As we sat on the plane to take off for our next adventure, I couldn’t help but get a little teary eyed. We were leaving all of the sweet and truly wonderful people of Malawi, especially the children. Though Tyler and I only spent five short days in Malawi, it was during this time that God opened our eyes and hearts to what He wanted us to see. He showed us that even in the worst conditions, and in a country that struggles continually with sicknesses and poverty, His children are forever filled with faith, strength and love.
Before arriving, we were unsure of what to expect, except that we knew we would be “roughing it” while in Malawi. From the moment we touched down, we were overwhelmed with the strong smells that masked the air, resulting from the unfortunate living conditions. We quickly came to the realization that this was very much a third world country. It was clear that we would experience some rather uncomfortable situations, but later found these situations to be enlightening and life changing.
A dear friend helped connect us with the U.S. based organization, GAIA, Global AIDS Interfaith Alliance, that has a large presence in Malawi. We had the wonderful opportunity to tag along with GAIA President, Todd Schafer, who took us on the Malawi journey of a lifetime. We visited Open Arms Orphanage and the additional orphan homes, which are provided for the older children who have not yet been adopted, (this was such a special experience and we already can’t wait to return to see them)!
These little cuties kept us laughing all day!
Curious and a little unsure of Tyler’s hair, some of the little ones were a bit confused upon their first meeting, asking Tyler if he was a girl or a boy LOL. Tyler and I haven’t stopped laughing over their cute and innocent little comments.
We hiked beautiful Mt. Mulanje after visiting a male HIV testing center in the rural villages of Mulanje. We were welcomed by small villages, as well as an orphan school that GAIA sponsors. They gave us a warm welcome with traditional dancing and singing, Tyler and I couldn’t get enough of it! We observed as a woman received her HIV test results, sitting among sick families that were waiting in line to receive treatment in a small and crowded church building. Often, these villagers can be forced to wait days for treatment, suffering with high fevers, as it’s too far for them to walk to an area where they could possibly receive medical attention. However, thankfully there are mobile clinics that drive from village to village, providing help to those people who otherwise would not receive treatment.
It was amazing to learn and observe how much GAIA has done. They give great thanks to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, which creates awareness of AIDS in these areas. Far too often they believe false notions such as, “If you have AIDS and sleep with a virgin you will be cured of all AIDS.” GAIA has spent years working with villages, building trust with the chiefs and villagers, so that they can help prevent the spread of this deadly disease. Every 1 in 6 people in Malawi have AIDS, which is truly heartbreaking. Not only that, but there’s about 200 doctors in the entire country, with a population of 18 MILLION people. That’s roughly 90,000 patients per doctor. If everyone in Malawi could be educated on this prevalent disease, and be made aware that it can be treated, the deaths and spread of AIDS to others could drastically be decreased and eventually be eradicated. Something I found interesting was that there’s now treatment for pregnant mothers to take in order to not pass along the disease to their children. Though for this to work effectively, they must begin treatment before the baby is born, and throughout breastfeeding. GAIA and their local employees also assist in bringing treatments to villages through their mobile clinics on a weekly basis. (I strongly encourage you to watch GAIA’s informative video by clicking the link HERE).
Some of the children that we were lucky enough to spend time with, and who had AIDS, could still live a completely normal life with regular medication. We’ve seen the importance, first hand, of having organizations such as GAIA, spreading awareness on site in Malawi. Their amazing efforts are helping treat the sick, while also encouraging people to take preventative measures, and to educate them on how to not spread the disease.
Tyler and I couldn’t get over, well… so many things. Apart from the lack of medical resources, another heart-wrenching element of life here in Malawi were the living conditions. According to the World Bank, Malawi is the poorest country in the world. Where most Malawians live day in and day out, most of you reading this, (including myself), wouldn’t be able to handle it for even one day. One day while out at a mobile clinic in rural Mulanje, I had to use the restroom. When situations such as this arise and I’m not near a restroom, I’m always okay with finding a bush or a tree to use. However, everything around us were either the local’s homes or crops for food. So, with no bush or tree around, I was escorted to someones 4ft x 4ft brick outhouse. It was about 4 feet high with a sealed brick ceiling, and there was barely enough room for me to walk inside. Instant claustrophobia set in as I saw the hole in the ground and I was forced to politely decline. When the sweet woman realized I just had to “wee wee,” as she called it, she took me to an open roof 4×4 brick “outhouse” with a hole in the ground. With an open sky view and a little less claustrophobia, I survived. Though needless to say, I’m SO thankful for toilets and running water!
Of the daily chores we observed, one that we couldn’t get over, was how the women and children carry and balance almost everything on their head. When I say everything, I mean bundles of firewood, large 5 gallon buckets of water, and baskets of gathered crops, (the women and children are also required to tend to all of the harvesting as well). Everything is done with manpower… Or womanpower. There were no machines or even an animal to help them with the labor. The only form of assistance they had were the bicycles, which were pushed, as they loaded them with massive bundles of wood and other necessities.
Among many other things that we found unbelievable, was that in all of what we would call “harsh conditions,” we’ve never seen so many smiles, laughs, strong faith and pure happiness. I know I keep saying this about Africa, but these amazing and wonderful individuals have the purest souls and hearts. I can’t tell you how often we were smiling and waving at people from the car as we drove through villages. They would laugh, smile and wave so big, and often times the children would all run out of their huts just so they could wave too. They would yell, “Azungu, Azungu!!” which translates to, “white people, white people!!” We stuck out like a sore thumb everywhere we went, but we never felt anything but love and warm welcomes.
One of our final visits was to their high security prison in Zomba, Malawi, where they allowed us to visit some of the inmates. Those we met with had started a band with some of the prison guards, and are now nominated for a Grammy Award. (To learn more about the Zomba Prison Project click HERE and to watch their video click HERE). Tyler even joined in on the action and sang and played a few songs. Not only that, but he was able to answer some of their questions in regards to award shows, what the Grammy’s were, what to be prepared for when they send someone to represent themselves at the 2016 Grammy Awards, and what a red carpet was.
One of the greatest things about this adventure, was that in all of the uncomfortable or foreign situations we found ourselves in, Tyler and I knew we had each other for support. Whether it was giving a speech in front of 1,000+ people that may or may not speak English, joining all of the local dancers in their traditional dances and singing. From trying to speak the native language, to eating food just to satiate hunger, not knowing if it was going to upset our stomach for the next few days of our trip. We knew we had each other to lean on, and comfortable or not, we were doing it together.
Please join Tyler and I in supporting the efforts that GAIA is working to achieve. Visit the links below to see how you can help in changing the lives of those in need. The people of Malawi need our help. Join us in making a difference.
Open Arms Orphanage – Open Arms Orphanage