Get an insight into volunteer work at MOET – Ben & Steph’s blog July 2013
With ten hours of sitting on a bus with wings, we touched down at Lilongwe, capital to one of the poorest countries in the world: Malawi. But why Malawi? My Uncle Robin and his wife, Sophia, have jump-started and champion an orphanage primary school (MOET) in the little lakeside Malawian village of Makokola. For a few years, Steph and I have been involved with the school at an arm’s length, restricted by distance and our work schedules. However, we’ve always harbored aspirations of paying a visit and these were realized when my uncle and his wife waxed lyrical about the MOET, Malawi and Makokola.
The drive from the airport to the school took about five hours in our surprisingly trusty rental car, thanks to Robin and Sophia’s massive generosity in sorting out the vehicle. Battling sleep deprivation, we navigated and hoped our way to the school, as the countryside provided panoramic views of Africa’s finest. Interestingly, the quality of the roads between towns was very good. If it wasn’t for suicidal goats, cows and chickens, one could actually win a speeding ticket or two (and yes, there are speed traps). We’re still not sure why the chicken crossed the road.
After countless sightings of Baobab trees, giant ant hills and impoverished villages, we were warmly welcomed by the charismatic headmaster, Patterson. We immediately felt at home in a place different from any first world home imaginable. Patterson and the equally brilliant deputy, Mike, gave us a red carpet tour of the school and we were lost for words from witnessing just how much could be achieved by the right people, genuine sponsors, creativity and sheer elbow grease. The school provides education for local orphans that normally wouldn’t stand a chance in life. Even though many of the children have families (adopted or otherwise), we heard stories of how the orphans would be manipulated by being sent out to get something from the market at meal time but without the correct amount of money and thereby; missing out on a meal and coming back empty-handed.
The visions at MOET are clear to see; they are kitted out with several classrooms, a medicinal infirmary, a computer room and even fish farming ponds complete with a shop window-like aquarium. But the project isn’t complete. There is always something they are working towards to better the lives of the incredibly bright yet unfortunate children. There’s an irrigation project under construction, in preparation for the fruitful wet season, directing rain water to the vegetable gardens. There are also future dreams such as building an adjoining secondary school which would potentially eliminate the financial hurdle that so often thwarts the prosperity of the youngsters.
Outside of school there are countless standard of living burdens that no child should have to bear; clothes, food, and sanitation. Unlike education in the US or UK, these pupils attend school on their own volition with the prospect of a safe environment and being fed both education and food. In fact, they do receive one lunch from the school, each week, so Steph and I were lucky enough to provide them all with an extra meal of spiced rice, vegetables and goat curry. It’s amazing how little the orphans have. Some fortunate ones may own a pair of mismatching flip-flops, as shoes are difficult to get ahold of and not cheap. Despite all this, the children are happy, hardworking and eager to absorb any lesson wherever they can. An example of this will never leave my memory. Whilst playing soccer, I subconsciously picked up a couple of metal bottle caps and left them at the side of an ambitiously named sports field. At the end of the game, I noticed a seven year old boy throwing something in the direction of the bottle tops. As I got closer, I realized he had found a couple more and felt compelled to add to my collection. Perhaps he thought I was now collecting the Carlsberg caps and he wanted to help. But I like to think he also noticed the overcrowded population of sharp objects amongst the dirt.
In a country that contains one million cases of HIV and disease, we visited one of the local hospitals in the village to offer medical equipment sent out by supporters of MOET. It was an eye-opening experience with haunting advice stenciled on some of the walls. Like the resilience of the orphans, Malawi’s people are still undeterred and there is plenty of potential.
Situated next to Zambia, Malawi is arm-in-arm with an even bigger lake, shared by Tanzania to the North and Mozambique to the East, so there is water in abundance. There are positive signs that villagers are realizing how they can harvest the lake for more than just fish. With a bit of education, the locals are learning techniques to grow their own food in poor soil and dirt.
Our cottage was stationed on a lake shore sand bed, roughly one kilometer from MOET. Steph was particularly hopeful of spotting wild hippo but our only reward for going to the lake upon sundown, was seeing splendid fiery sunsets as the characteristic African skyline melted around the dipping sun.
However, by the end of the week, we put on our safari faces and risked all manner of dangers by scrambling our Toyota “Carollover” Carolla over the bumpy Liwonde National Park road. The hippo, warthogs, water buck, elephants, crocs, impala, monkeys, a giant lizard, baboons and countless species of exotic birds are now checked off our wildlife bucket list. Unfortunately, our six-legged house guests of varying shapes and agendas didn’t do much to quell our nerves, given that Malawi has one of the highest numbers of various dangerous species in the world.
Tourism is also buzzing in this self-proclaimed Warm Heart of Africa. And the locals are all aware of this. The biggest surprise was learning that Malawians hate nothing more than petty crime and thieves. I’ve read that if a person accuses someone of theft, the suspect could potentially suffer violent retribution from the fists of locals, sometimes ending in death. A bit ironic and perhaps these are just myths, but we were just happy to never be called robbers.
The longer we spent in the country, the more apparent it became that cultural differences didn’t follow the expected patterns of a humbled nation. Hungry locals are often seen texting on one cell ‘phone whilst making a call on their second device. Two cell ‘phones? One for each of the country’s two ‘phone companies. Perhaps it’s not that strange. Maybe this is a reflection of Malawi’s strive for material items in a quest to mimic the Western world. And who could blame them? Another abnormality was the family culture. Evidently, half the nation abides by a hierarchy with the uncle at the top of the tree. The uncle provides for and raises the offspring of his sister. The theory behind this notion is to ensure that an undeniable blood relative is guardian to another. Fathers, therefore, become redundant. So, Graham, if you’re reading this, are you up for looking after our kids in the future?
Alas, our African experience slowly drew to an end with a super-moon-to-sunrise drive back to the airport. I’ll sign off with four interrelated snippets of African airplane and airport observations:
- The poorer a country, the better their national airline seemed
- It’s not fun to swat a mosquito on a flight and then be informed that the woman sat next to you just got discharged from hospital after contracting malaria.
- If airports were rooms in a building, Heathrow would be a supermarket floor; Nairobi would be a corridor and Lilongwe would be a janitor’s closet.
- Apparently, British citizens with US green cards now have to present said card upon entering the UK. And Malawians look up to Western Civilization??!
Our visit to MOET was incredible and it was inspiring to see funds and resources being pumped into genuine upstart projects. FOMOE is the transparent, uk-registered charity behind MOET, so if our story inspired you, please check out their website. Maybe you’d like to donate and follow the orphanage school’s progress, or perhaps you’d like to sponsor a student through secondary school? https://www.fomoe.org.gridhosted.co.uk/.