I have been meaning to write up my final reflections on my recent trip to Malawi for some time and was prompted when somebody recently asked me why I made the trip and why I support this activity.
Rather than going into a full blown discussion about the rationale, (which is in itself pretty compelling), I decided to set out how one feels about trips of this nature.
For me it’s all about showing you care. The three, soon to be four, playpumps which have been funded by sales of One Water across the BBC catering outlets came about by a few people deciding to do something. Selling One Water is a simple idea yet it is amazing how much of a difference can be made.
Having made two visits to playpump sites in Africa, I am in no doubt that we’re helping. Being able to personally see, feel, smell and listen to the sights, sounds and day-to-day activities of African villages was very thought provoking. Given the sophistication of western society, the few days spent visiting African villages was very grounding.
I feel many emotions when I look through photographs from the trip, ranging from sadness to elation to downright anger. One feels so impotent and impatient to get on with bringing more help. The most important thing for me is this reinforces my resolve to continue doing my little bit.
For some different perspectives, three fellow travellers who are students at Salford University have shared their thoughts on how they felt after the trip.
Wai San Lee provided the title for this blog – ‘Looking beyond what we see’. The following is an extract from Wai San’s notes:
“Whenever I watched documentaries about life in Africa or even programmes like Comic Relief, I would allow them to wash over me like a rain cloud, but that cloud would move over me, and eventually my thoughts would return back to my everyday life. Of course I would sympathise with the plight of the African people and even pledge some money. I would feel good about myself for about ten minutes and then continue as if nothing had happened. I am not trying to make anybody feel bad if they have experienced a similar thing; I am merely bringing to the surface my recent experience of having the opportunity to look beyond what I saw on the television screen.
“Spending a few days in Malawi as a representative of The University of Salford made me feel a million different emotions. To see the smiles on the children’s faces was heart-warming, to see the hope in the eyes of the women was rewarding and to feel the gratitude in the handshakes of the men was humbling; to witness the children running continuously after our convoy of cars until we weren’t visible anymore gave me a sense of amazement at how much our visit meant to these children; to give this school the simple gift of water by means of the sponsored playpump meant so much to their community.
“I am ever more conscious of how lucky I am to have the freedom to make choices. I hope that one day the people of Malawi will have that freedom and in the meantime I am making a request for us all to look beyond what we see.”
When one makes a trip of this nature it is easy as Wai San says to slip back into the routine of our daily lives but the following reflection from Dan may help us all to keep alive the memories of Malawi. His piece is entitled ‘What made me cry’:
“A three year old girl demanded a hug and craving love. Her hopeful face and big telling eyes were staring back up at me from the orphanage. She had never been shown any affection or received a warming hug to make her feel safe. Amongst the crowd and noise she stood arms raised to me, eyes drooping and a face as innocent as an angel. I picked her up. Her face was reading mine so intently as if never to forget it. A smile grew and I saw her beautiful white teeth as she tightly held on to my finger.
“To have witnessed poverty of the extremes in Malawi at the tender age of 20 has pushed me ferociously into a sudden mix of emotions that I haven’t quite learned how to express yet. There were sad times when I had to hold back tears of frustration and joyous times that took me to a place I couldn’t possibly comprehend. A nation so desperate, so innocent and so welcoming tells a story we all need to hear.
“To feel happy and sad and angry and proud all in the same minute is what I experienced in Malawi. We as westerners come to help and to teach but the real learning I think has been done by us. Africa has made me a better European for they teach the basics that we all should know; to love, to respect and to appreciate what we have.
“I am now motivated with a new energy sourced from the Malawian people to promote the problems facing Malawi and Africa. I don’t plan to preach or to beg. I want to tell people about what I’ve seen and if I speak honestly and from the heart people will feel what I feel and will want to make a difference.”
“As a student Nurse I have a long-standing interest in people’s welfare and health. I frequently remind myself how lucky I am to be born into a country where people receive high health standards compared to other places, where even clean water is a sought-after luxury. During my time in Malawi, I visited several schools, some with clean water provided by the recent installation of a playpump, and others still hoping that their school may be next. I saw the way people lived: overcrowded, undernourished, poorly educated and in bad health.
“What I have learnt from my trip is that we’re blessed with luxuries we don’t even consider. Freedom of speech, equality, sanitation and education are but a few. Seeing the children out there and knowing I only saw a glimpse of a constant struggle to survive, I am driven to go back and do more, to share the chances I have been given, to do the little I can to make the big changes to their lives. I believe that if everyone did a little, life in Malawi could be transformed, as well as the rest of Africa. The experience was very humbling and I was honoured to meet the wonderful people of Malawi, who appreciated the little things in life. I hope that I have managed to take some of that spirit home with me.”