Welcome to Africa. I felt exhilarated but displaced. For the first time in many years of travelling, I felt like I didn’t plan it right, like I landed in the wrong destination with a suitcase meant for another trip.
I didn’t expect such an unpredictable place. I missed the safety of knowing what comes next. And the certainty of a shower (whether hot or cold it didn’t matter) at the end of my day.
Life here in Malawi is hard but people’s spirit is strong. They go through routine water and electricity shortages never losing the smile on their face. And kids still go crazy for something as simple as soap bubbles. There’s an unbelievable energy in people here, a strength in the face of poverty and uncertainty I have never known before. I shopped in their markets, cooked and ate with them, and their enthusiasm is like a low and gentle humming behind every human interaction.
The day after I arrived we went to a school in Blantyre where my cousin organised an event for Peace One Day. About a thousand children listened to speakers then watched a performance by drummers and dancers that made my flight-woozy head spin. What she does here as programme leader of ANPPCAN Malawi is amazing work. They focus on keeping girls in schools, fighting against issues such as forced marriages, early pregnancy and HIV transmission. It is an exhausting work, always struggling against a dual tide of poverty and prejudice.
Malawians have an uncertain future ahead of them, plagued by deep social and economic problems. It is striking to see the damage big corporations have done on this land and its inhabitants, from poisoning their diets with junk food and sodas (the latter cheaper than water), to polluting their soil and impoverishing its farmers.
Droughts and floods hit their agriculture really hard this year and many people also lost their homes because of the rains. Yet their government still allows them to build on land which will slide away from beneath their feet. And does nothing to make their agriculture less dependent on rainfall.
Farmers still buy patented seeds which cost more and require more spraying of the soil. And forget how to plant and eat traditional crops that need no pesticides and on rotation would maintain fertility. They are turning this once lush land into a desert.
It makes me angry because these people don’t know what they’re bringing onto themselves. This is suicide and environmental destruction dressed as progress.
I feel I am constantly embattled between a feeling of environmental dejection and a sense of awe for the spirit of this people. They earnt their right to survive. As much as I’m upset for the destruction of their ecosystem, I’m enraged at the story of every girl who needs to drop out of school, at all the missed chances for learning, all the missed opportunities to build a better life. The answer to this human and environmental tragedy can only lie in education and investment in the young generations.
Only by educating themselves so that they will be able to really understand what’s best for their land (something we haven’t realised ourselves in our own countries, by the way) will these people be able to break this cycle of poverty, dependence and destruction.
My imagination travels with those who decide to go north (or in some cases south to South Africa) facing untold obstacles and terrifying dangers. All because they want a better future, a slice of the happiness and security they saw on their TV screens.
In overcrowded camps and prisons they quickly discover that the Western world is not so gilded as they imagined and that its peoples are not as welcoming as they thought.
And I feel ashamed because I can’t help but feel partly responsible for their tragic exodus. Corrupt governments and nearly non existent education programmes might be their fault. But corporate pillaging, wars and environment destruction are all ours.
Please visit the global ANPPCAN webpage at www.anppcan.org
And for more specific information on their work in Malawi, including ways to contribute to their projects, please visit their Facebook page:
They are a small scale organisation committed to investing everything in the projects they run. They are 100% accountable and your money could not be spent better. Please think with your heart ❤️