Malawi ranks as one of (if not the) poorest nation in the world. People live in a level of poverty that we, as Americans, have a hard time even understanding. Many have no access to electricity, running water, or secondary education. Still, despite these challenges, Malawi lives up to the name “warm heart of Africa” and the people here amaze me with their strength, hope, and resilience.
While many Malawians face overwhelming obstacles in life, there are some here who struggle even more – those with disabilities or with children who have disabilities.
For the past three weeks, I have had the privilege of participating in a program that serves this population. Every Tuesday afternoon, a lady whom we met at the CCAP church, gives me a ride to the community center in Ndirande. We went to the Ndirande market a few weeks back – it’s known as one of the poorest townships in greater Blantyre.
We all meet in a long brick room with a tin roof and large windows that is part of a Catholic Church’s compound. Children who aren’t participating in the program play outside on the wood pile.
There is always a craft activity for the children and large mats and exercise balls to help some of the physically disabled stretch, relax, and have fun.
There are several participants who really stand out: There is a grandmother and grandfather who have adopted their grandson, Alex. He has severe cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheel chair. When he was born, his parents wanted nothing to do with him, so now, this amazing couple, who are probably in their late seventies, care for Alex. They carry him when he does his exercises and his grandfather struggles to lug his wheelchair up and down the concrete stairs to get to and from the building.
Then there is Cornelius, who is probably six years old. He has Down’s Syndrome and his first week was also my first week. We both were a little shy, but now he can look me in the eye when I say Muli Bwanji.
There are so many inspiring people, including the young children who act as caregivers for their disabled siblings. Many aren’t much bigger than the brother or sister that they are carry in their backs.
The work that is being done here is important. Children are given a distraction from day-to-day difficulties and adults are taught skills. Everyone gets a meal and this week, each family went home with a 50lb bag of maize to hold them over until the harvest.