Letter from Marian – Home from Malawi

This is a letter from my friend Marian Kearney, who is an amazing and inspirational woman I’ve worked with. She’s now in retirement and filling her time with sharing her love, talents and inspiration to those less fortunate than herself. In sharing her letters, I hope that others will learn more about how much little things can make big changes in our world.

10th May 2017

Hi Everyone.
It is now Tuesday and since arriving home on Thursday I have thought about how I might end this round of emails and I am struggling. The struggle is there because  I do not know how I can adequately communicate to you the depth of my experience and also summarise how those who have so little can give such a lot. So in the end I have decided to sum up with a “letter ”  as if to the people I have left behind and here goes.

To the people of Sitima

As I have spent a few days in England reflecting on my recent experiences in Sitima l should like to offer a most sincere thank you to everyone I met for your contributions to making my stay such a happy one and in enriching my life overall.

You reminded me of many niceties in life especially in the way you took time to genuinely greet each other whenever you met. I practised this in Kendal today and it took me a long time to get around the shops! You taught me patience, focussing on the moment and not always jumping to the next thing on the list. You helped me to think consciously about how just by living in many parts of the world you can be held back from fulfilling dreams and achieving potential,- a lack of healthcare facilities, no electricity, no running water, disease and illness, limited schooling opportunities, difficult climate conditions, no roads and no local transport…. the list goes on.

community love in SitimaTo the villagers– never before have I received such a welcome. From the moment I arrived, you made me feel totally at home, comfortable with everything around me. You welcomed me into your homes and community, you shared your food with me, and most importantly you gave me your time.

You managed to get on with your everyday life without all the trappings that I think of as normal. You had no electricity or running water yet never did I hear a complaint about the efforts you went through day in day out to collect firewood from wherever you could get it and water from the pump in the village. Strangely the one really funny related story I heard was about the elderly woman who having bought a solar lamp is complaining of being tired as she now stays up later as she has light!

To the Women’s Choir – working with you on the feminine hygiene kits was both fun and humbling. As a group you looked after each other so well, you didn’t judge, you just helped each other whenever the need arose, teaching each other to sew and to draw around templates and evenly and fairly sharing out with each other the limited resources. You sang beautifully as you created the kits and you were even polite when I joined in the dances with you! You were very focussed on the task in hand and it was an absolute delight to watch you all walk off with your finished kits. I wish I had been better able to converse directly with you, but I promise you that on my next visit I will have a little more Chichewa.

To the ladies at the irrigation plot – how you worked in such conditions I will never know. The sun was shining, the soil rock hard, you had no shoes, yet you swung those heavy hoes to create beautifully turned soil in perfect drills. I guess by now the fertiliser has been applied and some of the crops are sown.  I am delighted that you are getting training in agricultural practices, budgeting and literacy. I wish you luck as your fertile farms benefit from the irrigation system and finally you will be able to sell some crops for income.

To the children – thank you for your constant smiles and enthusiasm for life. You were always so very cheerful, you had no toys, so very few clothes, often very little food yet you could always smile.

Visiting some of you in school was a privilege. I wish  your eagerness to learn and willingness to grasp every opportunity could rub off on some of our young people over here.  You were attending school, which like your homes had no energy, yet you still turned up, many of you having walked for more than an hour, to be taught in dark, overcrowded classrooms, with chalkboards being the major teaching aid. I loved watching your play specifically written by students for World Malaria Day; it really made me think of the fairly devastating impact malaria has on you and your families.

Outside of school I loved to watch your creativity, playing Bao, but instead of using a board you hollowed out shapes in the sand, using empty flour bags as dressing up clothes, singing and dancing at every opportunity and always looking after each other, particularly the toddlers, who always wanted to be with you.

As a very small thank you to you all I am making some promises:-
Firstly you might have heard that we have a general election coming up, so I think it is timely that I ask would be MPs how they and their parties will continue to support vulnerable communities across the world.
Secondly it cannot be denied that climate change is making life more difficult for you,     ( no rains in the rainy season means no food), so as well as taking whatever little steps I can on a personal level I shall also ask those same prospective MPs some questions on tackling climate change
Thirdly I will endeavour to support you in creating that very necessary clinic in Sitima removing that long bumpy hike into Zomba for medicine and first aid.

To everyone I once more say Zikomo  ( thank you)


Marian is travelling and working with Network for a Better World. N4BW is particularly keen on not developing dependency but is committed to working in partnership with other organisations to work as a catalyst in getting the Sitima villagers activated and in a better position to ensure positive and sustainable livelihoods. This is going to take time and effort. Any support you can offer, please contact Network for a Better World directly.

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Letter from Marian – Teaching new skills for long term benefits

This is a letter from my friend Marian Kearney, who is an amazing and inspirational woman I’ve worked with. She’s now in retirement and filling her time with sharing her love, talents and inspiration to those less fortunate than herself. In sharing her letters, I hope that others will learn more about how much little things can make big changes in our world.

29th April 2017

Hannif from Sitima age 10I can hardly believe that within a few days my month out here will be ending and I will spend the next few days saying goodbye to so many people including Hannif my self appointed bodyguard. He is 10 years old and not attending school even though primary education is free of charge.

He tells me that it is because he doesn’t have any school uniform. I don’t know why not, as often our conversation with each other is lost in translation. We are at least having lots of informal English lessons most days. Here he is playing with some of the little cars I brought out; next time will bring plenty more of them.

Talking about English, I would first of all suggest that Enid and Jill sit down before reading further, as this week I have spent some days in the secondary school teaching English. But please don’t be too alarmed as I stuck to what I definitely knew. My teaching group was the whole of Form 1, two classes brought together each day to hear my pearls of wisdom. In that group were more than 100 students aged between 13 and 17.

villagers of sitimaHere in Malawi the system is that if a child doesn’t pass his / her end of year exams they stay down a year resulting in age groups in any given form being quite varied. I also did some after school sessions with Form 4; they were up to 20 years of age, and they told me that in their year group of 34 only 10 were girls.

Apparently girls drop out of school big time from about the age of 14, with most of them getting “married” I understand that the government is trying to make underage relationships illegal but is fighting against cultural norms. Most marriages in Malawi are common law with the local chief granting permission for the marriage to take place but with no legal standing.

In the first email I told you of my plan to work with girls and women to create feminine hygiene kits, and this photo making feminine hygiene kits malawishows some of the women happily posing with their completed kits. Making the kits was possible for a number of reasons, firstly the practical support from the Stitch-in-Time group in Arnside and the ladies from Kendal Catholic Church who prepared a number of kits for me to bring over here.

Secondly, generous donations from friends allowed me to buy a sewing machine and accessories as well as some beautiful colourful fabric and the services of a local tailor ( the only man in the photo). The project took several
stages, firstly meeting with the women, (under the mango tree), to assess need and willingness to participate, going into Zomba with the tailor to buy a sewing machine, fabric and other accessories and then holding a number of making sessions which were great fun with up to 33 of us at any one time working together in the training room which measures only about 15’x 12′. One of the interesting factors I hadn’t considered was the need to teach the women how to draw around a template, many of them are illiterate and have no experience whatsoever of holding a pen. The young lady in this photo just loved doing it . The women were all members of a choir and they sang as they sewed, melodious songs and beautiful harmonies, it was wonderful. I have a video of some of their songs often with a little dance thrown in as well.

As part of this project, I also spent time with three other organisations showing them how to make the kits and leaving samples with them – Catherine, the lifeskills teacher at the local secondary school, Caroline who is on a two year contract in Blantyre, supporting the work of the Christian Missionary Society and Rachael who is working in conservation but volunteering with the Malawi Women’s Empowerment Group. The message is spreading and I really hope that these kits will result in keeping a lot more girls and young women in school and work all through each and every month.

Will send a final note as I return.

Marian


Marian is travelling and working with Network for a Better World. N4BW is particularly keen on not developing dependency but is committed to working in partnership with other organisations to work as a catalyst in getting the Sitima villagers activated and in a better position to ensure positive and sustainable livelihoods. This is going to take time and effort. Any support you can offer, please contact Network for a Better World directly.

Letter from Marian – Travelling in Malawi

This is a letter from my friend Marian Kearney, who is an amazing and inspirational woman I’ve worked with. She’s now in retirement and filling her time with sharing her love, talents and inspiration to those less fortunate than herself. In sharing her letters, I hope that others will learn more about how much little things can make big changes in our world.

22nd April 2017

Fishing boats on Lake Malawi

Fishing boats on Lake Malawi

I was well spoiled over the Easter weekend, as I went up to Lake Malawi for a few days along with two Irish women, one of whom is based here in Sitima for a year and the other who was travelling around Central Africa providing training on child protection.

Lake Malawi has a number of tourist hotspots, but even they are very gentle and very small by our standards. We stayed in a particularly quiet place called Nkhudzi Bay, in a house on the lake owned by the Montfort Fathers.

The other two enjoyed eating fish and freshwater crabs brought to them by the local fishermen, fish as fresh as you could imagine.

Enterprise was evident with craftsmen appearing at the door selling carvings, paintings and basketware but I was

Enterprising children

Enterprising children

particularly impressed by the “band,” a group of young boys who came to entertain us with their music. Their home made musical instruments were made up of all sorts of scrap materials, yet they managed to produce a great sound. I have a video of their performance which I will happily play for anyone I see when I get home.

Meanwhile back at Sitima the harvest is on and I was fortunate to be able to accompany Fr Owen to one of the small communities, Kantambala, for a harvest service. Sitima Mission services 43 small communities spread across a vast area, with one community living on an island in the middle of a lake.During harvest time a service is held in every one of those communities where, just as at home, individuals donate food, in this instance maize, to be donated to those in greater need. The big difference here is the incredible generosity of the donors as they themselves have so little, yet they donate so much.

Yesterday I travelled into Blantyre to meet two women who are involved in different charities and they were interested in knowing more about the design of the feminine hygiene kits – more about this next email but I thought I would tell you a little about transport and the way of life here. I travelled each way using a car, buses and a taxi. The buses are tiny little minibuses which at home would just about seat 12 people. Yesterday I counted 20 of us in one of those as well as bags of maize and lots of other shopping. The buses stop and start a huge number of times with
individuals getting off and the drivers making sure they are always full to capacity.

Bike taxi malawi

Bike taxi malawi

My journey home was much more exciting though as the bus dropped me off at the end of the dirt road and I came home riding, for the first time, on a bike taxi. I loved it, the padded seat was really comfortable and it was great to feel the cool early evening air as we cycled along. For this 45 minute journey he asked me for the equivalent of 70p. I gave him some more as I felt he fairly earned his money transporting this hefty lump!

Really wishing you were here with me, experiencing the joy, the happiness and the sunshine.


Marian is travelling and working with Network for a Better World. N4BW is particularly keen on not developing dependency but is committed to working in partnership with other organisations to work as a catalyst in getting the Sitima villagers activated and in a better position to ensure positive and sustainable livelihoods. This is going to take time and effort. Any support you can offer, please contact Network for a Better World directly.

Letter from Marian – Sitima Village Malawi

This is a letter from my friend Marian Kearney, who is an amazing and inspirational woman I’ve worked with. She’s now in retirement and filling her time with sharing her love, talents and inspiration to those less fortunate than herself. In sharing her letters, I hope that others will learn more about how much little things can make big changes in our world.

Tuesday 11 April 2017

Although I only arrived last Wednesday I feel totally at home with each day being busy yet different. I am loving every minute. This note will add more “meat to the bones” of the previous one, enlarging on the context I find myself in.

Sitima

The village of Sitima is far more remote than I had envisaged; It is 23 Kms away from Zomba along a bumpy dirt road, taking about an hour in a car.  The isolation and lack of facilities contribute to the low levels of education and consequently the levels of poverty here.  Most survive on subsistence farming, the success of which varies tremendously often due to the very localised weather patterns. The local church has just been successful in gaining emergency funding to buy grain to feed those families who experienced low yields as a result of minimal rain throughout the rainy season in their particular area.

I have spent the evening with the headteacher of the local secondary school who filled me in on lots of background information. She struggles to get teachers and many of those she does get are of a low standard. The ones who stay at the school tend to be those that other establishments will not take  whilst those who perform well move on to centres of population where facilities such as housing, regular electricity, running water, medical care and shops are available. I was puzzled as to why she kept inept teachers but she explained that they are appointed by the Ministry and if she complains she is told that they are the only ones willing to work in this isolated area.

Women from Sitima Malawi

Women from Sitima Malawi

That said it is a really lovely community, very impoverished yet full of good cheer. Wherever you go you are warmly welcomed and made to feel part of whatever is going on. I don’t think I have ever seen so many smiles but for some reason faces often become serious in front of the camera.

As I returned home tonight, the grain mill was going full pelt and would continue through the night. The electricity has been off for most of the day so those women who had walked 8 or 10 Kms, to mill their grain, queued and waited in the hope that the electricity would kick in once more. Apparently there have been times when some have waited for 48 hours or more.

Yesterday I visited a building which until 10 years ago had functioned as a clinic, but when budget cuts were made it closed down and since then individuals have had to travel to Zomba for treatment or even to buy a painkiller. I heard of a case when very recently a 5 year old child, was badly scalded with boiling water across her abdomen and the only mode of transport available to take her to hospital along that bumpy dirt road was a bike taxi – yes a standard bike with an extra seat at the back!

N4BW is currently working on a feasibility study and researching funding opportunities for bringing that clinic facility back to life but not only will the building need to be completely renovated there will also be the need to create houses for a medical team. Then there is the question, as with education, about whether suitably trained, qualified and experienced staff will be willing to be based out here.

Irrigation Project

Women farmers in Sitima

Women farmers in Sitima

This morning I wandered down to the irrigation project where most of the 35 plot holders were busy preparing their land for fertiliser. These ladies, of all ages, were working from about 6.00am in order to take advantage of the lower morning temperatures. It is anticipated that the water pipes will be set during the next week or so and the irrigation system fully operational by the end of the month. The great advantage will be the ability to grow cash crops such as aubergines, peppers and tomatoes during the eight month long dry season bringing in some very necessary income. To kick start the programme the women will receive subsidised seeds and horticultural training.

Sitima Children

It is totally refreshing and heart warming to enjoy time with the children of the village. I teach them English and they teach me Chichewa, although they seem to be much better learners than me! I have spent a lot of time playing cards with them – mostly concentration and snap as well as the inevitable kick around. Their creativity abounds. You might be able to see in the photo that the ball is a home made one; a blown up balloon, surrounded by plastic bags and tied up with string. It was surprisingly good.

In closing I wish you all a great Easter weekend and will be in touch with you again soon.


Marian is travelling and working with Network for a Better World. N4BW is particularly keen on not developing dependency but is committed to working in partnership with other organisations to work as a catalyst in getting the Sitima villagers activated and in a better position to ensure positive and sustainable livelihoods. This is going to take time and effort. Any support you can offer, please contact Network for a Better World directly.

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Letter from Marian – I’m off to Malawi

This is a letter from my friend Marian Kearney, who is an amazing and inspirational woman I’ve worked with. She’s now in retirement and filling her time with sharing her love, talents and inspiration to those less fortunate than herself. In sharing her letters, I hope that others will learn more about how much little things can make big changes in our world.

I’m off to Malawi

This note will be the first of a few (wifi and electricity permitting) telling you about my ventures in Malawi during April 2017.

I am travelling out on Tuesday to work with a very small charity, Network for a Better World, which although based in Liverpool is currently working in only one area, an impoverished community in a village called Sitima in Malawi. N4BW has only been in existence since 2013 yet has already made a difference to the lives of many as a result of its interventions. One very notable project has been in supplying light in the form of solar lamps to households in the village. The project has worked like this; subsidised solar lamps are sold to households, with them paying back the cost over a 12 month period. During that time each individual household has the convenience of solar powered light after darkness falls at 6pm and can also generate an income by applying a small fee on others enabling them to charge electrical items such as mobile phones. Two local men are employed to manage the project and at the end of each year the money that has been paid back is used to buy more solar lamps and hence the project continues. Other activities have included teacher training, direct work in schools, work with disabled children, development of sport initiatives including ongoing football and netball leagues, provision of emergency grants following floods, planting of fruit trees and the purchase and distribution of mosquito nets.

Floods and drought in Malawi continue to cause issues for all with regard to food supplies and create extra hardships for those subsistence farmers and others who rely solely on agriculture for income. As a way of combatting this N4BW has embarked on an ambitious irrigation project in the belief that when completed, crops will not be washed out in years to come and local food supplies will not be diminished.

Whilst out there my intention is to focus on women and girls, partly through supporting women into self-employment and also working to keep girls in school through sharing with them methods of making reusable and washable feminine hygiene kits. Often the case is that girls miss 4 or 5 days of schooling every month, they then fall behind with their education and subsequently drop out altogether, thereby reducing their employment and income opportunities and the poverty cycle continues.

I have been to Malawi on a few occasions although the last time was March 1992. Sadly, in those 25 years the day to day living conditions for many Malawians have deteriorated and I keep trying to understand why. Recently I met up with a Malawian priest currently working in Liverpool and he presented the following as reasons which all influence the situation:

– the country itself is relatively small with no valuable natural resources

– Malawi is landlocked, meaning that the exportation of any goods is an expensive process

– weather conditions; serious droughts alternating with floods have played havoc with food production

– Malawi mostly relies on tobacco exports for its foreign exchange and with tobacco usage on the decrease, exports and related income are decreasing

– HIV has taken the lives of many often leaving widows and orphans in desperate situations. Recent reports suggest that more than 10% of the adult population are living with HIV

– and very sadly corruption exists

N4BW is particularly keen on not developing dependency but is committed to working in partnership with other organisations to work as a catalyst in getting the Sitima villagers activated and in a better position to ensure positive and sustainable livelihoods. This is going to take time and effort.

marian collecting football kits for network for a better worldIt is not just organisations that help but many individuals as well, including the large number of people who have supported me with this venture – people who have donated clothes, toys, stationery and books, particularly individuals in St Albans, Derby and Kendal, the women of Arnside and Kendal who as well as making the feminine hygiene kits have donated fabric and resources to go within the kits, a number of individuals who have made financial contributions for me to spend on emerging projects whilst out there  and so many of you who have demonstrated interest and offered good wishes.

Thank you to you all for your generosity and support with this project and watch out for the next instalment.