Malawi

Sitting down to write this post, I find myself struggling to put words to the experiences that Jennie and I had in Malawi for the past month.  The struggle is not so much about what happened but more about how to describe experiences that were so emotionally taxing and profoundly beautiful that even now my mind is paralyzed by reflecting upon what we experienced.  I ask of you the reader, that as you read this post that you not only engage your eyes and mind, but you also allow the images and words to penetrate your heart.  Understand that these photos are actual people who are living and breathing; they are more than just another statistic or photo to chalk up to our ever increasing account of empathy numbing sad images.  Take this time now before I begin to prepare yourself for just a moment to try and see past the digital photo and see into the being of these individuals and places presented in this post because they are deserving of your time and concern.

Malawi is a beautiful African country.  It’s known as the “warm heart of Africa” and that is exactly what it feels like.  The people are incredibly friendly and welcoming.  As you spend time with the people in their context, it isn’t difficult to see though that this heart is broken and hemorrhaging.  Like many places in Africa this country is in desperate need of change and for someone to invest in its future.  Malawi is one of the five poorest countries in the world.  The government is 80% corrupt.  The people desire hope, real hope, not artificial hope of prosperity packaged in a box supposedly sent from God.  This is the limbo that these people, our brothers and sisters, find themselves in – hopeful of a glorious future, but experiencing impossible poverty and systematic neglect from the rest of the world.

As I mentioned above, what we experienced in Malawi was incredibly difficult because it so blatantly contrasts the comforts and stability we have in America.  There are 15,000,000 living in Malawi, a country a little bit larger than Illinois, but 1,000,000 of those people are orphans.  One fifteenth of the population is orphaned.  A vast majority of this is due to AIDS, but that shouldn’t lessen the impact that that figure has on you.  This was one of the most difficult parts of our time in Malawi, because meeting these orphans and seeing the well of sorrow and numbness behind their eyes made our insides churn with grief.  We traveled to an orphanage in Lilongwe where they feed and care for approximately 500 orphans (even though by our standards it could barely support 50).  During our time there we were able to hold, talk, and play with these beautiful children as well as help to give them their one meal of the day.  The following images are extremely precious to Jennie and I because we met these children and we watched as the dust fell from their clothes and hair as we patted them on the back and we know that their future is uncertain.  It is because of how much we cherish these images that I did not post them on facebook, because I could not put these images up without offering any context to the situation in which these children find themselves.

The difficulty of this experience was great, but I will say that seeing the pure joy that having their picture taken brought to these children is something that I will never forget.  As soon as I took the camera out, their faces lit up and requests for “their own” personal picture did not stop until we had to leave.  After posing them for their portrait and having twenty other children crowd around to get in the frame, hearing the shutter close, and then letting them see their very own face on a tiny 3″ monitor…to me was not a big deal.  But when they saw themselves and could find their face, the flood of happiness, laughter, and joy was too much. I nearly cried every time they would laugh and touch the screen, because of how much they relished seeing their own photo.

The boy in the top and bottom photos of the three images above is named Adam and as soon as we arrived he put his hand into mine and didn’t let go into I got into the car to drive away.   My heart aches because of the desperation I felt in his hand for love and care and how little time I was able to give him.  My hope and prayer is that each of these children knows how deeply they are loved.

There is amazing sadness when thinking about the need in Malawi, but as I mentioned above there is also work being done that is nothing short of miraculous.  The organization with which we partnered during our time over there was SCOM (Student Christian Organization of Malawi) which is a sister movement of InterVarsity.  The work they are doing with raising up grade school, high school, and college students to be agents of change within Malawi is very encouraging.  We had the pleasure to spend a lot of time with some of the staff and students involved with SCOM while visiting as many of their campuses as we could.

They even flattered us enough to allow Jennie and myself to speak to their SCOM chapters at a few of their large group gatherings.

To give you an idea of how valuable the work that SCOM is doing for Malawi, whenever the government has an initiative for AIDS education, Anti-corruption campaign, elevating the role of women, etc… they immediately turn to SCOM to lead the way!  This kind of influence and evidence of doing successful work is even more remarkable considering they have one staff responsible for all of the campuses within the entire country of Malawi!  While Duncan is not the only staff for SCOM his role is such that he is responsible for every campus.

A large part of our time in Malawi was spent at the Dzeleka Refugee Camp right outside Lilongwe.  Many of you have probably seen photos and videos portraying these camps and the rough conditions of most of them.  We had seen all these things too, but they did not prepare us for what we saw.  There are around 10,000 people living in this camp.  I had a hard time comprehending how 10,000 people could live in a camp that was so tiny.  We could walk all the way around it in an hour.

The people who make Dzeleka their home have fled from neighboring countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Somalia, Ethiopia, etc…  Each of these people has fled because their lives were in danger and had no choice but to leave or die.  Many of these people traveled 100’s of miles on foot through the bush of Africa in order to find this camp.  It’s impossible to understand the constant limbo these people live in because while at this United Nations camp they are not allowed to make an income or go to school because Malawi will not allow them to.  They are solely reliant upon the meager monthly rations the UN provides which is 5 kgs. of corn flour, 1 kg. of beans, and 50 ml of cooking oil.  Needless to say a lot of people get work illegally in order to feed themselves and their families because the rations are not enough to live on.  This is the limbo these refugees find themselves in…completely reliant upon an organization that doesn’t have the resources to feed them waiting to be resettled in another country, but with lottery-esque odds of that actually happening because governments of the world take so few refugees.  While this situation sounds incredibly bleak, I want to introduce to you some people who are doing miracles on a daily basis.

Freddy and Delor are two young men (28 and 25) from the DRC.  Delor fled from the Congo when he was 14 after watching his family brutally murdered and has been in Dzeleka for 10 years.  Freddy fled from his home 6 years ago under similar circumstances.  Freddy and Delor did not know each other before meeting in Dzeleka.  Since they have arrived at the refugee camp, these two saints have given everything and more to see that the marginalized and neglected of the camp are fed, educated and cared for in ways that we have only read about in the book of Acts.

This building which was funded by members of our team is where Freddy and Delor host educational seminars for single mothers and feed children with disabilities.  These two men have taken it upon themselves to educate their community about these groups of marginalized individuals.  Probably the most amazing aspect about what they do is that they have nothing with which to support these programs but somehow still have enough conviction to go ahead anyway and serve beyond what is logical or rational.

During our time with SCOM and Freddy and Delor we were able to play a role in forming a definitive relationship between these two groups so that the Malawian people will become aware about the needs of the refugees in their back door.  This has been something that some of our team has been working on for more than five years, but now has traction and will be moving forward.  I’m excited to see what systems will be changed within the country of Malawi to better the lives of these refugees.

There is so much to share from this trip and I find it hard to write it all down in a way that make sense and is also readable in one sitting.  I have shared some of the major highlights, but if you have questions or comments feel free to email me or post them on this blog and I would love to share more.  Please keep the people of Malawi, SCOM, Freddy, and Delor in your thoughts and seek the betterment of our brothers and sisters in our communities and the world!

Freddy and Delor leading a seminar for single mothers to help eliminate the stigma of being a single mother and ways they can support their families without selling their bodies.

One of the single mothers and her child during the seminar.

At the crisis nursery with Christina and Jennie

at the crisis nursery

at the crisis nursery

 

One of the rural villages outside the Dzeleka Refugee Camp

One of the rural villages outside the Dzeleka Refugee Camp

 One of the rural villages outside the Dzeleka Refugee Camp

 One of the rural villages outside the Dzeleka Refugee Camp

One of the rural villages outside the Dzeleka Refugee Camp

 

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