After our 18 hour flight Saturday into Sunday, we started our first day Monday morning. We woke up at the Bridgeview Hotel in the capital, Lilongwe, to a beautiful breakfast of omelettes, papaya (a new favorite) and coffee, among many other things. After loading up our luggage, we piled into the mini bus and truck. That morning, we met our drivers, Jane and Lazarus, who would be getting our group in and out of the field for the week. They were awesome. We also got to talk a little with Jenn, who works for Concern and has lived in Malawi for two and a half years. It took us about an hour and a half to get to the Concern Field Office in Mchinji. There, we met Angela, who works for Concern on the ground in Malawi. Angela is the program coordinator for the Health and Nutrition branch that Concern works with. We learned briefly about the program and then headed off into the field. Two hours later over dirt, dust and red rocks, we arrived at the village, where we were immediately greeted with song and dance. After unloading from the bus, we met Naomi, the Lead Mother of her village in Mchinji. We got to see firsthand how Concern is helping Naomi with a kitchen garden, located right behind her house, to make growing a nutritious diet, easier and more accessible. Naomi was so welcoming and greeted our group with open arms. The work she is doing in order to teach other mothers about nutritious and healthy lifestyles was incredible.
The program officers told us a lot about how in Malawi, growing and harvesting an abundance of fresh crops is difficult, because most areas of Malawi experience little rainfall. Maize, the most common crop in Malawi, can be grown and harvested at any time of the year. Maize is often grounded and cooked into Nshima, one of the most popular dishes in Malawi. Though Nshima is very filling, providing satiety for a long amount of time, it provides no nutritional benefits. The issue of malnourishment in Malawi revolves primarily around what specifically, the people of these villages are consuming. A balanced diet is extremely important, and in Malawi, not consuming enough of the right nutrients is a severe problem. Concern Worldwide is helping with the implementation of kitchen gardens and agricultural programs throughout these villages, and through the training of Lead Mothers like Naomi, the people of Mchinji will learn how to grow their own nutritious crops, and make use of them creating healthy meals for themselves and their families.
The second half of the day, we spent in a different village in Mchinji. There, we experienced formal introductions from the Village Heads, sat in on a Village Savings and Loans session, and saw a mock meeting of the Mother Leadership group.
VS&L Mchinji (Village Savings and Loans):
The Village Savings and Loans session our group was able to sit in on was extremely informative and eye-opening. The group dynamic in the village was so inspiring, and the teamwork and community involvement was amazing. VS&L became very useful to the people of this village, as it was a way of creating backup in case of an emergency, and it also offered loans if ever needed. Our group was able to watch the heads of the VS&L imitate a meeting of the group, showing how every time they met, they would each put in a certain amount of money, making their shares equal and fair. Whenever a member of the community needed to take out a loan, they were able to without fuss or difficulty. The VS&L group meets twice a month to discuss deposits, withdrawals and loans, and has become a great asset to the people of the village.
Mother Leadership Group:
The Mother Leadership group involves training mothers of the community on reproductive health and safety, as well as educational lessons on breastfeeding, raising children and overall nutrition. Again, our group was able to watch a mock meeting of the Mother Leadership Group, and had the opportunity to ask questions afterwards. This group also meets twice a month to learn and discuss, and is always started off with a song. This helps to create a safe setting, and to welcome each and every member.
I thought the villages of Mchinji were amazing, and I was in awe at the progress and hunger the people there had to learn and grow together. Their determination was incredible, and it was so inspiring to watch and be a part of for the day.
That night, we traveled to our hotel in Mchinji, and spent the evening eating Malawian food, chatting and debriefing. It had only been one day, my luggage had been lost on the long flight over and we were all feeling exhausted. But, that day we had experienced firsthand how much Concern is doing to help in these communities, we saw the joy, hope and determination of the people in these villages, and I had never been happier or more inspired in my life.