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July 11, 2009

walkingtovillageChisaleka is a village of roughly 2000 people. It sprawls over gentle hills across from a tobacco factory and corn mill on the outskirts of Lilongwe. The factory and mill employ some of the village’s men; nevertheless, it is a very poor area. Families of 8 can live on as little as (or as much as, depending on how you look at it) $1 a day. The conditions are difficult and survival depends on the crops you can grow. HIV/AIDS is prevalent and devastating. The cycle of poverty, though, is not predestined, nor does it need to be inherited from generation to generation. There is promise amongst the villagers and it lies in two young women. Melifa and Edith are the only children out of the entire village who are attending High School. The costs of school, the hardships of life and a broken education system have prevented thousands before them and will continue to prevent many after them. ChristCares Ministry, however, has targeted Chisaleka and its four neighboring villages, to holistically develop its youth through afterschool programs, HIV/AIDS awareness, and employment for potential leaders like Melifa and Edith to continue their education. Not only are these two young women able to afford an education due to ChristCares, but support, tutoring and encouragement are helping them flourish, in an otherwise impossible task. Their accomplishments so far have already inspired countless elementary and middle school students, placing them as role models in the village. To us, an education is taken for granted. Yet, something so seemingly simply, is incredibly powerful.

CCMclassroomChristCares, initiated by Robert Manda, has only been established for one year, yet its impact has profoundly touched the villages and families involved. Yesterday, we walked through Chisaleka and Chatata, meeting some of the afterschool children’s families and seeing their homes. We then saw the afterschool program in action, consisting of a feeding program, recreation, academics, and spiritual growth. It is obvious that the children love it, and many encouraging reports are coming back from their parents and teachers who say that the children are being transformed. The afterschool program is currently working with 40 children; yet, if there were doors, children would be breaking them down to participate. The demand is incredibly high. And as of today, nine young women are working with ChristCares to pay for their high school tuition. In addition, ChristCares has been confronting the HIV/AIDS pandemic by bringing leaders of the communities together and educating them through trainings and workshops so that they can in turn, educate the youth of their communities. As Peter and John return to join ChristCares, its capacity will increase, furthering opportunities for children and young leaders.

Lilongwe is a unique city in that there are pockets of highly populated areas, spread out and isolated by fields and trees. It is hard to see where the population of one million actually resides. As a result, transportation is an issue. Overcrowded, rundown mini-buses shuttle people on dilapidated roads, lined with vendors and those who cannot afford the buses and therefore walk. It is also a very dusty city. The red dirt that embodies Africa is fine grained and kicks up with the subtlest wind. White is not a recommended color to wear.

More to come . . .

July 7, 2009

pyramidJuly 6th is Malawi’s Independence Day. This year was the celebration of its forty-fifth anniversary of autonomy from Britain. In the bigger cities, like Lilongwe and Blantyre, activities such as soccer matches and traditional dancing are held in the stadiums. In villages like Luchenza, where we are staying, things are calmer, and families typically celebrate in their homes. This is not, however, the case for Project Teach and its 20 fourth and fifth graders, and six street leaders, who participated in the first annual Independence Olympics. A variety of fun games were organized for the children to compete in as teams. They really enjoyed themselves, and it was fun being a part of it. The most memorable moment came at the very end, when Sullivan gathered his street leaders for a “meeting”. In the meantime, we equipped all the children with water balloons. Inconspicuously we surrounded the street leaders and let fire all our water balloons, methodically soaking each leader. The children were SO excited! Lindsey also captured a great photo of the carnage in action. It was definitely a day to remember.

independencegame1Tomorrow we are leaving Project TEACH and heading to Lilongwe to visit ChristCares, set up last year by Robert Manda. Sullivan will be driving us up the road to Lilongwe, which I hear is quite pot-hole ridden. Even if the trip is slow, the country side is incredibly beautiful, and there is always a lot of activity alongside the road, like markets, to view.

Visiting Project TEACH and spending time with Sullivan has been wonderful. We are looking forward to what lies ahead. Stay tuned . . .

waterballoonattack

July 3, 2009

ProjectTEACHThe flight into Malawi was beautiful. Rolling hills are surrounded by peaked mountains. Rivers and streams cut through the country side between villages connected by winding dirt roads. We could have gone without the attempt to land, then, sudden abort due to something in the runway, but on our second approach everything worked out just fine and we landed with the passengers bursting into applause. We were met at the airport by Sullivan and Vincent (both have finished internships at UrbanPromise). It was great to see them and be warmly welcomed by familiar faces.

We dropped Vincent off at his place in Blantyre, picked up a few necessities at the store then drove the rental car 45 minutes to Sullivans’ house, where we’re staying, in Luchenza. ProjectTEACH, initiated by Sullivan, is actually located at a Primary School in Mulanji, which is just across the river in the neighboring village. He compares it to living in Philadelphia and crossing the Benjamin Franklin bridge everyday to work in Camden. Although, Luchenza is no Philadelphia, and this is no Ben Franklin bridge!

 We went to see his ProjectTEACH in action today. Sullivan has really hit the ground running since he returned last year from UrbanPromise. He immediately launched a summer soccer league, drawing in 13 teams. He also coaches multiple basketball and soccer teams at secondary schools, focusing on leadership development. All while establishing an afterschool program for 20 fourth and fifth graders where he has utilized the UrbanPromise model, hiring teenage street leaders, training them in leadership while filling essential needs for these primary students, such as a meal, tutoring, and spiritual growth.

 It doesn’t matter where you go, children are always adorable and funny, and Malawi is no different. When the afterschool program was finished, Lindsey and I sat in the grass with a couple children, brave enough to sit by us, watching Sullivan and one of his team’s practices for their game on Saturday. It was fun trying to communicate with the children, making them laugh and having them watch our every move with wide eyes.

Nsima and ChombaFor dinner we drove to this new lodge/restaurant that everyone has been telling Sullivan about. It is located up Mount Mulanji (Malawi’s tallest mountain) and has a very nice atmosphere. I couldn’t resist tasting Malawi’s traditional meal of Nsima and Chomba (pictured). It was delicious. Last year, the interns kept saying that if we ever went to Malawi we would have to eat Chomba (fish only found in Malawi). Well, we came to Malawi . . . and we ate Chomba.

June 30, 2009

picOur travels are officially under way.  We left Philadelphia on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  After numerous hours and countless attempts to sleep, three airplane meals, a half-dozen movies, and some in-flight Tetris playing, we arrived in Johannesburg.  Our longest haul was from Washington D.C. to Johannesburg with a one hour fill-up stop in Senegal, where we were not allowed to unload, so all in all it was a 17 hour and 40 minute flight.  But actually, it didn’t seem like that bad of a flight.  South African Air is a nice carrier, as mentioned before, there was good in-flight entertainment and Lindsey and I had two seats together near a bathroom.  We checked into our hotel upon arrival and fell asleep shortly after.  It is always so comfortable to physically lie down after travelling. 

 

After a good night sleep, we awoke to check out the market and mall that our hotel offers a shuttle to.  When we entered the mall, one of the first things we saw were these children in these hamster balls in a pool.  We both thought it was hilarious, yet a brilliant idea.  Because the balls are floating in knee high water, they don’t move very fast.  So here these kids were running their hearts out but not really going anywhere.  I’m sure some of you with young ones would love to have a giant hamster ball to put your kids in and leave for awhile.

 

Tomorrow morning we are flying out to Malawi.  This is where our true trip begins.  Johannesburg was a good lay-over; it at least allowed us to rest and adjust to the six hour time difference. 

 

Stay tuned . . .

June 26, 2009

group54Last weekend, with the big yellow van packed from floor to ceiling, we headed to the airport where the interns would begin their 24 hour journey home.   As we were driving down I-95, in the midst of a few different conversations in Chichewa, one of the girls started to sing, "Palibe ofana naye, palibe ofana naye, palibe ofana naye".   This song, one of my personal favorites in their repertoire since the beginning of the year,  has taken on new meaning.  The group sang this song at dozens of churches, it is track number 6 on their CD, this is the song that they sang at my wedding last October, and the song that my great aunt calls "the banana song".   One by one, the other interns joined in the chorus until it was, once again, a harmonious medley that sent chills down my spine.

While it does sound like they are singing about bananas, the song is in Chichewa and it says that there is no one in the world like Jesus.  Not in Camden, in Wilmington, in Malawi... no where.   Yet, anybody can know Jesus from anywhere.  It's amazing!   Our interns are now back in Malawi with their loved ones.   They are half-way around a world that seems so big, but they are still worshiping the same God.  

My husband, Andy, and I will be visiting our four ministries in Malawi during the month of July.  Follow our journey on our blog to hear what is happening on the ground!

-Lindsey Markelz

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