“Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” — Archbishop Desmond Tutu
I’m in recovery after the unfathomable loss of an appendage—the little camera that is usually attached to my right hand. But the images captured in Malawi are indelible in my mind and heart. As a favourite chorus invites, “Come and see what the Lord has done!”
As always, exuberant singing reaches out in joyous welcome before the dancing throng surrounds our vehicle. It’s the second time today the Chichewa greeting has celebrated “our amai (mother) has come!” This is the home of Theresa Malila, Founder and Executive Director of Somebody Cares, a partner of WOW (Working for Orphans and Widows) for over a decade. Her ministry encompasses villages in five Traditional Authorities, impacting almost half a million people. In her new role as Group Village Headman Chatimba she continues to serve as a “mother of communities”.
Our June 2016 Vision Team includes Jim and Kathy Cantelon, founders of WOW, and my husband Richard Brown who is the International Director. It’s a privilege to witness the amazement on Jim’s face especially as he sees first hand what the Lord has done through the ministry, and the faithful who have made it all possible—life centres, schools, bore holes, maize mills etc.
Theresa’s cousin, Village Headman Paul Chatimba, leads us along a narrow path through ploughed maize fields, now laying fallow after a harvest. A dozen goats, walking toward us in single file, courteously veer left of the path, in an orderly detour, allowing us the right of way. Our guide, one of the most successful farmers in the land, ushers us through a wooden gate into a fantasy-like Secret Garden! The lush wonderland belies the fact that this is the poorest country in the world, currently facing a food crisis due to two years of drought. Normally, central Malawi receives two metres of rain a year. The past rainy season brought only one quarter of the needed rainfall, and forty percent the year before that. WOW supporters have responded generously to our Hunger Response Campaign
“Aren’t those banana leaves?” I ask. Yes! I can see the fruit! A tall tree to my left has healthy papaya maturing under a crown of leaves. Pineapple, mango, guava are all thriving in this veritable Garden of Eden, along with more familiar staples like tomato, Irish potatoes, two varieties of sweet potato, pumpkin and mustard. Not French’s or Dijon, but the green leafy vegetable that I had been enjoying, chopped and cooked like spinach, usually with tomato as well. It’s a savoury delight! The leaves of eucalyptus trees will be used for medicinal purposes, and although we didn’t see them, tilapia are swimming in the pond we pass by. In a place of desperate need this is an oasis of hope! How encouraging that WOW will sponsor an agricultural training facility to capitalize on the promise here.
My tour was made more delightful by a happy band of children who accompanied me. Despite the language barrier, we exchanged smiles and greetings—“Muli bwanji” (How are you?”) and “Zikomo” (“Thank you”). An unexpected moment moves me still. I suddenly realized that my chitenge (skirt wrap) was covered in clumps of burrs and individual needles! I stopped and began the daunting task of removing them one by one. Instantly, my companions swarmed me, and little fingers flew into action. Their experienced hands had me fully liberated in a minute!
The poignancy was profound. Despite all that separated our worlds and our communication, love found a way. The children expressed it by simply doing what they could. I couldn’t help thinking about the significance of another simple offering, in a little boy’s lunch, which liberated the worldview of twelve scrambling disciples of Jesus in the genesis of their faith and service for Him. Indeed, “little is much when God is in it.”
That is the story here. Everywhere we visited, a relatively small effort or financial gift alleviated suffering, brought comfort and hope or transformed a whole community! The Presence of God is profound and the beauty of what He is doing through dedicated, selfless staff and community volunteers in these poor villages brought me to tears every time. Child-headed homes are common, with so many parents having lost their lives in the AIDS pandemic. In Mtandile, we met Tiyanjane, 17, Olive, age 12, Jeremy, 10, and 7 year-old twins, Mike and Shamim. Their father and mother died, but the grass-roof hut mom had built provided a secure home for her orphan children.
The eldest hauls water for brick makers, which is never a safe prospect. She also helps village women with laundry to generate income. We learn that the children can’t afford the required uniforms and thus are not in school. They stand together encompassed in a hopelessness as dark as their windowless hut. We ask them to come outside into the light so we can see them.
We even coax smiles as we discover the twins, and begin to engage this little family.
When asked, the eldest says they need pots for cooking, plates, a bucket for water and blankets. How have they managed without these simple essentials? Nights in this winter season in Malawi are very cool! No blankets? A quick trip to Value Village would provide the cooking necessities. What frivolous non-essentials could I forgo to transform the quality of life for many precious families like this one? If people back home could just meet them, and see both the need and the potential! “For a few dollars more” — the movie title wouldn’t leave my head—we can change this!
Now, out of Africa, the question that prods, like those determined little fingers that pulled thorns from my skirt is, “Am I doing what I can?”
It is no small irony, after learning the names of the children whose home we visited, I discovered that Tiyanjane means “Let’s come together.” I can’t think of a more meaningful appeal.
– Written by: Moira Brown