So many emotions! I thought 1 year would have given us enough time to fully process and comprehend our experience in Malawi, Africa helping to build a school with BuildOn. However, after taking some time to reflect and look through these photos again, it is clear our time in this small community in rural Africa has had a life changing impact that we will always still be processing! That is the beauty of life changing experiences right?
As I mentioned yesterday, our friend Laura asked us to join her and a group of her family and friends to help build a school in Malawi! For over a year, we had been fundraising and preparing for this adventure. However, nothing truly can prepare you for an experience like this.
We met up with the rest of the group at the airport in Johannesburg, South Africa and then Lilongwe, Malawi. We were greeted by the local BuildOn staff and as soon as I tried to remember how to properly greet them in Chichewa (their local language), I knew I was in trouble! I am not good at learning other languages! It was a rough start! ;) We made our way to Kasungu, a small city on the way Jonasi, our village where we would be buildin. We stayed there for a night to “ease” our way into “life in the village.” Ohh goodness. This was the beginning of “out of our comfort zone.”
On our way to the village the next day, we made a stop at a school that was recently built by BuildOn. Wow. What an incredible glimpse into the lives of the students and the teachers in rural Malawi. We sat in on 3 different classes, one of which was an adult education class! As I look back on these photos, I am once again blown away by a few things:
1. Most of the children do not have shoes.
2. The children either sit on the floor or share a desk with at least 3 other kids!
3. The adults were learning how to write their names. Even though we witnessed this first hand, I still have a hard time comprehending this!
When we arrived to our village, we were greeted in a way we will never forget! The joy I felt in this exact moment is a joy I hope to relive every single day of my life! In fact, I hope we can bring this joy to people around us every single day! Wow! What a gift that has impacted us in big ways!
While we were in the local village, we stayed with a host family. These beautiful families opened up their homes. Our host family did not speak any English and we did not speak any Chichewa! What a crazy adventure.
The homes were about 300 square feet at the largest. Our home had a “couch” inside with dirt floors. However, most of the homes did not have any furniture. As guests, our host family asked us to sit on the couch while they sat on the floor while eating dinner.
The “bathroom” was outside. There was a bathing hut and a latrine. The latrine is a hole in the ground where you do your business. (We brought our own toilet paper.) The bathing area was a bucket of water (our family was so kind, they even warmed our water for us!). It was usually dark when it was time to bathe, so that often meant we were dodging scary looking bugs and unknown creatures (like frogs) that thought it would be fun to jump around and scare us while we try to get clean!
The water is another thing that is just so hard to comprehend! I saw people drink water out of these dirty buckets that were full of water from the river.The same water that is found here:
Our village had two water pumps close to town. (About a 10 minute walk). (And yes, these kiddos are about 5-10 years old and carry buckets on their heads heavier then I could lift myself. We would pump water, then filter the water using a special filter, and then add bleach to make sure we took care of all of the bacteria! As you can imagine, the water did not taste good. In fact, it tasted even worse once it warmed up with the sun! ☹ But we were drinking filtered water from the pump. Our families often drank unfiltered water from the river. ☹
In Malawi, the main food that they eat is called Nshima [seema]. Nshima is basically a blob of corn flour. It doesn’t have much taste, but the texture is… well, let’s just say it has a texture. ☹ The best way I can describe the consistency is raw biscuit dough. I did not like Nshima. In fact, by the end of our Trek, I was not sure I would have been able to eat any more of it! Our host family eats Nshima for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Well, they actually don’t really eat breakfast and lunch. A typical dinner consists of Nshima and cooked pumpkin leaves. Rice is a special treat for them that they rarely eat, and they typically only eat meat on special holidays or if they are celebrating something special!
Our family asked us what we typically ate… and when we said pizza, they looked at us like we are crazy! This is so hard to comprehend when we have so many options available to us all of the time, but they literally only eat Nshima and fruits and vegetables that they grow. Every time I thought I was going to gag over the Nshima, I had a gut check. We are beyond blessed not only to have enough food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner daily, but we have so many options we could eat something different every single day of the year! THAT is truly the crazy thing!
Cooking Nshima is an art! These women are truly remarkable.
Helping to build the school in our village was one of the most AMAZING things we have ever been a part of. Seeing an entire community (both men and women) come together to do hard physical labor for long hours each day was absolutely incredible. The strength in the men and women was awe-inspiring. I will never forget struggling to try to carry 3 bricks on my head while the other women carried at least 4 or 5 bricks, balancing them on their head and in their hands, while carrying a baby on their back. They define strength to me.
Working on the school and doing physical labor was life giving! It fired me up to be able to put my hands to work. Having so many hands work together on a common project was incredible. At one point, Laura turned to me and said, “Ahh. I missed service Liz.” Laura and I’s friendship grew while fundraising and building homes together for Habitat for Humanity in college. Laura knows my passion for working hard for others and apparently that side of me came out again in Africa, and I am so grateful! I missed “service Liz” too!
It is so eye-opening to me that it has only been 12 months since our time in Africa, but we so quickly fall back into our crazy little sheltered world that we live in and so “easily” forget the reality of these families lives! :(
1. They do not have access to clean drinking water.
2. They do not own shoes.
3. They do not have electricity.
4. After 2nd grade, they might have to walk miles to school because they do not have a school building for the older grades. Or, they might not have access to school at all.
5. They eat the same “corn-based starch” food every day of their lives. (Eating rice and meat is a huge treat to them!)
6. They have about 1 outfit per person and zero “things.”
7. They do not have running water and they do not have toilet paper.
8. They make their own tools. They make their own bricks. They make their own concrete. (No machines. No trucks. No bulldozers or backhoes.)
This is still mind blowing to me. After working on the school for 4 days, I still somehow expected the concrete truck to come rolling up and pour the concrete! That never happened. This is their reality.
For all of these things they “do not have,” they certainly do have a ton of JOY. Smiles and laughter are more present than anywhere else we have ever been. They know how to have fun with rocks, dirt, and a handmade ball made out of trash they found on the ground. They dance and sing at every opportunity they have. Community living is so visible. They see the people they want to see regularly because they don’t have a daily planner that is filled to the max with business. They just show up in people’s lives. They do laundry together, garden together, and fill their water buckets together. For all of the things we would say they do not have, they would have just as many life lessons and more to fill our hearts with joy!
I am so grateful we are reflecting on this with Thanksgiving just a few days away. We are so thankful for the opportunity to travel to Malawi and have the Jonasi Community welcome us with such open arms. It is amazing how often we go into something hoping to touch the lives of others, when in fact it is our lives that are touched! We have forever been blessed by the Jonasi Community in Malawi and we can only pray that their new school forever blesses them!
This Thanksgiving, as we eat our big meals complete with turkey and about 20 sides to choose from, we hope you will join us in being extra grateful for those things we often take for granted… you know, those 20 sides to choose from, clean drinking water, education, shoes, running water, and a toilet to flush. We are certainly grateful!