That’s this month’s flavor – of ice cream, that is. Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? Kayla and Jonathan George started an ice cream business, and their goal was to sell enough monthly subscriptions (they have a new, delightfully wonderful flavor each month) to put one orphan through secondary school for a year. And they reached their goal!!

If their names sound familiar, it’s because I’ve spoken of them before. Kayla sits on the Equitas board; she and Jonathan have been long-time Equitas supporters; and they recently lived in Malawi for a year. They have incredibly generous hearts and a sincere desire to help the marginalized people of our world.

Thanks, Kayla & Jonathan, for coming up with this creative and inspiring way to educate orphans in Malawi.

Georges

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It is an exciting start to my day! I just received word from our partner in Malawi that construction of the well at the maternity clinic has been completed!! The rope you see on the handle of the pump will remain there for a few days until the cement is dry and set. The drillers went down 49 meters, although water was found much sooner. This ensures that they will have water all year, even during the dry season. I can’t wait to see this well in use when I visit the village this May!


I received word last week that drilling is about to begin on a new well we are providing for a maternity clinic in the Salima district of Malawi. Here are some photos they sent. I will keep you posted and let you know when the well is completed.

This past year, my husband and I were able to have a front-row seat on the HIV/AIDS situation in Africa and for 12 months we were able to personally meet many who are affected by the horrifying disease in the small country of Malawi, Africa. Malawi, the 3rd poorest country in the world, is home to over 1 million orphans—many of whom have had one or both parents die from AIDS. It is THE MOST prevalent cause of death and the major factor of the low life expectancy of just 43 years. So, in light of it being World AIDS Day and these horrific HIV/AIDS facts, I’d like to share this quick story from Malawi of happiness, hope and life.

While living in Malawi, I was able to work alongside some amazing people who teach at the many Orphan Daycare Centers that Equitas supports. This specific Daycare Center is in the village of Chilumba, located in the southern region of Malawi, where hunger pains and the reality of AIDS are often coupled together to constitute the normalcy of life. I visited Chilumba in April, along with my American colleague, Sarah.

Since our humbling and eye-opening visit in April, Sarah contacted and started communicating with UNICEF to see if they would provide a tin/sheet-metal roof for the daycare (most roof structures are a simple, thatched-style that needs to be replaced every year after rainy season). After several months of communicating, UNICEF agreed to provide the roofing and, in addition, decided to provide a playground for this daycare center! I hadn’t seen playground equipment in all my time in Malawi, especially not in a village. In a world where death surrounds them, and droughts and hunger confine them, I can only imagine the laughter, smiles and hope that the provision of a roof and a playground brings to these 100+ children of Chilumba.

Today, on World AIDS Day, I am so grateful for UNICEF providing the structural needs for this daycare center, and equally grateful for the many who give towards Equitas for the daily allowances of food, medication, and education that is delivered to these children of Chilumba! Thank you, Equitas!

During my brief stay in Lalibela, Ethiopia, I was able to make the acquaintance of a few of the locals: a restaurant-owner, some gift shop-owners, a coffee shop-owner, and several of the students. Our conversation was limited, mostly because of time, partly because of the language-barrier. But the culture there is rich and the people inviting – especially since I’m Canadian. Well, I was Canadian during my time there.

It all began with the taxi ride from the guest house in Addis Ababa to the airport. The driver asked where I was from, and I quickly replied the U.S. That sparked his agitated response that “Obama hasn’t been keeping his promises to Africa and that it is bad for America to be so friendly to Israel.” I had experienced the same basic conversation with a handful of others before this gentleman, so I decided from that point on that I would be from Canada.

While walking on the main street of Lalibela, young men would strike up a conversation: “where are you from?” Me: “Canada!” Apparently, word travels quickly in that town, because it wasn’t long before people would see me walking and yell out, “Hey Canada!” I’d always holler back, “Hey!” as proud to be a Canadian as I could be. No charged words. No political discussions. Nice. Now I can go about enjoying the people and culture of this lovely Ethiopian town.

My brother-in-law Ryan & I enjoyed macchiatos at the same cafe on two different occasions. We ate lunch and dinner at the same family-owned restaurant – excellent shiro and ingera. After dinner, some dancers performed authentic Ethiopian dance that boggled my mind – I have no idea how they can get their bodies to move so quickly or take such abnormal, seemingly uncomfortable positions. I could never even begin to attempt that type of movement. Of course, my chiropractor would love it if I tried – job security for him.

The highlight of my evening came as we were walking back to our hotel after the dinner & dancing. We were perusing some of the shops when a couple of young boys, ages 15 & 16, approached us and starting making conversation. We stood and talked with them for a few minutes. Once we were finished at the shop, I told them they could walk with us if they wished. I wasn’t surprised that they agreed – I think every person in Lalibela would be delighted to spend hours on end sitting on a hilltop, engaged in friendly dialogue.

As we continued down the road in darkness (the sun had set quite some time ago), the topic landed on their schooling. They both wanted to get into vocational school, one to study general mechanics, the other to study surveying. But they did not have the money to purchase the book they needed to study. The cost of the book: B100 – that’s roughly the equivalent of $6 US.

I typically do not hand out money on the streets, as it can lead to all sorts of problems; but in this case, I felt something special for these boys. They weren’t giving me the typical scam lines. And they weren’t throwing me a high-pressure sales pitch. They were simply saying they did not have the money to purchase a book. And they weren’t even asking for a book for each of them – they were willing to share the same book!

My good feelings toward these boys were confirmed when I met a shopkeeper that happened to teach part-time at the local school. I pointed out the boys that were waiting patiently outside the shop and asked if he knew them. “Oh yes!” he replied, “and the shorter one of the two is one of my top students!” That cinched it for me. I walked straight into the shop, purchased the book, and handed it to them. Their eyes lit up in surprise as they hugged the book and thanked me repeatedly. “You are so kind, sir. We will never forget you!”

I am sad because I did not have my camera with me. And I did not have a pen or paper with me, so I was unable to write down their names. I met so many people that day, but I do remember that one of their names translates to “Full Day.” I gave them my e-mail address, and they assured me they’d write. But even if I never hear from them or see them again, I hope that day was a Full Day for them, and that $6 will turn their futures into ones of hope and joy.

“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

While in Malawi, Africa last week, I had the privilege of spending some time with Chief Mwape and his wife (seated to my left in the above photo; the gentleman to my right is my interpreter Henry). Equitas funded a solar-powered irrigation system for the community garden in Chief Mwape’s village. Approximately 40 families from the Mwape and Gadi villages will have crops in this garden, and I asked Chief Mwape how this new system will help the villages. Here are a few of the ways the system will help:

  • Prior to the irrigation system being built, people in the villages were forced to sell maize, their main food source, for income. Now that the irrigation system is helping to supplement their crops, they are able to grow and sell vegetables such as tomatoes and beans, and keep the maize for food security.

  • With the money they make by selling these vegetables, people in the villages are able to replace the grass roofs on their huts, which must be replaced every year, with permanent metal roofs.

  • Income generated from vegetable sales will help provide school fees for the children in the villages.

Equitas is providing opportunities for people groups in developing nations to become self-sustainable. Thank you for your support, and for making these opportunities possible.

There seems to be two kinds of seasons here in Malawi: hunger season and non-hunger season. When the dry/winter months arrive, there usually is enough food to go around… harvest has happened and food is plentiful. Parents are happy that they can know where the next meal will come from and children are happy that they aren’t aching from empty stomach pains.

It’s in the months of November/December when the rains begin that planting takes place. As the hard rains pour forth, so do the great hopes and prayers of the Malawi people for a new, bountiful crop. Money becomes scarce during this time as any extra is usually spent on fertilizer… and any extra food from the previous harvest has come to an end. This season is what so many commonly referred to as Hunger Season.

Because of Equitas, there is a hope to end seasons of hunger for those in Gadi village, a small village outside of Salima, Malawi.
A few weeks ago, I was able to visit Gadi with my husband and two of our other friends, Kayla and Jonathan, with whom we have been living this year in Malawi. It was awesome to see the new irrigation system that is close to being finished, thanks to the friends and supporters of Equitas. Because of this irrigation system, there is now a way that the village can plant and harvest year-round, a necessity that has never been afforded these people before.

As we walked around the almost finished pump and its bricked wall, we could just feel the excitement from the village leaders and children who were proudly standing nearby. In a few weeks when we return with Steve and other friends of Equitas, we will be able to witness the finished product. Inclusive of this irrigation system is a solar panel that will actually use the Sun’s rays to pump the water up to a well and from the well, the water will be piped into nearby fields. Green fields year-round for these villagers will be a beautiful and welcomed sight for many years to come. Thank you, Equitas!

To respond to the world justly, you must first understand it clearly

When we approach problems in our own culture we are, in essence, on home turf. There are some discrepancies based on political ideologies, morality, and cultural cues, but in general problems have relatively obvious solutions. Even in light of the current health care debate, most Americans understand that we need some sort of reform – it is differences of opinion that have kept us from finding a solution thus far.

Having amassed enough wealth to easily be called the richest nation on planet earth, it seems fitting to congratulate ourselves with a pat on the back, and to consider ourselves experts in the art of nation building. We have arrived at this point by way of decisions, politics, war, and ingenuity.

How often do groups of us march into poverty-stricken territory ready to fight and conquer the evils that have held third-world victims down? If they could only learn from our example. Poverty ought to be washed away in a torrent of American superiority.

Perhaps our approach, as conquerors, is not as much valiant as it is ignorant and futile. This is not to condemn the spirit that motivates us but simply to say that the many faceted problems that exist in our world are multi-dimensional and require far more than a simple “either/or” fix. Our spirit is that of a newly graduated college student, prepared to unleash a wealth of knowledge and energy into the big world. But our idealistic education may not have fully prepared us for the real world, complicated issues that exist on the outside.

To respond to our world justly, we have to first understand it clearly. This does not happen overnight. No quick-fix, instant-download, on-demand solutions exist. Many of the complicated problems that contribute to poverty and inequality and inhumanity around the world are thousands of years old and deeply seeded in the very souls of people groups.

We are so comfortable with dichotomies. Left and Right. Democrat and Republican. Black and White. “If you’re not for us, you’re against us.” We need to be able to comprehend, parse through, and take on multiple perspectives before we can truly begin to be of a positive effect.

When we approach problems with a conquering mentality (aka war metaphor), we automatically set up a simple US and THEM approach. That is, we’re ultimate good and our enemy (some injustice in this case) is ultimate evil. But in reality we’re having to deal with systems and cultures and practices and understandings and unspoken rules – several things that aren’t bad in and of themselves.

Brute force or brute intellect is not the answer.

Learn. Study. Observe. Approach all cultures and their problems with the reverence and respect that they deserve.

Understand clearly. Then respond justly.

while I’m not normally a poet, and while this is not intentionally meant to be a poem, I did want to share some of the thoughts that have been shaking the fiber of my being lately.

in a world where millions are blind to others’ needs
let us be visionaries

when cries for food, or water, or help grow silent
let us scream, and shriek, and bawl for justice

a world in which political ideology keeps food from the hungry,
where a low return on investment keeps vaccines from the sick,
where the loss of innocent lives is justified in a just war,
is in desperate need of renaissance,
rebirth.

The same technology that made our planet smaller and
ushered in the global village,
has become a buffer.

A cushion.

If we risk becoming emotionally connected to the suffering
of the characters on TV, we can conveniently change channels.

oh that we would see the world beyond our LCDs
and long for something more than self-indulgence

oh that an inescapable discontentment
would swell our hearts

oh that we could start today