Monday, May 11, 2009



Friday May 8th, 2009

Today we had the best food of our two weeks here in Malawi. The story of how that came to be is the result of an incredible project. It is the miracle of developing independence for vulnerable villages in 4 regions of Malawi. We visited one of those villages in Machinga Region.

At the end of a long dusty road lies a typical Malawian village. Until 3 years ago, the village, like most others was dependent on the annual maize crop which, in turn, is dependent on significant annual rainfall. At the start of this disaster mitigation project Malawi had suffered 3 years of drought which brought hardship and starvation to the entire country.

In Machinga, Emmanuel International, in partnership with other local NGO’s, began a program of Disaster Risks Reduction. The community learned to grow some drought resistant crops such as, sweet potato, cassava, and beans. Very slowly the people are learning to change their diets to include some of these other foods. Still, it’s true that Malawians feel they haven’t eaten a proper meal unless it includes maize. But change is coming slowly and another drought will not have the devastating effects as it has in the past.

In addition, they began a program of reforestation to provide fuel for cooking. As wood is the only source of fuel for most Malawians, it has been important to develop methods of cooking to use less wood. This they have done with the use of a clay stove. The villagers make these stoves by collecting clay, forming the shapes and firing them in their homemade kiln. This is a fabulous income generating activity.

The people are proud of their progress and able to place a wider variety of nutritious food on their table. They also have developing a unique "slow cooker" which was an insulated (with leaves and branches) large storage basket and it requires no fuel. Items to be cooked, such as rice, were started on the fire and then pot and all was plunged into these baskets to finish their cooking. Fascinating.

Eating our lunch with them was a wonderful experience. It was gratifying to see firsthand the pride of the people in this village of there successes.. They are reducing their vulnerability to the inevitable droughts to come. The Disaster Risk Reduction Program is a very worthy humanitarian project. It moves the focus from responding to disaster to preparing for it.

MENU (note: no nsema!)

Bean Casserole w/tomato, greens, potatoes, cassava and other vegetables.
Casava pancake (similar to potato pancake………..YUM!)
Curried vegetables
Casava vegetable casserole

Tangerines and Bananas

Thursday, May 7, 2009


The Compassionate Heart of a Packrat: by Ruth-Lynn Hamilton
Thursday May 7, 2009

Today we drove to an elementary school near Faith Trust. We usually drive under and around the soccer goals, but today we parked. We had 600 pencil cases to give to the children. The pencil cases were made by women in anada and packed with a pen, crayons, pencil, pencil sharpener, toothbrush and toothpaste. We began with the Standard 1 class. 200 children poured out of the classroom and stood in line waiting patiently. Some bowed when given their gift. Several actually fell to their knees in gratitude. As they filed back into their dirt floor, overcrowded classroom, the sound of excited laughter was deafening. We continued class by class until only Standard 7 & 8 remained. They were given pencil cases and hats. The girls hats knitted by loving hands back home. They sure loved those hats. The male teachers received t-shirts and the female teachers hand sewn bags with materials for a skirt, t-shirt, sewing kit, hair pick, and a crocheted wash cloth.

We continued to Faith Trust to celebrate their brand new community centre. The money for this project came from Rotary. The labour from their villagers with a little bit of help from our team for painting. Faith Trust is one of the many community based organizations in Malawi supported by Dignitas. It’s a group of volunteers trained to give Home Base Care. They visit the sick, assist orphans and the elderly and provide counselling for their surrounding area. They are caring for each other under very difficult circumstances. They used to meet under a tree and now they have a building and they are beyond excited.

We experienced celebration today, the like of which we have never seen before; dancing, singing, dancing, drama, hugging and, of course, we had gifts. We left them with baby blankets, infant layettes, bags for the women, toys, hats and pencil cases. So many of my treasured memories will be the faces of these amazing people. The pure joy and gratitude, the love and emotion over our bags of goodies from Canada and those moments are thanks to a unique woman named Wendy Hagar.

Wendy lives in Burlington. She is a self confessed packrat. If you have it and don’t want it, Wendy will take it. She long ago outgrew her garage and had to move into a warehouse. But as much as Wendy loves to collect all manner of things, her real passion is giving it away. About a decade ago, Wendy heard about Mom’s in Africa without so much as a piece of cloth to swaddle their infants. Well, that would not do. She had to do something.
So she got busy sewing. Before her basement was packed with wall-to-wall women, cutting, sewing and knitting – nighties, blankets and sweaters and the bags to put them in. Today, those amazing volunteers stretch from Victoria to Halifax and those layette bags are just part of Wendy’s inventory. She sends thousands of ladies’ bags, packed knapsacks and school kits all over the world every year. If you will carry it, she will get it or make it.

So, when our sweat equity trip to Malawi was planned, and Linda received a list of things most needed, she took it to Wendy. A week before leaving for Malawi, Team 2 spent an evening at the warehouse and left with 12 hockey bags stuffed with love – love that we have poured out every chance we got in the last 2 weeks. Wendy’s mission is to make a difference and I can tell you Wendy, you are doing just that. Your wonderful, selfless women in Canada are reaching out and encourage the women in Malawi, women that are truly the most courageous, hard working women I have met.

Thanks for the memories.
"To laugh often and much: to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children: to know one life has breathed easier because you have lived; this is the meaning of success"
................................Ralph Waldo Emerson



Tuesday, May-05-09

The team had a full day of activities planned for Tuesday. The day started with several team members going to the Zomba Hospital for a tour of the Dignitas Clinic. The rest of the team headed to Kachere where we had completed the community centre the previous day. The purpose of the visit was to deliver 20 each of baby blankets, womens’ kits, infants’ kits and numerous hats for men and women. The items were left at the centre for distribution by Mary, the director of Kachere, to deserving helpers and volunteers from the village.

Most of the team went to Faith Trust to finish painting the community centre there. However, Leo and I remained at Kachere to accompany Mary on her rounds to visit AIDS patients. For the next two hours we walked through the fields of maise, sweet potatoes, peas, etc. constantly climbing as we headed to the base of the Zomba plateau. Along the way we visited the homes of 9 families where at least one of the members was HIV +ve. At each home we received a warm welcome and were invited to sit in a place of honour while Mary described each patient’s situation for us. We were surprised that the patients allowed us to ask questions and take pictures. At one home, the woman who was HIV +’ve was the mother of a 1 week old baby. Mary proudly told us that the woman would be the first to receive one of the blankets donated by Rotary that morning.

Generally we were struck by how healthy the patients appeared. Most had been taking ARV’s for several years. Mary explained to us that as long as they were “good patients” and took there medications regularly, most of her clients or patients were doing well.

Our final visit of the day was heart wrenching. As we approached the house, Mary explained that we were visiting one of her “bad” patients who refused to take ARV’s. When we arrived, the woman was totally covered by a pile of blankets outside on the ground. She was extremely weak, but managed to sit up and welcome us. It was fascinating to watch as Mary comforted her and spoke to her softly. While we didn’t understand the language, it was obvious that the woman was telling Mary about the pain she was experiencing and the parts of her bady that were affected. After a lengthly conversation and many tears, Mary led us in prayer to a place of hope. On the way back Mary joked with us about being tired and told Leo it was because he was an old man. Before we returned to Kachere, Mary honoured us by taking us to her home and introducing us to her mother.

Reflecting back on the day, it occurred to me that it was a day of hope. It was demonstrated to us firsthand that the healthcare system in Malawi, although still rudimentary, is much improved over 5 years ago. This is in no small part to the Mary’s of Malawi………..dedicated, selfless, home care volunteers. It is clear, that the future of Malawi lies with those that will follow in the footsteps of Mary.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009


After no internet access for 5 days we are now up and blogging again. We are trying to catch up and will have more posts soon. See everyone real soon!!

Back to Work

Poop and Paint
: By Gordon Timbers and Anne Saunders

Re: Monday May 4, 2009

Re-energized by our weekend away, we returned to sweat equity activities on Monday. We rejoined the group having been involved in a church leaders retreat (Church of Central Africa Presbyterian) in Blantyre for which we were facilitators. The other 10 team members were full of stories of the beauty of Lake Malawi, the lovely resort and the adventure of cross-country travel.

Monday a.m. Scott and Neil took up their painting foremen duties with their crews at Kachere and Faith Trust. While some participated in home visits or a hospital tour, Anne and Marg participated in the first of three EIM sanitation workshops for the residents of Balala village, Machinga District. A group of 22 women – some with babies on their backs – and 6 men (including the village headman) attended. The village water committee members were introduced. The EIM facilitator, Thomas, divided everyone into 3 groups. The first exercise was to map on newsprint their village, showing all buildings, including homes and latrines (chimbudzi), water points, footpaths and vegetable gardens. The most accurate map was chosen as the basis for further discussion. The village relies on river water and, for a few months each year, an open water hole. Thomas informed us that the much needed borehole would be drilled as part of the Rotary water project.

In the second group exercise about the spread of disease (majelemus) from human feces to human ingestion, all groups identified flies (nchenche). There was much laughter and singing throughout the discussions.

When Marg and Anne returned to Faith Trust, Neil’s team was there having completed the Kachere painting. After a hearty lunch of nsima, rice, chicken and greens (ndiwo), we all pitched in to complete the first coat of the Faith Trust building interior.

Monday evening Chuck Taylor introduced Johnny Parrot from Africycle Uxbridge who made a presentation about their work recovering bicycles in Canada for refurbishments and sale in Malawi – 1600 to date. The Uxbridge Rotary Club has already purchased Africycle bicycles for home-based care workers.


R & R Con’t: by Linda Davies

Sunday May 3rd, 2009

Following our stop at the Hippo Lodge we headed north in the Land Rover, packed cheek by jowl, for the long ride to Cape MacClear. Some strange signs on the way included: “Pack ‘n Go” Funeral Parlour, God Help Us Beauty Salon, Fresh Bakery….Everything but Bread, Hip Hop Bottle Shop Razamataz Exclusive, Uncle Charlos Booze Den, Pearly Gates Funeral Parlour, Froggy’s Restaurant, Hiccup CafĂ©, Coffin Workshop, Gecko Lounge, Ass of God Church (no room on the sign for Assembly so they shortened it!).

What a fabulous weekend with some more team bonding………spirited games of euchre, a boat ride on Lake Malawi (this lake is bigger than Lake Ontario), shopping trips into the local fishing village, sunsets that only Africa produces, moon rises over the glistening water and some lounging by the pool.

The boat ride took us to an island where iridescent blue fish would collect around our ankles for feeding. Our guide would whistle to the two resident eagles, Tom and Jerry, and they would dive to retrieve the small fish he would throw to them. In the distance, on the far shore, we could see the mountains of Mozambique.

On our walks through the village shopping, we discovered an amazing talent of one of our group. None us will consider purchasing anything now without the assistance of Kris Knoepfli’s negotiating skills. Many of us ordered specially carved key chains. 78 all together in fact. Only 3 mistakes.
Libby’s son in law is now “Gerg” instead of Greg. My son, Bryce, is now “Bryoe” and Ruth-Lynn and Neil’s daughter is now Vanesse. For some reason, this struck all of us as very funny.

Anne and Gordon were at a conference in Blantyre for the weekend and we missed them.

We had a very touching experience which I will try to describe. Team 1 had on4 boys and they asked if I would deliver 4 backpacks to them. I asked on the beach for the boys by name and in short order the message got to them and they presented themselves at the gate. Ruth-Lynn and I (Libby acted as photographer) did a little presentation ceremony and you could not have seen larger grins on 4 Malawian faces. Only the picture can show you how happy they were.

One funny thing I have to tell you. You can drink alcohol anywhere in Malawi. At this lodge, we brought our own wine, plunked ourselves down in the bar, opened our wine and then asked the bartender for chilled glasses. Crazy eh? Can you imagine this happening in Canada?

After a wonderful weekend we left Lake Malawi refreshed and ready for another week’s work. We returned to Zomba looking a little more African than when we left. Even the men on the team were adorned with the locally made bracelets and necklaces.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Down at the Hippo Bar

FIRST DAY OF R & R : by Neil Hamilton

Friday May 1st, 2009

We left today for some R & R at Lake Malawi. It’s a 3 ½ hr. ride. After about an hour, we stopped at the “Hippo Lodge”, where we had prearranged a boat ride and lunch on the Shire River. We ordered lunch and then went on a 2 hr boat trip. We all went in a pontoon boat with our guide and captain, Maxton. He was friendly and very knowledgeable about plant life, the environment and animal life in the area.

We came across 3 separate families of hippos. For me, as a collector of hippo memorabilia, it was a real thrill to see them in their natural habitat.
We saw 15 – 20 in total, they would all submerge if we got too close. When they surfaced, occasionally, a bird would perch on the hippo’s head, just like the pictures we have all seen. As we moved along, Maxton described the varieties of birds, mostly water and shore birds we were not familiar with.

Then we moved into a marshy area where we saw a bull elephant feeding. He was huge and we were less than 100 feet from him. Then several females and a baby came into view, all feeding and totally oblivious to our presence.

We returned to the lodge, had lunch and continued on our way to Lake Malawi. The trip was uneventful, however, the last 18 kms. into the lodge could be described as an adventure at best, gave us the opportunity to see a pick up truck far beyond its capacity, reminding us of an Indiana Jones movie.

This proves Sandy from Dignitas was right. The capacity of an African vehicle is always “just one more”.