The weeks here are really beginning to fly, it’s hard to believe we’ve been here for a month already! We finally started work this week which we were all really happy about; we all feel like we have a proper purpose here now. The last week has been quite a tough one, not only was one of our team members sent home with malaria, but our electricity was also cut off and we’ve had no running water for ten days which meant only one thing, showering out in the yard under the tap! Wash time with buckets generally ended up turning into a water fight, keeping us nice and cool, as without electricity we had no fans and the house was sweltering.
Although we found having no running water and electricity really tough it made us all realise that here in Africa people are actually living in these conditions daily and as frustrating as it may get there’s nothing they can do about it. This trip is full of learning curves for us; I know when I get back home I certainly won’t be taking electricity and water for granted and I’m sure the other members of the group won't either.
Currently in Malawi it gets dark by 5pm, and with no electricity in the house, it leaves us with very little option but to find alternative ways to entertain ourselves. At night we would lie down in the yard and star gaze. When there’s a power cut here the sky is crisp black because there’s not as much light pollution as in England. It’s very easy to spot shooting stars, so it became a competition to see who could spot the most!
Power cuts also affected our work. Without electricity we couldn’t charge the laptop which was needed to receive emails from various people helping us to gather information for our youth outreach sessions. Because of this, it took longer to prepare for the sessions due to the delay caused by waiting for people to meet us in person with information, as opposed to receiving a quick email. Also, we had to manually copy out lesson plans for each of us rather than printing.
At the weekend we attended MIAA’s project launch in Gwirize village which was on the topics of gender issues, HIV and Aids. I think this has to have been one of the bumpiest rides yet. We quite enjoy them now, as you can’t help but feel that if you were to shut your eyes you could actually be on a fairground ride!
The launch had a great turn out; hundreds of people attended from surrounding villages, many of them taking part in in the theatrical side of the launch. Here in Malawi whenever you visit a village you can instantly feel a real sense of community spirit; everybody is chatting, smiling and huddled around the performers either singing along or dancing to the beat of the music. It was quite refreshing to see that no matter what your age you’re never too old or young to take part in the entertainment at these events.
The performance that stood out the most was that of the Gule Wamkulu; the dance of spirits. We were told in our culture lessons that spirits are believed to be ‘the deceased’ and live in graveyards. The spirits perform at any cultural events. On this occasion, the spirits entered the circle the crowd had formed; all dressed up in colourful head pieces and were draped in jangling bells. They began to chant and dance; some even swung fire around their bare bodies. We were quite impressed no one got burnt!
The next day we had a youth outreach planned. Part of our work here is to teach children about HIV and AIDS, and Empowerment through the importance of staying in school. Without education, children won’t learn about HIV and Aids, and therefore don’t know how the disease is contracted or what prevention methods can be taken. Furthermore, some girls in Malawi drop out of school as young as 10 years old to get married, and become sexually active. This is usually linked to poverty, as the children’s parents believe their child will be better off living with a mature man who can provide for her. Unfortunately, older men are more sexually experienced which in most cases means they are more likely to be carriers of HIV.
We also encourage them to stay in school because better life decisions are made after education. Through our youth outreach project we aim to reach around 500 young people. I feel the project is beneficial, as potentially hundreds more children will stay in education and have the knowledge to raise healthy families.
ICS volunteer Rachel Baldwin, on week 4 in Salima. Photo: Women and children gathered for a talk in Kampanje village, Malawi (this is not the village described in this blog).