This was submitted by Julie Gantt
May 2005 — that’s the date I first stepped off the plane in Malawi, and my life has never been the same! Truthfully, I had little idea what was in store for me. I felt a very strong urge to be a part of this trip, but it was honestly — only a dream — I never believed it would happen. I applied to be part of a group of women set out to help build the first House of Promise. I was very excited about the possibility of traveling abroad. While there are wonderful safari’s and numerous other trips available, the precious people stole my heart. We were met at the airport with a large truck to carry all of the bags, and there were many — over 60 full of supplies for painting, sewing curtains and bed coverings, and tools for building shelves, wardrobe closets, and kitchen cabinets.
Many of the children who became residents of the House of Promise had never slept in a bed. We were able to provide them with clothing, shelter, safety, warmth, and show them what true love and care was all about. While we worked each day at the job site, we were able to interact with adults as well as the children. As the bus drove up each day, children from all around would come running to see what the “women would be doing” on this day. Every day as word would spread, more and more children would show up each one eager for a welcoming smile, wave, or a glance at the camera to see themselves. I have never experienced being around happier people — young and old! I was truly ashamed at my own remembrance of the complaining and grumbling I had done even on the plane ride half way around the world to arrive in Malawi. We had come to make a difference in the lives of these children, yet they were the ones who taught me so much. I had come to help them; they are the ones who caused me to grow up and realize what in life was really important.
The basic needs that we all have are to be loved, cared for, sheltered, looked after, and protected. Many times — especially in America — we spend far too much time concentrating on the newest technology, the next Iphone, which new car we will purchase, or what outfit we will wear next week. In fact, I don’t know of many families in America who own only one car — yet the main mode of transportation near the House of Promise in Malawi is by foot. Distance is of no concern because if it is important enough, they will find a way to get there. The area we spent the most time in was truly like the pictures you see on the website — grass huts, clothes lines, and wash buckets for bathing. Water had to be carried in from the stream. The ability to grow food and plant a garden was very exciting. To have a Mom and a Dad in the same home both caring about you all the time and having your best interest in mind — this was very rare! Plus, there is now a “house” in the middle of the village, and no other dwelling of its kind was nearby.
As excited as they were to see us everyday, there was a certain hesitation to truly trust that we were genuine. There is much abuse and neglect that abounds in the continent of Africa. Children are often forced to care for younger siblings as there is no other adult to turn to who has their best interest in mind. I want to allow children to be children — to play, have nourishing meals, and be educated. I want to give them the opportunity to be taught how to provide for themselves and their families as they become adults. Suvival and existence can easily evolve without emotion; however, my heart’s cry when I left Africa was to return with the opportunity to teach, educate, and empower this current generation to truly make a difference for all who follow in their steps.
TAGS: Africa, children, House of Promise, life change, people CATEGORIES: Rhonda
The Christmas season takes on new meaning in Malawi, Africa. There are “extra” holidays as there are celebrations for Eid (Muslim holiday), Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Boxing Day (day after Christmas), New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. However, no one in this part of Africa has ever heard of Kwanzaa. Instead of dreaming of a white Christmas, we dream of a dry Christmas as this is rainy season in the southern cone of Africa. This means it is lush, tropical, green, hot and muggy. On several occasions, Christmas Day has been our hottest day of the year — with no air conditioning.
Instead of Santa Claus, Christmas trees, and homes lit up with lights, Christmas is celebrated by going to a place of worship. Children may do a short drama about the biblical Christmas story, but often one does not hear one Christmas carol or a Christmas themed message. After the service, friends and family gather together for a special meal of chicken and rice. Chicken is a treat as most Malawians eat primarily vegetables and nsima as they cannot afford to eat meat on a weekly basis. The “piece de resistance” is the back which is the most honorific part of the chicken. Hopefully, there is electricity to cook this meal as that tends to be in short supply during the holidays. Otherwise, the meal is cooked over an open fire. Speaking from experience, this does not work too well for turkey.
Boxing Day, a traditional British holiday, is often celebrated in Malawi by going to the lake to go swimming or visiting other friends and relatives. While not official holidays, the whole week between Christmas and New Years often means that all the stores are closed for the employees’ annual vacation. Therefore, one must plan ahead for about two weeks worth of groceries. For the ex-patriot (primarily American or Canadian) who may want a turkey, that also has to be purchased by mid-November as they are only imported once a year, and their cost can be exhorbitant.
Christmas in Africa is not about the hustle and bustle, and it is not about giving and receiving gifts. It is about spending time with friends, family, and going to church.
TAGS: Christmas in Africa, food, rainy season, traditions CATEGORIES: Rhonda
December 1 is the World AIDS Day. First identified 30 years ago, HIV and AIDS have spread into an international pandemic impacting almost every nation. By 2006, more than 25 million have died from AIDS related illnesses. While rapidly spreading in Asia and countries like Russia, the majority of its devastation is still felt and seen in sub-Saharan Africa. World AIDS Day exists to increase awareness of the HIV/AIDS tragedy and to provide education and resources in the fight against it.
HIV/AIDS has devastated countries. Economies are destroyed and families are decimated as AIDS has swept sub-Saharan Africa. Many countries have lost as much as 25% of their work force. Other African leaders say that they will lose half or more of their total population to HIV and AIDS. In some places, whole villages are gone – just empty houses line the pathways and roads. For others, the often uneducated widows are left trying to raise their children with little to no trade skills. Children are often the most impacted. In the African culture, rich in valuing relationships and families, extended families take in the orphans. However now, many of the extended family have passed away leaving the children in the care of their elderly grandmothers or in child-headed households. What is needed are long-term sustainable solutions.
One solution is to provide education and at least one meal a day for those at high risk. Kondanani Day Care is doing this by providing a safe haven for the children during the day, the children are given preschool and kindergarten training, and are fed a nutritious meal. Already taking care of 150 orphans, Kondanani has long-term plans to extend into an elementary school. How can we partner with them? By building some structurally-sound classrooms and a kitchen.
How much does it cost to educate and feed one of these children for a day? Only 82 cents! What can be done with 82 cents? Not much in America, but in Africa it is a day’s wage in many countries. And, it does make a long-term impact on the life of that child. So in honor of World AIDS Day and the African orphan, we are asking you to make a long-term investment for 82 cents a day. Are you able to feed and educate this child for a day, a week, or a month? Some of you may even be able to pay for several months or for one year. If you would like to be part of bringing a sustainable solution to these children, please visit our site (www.fpaaf.org) and donate as part of the World AIDS Day campaign. Thank you for your investment and partnership in bringing sustainable solutions to Africa.
TAGS: Africa, AIDS, HIV, orphans, World AIDS Day CATEGORIES: Rhonda
As we approach Thanksgiving, we in America are reminded of all the blessings we have. Although many have experienced first hand economic hardships, we still have much to be thankful for. Compared to most countries and in spite of the financial challenges this country is going through, we still have incredible blessings. Most of us have a home to live in, a car to drive, clothes to wear, and gadgets like cell phones to make our lives easier. Yet, I am often reminded that all this “stuff” does not make us happier.
Traveling through much of Africa, one sees many trying to survive on less than $1 a day. They do not receive any government assistance, there are no shelters for the homeless, nor are there any rescue missions to provide a meal a day. Yet, in spite of overwhelming poverty by our standards, Africans will be very hospitable sharing what little they have with guests. When you go to a meeting or service, they sing and dance with true joy. They recognize that relationships are what truly matter in the long run. People have eternal significance, things do not. Our African friends teach us to be thankful for and invest in relationships with one another.
In looking forward to this upcoming Christmas season, we ask you to carefully consider what you can do to make a difference in someone else’s life — someone who does not have access to “stuff” but does need basic necessities to live. December 1 is World AIDS Day. This year we encourage you to consider making a difference for an AIDS orphan. Watch for details to be revealed this next week.
TAGS: Africa, AIDS, orphans, Thanksgiving CATEGORIES: Rhonda
On one of my frequent trips to the Kondanani Preschool in southern Malawi, I was confronted with the stark reality of child-headed households. It is estimated that about 500,000 orphans live in child-headed households in Malawi. After visiting with the volunteers and playing with the children, Pastor Makawa, the preschoold director, called three children over to me. The oldest was a girl about 8 years old, and she was holding hands with her two younger siblings. Makawa asked me for help for these children. When I asked about their family, Makawa informed me that the parents had died, there were no known living relatives left, and the children had been sent home to their home village. Only problem, there was no one to take care of them.
So now these three children live alone. The 8 year old begs for food and scrounges through the garbage heaps trying to find food to feed her brother and sister. She desperately needs a bath. Her younger siblings, looking lost and confused, follow her so that their family can keep together. They wear their only set of clothes. Other villagers, when they have extras, try to provide some extra food for them. However, there is no one to keep them safe at night — safe from intruders or hyenas.
How would you respond when meeting these children? I cried for their lost innocence, for their family all having died, and for their desperate situation. I cried for all the other African families devastated by the AIDS pandemic leaving millions of orphans in child-headed households in sub-Saharan Africa. I prayed that someone would step forward and take these children in to their home. And I vowed to God to do whatever I could to make a lasting impact in the lives of these children and others like them. Lasting impressions do change lives.
Recently my husband and I went away for our anniversary to a country inn for the night. This inn was touted as being the best country getaway in the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe, and it was famous for its outstanding cuisine. So in great anticipation for a lovely evening, we made our reservation.
In spite of the torrential rain, we were looking forward to our evening. However, when we arrived at the “best country inn” Zimbabwe has to offer, our first clue that something was amiss is when a man from the reception came to greet us with a lantern…because of no electricity. We climbed the rock-hewn stairs up to the inn getting ourselves and our luggage completely soaked. Upon checking in, we were informed that because we were the only guests for the night, there would not be a generator used. They hoped that the fault causing the power outage would soon be fixed.
So we had a candle-light dinner (not by choice) with the only other light in the dining room coming from three other candles lit on other tables. Our food tasted like it was cooked over the open fire. When you are camping, that is what you expect, but when your mouth has been eagerly waiting for that delicious cuisine then it turns out to be barely edible, it is very disappointing.
After our dinner, we were shown to our room by again walking through more torrential rain. From what we could see by the one lantern and the one candle, the room looked charming. However, we did not have any hot water, again because of no generator or electricity. To make a long story short, when we checked out the following day at around noon, we still did not have any electricity.
I wish I could say that this is an exception, but unfortunately, in much of Africa, this has become the norm. For those in the rural areas and in the villages, they never have electricity. For those in the cities, they used to have electricity, but now due to increased consumption and crumbling infrastructure there is less power to go around. Almost daily at home we may go for six to 14 hours without electricity. Thankfully, we do have a generator that works, but it does wear out appliances like refrigerators much sooner…and, you cannot have the water heater on without electricity nor can you use the washer or dryer.
Our anniversary getaway reinforced to me how blessed we are in America to have electricity all the time (except maybe during a major storm). Having electricity is not a right, it is a privilege, a blessing…and not to be taken for granted. There are millions here who have never had electricity for even one day. So next time you have a “romantic candlelight dinner” remember that for many this is their only option. For us who have been spoiled, I mean blessed, lights please!
There are many sounds in Africa — goats bleating, horns honking, touts yelling, and generators chugging. However, there are a few sounds that are distinctly African that I love. The first sound is what wakes me up every morning — the symphony of birds right outside our bedroom window. It doesn’t seem to matter which country our bedroom is in, right around sunrise the chorus begins and then swells as more birds join in. Then during hot season, or Europe’s winter, thousands more birds migrate to eastern and southern Africa to escape the cold. They add to the morning serenade making it a grand concert that brings such a delight when welcoming the new day.
Another sound is that of people singing. Malawians are famous for singing in four-part harmony in their churches. This isn’t limited to just formal gatherings though. Just Saturday evening, while driving into the country, we passed two open-bed trucks full of passengers and both sounded like choirs singing. This is common in Malawi. They love to sing, and they are not ashamed of singing out.
The third sound is that of African drum beats. Having heard this as a child every Saturday night when the village across the way had their dances, now hearing the syncopated drum beat makes me feel at home. Emphasizing the off-beat or counter-beat, the drummers make the homemade drums and bongos seemingly come alive. The rhythm can get very complicated yet seems to vibrate through your bones.
There is no other place quite like Africa with sounds that capture your heart and imagination.
TAGS: Africa, birds, drums, singing, sounds CATEGORIES: Rhonda
This blog is posted by Frank Estep.
Our health care team rolled into Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, on Highway One. We had just finished clinics in Hanoi and Nha Trang. Our visit to Vietnam would finish with three days of clinics treating 750 orphan children. The preparations had all been made with the administration, and the children had been prepared for the visit with schedules of the various areas of clinic that would be provided. On this particular trip, the team included medical and dental professionals as well as lay persons to assist in the work.
The team arrived early at the orphanage to arrange the rooms, supplies and equipment for our clinics. We were braced for a very busy three days with the hundreds of children that would be seen. One hour, then two passed. Where were the children? Finally, we learned that there was a problem that was causing great embarassment to the orphanage administrators. When the children learned that the dentists were part of the clinic, panic began to spread. Early in the morning over half of the children (mainly the older children) ran away from the orphanage so they would not have to see the dentists. Thus the low number of children showing up for treatment. Eventually, most of the children were rounded up, and the clinics proceeded as planned.
In many countries of the world, dental work is performed without any anesthesia, and it is a horrifically painful experience. Once a few of the brave children discovered that our team brought “medicine” that made the experience virtually painless, the word again began to spread that this was a “good” experience. Many of the children received the dental care that they needed, and their pain was relieved.
Sometimes care, hope and healing are given in humorous third-world situations. Want to make a difference in a child’s life among the poorest of the poor? Join Fingerprints Across Africa as reach out to orphans in the nation of Malawi this October 15 – 27. Visit our web site at fpaaf.org for more information.