Memories of Malawi

Post by
Frederic Lohr
August 8th 2016

Education of those at risk is paramount in fighting this disease and preveting it in people. Barbara joined us as an education volunteer during our mega drive in May 2016 in Blantyre, Malawi and gratefully shared her experiences with us:

Sometimes the best things happen to us when we aren’t looking. It invites us in and changes us in a matter of just a few weeks. For me, Mission Rabies Malawi did just that. Rabies is without a doubt the cruellest disease on earth. I felt I could throw myself into this with all my heart. It’s a disease that shouldn’t be allowed to exist in the 21st Century, and so I was driven by the desire to be part of history:  the elimination of rabies. What I did not expect was for me to be so taken in by the kindness of its people, the enthusiasm of the children, the unbelievable stunning beauty of the country and the reality of their everyday lives.

I signed up for the Education part of the program. I’d be visiting schools, assisting the local Mission Rabies staff in teaching children the dangers of Rabies, its transmission, how to avoid getting bitten and what to do if you do get bitten.  The Children speak Chichewa, the local language of Malawi. I had tried to learn the basics but the language is as fascinating as it is difficult. I didn’t get far. I never learned to speak it. But I knew the animals. Galu means dog, Mphaka is a cat, Udzuzu is a mosquito, Ng’mbe is Cow etc. I joked that after 2 weeks I only learned 2 short sentences: ‘it bites’ and ‘you die’.

The joke may be funny, but the reality is not. Rabies in England is something you vaccinate for when you go to France. In Malawi, Rabies means you die.

The classrooms, with their broken windows and – when not in use – seemingly futile rusty padlocks on the doors, have a hundred or more little kids often sitting on the floor or overcrowded benches. All with beaming faces, all keen to learn, answering and asking questions with a passion and intensity that is joyously infectious. Outside, more children look through the holes in the glass, or hang off any bars. As I stand in front drawing animals on the board and getting laughed at by the kids for my poor drawing skills, I notice the uneven years old paint on the walls and suddenly spot a little paper plane lying on the floor. I wonder if this is a symbol of the human spirit. We love to defy the things that pull us down. That is how we make this world a better place. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, maybe it simply means that kids are kids, no matter where in the world we are.

‘Nyani!’ shouts a small girl, as an example of an animal affected by Rabies. I hesitate while my colleague looks at me expectantly and says ‘Monkey’. ‘Yes, I know’, I whisper back, ‘but I don’t know how to draw a monkey’. Sometimes the kids were smarter than my drawing skills.

Looking outside the windows we are often met with heart stopping views. In this unspoiled country, I cannot deny the enormous magnetism it possesses. The sunsets would often have me reaching for my camera as if possessed by a demon, but the sun does not wait for anyone. In Malawi, within a matter of minutes it is dark. With our long days and sunsets close to 5.30pm, dark was often the time we got back to base.

This is what we did, we got up at 5.30 am, had breakfast, drove to a school, and then went from classroom to classroom. Starting with the little ones, moving on to the older ones. Counting heads, getting better at drawing dogs, playing dog and teaching about behaviour, showing how vaccination works, having little quizzes and handing out leaflets to an overeager mob of kids. I never learned how to draw a monkey.

“Nthawi ili bwanji” is written underneath a massive painted clock on one of the walls, together with its English translation: what time is it?  It feels oddly pertinent. Is it not time to finally conquer this horrific disease?

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