31st January 2010
Hello from Malawi!
27 hours of travel and we arrive in Blantyre. The Sunbird hotel awaits at the end of our 4 hour road journey from Lilongwe, passing through the most deprived and poorest of areas. Of course, the heart is tugged by barefooted, beautiful children in rainbow hued clothes and young women holding out bowls of their home-fried insects which come with the rainy season to sell to passing travellers. Yet we all thrill at the sight of artistically piled turrets of tomatoes, potatoes and mangoes in the roadside markets.
Maize is planted in every available space within the deep orange earth of the lush green landscape which reminds me of the Brecon Beacons - without the gorse. And the villages of grass roofed huts speed past as well as hundreds of rectangular buildings - homes, looking as if deserted but not so; and there is the very odd smart one too. But everywhere, familiar signs - "Blueband, the spread" and "OMO for good dirt" Incongruity and beauty - an adventure waiting.
1st February 2010
We hear it is snowing back home but here in Blantyre it is very warm and humid and before long it is HOT. Our day begins with a visit to the Oxfam office, just beside the hotel. We are given a brief overview of the work it is carrying out and hear of the earthquake that struck Malawi in December- 6.3 on the Richter scale. Malawi is used to dealing with flood and drought but earthquakes of this magnitude is new. 3,000 people are in camps and house rebuilding is desperately needed.
We learn that the rate of HIV/Aids is still very high here but that it has fallen from 14% of the population affected to 12% as antiretroviral drugs are now available and free. This and a lot of education has helped the situation and continues to do so.
But we also learn that 1 in every 100 women still die in childbirth and this is the crux of why the WI has come to Malawi.
Maternal mortality is an issue within Millennium Development Goal no 5 - Female Health. So we set off to a village where we are to meet pregnant ladies. We are so graciously received with the sleeping mat put down on the bare earth for us to sit.
Our hostess has 3 little boys, the youngest not much more that a year old and baby number 4, whom she hopes will be a girl, is due - she does not know when! She goes to a hospital close by every month, but she has to take a taxi as she is still breast feeding her baby and walking is not easy. For a fee she could go to a nearer hospital.
She wants no more children after her baby is delivered and will take contraceptive advice after the birth. She didn't want her husband to know. We are invited into the family hut which is pitch dark even when our eyes become accustomed to it. We are told her older child sleeps with the grandmother across the way. Very happily the family pose for photographs.
A very short walk to another village and we are introduced to a second lady, a first time mother of 18. She brings out the upholstered dining chairs on which the men usually sit as well as the sleeping mat. I sit on one of the chairs with our hostess. She seems somewhat bewildered by the whole process of maternity but is glad that she has learned what it all means from the health worker in the hospital as she had been frightened by what she had learned of giving birth from the women in her village. When asked what her hopes for her baby might be she said first that she hoped it would be a boy and that he would grow up to be a male nurse. She had hoped to be a nurse herself but had to leave school, having reached Grade 5 only, when she became pregnant and married. Perhaps she will return to education one day. I hope so.
And finally today, off to a Health Centre proudly welcomed by the Health Worker and his caretaker/assistant. Daily 500 patients are expected and received - and treated. A few patients were in the waiting area - an open-sided room with hard benches. One small boy looking unwell was led from the surgery by his mother. We were told that now is the time when there is much Malaria. Mosquito nets had been given out in the past but this year they had not. To this health centre people come for diagnosis of HIV/Aids but they are treated at the hospital some distance away.
Everyone seemed so very pleased to see us and were happy to welcome us into their homes and work place. The day's excursions felt positive - but where we found ourselves was remote by our standards and there are people living in far more distant places who do not have access to much healthcare at all and certainly not anti-natal or post-natal services.
There is one exciting thing I have to tell you - we have our first WI in Malawi! Well, not strictly, but in one village, with the dedication and foresight of one man in a voluntary capacity, he has set up a place for the women, with their children, to go. This group were saying that they have time to meet together and they want to talk about all sorts of subjects, but they need a leader. Needless to say, I easily identified the president and the committee! And through the translator it was felt that the WI model was for them. Who knows where this might lead but if the structure of the WI can help these women find their voice then no one is happier than yours truly, Ruth