Volunteers Fiona Collins and Jackie Sanders share their experiences of working with the charity on our visit to Malawi in November 2019.
What a week we had in Malawi. For those of us complete novices at Malawian life, it was a bit of a learning curve – particularly the way that they take the concept of ‘manyana’ to whole new level!! Andrew’s mantra of “relax and go with it” proved to be well-founded! It was an experience that I will absolutely treasure, and one if at all possible, I would love to repeat.
Yes, there were definitely things that with the benefit of hindsight, can now be improved upon. For example, vacuum packing pre-sorted kit in the UK prior to shipping, both to save valuable drum space and also avoid the need to spend that time in a sweltering classroom at the end of a very long working day - not the highlight of the trip! However, as a team, and I would stress the importance of the Malawian team members – particularly Aubrey who was invaluable – by the end of the week, we had achieved our main goals (no pun intended!) Namely, an agreement for eye surgery to be carried out by Andrew and his team in Zomba Central Hospital in March 2020; Blind Football was introduced to 7 other schools in addition to St Montfort; a classroom was completely redecorated at St Montfort; therapeutic clay work was carried out with visually impaired children; and the new security wall at St Montfort was officially opened and blessed. I would classify that as a great success! But more importantly, when a child has spent time to write a song and then performs it in two languages, on a borrowed guitar, thanking you for the work that Andrew has instigated, that surely makes it all worthwhile and shows that those you are trying to help, do appreciate your efforts.
When Sally mentioned at the beginning of the week, that on our return to the UK we may find the transition back to ‘normal’ life a bit challenging, I must admit I didn’t completely understand what she was hinting at. I do now. To experience part of a country as beautiful as Malawi and see the conditions that some of the population are living in is difficult – a completely different level of poverty. But personally, what I found particularly tough was to see a school that has no electricity at all, not enough desks or chairs, very few books and visually impaired children with no adapted resources trying to keep up in a class of over 100. Compare that to the grammar school I work in, where the pupils are stressed over exam grades - life is put into perspective. Fiona Collins
Before our trip to Malawi, a good friend told me that Africa would steal a part of my heart. It certainly did. Malawi, for me, was a most wonderful experience for each of my senses. The range of emotions felt during our week was varied, to say the least. Sadness at the poverty we witnessed. Joy at the smiles and the singing we were privileged to hear. Frustration at not being able to do more to help. Anger at the corruption. Pride in what we achieved. Wonder and awe at how the children keep smiling under such desperate circumstances. Humility at the kindness we were shown by people with so much less to give than us.
It was a very busy time preparing for the November project – fundraising, pleas for equipment and kit, packing and shipping barrels, lots of meetings and endless lists. Times of stress, frustration, worry and laughter. All worth it.
Our November Project 2019 was, in my opinion, a huge success.
Thanks to amazing teamwork (a special mention for Aubrey who was everywhere!) and many people working cooperatively, Sight2020Direct rolled out Blind Football to seven more schools. The result of the training and the positive effect of Blind Football can already be seen in videos (sent by the Teachers) of visually impaired and blind children proudly wearing their new kits and enjoying playing the game.
We transformed a classroom from what can only be described as a pretty dire learning environment to something rather more visually stimulating and pleasant to be in.
It was agreed with Dr. Joshua and the team at Zomba Hospital that Dr. Andrew and his team will visit in March to carry out vital cataract surgery. The first of many cataract clinics, we hope.
Blind and Visually Impaired children enjoyed a clay workshop. It was truly fascinating to see these children working with the clay and you could only admire their finished models.
The new wall and toilet block at the complex were officially opened and blessed. Such a happy day and a ceremony I will never forget.
Yes, there were things which could have been done better. For example, time management (but it is Africa!) communication, managing of expenses. However, as a team, we are aware of these and we are determined to learn from this experience and improve our future efforts. These discussions are already happening.
It was a privilege and a joy to have been part of this project. I would like to thank everybody who was involved at any level. Especially, I would like to thank the people of Malawi for enlightening me. Zikomo kwambiri. Jackie Sanders