Tuesday, August 28, 2007

walking the streets

first point of clarification - there are no streets here...

the team has arrived in lilongwe, comprised of 8 women from across Canada, with the goal of visiting the orphaned and the widowed in the slums of Lilongwe, understanding more how we as the body of Christ can help here, and helping to start up the income generation program for widows.

our mornings start at 7:15 with prayer, and then we move to the streets, carrying packages to deliver to widows who are caring for multiple orphaned children. our teams are made up of 2 canadians, and 2 malawian volunteers. Our week will wrap up with re-visiting 7 of these homes to collect the family stories to compile into photo albums to be passed on to the children when the caregiver (mom or grandparents) pass away.

so my days have shifted from coordinating the logistics for the start of the income generation program to dirtying my feet on the mud-paved streets of Lilongwe.

sorry that this post is so late in coming. internet has been unaccessible here, and now i am being kicked off because the internet closes at 10:00...more to come tomorrow....

Thursday, August 16, 2007

How to start an income generation program

Hey guys!

I have successfully landed in Malawi, after over 2 full days of flying. I love Africa, but there’s gotta be a shorter way to get there... I really don’t know people could handle the boat ride…

Many people have said to me, Maeghan, what the heck are you doing in Africa this time? I am helping to start up an income generation program in 3 communities, which is receiving funding from CIDA (the Canadian International Development Agency) and is administered by Visionledd, a Canadian NGO.

Maeghan, Fatimata, and Charmain

So how does one start up an income generation program, you may ask? Well, here we go….

The first part is to have incredible, dedicated local staff members. I work with these wicked-cool ladies, Fatimata and Charmain. Fatimata is a 55-year old HIV-positive widow with 3 kids. She is originally from Sierra Leone, the setting of the Leonardo DiCaprio movie Blood Diamond, and lost her husband and 2 of her children in the conflict there. IF you ever want to know if diamonds really fund conflicts, speak to a Sierra Leonian. They will tell you the truth…Fatimata says diamonds destroyed her people.

We sit in the back of the open-ended truck, talking about life and war and diamonds and AIDS. Her favorite colours are purple and green, and she loves to eat fish. Fried fish. She worked for the United Nations before coming to Malawi, helping to start income generation programs (IGAs) across Zambia and Sierra Leone. As her HIV/AIDs advanced, she had to quit her job because of being too sick to work many days. Now she is on ARV’s, the drugs which slow the spread of AIDS, and she has gained strength. Fatimata loves Jesus a LOT, and she is always telling me to pray. I get angry when the truck stalls on the road, or we can’t find a sewing machine, and she says to me, “maeghan, just pray, it will be okay.” She can talk for hours and hours and hours about God, and she has an opinion on everything from civil rights to healthcare reform in Malawi to the best kind of rice to buy. All of that to say, she is one of the smartest people I know. Her prayer for her life is to be healed of AIDS so she can take proper care of her kids and meet her grandbabies. So if you are praying folks, please please please be praying for her with me…and that she can be strong enough to continue to work as well. She travels around 4.5-5 hours a day, walking and on the African mini-buses, to get to the office to work. Kindly remind me of Fatimata if you guys hear me complaining about my commute to Mississauga when I get back!!!
This is Charmain with our 2 precious sewing machines:

Charmain is a pretty cool cat as well. She is turning 50 this year, and is a proper African mama, meaning she has got quite the bootie on her. And she can shake it…we were driving around in the mini-bus today, trying to get supplies for soap making, and the Akon song “nobody wants to see us together” came on the radio. She was getting super-excited to see all of these activities for the income generation program come together, and started dancing in her seat. Of course, we all had to try to bust a move (the try was me – the token white girl trying desparately to keep the rhythm of the song), and we got the taxi driver to crank the music. Our financial officer, Felix, refused to dance with us. Alas…Char is a quiet pillar of strength. She has 3 kids as well, and has lost 2 children to HIV/AIDS. We were speaking about it yesterday, and she said that she still is not free to speak to people about the HIV-status of her children. Instead, she first told me her daughter had died of a headache. I asked why they are not free to speak, and she said that people will judge her, and think her daughter had little character while she was alive. The screaming silence that surrounds AIDS here is still evident, and I honestly can’t say that it would be different in Canada. Often when I speak to people at home, one of the first reactions is people passing moral judgments on the people who are HIV-positive in Africa, even making comments like, “That must be God passing judgment on them for living lives of promiscuity.” Arghh…

The second thing you need is patience. If you think Wal-Mart has outlets in Africa, you are wrong. No matter how many times I come to Africa, I still forget that things are never simple. We tried to buy 8 sewing machines yesterday. Promptly at 9:00AM, Charmain, Fatimata, and I left the office on the back of the transport truck. It was quite a sight for Malawians to see a white girl on the back of a truck. One man actually fell off of his bike into the ditch as he watched our truck drive by. Normally, international workers move around in SUV’s or expensive foreign cars. But Africa is much more fun on the back of a truck….well, I think so….

After 13 shops and 4 hours, we discovered that there were only 2 Singer sewing machine in all of Lilongwe. What the HECK?!?!!? There were many, many cheap knock-offs, brands like SENGER or SPINGER. Kills me…I love what the Chinese come up with to try to trick you. If we sent a cheap knock-off sewing machine into the community for an income generation program, it would break in less than 3 weeks. Not a good idea…

The last thing you need is a market to sell your goods…I have worked in income generation in Uganda and South Africa, and worked with both local (as in within the community) and international (Fair Trade international, etc) markets, and I am beginning to think the local markets are the best way to go. At least when you start up. Africans know nothing of international business – fashion trends and stock and the logistics required to get items overseas. Our program has decided to focus on staple items needed by the local Malawian community members (soap for washing, tie dying fabric for skirts, and also sewing school uniforms for orphaned children). We are going to rent a stall in the local markets where the women will sell their wares. Fatimata has also given them each training in basic business management (stock management, accounting, etc.). Did I mention that Fatimata is great?

So that is what we are up to! I am here coordinating the purchase of the start up materials for about 150 women to gain basic skills in sewing, soap making and tie dying. The women have already selected community leaders who are in charge of training and managing the individual community projects (the women are spread across 3 communities that Somebody Cares works with). Next week, a team of women from Canada are coming to see the project, and to help with training in sewing and such. I’ll keep you posted on our hunt for sewing machines…we are trying to get them sent from the other major city in Malawi, Blantyre, which is more developed and has more resources.

Monday, August 06, 2007

back again

Blogging is a wonderful thing...it allows life to pass by, and connections to be rekindled with little or no effort. oh the joys of the internet...so here i sit, returning to blogging my journey with God and africa...

It has been 9 months since my return to Canada (if you are new to this blog, feel very free to peek back through the year that I spent in Sub-Saharan Africa)...the trip back has been a rough one, but one so totally shrouded in the beauty and protection and provision of God, it takes my breath away when i reflect on it.

When I left Africa, I did not want to come back, quite simply. I was offered a full-time, permanent position working in South Africa; my dream job. And then came a quiet Voice -

"not yet, maeghan. My daughter, you are not yet ready. "

I knew it was God, because there was no logical reason why I would say that to myself. it was too unplanned, too uncertain... but I listened. moved back in with my parents, forcing my poor little brother Colin to give up his room (thanks colin!). Colin is 8 by the way. great guy. gonna be a heart-breaker some day; beautiful blue eyes and a soft heart.

9 months later finds me preparing for a 3 week trip to Malawi to work with Visionledd (www.visionledd.com) and hands at work in Africa (www.handsatwork.org) once again, assisting in training local staff, and working with a short-term team of women from Canada who are heading over to learn what is happening with HIV/AIDS related issues in Africa.

So this is my initial post just to say hey, I'm back! I might write more before I go, but I will write more for sure when i land in the great place of malawi...

much love,