Early this morning, Barry Delozier and I embarked on a journey with long-time friend Ruairidh Waddell who serves as the area coordinator for Malawi and Zambia for World Renew, the Relief and Humanitarian arm of the Christian Reformed Church. Four of Ru’s Zambian coworkers went with us as we traveled deep into the bush to visit the village of Andosi, one of the many villages in the Mwandi District to receive food relief and water projects in the wake of the devastating drought in 2015. We traveled together in one vehicle, two in the front seat, three in the backseat, and two bouncing around in the back of the small SUV. As always on such journeys, we bounced our way over bumpy dirt roads, sometimes driving through thick branches close by the small road, sometimes encountering areas of water we had to drive through or around, sometimes encountering cattle or people in oxcarts and once encountering two vehicles blocking the roadway, both of which had been broken down for four days! The landscape was beautiful as we passed a few other small villages along the way.
After a bit over two hours, we finally arrived at Andosi. We stopped at the village school to see large tanks World Renew had installed for rain water catchment with the help of some funds from the IPC Foundation. The waters in areas around the village have not yet fully receded from the floods that come in the rainy season from November to February or March, but these tanks are standing full for when the dry season begins and extends from August through November. After our stop at the school, we made our way to the village church where the day’s meetings were to take place. This community is one of those that has received assistance from World Renew for the past couple of years. Today, the team was checking in to hold interviews with residents of the village to survey them about a number of aspects of their daily lives to try to determine food security, water issues, patterns of family life, income sources, and education for their children. There were 54 villagers interviewed one-on-one today.
In addition, there were two focus groups, one for women and one for men. Barry and I were “flies on the wall,” listening as the focus groups spoke openly and honestly about many things. My mind is still swirling with all that I heard and fascinated by all we learned by listening to the residents of Andosi tell us about their daily lives.
We listened as they talked about the plentiful season, which they are experiencing right now, when there is accessible water, crops to harvest, good grazing for animals, fish to catch, and three meals a day with good variety. We heard about the floods that come during the rainy season that can wipe out crops, bring illness to animals and humans, and cut their village off from the outside world, including access to markets, for about three months of the year. We heard about the dry season when water sources dry up, villagers may have to walk four hours a day to access water, crops wither, animals have to be herded to a water source many miles away, so the men and animals may be gone for up to four months as they camp near a water source, and families eat only one meager meal a day. Women talked of a daily schedule filled with physical labor that begins at 4:00 AM and includes fetching water and firewood, cleaning, cooking, tending children, tending home gardens, helping with planting and harvesting and so much more. Men talked of ploughing, planting, harvesting, fishing, herding, storing, and doing piecework to support their families. They all talked of times when traveling to market at Mwandi is necessary, which is six hours by oxcart and ten hours on foot. They all spoke of the lean times when the children eat first. There were probably 75 people from the village gathered in the shade of the large trees surrounding the church. The day was a true village event and people were clearly enjoying the opportunity to break from their usual routines. They spent the day, when not engaged in an interview or focus group, talking, laughing, and reveling in each other’s company.
There is so much more to process from this day. But the words that come to mind to describe the people we met today are: resilience, strength, courage, faith, determination, diligence…and also hope, joy, community, interdependence, love for their children and for one another, resourcefulness and dignity. The view from the bush is heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. It was such a privilege to hear them tell their own truth about their lives and to be with those of goodwill from World Renew who are seeking to find ways to partner with these communities to help them build strategies for resilience.
Back at Mwandi, the rest of the team completed the painting project at Kandiana, took supplies to a local preschool, did devotion and helped with feeding for the children at the OVC and more. We are grateful that we are here. Africa finds its way into your heart. When we leave Mwandi in two more days, part of our hearts will remain here, waiting for our return.