I arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi Thursday at noon. An acquaintance was on the same flight and was coming to visit the same people I was, so our hosts and I waited until she had all her luggage. Both she and I got our locked luggage right away, but her third bag took maybe another forty minutes to come out. It was unlocked, and we later discovered that her camera and other electronics had been stolen. They left the bag that the camera was in, but took the memory cards out of it, so she lost all her pictures from the other parts of her trip.
I’m sorry to have to say this
I am really very sorry to have to report what follows, but it is the truth as I experienced it or was told by those who live here, and if I’m to give an honest assessment of my visit to Malawi, I have to say that it stood out from all the other countries I’ve visited in a negative way. But what happened at the airport with the luggage turned out not to be an unusual occurrence. Welcome to Malawi, where there is no shame in stealing, only in getting caught.
There is a general attitude here that the West owes the poor in Malawi their help, so Malawians believe they are entitled to take your help even when you don’t know you are ‘helping.’ Westerners who live here or who are visiting have to be extra vigilant, because everything they own is fair game if there is an opportunity to liberate their possessions. To minimize the risk of theft, many people keep dogs on their properties because Malawians are terribly afraid of dogs. They live outside the house and are a great deterrent to would-be thieves.
One thing I have noticed in Thailand, India, Kenya, Rwanda, Malawi and South Africa is the prevalence of walled properties, complete with spikes, barbed wire, and broken glass. Every residence outside of the poor areas has this sort of protection along with a heavy gate across the driveway. Most places have a person employed (usually with another outdoor job, such as a gardener) who opens and closes the gate.
Unfortunately, I have to say that Malawi stands in stark contrast to Rwanda. Whatever I said about Rwanda, it is pretty much the opposite here. Sorry to have such a negative assessment, but that’s the way it is. Last night one of my South African hosts, Manfred Molomo, showed me a book by Greg Mills (a South African) called Why Africa Is Poor, in which he says Africa is not poor because it lacks resources, or because of its colonial past, but only because African leaders have decided it should be poor (for the personal benefit of its leaders). In Rwanda, government ministers make $4,000 a month, have modest offices and live in nice but not extravagant homes. That seems to be the exception.
It is quite apparent that Malawi does not seem to encourage either business investment or manufacturing. The internal economy seems to be either agriculture or retail. This strategy does not lead to exports that might bring cash into the country. I think the shortage of currency is why anything made outside of the country is in short supply. A restaurant may have many items on it’s menu, but that is only a list of what they could cook if they had the ingredients. You will save a lot of time if you just ask the waiter, “What have you got today?” Another example is that the main source of power is electricity and propane. But there is only one propane plant in Malawi and it’s compressor has been broken since November, so there is no propane. I assume they are unable to buy either the parts or the service to fix the problem. Since they appear not to have sufficient electricity available, there are rolling, random outages. On Sunday morning, the power in Area 10 of Lilongwe (where I was staying) was already off when we woke up, and it remained off for another four hours. Fortunately, my hosts have a power inverter that at least keeps the lights on, but it won’t power an oven or any other large appliance. Charcoal is readily for sale on the highways outside of Lilongwe, but using it is forbidden. This leaves people with no legal way to cook during the outages.
The Malawian attitude towards foreign donations is the opposite to what I encountered in Kolkata, where the pastor challenged his congregation to show foreign donors that Indians would do their part to finance the needs as much as possible. The Malawians appear quite content to let foreigners carry the ball. For instance, the Chinese are building a huge convention centre for a Pan-African meeting next year, but the apparent expectation is that after the meeting, it will be unused and left to decay. The Malawians have little ambition or initiative to do anything for themselves. People from the north of Malawi are the exception. They are far more industrious, but I suppose they are not in the right places to shape the national culture.
But on the bright side
The land itself is very, very beautiful. I travelled north to Dowa, south to Dedza and east to Salima and Lake Malawi. The hills are beautiful, the landscapes quite interesting and the variety ensures there is always an interesting view.
Also on the bright side, I saw the most honest advertising I’ve seen anywhere in the world, ever. Look at this marketing slogan. Can you imagine that working in Canada?? It would be laughed at and derided.
In spite of the attitudes I have described, people here need help, and in that respect, I visited two ministries that are doing great work.
Patrick Laforet and his wife Ann took me to the Dowa clinic of Lifeline Malawi. This was very impressive. It is important to note that Malawi has 14 million people and 250 doctors, about 100 of whom are in administrative positions and are not practicing! That’s 150 doctors for 14 million people. If Canada had the same ratio for doctors, we’d only have 364 doctors. Imagine that! So Lifeline Malawi has stepped in to fill the gap.
The clinic was full and had a long waiting line. Every person would be seen that day, no one would be turned away. It was humbling to realize how far some of these people had come, and how much community effort, in some cases, it took to get them here.
Lifeline Malawi was founded in 2003 by Dr. Chris Brooks of First Assembly Church in Calgary, who visited Malawi and saw the great need for medical help. The budget of US$150,000 six years ago has grown to $2.1 million today and a staff of seventy people. In total, last year 157,000 people were seen at the clinics.
Lifeline Malawi partners with others to provide holistic support to remote communities that includes healthcare, education, water and sanitation, and food. By keeping parents healthy, they are helping to reduce child labour.
One interesting fact is that for $7 per mother, the maternity clinic they run can help prevent the transfer of HIV/AIDS from mother to newborn. The success rate in the country is 60% while the clinic has an 86% success rate. This was the greatest hope I saw in Malawi, that the spread of the HIV/AIDS disease can be stopped at least inter-generationally and thus a new generation has a chance of growing up without it.
We drove out to a remote clinic that is visited (I believe) on a weekly basis. Pat and Ann don’t get here often, but it was obvious the villagers really like them and they received an enthusiastic response from everyone. People waved at us as we drove by.
What a surprise we had when we got there. The two mud huts that are used for the clinic were abandoned and fallen apart.
But there were two large modern buildings decked out with real windows and doors, proper drainage and so on. They were very well built, but not yet finished.
What was going on here? We greeted the villagers who were there, and it didn’t take long for word to spread and in about twenty minutes an elder and someone who spoke English came to greet us. It turned out that these villagers had an uncharacteristic abundance of gumption and initiative. They went together with 23 other villages, applied to the government for money and got it, and built themselves a clinic and a doctor’s house! I doubt they will have a resident doctor in the foreseeable future, but they have tangibly demonstrated their faith that one will come (a la if you build it….). The half-finished clinic is already in use.
The other ministry is Village of Hope. My friends David and Connie Buzikievich are the directors.
This ministry accepts kids who are either orphans or whose parents and extended family cannot care for them. Some come as almost newborns (who are very expensive to accept because of the level of care needed) and others are older children.
They live in their own little village of about eight homes with eight children to a household. Each house has a live-in ‘mother’ and an ‘auntie’ who works during the day. The children attend school and receive a lot of love. Each child is being nurtured to ensure they have the greatest possible opportunity to lead successful independent lives when they become adults.
I saw many of the kids as I walked the grounds of Village of Hope and toured some of their homes. They were happy, played very well together, and seemed to have a good level of confidence in themselves, as they stepped forward to greet me or to approach David and Connie to share something special with them. The most important contribution that Village of Hope is making is not just that these kids are being given a better life, but that their values and attitudes are being developed in ways that will improve Malawian culture as they grow up and participate in society. These kids are learning to care for themselves and their property. They are learning respect and resourcefulness. The Buzikieviches have dreams to build more housing to offer a different model of accommodation to those who reach 18 years of age and want to stay longer while they pursue their education. They will be in as-yet-unbuilt transition houses where they will have to do their own housekeeping, laundry, cooking and shopping (with four to a house, I believe). Village of Hope is helping a new generation of Malawians break the culture of dependence that their elders have accepted. This is a country that has never known a war, either with another country or within their own country. The only thing this country needs to become viable and sustainable is a new attitude, and that is what Village of Hope is contributing to in its own way.
Staying with David and Connie, I had a first-hand look at the life of a missionary. All I can say is, when they wake up each day they have no idea what the day will hold for them! They are on constant call for anything and everything. I had the pleasure of meeting some other missionaries, Harlyn and Helen Purdy, and I would say they and the Laforets would all have the same experience with unpredictability.
Something I found amazing at Village of Hope and elsewhere in Malawi is that I saw quite a few people wearing heavy Canadian-style winter coats!! Yes, it was only in the low eighties, but for Malawians, that is cold! So when people say, “Don’t ship winter clothing to Africa,” realize that while what I’m about to say sounds counter-intuitive, don’t believe that advice. They really do need winter clothing.
I left Malawi on Monday at noon for my final African destination, Johannesburg! I’ll write soon about my visit there.
- Sabbatical anyone?
- My sabbatical plans
- Thoughts on my last day at work
- Speaking with authority! A tale of an ambassador and a receptionist
- Thoughts as I leave
- New Zealand: There’s no place like it
- There’s life on the third planet!
- The journey is the destination
- Down under with the Aussies
- It does a father’s heart proud…
- Give confidently, give generously
- A taste of Thailand
- Celebrations in India
- “We followed Jesus, and he led us to you”
- Charity and discipleship
- Karibu! Welcome to Kenya
- I’m in Rivendell!
- A sermon on the fly
- Rwanda: A miracle of renewal and reconciliation
- Effective ministry in Malawi
- The promise of South Africa
- The cost of fear and ignorance
- Saturday in London
- Easter in London
- Edinburgh: Castles, churches and cellars
- Ancestral roots in Paisley, Scotland
- Old buildings and modern people
- Curiouser and curiouser
- My last ministry visits of the sabbatical
- Mon weekend à Paris
- Lest we forget…
- Among friends in Zurich
- The strategy of intentional accidents
- A retreat to close the sabbatical
- Backpacks, spas and other traveller’s tips
- My wife, my COO, and a director: Perspectives on my sabbatical