Monday, June 30, 2014

Throwback Post: My first post from Africa in 2006.

Going through old blog posts and found the first one I made on my first trip to Africa. At the time, I didn't know what I was going to do, just that I wanted to help… This is what started it all, from July 12th, 2006:

"Finally, a computer!!!
Sorry, to everyone who has been trying to keep up on my trip here. This is only the second chance I've had to get to a computer. I hope this isn't too long, but I want to fill you all in. I will give more specific details about what COTN has been doing which is great (feeding programs, orphan care, etc.), but I want to tell you all about what I've seen in the villages.

I have been visiting with a guy named Francis Njanje in Monkey Bay, Malawi for the past few days. This is one of the most beautiful places on earth. The lake is clear blue. The sand is white. There are palm trees. It's great. The setting is misleading though.

I stayed at Francis' house which is in a small village outside of Monkey Bay. No running water. No electricity. Dirt floor. Grass roof. It was great! The bathroom is a hole in the ground in the back. Francis lives there with his brother, Chiconde, who is 11 and his cousin Phatsu who is 12. Both are orphans due to aids, so Francis has taken them in. Francis started the Malawi Volunteer Organization a few years ago after the aide organization he was working for pulled out leaving no one to help. He is the only person in the organization and does his best to recruit volunteers to come and help out in the 10 area schools which I will talk to you about when I return. He also tries to get volunteers to help in many other areas including building a church. Several people asked me if I would help them build a church. Countless people have implored me to help somehow.

If anyone is interested in going to Africa to volunteer with the Malawi Volunteer Organization, please let me know. It is the cheapest by far (which you fundraise for anyway) and he places you in a project of your choice and will even create a project for you. He knows everyone in the area. Village chiefs, school headmasters, hospital administrators, etc. and all are wanting help. It would be great for church groups or school groups or individuals. Well enough of the plug...

Francis' wife and two kids live in Blantyre (150 miles away or so) with his wife's parents due to the poverty that Francis is in. He could easily make twice as much money selling carvings like he used to but he really believes in what he is doing so he and his two "brothers" as he calls them, live off of 200 a month or less. He sees his wife and kids once or twice a month if he is lucky.

Almost no one in the area has shoes, especially kids. They have one set of clothes and many are lucky to eat one meal a day.

The schools have a 1 to 150 teacher to student ratio, and many teachers have absolutely no training. Most school children do not have pens or paper, let alone school bags. It is not only the students that are bad off, but the teachers as well. The teachers mostly make 54 dollars a month. One teacher told me that she has 4 kids and several extended family members trying to make it on 54 dollars a month. Her husband has long since died. The state of Malawi is so sad.

Many children do not attend school at all as they are needed to sell products in the market or farm or fish for food. Walking through the villages children are everywhere... this during school hours. Many girls drop out of school by grade 7 to marry an adult and thus no longer be a burden on the family. I also heard that prostitution is a problem with young girls, especially orphans. Many orphans go to live with relatives who feed their own children first, then if there is something left over, it goes to the extended relatives.

Despite all of this, everyone, and I mean everyone greets me with a smile and a "Hello friend" or a "Muli Bwangi" (The exception is many of the small village children who cry and scream whenever they see me as they haven't seen an "azungu", or white person before). Everywhere I go, children run and scream "Azungu! Azungu!" and follow me or give me a thumbs up. Even though I am carrying more money than most of these people will see in a year, I feel safe here. This nation is known as the warm heart of Africa, and it is evident why that is.

The people are so amazing. 9 year old girls with their little sister strapped to their back while working in the fields, being more responsible than most 18 year old Americans. I met a 20 year old man who takes care of 14 orphans all by himself, with no help from anyone. He supports them by buying wood carvings and selling them in South Africa. The women are so hardworking all the time. You never see them, without doing some kind of work. Carrying HUGE loads on their heads. They are really amazing. They also do much of the farming. The men sew, fish, do beautiful carvings (I'll show you some when I get back), and run shops, etc. Malawians are a very hard working people.

Yesterday while walking through one village two small barefooted children came running out of their hut. they were probably 3 and 4 years old yelling to me in Chichewa and pointing to the market. I had no idea what they were saying but my friend told me they were saying, "Please go to the market and buy a basket from my dad!" Their grandmother quickly scolded them and and then waved and smiled and called out, "Muli bwanji?" (How are you).

These stories happen over and over and over when you visit the villages. There are several aid organizations here, but you never see them. I know they are all doing their best, but I believe many are dying because it is not enough. God has given us so much as Americans, so much of it that we take for granted. I know I take so much for granted. Having a supportive family. Having a home, clothes, toys, a car, water, a bathroom, electricity, the list goes on...

Why is that I was born in America, while my friend Francis was born in an AIDS-ridden, poverty stricken country? Why did God bless me so much? Is it so that I can gather up money and save and make my life comfortable? Is it so that I can raise a family that is safe, with a big house and lots of toys and comforts? Or have I been blessed by being born in America because I was made in the image of God, who cares for the sick, the poor, the orphan out of his riches. Maybe I was given privilege for a purpose greater than myself.

Please keep the people of Malawi in your prayers! I will never be the same again after this trip and I thank God for opening my eyes to all of this. Please keep me and my family in your prayers, also and may God continue to bless you.

Thanks for reading this long blog.

Shane Mast