrate to their parents and families what they have learned at school.

Thankfully both my feet healed without any further incident and although it was a bit of a slow start hobbling around and having to pee in a bucket as I couldn’t quite balance myself over the long drop with two swollen ankles, I finally got back on my own two feet – quite literally. Both the volunteers and villagers were amazing and helped me out wherever they could, especially the project co-ordinator Emma who let me move into her house for a week or so when I couldn’t put any weight on my feet and had no crutches. What a star! Cooking all my meals, helping me to and from the shower and most importantly keeping me company when I was stuck in the house.

It wasn’t long till I was back staying at the orphanage and getting to know the amazing girls that stay there. The 21 girls vary in age from 6 years old up to 13 years old and have all clicked so well. They play games as one big group and help each other out when in need or upset. It really does touch your heart when you see them all so happy together as one family. The matron started calling the volunteers her ‘sons & daughters’ with us calling her ‘amayi’ in return, meaning mother. It seemed to catch on with the children as soon they were shouting ‘Emma, my daughter!’, it was far too cute so I didn’t bother correcting them. Now their English has improved from the last few months at government school and they have started calling me ‘Auntie Emma’. The thing that strikes me the most is how polite they all are, always full of please and thank yous for even the smallest things. I brought them all some lollipops back from town one day and they formed an orderly queue for me to hand them out and the older children helped the younger ones to take the wrapper off before getting their own. I really do love them so much and they have become a special part of my Malawi family.

On the 6th March, I officially moved out of the orphanage and into my own little house. It had always been my plan to rent my own house over the UK summer months to get my own space as I know from my trip last year just how busy and hectic things can get with lots of volunteers. I had to ask permission from the management at Tikondwe as I am still under their care but thankfully the house next to the project co-ordinator was free and therefore they felt that I would be safe enough to give their consent. I was told ‘you can move in tomorrow’ so I decided that it would be nice to be in and settled instead of waiting till June. I love my house now and I’m making it more homely bit by bit. I’ve even become accustomed to my bucket showers and long drop toilet. It’s nice to be living as Malawians do, doing my clothes washing in a bucket and starting a fire to cook dinner, although my little house does have the added bonus of electricity so I can charge my phone/camera and put on the light when it gets dark – I’m not quite fully Malawian, YET!

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During my trip last year I became very close friends with the local dance group and attended traditional dance and drumming lessons with the other volunteers. The group take you down through all the maize fields into a clearing surrounded by banana trees with the river close by, I just love isolated places like this as you really do get that ‘I’m in Africa’ moment. We each pay 500MWK, under £1, for roughly a one hour lesson and the money is saved up and handed out at the end of each term for the boys to put towards items they may need for school such as exercise books and pens. While my feet were healing I still attended dance lessons but couldn’t participate, although fun to watch it was killing me that I couldn’t join in with everyone. When I did eventually get to attend it was the most amazing feeling and I’ve been addicted to going every week ever since. So far the dance group have raised 16,000MKW, around £25, which considering it has not yet reached the peak time for volunteers is a decent amount of money for them. Soon they have plans to start making ‘dumbroes’, basically wooden dumbbells, for sale to volunteers and I have donated the paint needed for them to make each pair look pretty. I may even buy another pair for myself as I left my last pair in Scotland.

I have also made a few other donations to the villages that I would like to tell you all about…

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Last year I taught at Hayo school and anyone who has heard me talk about my trip will know that this little village had a profound effect on me and I couldn’t help but talk about it 24/7 (apologies to those closest to me as they probably heard the same stories over and over again). I had a close bond with the children I taught in my afternoon class and loved their attitude towards school and their eagerness to learn as much as possible. I particularly noticed the potential in a 13 year old boy named Chifinero and knowing the difficulties in getting to secondary school in Malawi I made the decision to sponsor him through his education. Primary school runs from standard 1 to 8 and Chifinero is now in his final year so perfect timing for me to help him with his schooling. I asked Wyson, a member of the Tikondwe management team, to investigate his family situation and evaluate if he is in need of a sponsor. To my absolute delight Wyson came back to tell me that he is very much in need of help and that I can start to help straight away by buying him some items to last the remainder of standard 8. Wyson visited both his family and his school and told me that his teachers have reported excellent behaviour and that he has come from a very poor background that would not be able to afford further schooling if I had not stepped in. I bought Chifinero a new uniform, school shoes, a school bag, exercise books, maths equipment, pens and some extra clothes for outside school and visited his home to deliver it all to him. This was the first time I had met anyone in his family or seen his home. His mother instantly got out a mat for me to sit on and placed it under a tree outside their small house, she was so happy to see me and had the most beautiful permanent smile on her face. Chifinero also came to greet me and he had his usual cheeky grin, something that always makes me smile. Wyson explained to the family and the gathering of onlookers that I would be sponsoring him through the remainder of his schooling and the appreciation of not only the family but their friends and neighbours really touched me. I handed over the items to Chifinero and wanted him to try on the clothes and shoes as I had to try and guess the size, he looked so smart in his new shoes and when I asked if they fit he said ‘thank you so much Emma, may God bless you’. I swear I nearly started bubbling, the emotion was just overwhelming as I can’t describe how amazing a feeling it is to know that without me this boy’s potential would go to waste and he would never get the opportunity to go to secondary school. His mother showered me with thanks and gave me a bag of maize as a gift, she also got two of the boys standing watch to escort both myself and Wyson out of the village by walking our bicycles to the road for us. That day has honestly been one of the highlights of my trip this year and something that I will never forget.

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Tikondwe had an education day at the start of April for all of the schools to gather and show to the community what the children have been learning. The event turned out to be on a much larger scale than I ever could have imagined and it was nice to see so many people that care about education. All of the chiefs from the 17 villages attended with even appearances from the two ‘big chiefs’. We provided music, dramas and dancing for entertainment throughout the day and each of the seven schools had their own opportunity to showcase the talents of their students. My school, Msosa, was to demonstrate their ability to differentiate colours and Rosie was the student selected. I felt so sorry for her as she was the first of the children to go and she must have been so nervous looking out into the massive sea of faces but she done a brilliant job and managed to get through all of the colours without any mistakes, I have to admit that I felt like a proud mother when she finished. The other schools demonstrated things such as the alphabet, writing letters, counting, days of the weeks and months of the year. Tikondwe even provided phala, maize porridge, for all the children from the morning classes that showed up to the event and some juice for those from the afternoon classes. I sponsored crates of fizzy drinks for all the management, chiefs, teachers and people that were involved in helping the day to become a huge success.

A huge well done has to go to my family and friends who helped raise the money towards a bicycle ambulance for not only raising enough to provide the ambulance but also the bike and mattress as well. Tikondwe provides help and support to 17 villages within the Domasi area and have managed to donate two bicycle ambulances last year with both already having been put to great use. Due to the success of the first two, Tikondwe is aiming to donate a further three over the next year, one of which I was able to raise the funds for. These bicycle ambulances may not sound much to those of us used to the UK with transport easily accessible and our resourceful healthcare system, however, in rural villages in Malawi this could be the difference between saving someone or losing a life. If you have read my last post then you will be well aware of the serious problems locals face when an emergency occurs. We decided to donate my Njinga ambulance to a small local hospital, Machinjiri, which is very much in need of assistance for resources. This tiny hospital that looks more like a doctor’s clinic provides help for many of the people in Tikondwe’s care and for many of the villagers throughout our 17 villages, so we know the importance of helping them to provide a better service. We held a ceremony at the hospital to donate the ambulance and officially hand it over to their care and the care of the ‘big chief’. We have been assured that it is now the task of the community and the chiefs to help take care of the ambulance as it will be each of them that will benefit.

Before I left Scotland I got a very generous donation of £70 from family friends, Colette & Pat McGee. As it was a large donation I asked her how she would prefer I spent the money and we came up with the idea of putting it towards a bicycle. The bicycle arrived and it just happened to be my favourite colour purple and it has a handy little basket on the front. I love my little njinga and I have named her Jecinta after my maasai mum in Kenya. This bicycle has been my transport to and from school each day with locals borrowing when it is not in use. It was decided between myself and Colette that when I leave Malawi in December I will donate the bicycle to a selected local that is very much in need and can put the bike to good use for things such as transport to government school or for work purposes.

The parents from my dancing class held a raffle at a local dancing competition and surprised me with the news that they managed to raise £300. Emma, the project co-ordinator here at Tikondwe, advised me that they have been looking for a sponsor to help rebuild a home for a family very much in need and I thought it would be a great idea to use the money from my dancing family to help, one family to another. The mother has serious health issues and has to attend hospital at least once a month for a condition Malawians call sugars, from what we can gather it sounds very much like high blood pressure. She is continually loosing weight, has heart palpitations and sometimes struggles to walk never mind cook, clean and look after the 4 children in her family. Tikondwe helps by providing financial aid for her to attend hospital as she cannot afford it and has given one of the children, Enifer, a place in the orphanage where she can now receive an education and three meals a day something she wouldn’t have received at home. Their house is full of cracks and is in serious risk of collapse in certain areas and certainly wouldn’t last another rainy season. It was originally the idea to try and mend the house but it is in such a state that it was soon apparent that a full new building was the way forward. The £300 will cover the vast majority of the build and I intend to visit once the work has started to see the progress and visit the family. The money will include a metal roof which will last years into the future a vast improvement on their leaking straw roof at the moment.

I have also helped Tikondwe assist in many other things over the past month. We painted the malnutrition ward at Domasi government hospital to help brighten it up for the poor children that have to attend there, many of which will have to attend in regular intervals throughout their childhood. The walls were bland and boring and had nothing to stimulate the minds of young children. Myself and the other volunteers attended each Sunday until the ward was full of colours and pictures. The staff were delighted with our job and even the mothers of the children in the wards at that time were thanking us and complementing our work.

Tikondwe hired out the local cinemas near each school every second Thursday for the children to watch documentaries. Last year it was apparent that the children struggle to learn about certain things as they have no visual aid. Documentaries such as Blue Planet are fascinating to them as they have never seen things such as whales and sharks. It has been a great success and I had to giggle at all the ooh’s and ahh’s coming from the children when watching them.

We arranged a sports day with the seven village schools and attendance was high. We provided games such as the sack race, the three-legged race, long jump, high jump and the orange & spoon race. The children were very competitive and particularly loved the high jump as we struggled to get them to stop even as it started to get dark.

I attended a HIV awareness day sponsored by a fellow volunteer at one of the further villages. Both the Nsangeni support group and Seeds of Hope group attended to speak about how they cope with living with HIV and to assure people that it is much better to be tested and know the outcome. They are a great example and have a positive attitude, ensuring everyone that it is not the end of the world to be living with HIV, that with treatment they can lead a semi-normal life. Members from the local hospitals attended and provided free testing stations for anyone willing to be tested. Many of the volunteers including myself went and got tested to try and show example. I have to admit that even although I knew there was no possible chance for my results to come back positive, it was a nervous wait. Many of the other volunteers felt the same and we discussed just how nerve racking it must be for Malawians who know that it is a very real danger. I now understand the fear many Africans feel about being tested and know why it is such a difficult task to encourage them to take a test. In the end 65 people got tested, 8 of which were positive; 5 women and 3 men. This now means that these eight people can start to receive treatment and start on the journey to improve their lives.

During my travels last year I also visited Kenya to stay with the maasai community. It is now my plan to leave Malawi for a short period to travel to Kenya and revisit the fantastic people I met there. Firstly I will be going to Lake Malawi for one week for a little holiday and then I will fly to Kenya for three weeks before returning to the Tikondwe project. I am looking forward to seeing my maasai family; Jecinta, my mum; Ann who is 20 years old; my brother Josphat who is 17 years old and especially Vivian, 7 years old, who I miss a great deal.

I look forward to updating you all on my adventures in Kenya.

Emma J

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