“We need Africa more than Africa needs us.” This phrase is often uttered by wide-eyed Westerners returning from a trek through the cities and villages of Africa. After spending two weeks visiting Malawi, Africa with 14 other Equitas “Ambassadors of Hope,” the reality of the aforementioned phrase became remarkably clear. Our lives were forever changed by the people we befriended, the culture we discovered, and the breath-taking terrain we traversed.
We were afforded the opportunity to see first-hand many of the projects being sponsored by Equitas. Such as the orphan pre-school daycare, which serves children in Nathenje and surrounding villages, many of whom have lost their parents to one of the many diseases afflicting the country; as well as the secondary school near Nathenje, where 12 Equitas-supported students are receiving a secondary education. Many of these students, including 17-year-old, Mphatso Rogers, have realistic hopes of becoming working professionals in the medical field. The lives of these 12 students are being radically transformed by an education made possible by Equitas supporters. We also spent a considerable amount of time in the Gadi and Mwape Villages near Salima, Malawi. Our team had the opportunity to observe and participate in the installation of a solar-powered irrigation system funded by Equitas. The irrigation system will provide the water necessary to cultivate a community garden, which will feed and generate income for approximately 40 families.
It was during the two days spent working, playing, and experiencing life with the people of the Gadi and Mwape Village when lessons of community and simplicity echoed most intensely through my soul. Lessons repeatedly learned in the past, but nevertheless lay dormant, often forgotten, until stimulated by a “life-evaluating” experience. In our technology it is easy to become detached from the unprocessed earth. We live on top of the created world instead of in the created world. But survival in Malawi is dependent upon the awareness that when you plant a seed in the soil, that seed finds the magic around it to become life-sustaining food. There is something beautiful in the realization that the magic happens when natural spring water emerges to the earth’s surface by a solar-powered irrigation system.
Lessons of community appeared on one rather warm afternoon. After finishing a lunch of nsima, beans, greens, and boiled eggs, graciously provided and prepared by the women of Gadi/Mwape Village, I had the privilege of joining Steve Cook, founder of Equitas, on a 1.5km hike along a narrow, winding trail cut through rows of 7ft corn stalks. Our destination was the home of Chapadzala and Christina Chinowa. Our intention was to speak with them about how the irrigation system will improve life, and if any additional equipment would facilitate even greater economic stability for the village. Chapadzala spoke of how the irrigation system would provide water to cultivate the garden all year long, including the 9-month dry season when vegetables are scarce and demand is high. Income generated by the community garden would help replace the thatch roofs with metal coverings, buy clothes, and even pay the necessary fees to send their children to school. Chapadzala proudly motioned over to his 15-year-old daughter who has hopes and dreams of finishing secondary school and becoming a nurse.
As Steve was wrapping up the interview with the Chinowa family, he asked one last question, “How do you acquire the tools necessary to cultivate the garden and make other necessary repairs in the Village?” Chapadzala answered, “The tools are usually borrowed from a neighboring village or from Mr. Paul Barr” (the local “azungu” pastor who lives several kilometers away). Steve inquired further, “How helpful would a new set of tools be to village life?” Henry, our interpreter, translated the words of Chapadzala, “a set of tools would be very helpful. It is a burden to borrow from Mr. Barr all the time”. Steve followed, “would a set of tools for the entire village be adequate, or is there a need for each individual family to own a set of tools.” Henry relayed the question to Chapadzala in Chichewa, the language spoken in Malawi. Chapadzala displayed a puzzled expression and exchanged a few more Chichewa phrases with Henry. After a few seconds, Henry turned to Steve and said, “it doesn’t matter.” Steve and I turned to each other in that moment and realized Chapadzala’s words, “it doesn’t matter,” had a much deeper meaning. At first Chapadzala did not understand our question about individual families owning a set of tools, because in Malawi, life is lived in community – what’s yours is mine, what’s mine is yours. Survival depends on the cooperation of the community, working in sync like an Olympic Rowing Team. Henry went on to explain that one set of tools for the village would be sufficient to meet the needs of the 40+ families, and that any additional sets would most likely be given to a neighboring village.
In our trip to Africa we brought to the Gadi/Mwape Village the funds to install an irrigation system. This will provide the magic sought after by thirsty seeds planted by frayed and weathered Malawian hands. In return, we were given a lesson on community and simplicity. Beautiful smiles beaming on the faces of playful children will forever be etched in my mind’s eye. Rhythms of joy will reverberate through my soul when celebratory singing bellowed from the lungs of steadfast women return to my memory. And in times of sorrow and strife, the words of Chapadzala, “it doesn’t matter” will sustain me.
Contributed by Kenneth Surles