November 20, 2002 - Groton Landmark: Lessons from Malawi
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November 20, 2002 - Groton Landmark: Lessons from Malawi
Lessons from Malawi
Read and comment on this story from the Groton Landmark on Malawi PCV Mary Ann Camp who says that even after 64 years of lifetime experiences, one is not fully prepared for the challenges one faces in the Peace Corps. She goes on to say that "Malawi's logo is "The Warm Heart of Africa," and having lived in a rural village with the people daily, I must admit it is very accurate. The kindnesses shown to me have been overwhelming. You and I have been told most of our lives that the American Way is to pull ourselves up by our boot straps, and it's a good philosophy. But for those with no boots, much less shoes, it is a difficult concept." Read the story at:
Lessons from Malawi*
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Lessons from Malawi
By Mary Ann Camp
I have learned so many things this past year being a Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi. Even after 64 years of lifetime experiences, one is not fully prepared for the challenges one faces here.
Malawi's logo is "The Warm Heart of Africa," and having lived in a rural village with the people daily, I must admit it is very accurate. The kindnesses shown to me have been overwhelming.
I heard a knock on my door one morning, and a very elderly lady from the village had brought me an egg because she learned Americans eat eggs for breakfast.
My night watchman brought me a papaya from his tree so I could have half of his nighttime snack.
And yet there is another side of the story, for when the "hunger season" comes -- from November to March -- people change. When one's children are crying for food, a parent will go to life-threatening measures to feed them. Last "hunger season" a father had both arms chopped off for stealing maize from a nearby field. His wife died last year in childbirth, and he died a horrible death, leaving four children as orphans. Hunger is very real.
Working at a health clinic, one of my jobs is to assist with food distribution from the World Food Program. Sometimes we spill a bit of flour as we measure out five meager cups per family. After the last person has received his or her quota, I have seen the young orphans scramble to the floor to lick the floor with their tongues.
Last year the primary school in my village closed because the students were too hungry to pay attention. Most had already gone to the fields to forage for worms, bugs, and mice to eat. It's predicted that this year will be the worst year for starvation in 60 years.
This morning at the Children's Clinic I saw several young ones who are very malnourished, and we have no food to distribute. One child was so weak that he didn't bother to chase away the flies crawling about on his swollen cheeks and lips. The mother was occupied nursing the younger sibling. Yes, hunger is very real.
Maple Dene School in Pepperell sent over 100 packs of seeds last year. Also, my family contributed many packets. These were all planted and harvested, nourishing many children in my village. They were so grateful.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I am allowed to choose one project funded by the Peace Corps to help the community. My chosen project is to replace two roofs on the primary school after high winds destroyed them last year.
Also, these 1,315 children have no source of drinking water all day. My proposal included a bore hole (well) on the school grounds which is being hand-done even as I write this. Mr. Thomas has gone into the earth 22 meters and there is still no water, but he is confident.
The third element of my proposal is for school desks to get the children off the cold, cracked cement. The Peace Corps funded enough for 100 desks (three children to one desk), so 300 children will be helped. The remaining classes will still be on the floor.
I am so grateful to the U.S. government for this assistance, as are the Headmaster of the school and the chiefs of Mlanda, my village. And, of course, the students and teachers are delighted.
All of you know that HIV/AIDS is a huge killer in this country. "Six teachers a week die of HIV/AIDS," President Malugi announced on today's news. There is a funeral in my village today for the Standard I teacher who has been ill for three months. He died yesterday, and the funeral is today. It's the custom and the culture to bury the next day.
Malaria is also a huge killer, especially of the children. Mosquito nets are available, but most families can't afford a $5 (375 kwacha) investment for a net. The little ones die very quickly without treatment.
Last week 16-month-old Gloria died in my arms. The mother and grandmother carried Gloria's body back to the neighboring village for burial. I could hear the wailing for a very long time.
I think if it weren't for the beauty of the land and the graciousness of the people, my two-and-a-half-year contract would have been terminated. I have a friend and colleague whose philosophy is "Try to leave the place better than when you found it, even if it's just pushing the chair under the table."
I realize I'm a small cog in this huge machine, trying to contribute to reduce poverty, hunger, and disease here in Malawi. But I have witnessed that the little things do matter. John McNabb from the Pepperell Pharmacy donated three cartons of iron tablets and antenatal vitamins to my clinic. The pregnant mothers are far less anemic than before this generous gift.
I returned home [to the U.S.] in February for my brother's funeral. Death is never, never easy, but I know my brother's spirit still is alive. My sister-in-law offered me a pair of Bob's shoes to bring back to my night watchman as he had no shoes. Now when I see Aaron wearing my brother's shoes each night, I know how little things do matter.
You and I have been told most of our lives that the American Way is to pull ourselves up by our boot straps, and it's a good philosophy. But for those with no boots, much less shoes, it is a difficult concept.
As I stated earlier, I have learned many things in Malawi, but there are some things I cannot accept. Thus, I wrote the following poem:
My human mind cannot
The complexities of the times.
Thirty-four million people dead
Because of a pandemic virus.
The African soil
Heaves and moans
As it reluctantly
Receives the dead.
My heart cannot
The horrors of September 11
When so many souls
Collided needlessly in
Meeting their Maker.
My heart cannot
The oceans of pain
Of those left behind,
Waving small flags in grief.
My spiritual soul
The injuries of Humankind:
Child slave labor,
Starvation of all kinds.
NO! NO! NO!
My mind, heart, and soul
WILL NOT ACCEPT!
If you care to help, please send your donation by check to: Mary Ann Camp, PCV, Mlanda Health Center, P.O. Box 20, Lizalu, Ntcheu, Malawi, Central Africa
Mary Ann Camp, a resident of Pepperell, is a second-time Peace Corps Volunteer, having served in Lesotho, South Africa, from 1998 to 2000.
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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; PCVs in the Field; COS - Malawi
PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE pass this message on to Mary Ann Camp.
I also have been working in Mlanda, in Malawi. I worked as a volunter in the Girls secondary school as well as the primary school. It is a very special place and as you said, the children are starving and dying. It truly is terrible and I am making a commitment with David Hastings - Standard 8 teacher at the primary school, to aid the orphans of Mlanda and Chiphikira (the village behind malanda mountain.)
There is hope and the Mlanda Youth group which still continues is doing good work, that honour you so highly and mentioned your name daily in my stay. They continue to act out plays and have even been hired to act in different areas of Malawi. Alex and David I know are eternally grateful for everything you helped them do, and they wear your t-shirts with pride to every youth club meeting.
I hope to return next summer (2006)to help the village further. Please let me know if you recieve this message by emailing me at : firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you so much Laura Hodder
This was a great article for me since my 24 year old daughter is serving in the Peace Corp Malawi in the community health program and lives in Chulu. My heart cries out and I lift you guys in prayer. Plan to visit soon to see what she sees. Thanks for posting such incredible information.