All is well here in Malawi. We apologize for not updating our blog yesterday, but we ran out of internet minutes and weren't able to purchase more until today. But here we are with a big update for you all:
The situation in Kumponda is pretty eye-opening. We began our community surveys yesterday and never in my life have I seen a community as poor as this (and I've seen some poor people in my travels). When listing their concerns they mention hunger as either their number 1 or 2 priority. Despite their circumstances they still smile and laugh as we take pictures. Even more, they cooked us a meal the first day we were there! Stop and think about that for a second; a community that's complaining about not having enough to eat some days and yet they made us a great meal of nsima (sticky grits), fresh chicken and something that resembled spinach made of pumpkin leaves. Back in the US we're reluctant to give up our last stick of gum to a friend, let alone strangers. We respectfully requested that they don't cook for us anymore for the sake of our conscience as well as their well-being.
As Krissy mentioned yesterday we were welcomed to the Community Meeting to the chorus of men and women, young and old, singing and dancing because we "have come to help the community with their troubles." Their community meetings are pretty formal in that only one person talks at a time and before anyone speaks they begin with, "Respect to the Chief, respect the elders and respect to the community." It was a very calm environment, with each person given a turn to speak. They kind of took the initiative and starting telling us the biggest challenges that their community had. They talked at length about how access to clean water is limited, that there are frequent food shortages and that the hospitals were too far/expensive to be of use to them. Each person in the committee (about 6 people, not including the chief) ended their speech with a sentence or two on how despite all their troubles they were no longer worried because we are going to "fix some of the problems."
We were a bit concerned by all this because we were afraid that they had this preconceived notion that we were going to just give them whatever they requested and solve all their problems away. Thankfully we learned that this wasn't the case when the chief (named Kumponda, from where the village gets it's name) finally took the floor. He assured us that the community was willing and able to learn and help with any projects we proposed and that they were ready to take full control and accountability of anything we brought to them. That was good news to us. I think they already have this "teach us, don't give us" mentality from working with our NGO on previous projects.
We were given an opportunity to talk to them about why our EWB Chapter was in Malawi and we also got a chance to ask them a couple of general questions. We told them "we've heard a lot about your community's problems, but we know you are a big and great people. Could you now tell us about your greatest strengths?" It was at this point that everyone went silent. It took a couple of stern mumblings from the chief before anyone spoke, and when they did they didn't speak long, nor with confidence. It was very disheartening to see. I think they were kind of embarrassed by what they may take pride in. They were speaking to people from the US, so they may have felt their greatest strengths were a joke to us. It took some prying, but they eventually told us that they are good handymen and have a very strong bond throughout the community.
Upon talking to families in the area we were able to learn much more details. Just for some perspective, there are 18 villages within the greater Kumponda Community and each village has about 500 people. We can look as far as we can see in all directions and still not see the end of Kumponda. It's huge. This presents an issue in it of itself when it comes to implementing future projects. Anything we propose will probably have to be small enough to benefit individual homes while being easily reproducible.
To make an extremely long story short, the biggest issues we heard about were 1) Food shortage, 2) Water accessibility, 3) Lack of healthcare and 4) Access to a "maize mill" to grind their corn for storage and cooking.
Some food for thought for all you Malawi Team members back home. I apologize for the lengthy post; it doesn't even touch on our mishaps (Daniel, our NGO, drove us into a ditch -it wasn't really his fault. The dirt roads became super muddy and slippery from the torrential downpour - and we had to push the car out with the help of 10 other locals. It was awesome!)
P.S. Sorry for the lack of pictures. The computer/internet speed isn't cooperating with us so you'll have to wait on that. Maybe we'll make a special blog post of just pictures when the opportunity presents itself