Jenni here. First I want to comment on the brand new experience of foreign travel with Fiona. She can handle herself! Watching her barter in the market today as we bought chitengis for the partnership and for Dunblane High School was an exercise in assertive negotiation! And through it all she made friends: we always ended with a handshake or a hug and everyone parted with a smile.
I have been visiting Likhubula since 2005 and in this blog I shall reflect on some of the things that are hitting me today as having changed over the years.
I have always loved the walk down from Likhubula House to the village - the sandy road, the views of the mountains, the chickens (cocks crowing all day long) and the children who join you to take your hand or carry your bag. Now there is a new sound, that of steadily running water. There is a culvet dug into the side of the road, sometimes visible, sometimes underground, carrying water down from the mountain. At house after house it can be diverted for irrigation as long as it returns to flow downhill. There is far more irrigation than I have ever seen in this area, and yesterday our committee described failed rains to us without the previous sense of disaster: the initial crops may have failed but now people are turning to irrigation. As the climate in this area changes, this is offers a path of hope.
Outside the school there is a tap. Beside Mary’s Meals there is a tap. As we waited yesterday for church (did Fiona say it was a long wait?) we watched members of the community come to fill their buckets, clean their plates, drink from a mug, or just hang around, knowing people would be arriving for a chat. We had some of our best meetings with people by these taps, the flurry of recognition, the smiles, the handshakes, the hugs. When Stuart and I came in 2009 we were frustrated that several key taps bringing water from the mountain spring had broken washers and water flowing freely all day long, but no one was fixing them. When they were installed, every tap had a committee, you know, established for this very purpose! Well the days of broken taps appear to be past. People are taking pride this visit in showing us the good state of the taps and their environs.
Our pictures will have to tell their own tale, but I do see the children’s faces as in the main healthier and fuller. When Mary Meals first landed in Nansato School in 2006, providing a 1000 meals of fortified porridge to the pupils each day, 100 children returned to school within the first two weeks. They no longer had to miss school in order to forage for food. Seven years on and Mary’s Meals is going strong in Nansato School. So as not to interrupt lessons they have agreed to serve the phala as soon as the children come to school, then they settle to their lessons. We hope to take more pictures later in the week.
Visting Mulanje today there was more activity around the market, a better stocked ‘cash and carry’ (once upon a time a whole shelf could be filled by single packets of biscuits, each placed a foot apart), and the Opportunity Bank will let you save in Malawi Kwacha or dollars.
Visiting Mulanje Mission Hospital is a reminder of the extreme challenge of providing healthcare to a very rural area. We have heard in Likhubula of one grandmother who carried her dying grandson on her back for the 35km to the hospital. Today we saw a new Waiting House at the hospital for women about to give birth. They are being encouraged strongly to make the arduous journey to the hospital in advance of the time when they will go into labour, and in the Waiting House they can rest, prepare meals and have only a short walk to the ward when their time comes. We hope to be able to promote this within the Likhubula community, since as yet it is not heavily used.
Back to Fiona. While teaching a song in church yesterday she took the hands of the small children in the front. When later in the service we were introduced to the congregation, the children spontaneously joined the group of elders who came forward to shake our hands and say welcome.
That’s Umodzi – all working together.