Friday, 15 April 2016

M is for... Malawi

I had no real idea where exactly Malawi was before I went there. It's a land-locked country in the southern part of Africa (shown in red on the following map):
Africa and Malawi
Malawi is shown in red

Let's zoom in so you can see the towns... [click to enlarge]


Map of Malawi
UN map of Malawi

It is a beautiful country and is not called The Warm Heart of Africa for nothing. I visited the country about 10 times over a 7 year period, on a Scottish Government funded project, working with the College of Medicine in Blantyre (in the south of the country; the town is named after Livingstone's birthplace in Scotland). Malawi has long links with Scotland, initially through David Livingstone, but continuing on to present day.

Malawi is a very poor country but the people are wonderful. They are positive, generous and kind. I love the country! But, it's a country that steals your heart and breaks it, in one swift manoeuvre. I've seen wonderful things there, but I've seen deeply tragic things too. I've followed a ward round in a hospital, knowing that some of the patients I've seen will not survive the day. I've met a support group for HIV+ women and wondered if all of them will be there on my next visit. I've visited a rape-crisis centre designed for children. As I say, it is a beautiful but harrowing place.
Amanda in Malawi
Me and the kids! Who wouldn't love this lot??

While I was in Malawi, I also spent much of any free time I had, working with Chimwemwe Children's Centre, a community based organisation that I helped to found. Chimwemwe Children's Centre works with street children - those kids who have lost one or both parents and who have ended up on the streets to beg for food or money. We help the children to either live with any remaining family (if possible) or to find a place in a decent orphanage. We also give them school uniforms so they can return to education, pay school fees for those at secondary school, give income generating grants to the families to help them to become self-sufficient, and offer vocational training to the older children who are about to leave school. We can only help a small number of the thousands of kids in this predicament, but we do what we can to change their lives.

My time in Malawi inspired me to write the strand of The Wrong Kind of Clouds which is set there. Chimwemwe Children's Centre gave me the foundation on which to base the charity in the book - Samala - though I am glad to say that there is absolutely no suspicion of wrong-doing at Chimwemwe! The Chimwemwe kids asked me to include some of them in the book (with name changes!). How could I not?

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