Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Door to National Service

It has been like this for many years: US citizens come to volunteer in Malawi for two years and leave, often with fond memories and a passion to help end extreme poverty; their lives changed, forever.
Some, like Michael Buckler, have continued to help Malawi while back in the US. Others, like Adam Gaskins, have come back to found NGOs that are working with rural people. Buckler founded Village X, an organisation that is drilling boreholes in rural corners of Malawi.
All this is good, yet not enough. Peace Corps volunteers who lived in Malawi left one desire that was never met.

Peace Corps volunteers in Malawi, and across the region, have inspired a generation of young people who have developed a passion to help end extreme poverty in their own countries. Sadly for Malawi, there was no program for young people to volunteer and get life changing experiences by helping rural people realize their potential and meet their needs.

Of course, once every year, in April, there was Youth Week, a voluntary week in which young people did social services in their areas. But that was during one party system of politics under Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda.

Youth Week ended once Malawi adopted multiparty politics of government in May 1993. In fact, that year’s Youth Week was poorly patronised because multiparty advocates castigated the week as oppressive. The idea of voluntary work was suffocated.

Now there is an opportunity, for young people to volunteer not just for a week, but for a year; a year of living and working with rural people and helping them help themselves.

CorpsAfrica, founded by Liz Fanning, has rolled out in Africa, starting with Morocco, now Senegal and Malawi. Says the introduction on CorpsAfrica website:

“Modelled after the successful Peace Corps program, CorpsAfrica will recruit men and women from developing countries of Africa to move to high-poverty communities within their own country. Each volunteer will stay in a host community for one year to create and support small projects that eliminate barriers to economic growth and prosperity.”

The website adds that CorpsAfrica will build up confidence through national service, give volunteers job skills, “and an understanding of poverty that only comes from living it.” The hope is that CorpsAfrica volunteers will be the next generation of NGO staffers, government officials, academics, business leaders, journalists, philanthropists, parents. (For more go to www.corpsafrica.org)

The startup director for CorpsAfrica in Malawi is Adam Gaskins, a Peace Corps who volunteered in Dedza. He came back to Malawi to continue helping people help themselves. Adam has experience in working with people, especially those in rural areas. Prior to joining CorpsAfrica, Adam founded and served as CEO of Nutreerich, a commodities export company based in Malawi that assists farmers in supply chain management and crop diversity. He holds a degree in business administration with an emphasis on management from Northern Kentucky University. He is fluent in Chichewa.

There is something powerful in voluntary work, something that makes former Peace Corps volunteers come back to Malawi to help. That something powerful will now be planted in Malawians volunteering in Malawi. That, I think, is the desire left by Peace Corps volunteers, now being satisfied.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Country in Mourning

She fetched rain water for use the morning after Monday night. Her bucket was full of water; useful water, she smiled.

Waking up at about 11 pm, she noted, the rains had not stopped. Instead, it was raining heavily. Her afternoon smile disappeared from her heart. In her mud house, the old woman had useful water, in a pail; outside her house, there was harmful water from rains that had been falling since Sunday morning.

She never slept, again, only to sleep forever at midnight. The soaked wall of her house fell on her, leaving her dead. That was not all. The fast running water soiled everything she had and washed her body away, into a footpath that had turned into a stream of water following heavy rains. Neighbours in her Soche Hill residential area found her body in the morning as they walked in rain to assess damage caused to the area that once used to be protected land.
A girl in the neighbourhood stood still, at a distance as people took the old lady’s body from the gully that had been formed since Sunday. In her mind, the girl might have been thinking about the vanity of life. She had heard about floods but had not seen any. And these were not floods, not yet.

Now, standing there, she thought: like weeds are unwanted plants, so floods are unwanted waters. She was right in many senses.

Some 10 km away at Fargo residential area, a young couple was preparing for office. They were watching rain water flowing in their compound. They were talking about the never-ending rainfall and how destructive it had been and how lucky they had been to be in a strong house. Just then, part of their brick fence fell down, without warning and water flowed into their kitchen and some rooms.

The previous day floods had wreaked havoc in parts of Chikwawa and Nsanje in Shire Valley, washing away thousands of hectares of crops and thousands of goats and cattle. A whole Tchereni Village in Nsanje had four houses standing while the rest were washed away, according to reports. People of the village were standing in the four houses. There was space enough to stand, no more; no space to lie down and sleep. In upper Shire River districts of Mangochi, Balaka and Machinga, crops had been washed away too; houses destroyed; roads made impassable. In Zomba, the friendly Likangala River turned into enemy and flooded homes, leaving thousands without shelter and some dead.

The lakeshore plain district of Salima was under floods as well. Rivers had swollen and flooded hectares of crops. The road from Balaka was cut some miles before Salima. The Lakeshore Road was cut some 20 km before Nkhotakota. Back in Zomba, the Jali-Phalombe-Road was cut and remains impassable. Water was flowing over the bridge that enables movement between Luchenza and Chonde on Tuesday. Many more roads were impassable, in both urban and rural areas. Many more rivers and streams have flooded across the country. ESCOM has suffered damage, too, leaving some parts without power for days. By end of day on Monday, officials estimated that 45,000 families were homeless. But the saddest news was that at least 40 people had died.

The rains that have caused havoc were expected. The Met Department’s forecast indicated a late onset of rainy season followed by a brief dry spell and heavy rains that would leave most parts of southern region flooded. The rains were late indeed, commencing days before Christmas and followed by dry days until the down poor of 31 December which was followed by another dry spell. Still the forecast said heavy rains to follow and floods to occur in many places.

But how do people prepare for floods? Should people move from flood prone areas before rains? In case of this season, except for the usual places in Chikwawa and Nsanje, most places are being flooded the first time.

Such questions, however important, seem distant from reality. The current needs and questions are on emergency assistance to the displaced, to those who have lost everything except their lives, to the injured and the hungry, to those orphaned by the floods. But the relevant questions remain. And floods have to be seen from different angles and one such position is that as the water dries up, fertile silt soils good for agriculture remain where once there was danger.

Note: I wish I had time to continue writing.