After visiting with the Clinton’s in Nairobi, Reeta, James and I hopped a private flight to Malawi. It was my first time there and I was unprepared for the level of poverty. Sometimes, when I travel for work, I get the sense that people, regardless of their circumstances, are truly on the cusp of breaking the cycle in which they’re trapped. Malawi wasn’t one of those places. I think the extreme poverty there (made worse by recent flooding) has been so persistent for so long that the spark which in other circumstances might ignite their ingenuity and motivation is barely burning.
During this trip, we visited a number of schools – from kindergarten up to junior high school. None of the schools had electricity so there no chance of computers or of course an internet connection. A lot of the students told me that they have to have walk 10 miles to and from school every day. That means waking up at 4-4:30am and walking nearly two hours to get to classes. With that kind of walk comes safety issues for the girls. Bad weather means school for that day is often missed.
Our partner Camfed has done amazing things in Malawi. Their support of education is incredible. In order to ensure these kids can get a good education, they’ve built up infrastructure which is governed my mothers, fathers, aunties, etc. Parents fully understand the value of education for their children so the support groups created by Camfed help them to help their kids. The girls that complete their education with Camfed’s help are called Cama girls and wow – what a support network they are. I met one girl, Omega, who decided on her own to travel around the country and encourage young girls to stay in school. She gives every girl she meets, her cell phone number and orders them to call her if they’re thinking of dropping out.
We did a home visit with one of the students and we had 3-4 Cama girls with us. After chatting with the Auntie who looks after five children in their tiny house, we noticed that a small child was unmoving and completely covered by a blanket on the porch behind her. We were told she’s sick, that she thought it might be malaria but she wasn’t sure. She had been that way for a couple of days but the Auntie had no way to take her to the hospital. We offered to take her in our car but we were told the hospital would already be closed. With no prompting, the Cama girls hauled out their change purses and gave the woman the money needed to take a bicycle taxi into town the next day.
Happily, these moments of selflessness and generosity, of genuine concern for those in one’s community, are common. It helps to make the reality of the lives we’re constantly invited into more bearable. That said, I often find myself the tightrope between optimism and hope and utter desperation