A Return to Malawi
It was all my grandson’s fault. His boat was in dry dock and he had earned quite a bit by was of tips from his generous guests, so he suggested he and I might take a look at the AIDS orphans’ charity that I am involved with in Malawi. There had been things to consider: like the morality of contributing to more carbon consumption and atmospheric pollution, and what if an elderly granddad should get ill and make himself a burden on friends and family. But the journey was only 17 hours long – a nice change to the first time we went out there in the olden days when the ship took a month. There was another motive also: the Trustees of the “Friends of Mangochi Orphans Education” consider it good practice to visit this primary school each year, and it seemed that nobody else was going to make it 2011. Maybe this trip was meant to be?
We stayed, for part of the trip, in a very simple cottage on the Lakeshore, splendidly looked after by an elderly Malawian servant whose whole life seemed to have been spent in caring for British employers who, for example still expected their morning cup of tea to arrive promptly at 6.15 am each day. Our focus was the nearby school for 200 AIDS orphans, MOET (Mangochi Orphans Education and Training). We had taken out with us a big bag of children’s clothes allocated from a sale at St Philip and St James School here. There was enough for one garment for each child, and they were warmly accepted. Ed was also good news with his computer skills to remedy the three ailing machines (he mended 2 out of 3). Nevertheless we had to cope with a certain amount of gloom to start with as the site’s water pump which was supposed to bring water up from the Lake, had broken down. I resurrected old engineering qualifications from the distant past and found the cover of a terminal box had been removed and a lizard had electrocuted itself across the electric terminals. The motor needed a rewind and the pump refurbishing: sand had been drawn inside the works.
These problems made subsequent tasks entrusted to me as the visiting FOMOE Trustee a trifle problematic: to establish the new water tower with no water in it, and the formal opening of new toilets (installed as required by a Government inspector) also with no water. However all they required was for us to cut a tape across each entrance with a few appropriate words – thoughts on life and hygiene occurred to me – along with high hopes for the return of the water (it was 5 days before it returned. I was not too surprised to learn the new toilets were for the boys: the headmaster said the girls would now have the benefit of the use of two sets of (old) toilets in compensation. This prompted further thoughts for an agenda item for the next Trustees meeting: to improve girl’s toilets. But the pump repairs have cost over £600, and associated improvements to prevent further damage, another £700.
Another task to be addressed was the Assembly at the Beginning of Term ceremonies, which included listening to speeches and poetry from the children, and songs which included the National Anthem in both Chichewa and English. We were also taken round the classes, particular emphasis being given to Standard 8, where the children (aged 12+) were to take assessment exams at the end of the month to qualify for Secondary school next year. They have been made boarding pupils for the month to ensure they concentrate on their task. The School timetable showed that Bed time was at 8 pm (it is dark by 6 pm), Rising bell at 4 am, and the first lesson started at dawn at 6 am. I noticed when I made my visit that the blackboard indicated the current lesson was Arithmetic, and I was pleased to discover the children were able to calculate my age from just a few details of my biography, in a commendably short time. The table which provided the quickest correct answer was a group of girls, who certainly should get to a Secondary school: but will we be able to find donors to pay for their fees (about £240 each per annum)?.