Malawi: The Warm Heart of Africa – Day 2

Grandfather and Village Chief, Charles Butao, his son, who recently lost his wife in childbirth, and children from the villageLast summer I attended a Mary’s Meals fundraising event in Edinburgh.  

Today I met the staff of the Joyful Motherhood project, one of the recipients of fundraising by Mary’s Meals.  Beatrice, the project’s manager, introduced me to the aims of the project: to support the development of young babies who have been orphaned or who have lost a mother at childbirth.  The project is based at Bwaila Hospital in Lilongwe and has over 100 babies on their books at any given time.   

Although Malawi’s maternal birthrate has improved, there are still many children whose mothers die while giving birth.  HIV/AIDS is prevalent and women in villages often live many miles away from hospital with no transport.   Getting to a hospital safely is therefore a major issue.

Malawi’s inflation means that the project’s costs have rocketed in recent months.  Diesel has doubled in price in the last year and currently costs 718 kwatcha (about £1.40) a litre.  Although the nurses who visit foster mothers use buses and bicycles as often as possible, some journeys are too far to be made without a car.   

A tin of formula milk now costs 1,600kw (£3.30) and a baby will need 6 tins a month.  The project provides milk and regular visits by nurses for the first year, to give children the best chance of a healthy start.   To get this in perspective a private hire driver gets just over 5,000kw a week in pay.

babyAfter the briefing we set off to meet the family of a newborn who had been born two days ago.    Her mother had been admitted with complications and in being transferred to another hospital had died in the ambulance.  The journey to her village took us an hour and a half, to the Mapuyu South area, again on the border with Zambia. 

As we got close to Mdamvayani, once off the main road we met no other vehicles.   The road had huge potholes as a result of the heavy rains.  When we arrived the mother’s female relatives were still grieving and what should have been a joyous occasion, the birth of a baby, was very emotional and a time of sadness for everyone.

Nurse Nitta talking to the baby's family about her careAll of the family came to see nurses Verina and Nitta who examined the baby and took the family through how best to care for the baby.   As we sat there it seemed like the whole village had come.   There are only six families in the village so the mother was close to everyone.

Luckily the little baby has a family, with 2 brothers and a father, who although he walks with difficulty was on hand to hear what the foster mothers would be doing to care for the child.  The baby is the grand-daughter of the Chief of the village and he was very keen to tell us about the food he grows to support his villagers.   

Like many smallholder framers in Malawi although they are growing enough food to feed the family in a good year, they are too far from markets to be able to get a decent price for their produce and are not able to earn any money or develop the range of products they grow.

It was a very human example of the vulnerability of so many Malawians.   They are not able to add value to their produce, are vulnerable to bad weather affecting their crops and have no other source of income.   Tackling rural poverty is the issue which is being addressed by the Women’s caucus who we will meet on Thursday.