A Walk in the Community, Chitimba, Malawi
The room was packed with small children sitting cross legged on the dirt floor . Some of them clutched a scrap of writing paper and a stubby of pencil , many had nothing to write on at all. . The classroom was dark. Shafts of light penetrated the the gloom through rough cut windows and the open door.
That morning we had stepped out of our secure, safe, sterile, comfortable bubbled accommodation to go on a community walk of the area The money we paid would go to local projects . When we visit an area we try to support small local initiatives but in Africa this was proving hard, as most accommodation, restaurants and tour operators seemed to be owned by ex-pats or rich white Africans. However, w e could normally find at least one small restaurant or bar run by an entreprenerual soul that we could frequent and learn about realities their situation. . However, being interested in social policy and a social worker the tour gave me an opportunity to see how schools, health clinics and community projects are working (or not), If you have never been on one of these tours before and want to go, prepare yourself for an eye-opener..
David, our guide, was trying to put himself through medical school. He told us he supported himself and his nephew through this work and by selling tomatoes that he grew.
First we visited the local comprehensive and secondary school which was awash with several hundred children and only 4 teachers to take lessons and maintain some kind of order. The range of subjects taught was ambitious, the teachers clearly dedicated but how effective this was considering the kids had no pens, paper, or books, nothing to sit on and nothing to write on, no electricity at home to do homework by, I’m not sure..
We moved on through the village huts and met several families who farmed the land and David notice that that the crops were being munched on by locausts (his identification). Passing by high stacks of baked mud building bricks, hollowed trunks ready to be turned into fishing canoes, women pumping water from the communal well, we were taken to meet Grace. A widowed older person, who had no family to support her and no income since her husband had died. She lived on gifts from local people and money she received from the tour for letting strangers poke around her 2 small roomed mud house. Life for Grace and the other villagers meant no running water or electricity and cooking over a wood fire.
We moved onto the clinic where locals came to be tested for Malaria and HIV, treated for ailments and have their babies. As the health budget had been misappropriated by the ex-prime minister who passed away before he could be brought to justice, the very young doctors main resource was their infinite passion about helping the community. Holes gaped in the ceilings, water mark stained the walls, wood was being chewed by the worm, medical supplies non-existent, even basic hygiene rules could not be met as there was no soap to wash hands between patients (my infection control nurse would have a fruit). There was only one mattress in the 5 bedded maternity ward
Three hours later, several donations, a bulk purchase of soap, a stop off to see David’s house; admire his tomatoes and wonder how he could survive the monsoon without a proper roof and two declined invitations. One to visit David’s grandfather who ‘grew good dope’ and two, to see the local witch doctor, we finished the tour and my understanding of Malawi’s social and political situation was just beginning.