Malawi, Africa—Post-Trip Reflections

11/01/07

From Florida to Malawi—we had arrived! I ducked my head to exit the dusty vehicle and stepped down on orange dirt. But there was no time for me to get my bearings in this Malawi village before children engulfed me—grasping my hands two and three at a time and looking up into my face, meeting my gaze with theirs and my smile with their wide and joyful ones. They have no need to communicate with words—touch is enough for them and became the language we adopted for the week we were there to help.

Clothed in dresses too big or pants too small, their bare feet have grown callused from the warm ground and messy faces become expected. My eyes finally lifted from the children at my waist and I took in the village they call home—Mtsiliza. Mud-brick houses surrounded us. A well is nearby where women gathered that morning for their first round of water and ahead of me is a school building. Pathways and foot trails lead throughout this village to homes and lives that, before, I had only imagined. Now, this place—this Africa—is real.

Also real are the statistics that I studied before making such a trip to Malawi—the millions of children here that are HIV positive and the millions who have been orphaned due to the same disease. But surely these children could not be part of such numbers—these precious faces that sparkle with life and whose dreams I desire to know and understand. Surely those scary statistics—that were merely numbers to me before stepping on Malawi’s ground—do not include the little girl I held in my arms or the boy who tugged at my skirt. But I know they do. And it’s hard to understand.

But there is a light in Malawi and in the village of Mtsiliza. There’s a light that is seen by children who have been orphaned and abused, raped and abandoned. A light for those without much food or clothing, in need of a warm meal or a pair of shoes; in need of the love of Jesus.

In my week working with Children of the Nations in Malawi, I saw that light. Not only did I see the American staff’s heavy hearts for the country, but I also experienced a well-oiled machine—with about 200 Malawians on staff, sharp interns from the nearby African Bible College, loving aunties, devoted foster parents, a church, a school—each one with responsibilities and duties. Each one a key factor in COTN’s trek to raise up healthy and educated Malawians who love the Lord and can further their country. Established is a partnership with native Malawi people who have opened their lives to Children of the Nations and have become vulnerable enough to receive help and love from this organization’s people—with hope, now a result.

My group had a specific mission for our time in Malawi: to break down the stigmas of HIV. We talked about the realities of the disease, what the myths are about it in Malawi, why it’s okay to get tested and how life can still be normal even if the test is positive. We went to homes and spoke with families, serving them at the same time. We educated in classrooms, answering curious teenagers’ questions and also talking about our careers. We performed skits, sang songs and spread the word about free HIV testing during a big celebration at the end of the week.

Often, God does not allow us to see the direct results of His work through us. But sometimes, we get a glimpse of everyday miracles. My group of forty-six average Central Floridians was blessed enough to see some of the results from our work in Malawi. More than 100 people went to be tested for HIV and many more were either open to doing the same or at least open to talking about the virus.

Barriers are being broken little by little as COTN continues to gain the trust of Malawi and its people. I count myself privileged to have been a tiny part of such an undertaking.

The HIV testing and drug treatments—known officially in Malawi now as the “10 Campaign”—is just getting started. The goal is to get as many children who test positive for HIV onto antiretroviral drugs, allowing them a chance at life, and educating others on the way it is spread.

I watched out the window as we drove away from the celebration festivities that had lasted all day in the village. My group of 13-year-old girls were still in my mind—their laughter from the games we had played still fresh in my ears and their willing faces when I explained to them the opportunity to get tested for HIV still in my memory.
They had all promised me they would go to the clinic the following week.

I believed them.

I believe in Children of the Nations’ efforts.

And I believe in our God who continues to work through those willing to give their hearts and lives to Malawi.