I’ve come to dislike the word transformation. It gets bandied about by business types in a feckless manner which drives me demented. So when I was crafting this story in my head, I kept getting caught on the word transformation, because what we witnessed in Malawi was nothing short of a miracle – a wondrous and amazing (here we go) transformation!
This is story that I want to shout from the rooftops.
The Hunger Project has enabled people in Malawi to end their own hunger and poverty in just 8 years.
I repeat – 8 years!
During our visit we attended three different communities in the Majete region. The first was a community where work has only just begun. The people there were destitute and desolate. The second was a community which is half way through their programme and the people there were hopeful and determined. The third community had completed their programme and have declared sustainable self reliance – they will never need aid again. The people there were joyous and proud.
This process has taken just 8 years.
When you consider that hunger and poverty has been present in Africa for generations and when you consider the volume of aid that has been invested by the international community over these generations you have to agree – this is an astounding result.
We all need a little hope in our lives, something to cling on to when clouds darken our skies. The rest of this story is a little sad, but it ends in hope.
This is the walk into Ntombosola Village, it is lush, vivid green and up until just a few days before we visited, had been completely cut off due to severe flooding. The community, comprising many villages in the immediate vicinity, are in what’s called the “community mobilisation phase” with The Hunger Project. This means the community has been identified as having the potential for partnership and “due diligence” for a community led development programme is underway.
I remember that as we were walking towards to the village we were feeling upbeat. The day before we had witnessed a prosperous and joyous community. Our hearts had been lifted. Claire was walking behind me and I snapped her. I’m glad I did because this experience was about to become part of her story too.
We had broken up into small groups, each group accompanied by one of the THP Malawi team members to help us with translation. We were each heading to a different home in the village to meet with families and talk with them about their lives. We came to a an outdoor fire pit, outside a small mud house, which is the home to Lelaso and Lude (which is my interpretation of their names and if they could read this they would probably be rolling their eyes regarding my pitiful attempt to get their names right!). Initially we sat down with the husband, Lelaso, and a couple of other members of the community. Lude, was inside the house with their baby. When we asked if she would join us, she quietly slipped out, head bowed and positioned herself next to Claire. She was downcast and raised her eyes only when something translated piqued her attention.
Our conversation was a bit stilted to begin with. I remember asking fairly banal questions so as to keep things moving along. We needed to warm up so we introduced ourselves. Me, being a near middle age somewhat uninteresting character, was clearly of no interest to them – however Claire, a young women of 28, married and who lives on a farm, formed an immediate connection, and I observed Lude and another woman, Martha, of a similar age surreptitiously scanning Claire’s face and body for insights into her life. I can only imagine what she would think of the fact that Claire climbs mountains for fun in her spare time (as well as being a mortgage broker, farmer and emerging woollen fabric clothes designer / manufacturer!)
We had spent more than our allocated time with the family when the conversation took a turn. I cannot recall what specifically caused the turn, but it may have been when we asked about their hopes and dreams. As the conversation progressed, the young women, in particular, a more confident and present women, Martha, with a new baby at her breast spoke of their regrets at finishing school early, their regrets that they had no independence, their regrets that they were trapped in a life of unending poverty, hunger and conflict with their husbands.
We were completely unprepared for what came next – a disclosure that the conflict between man and wife was not confined to mere argumentation. “He is beating her” said Martha.
Grace, our wonderful THP Malawi team member was frantically translating the torrent of words erupting from Martha and then from Lude. The hopelessness of their situation was causing so much tension and friction that it is common place for the men to beat their wives, seek solace in the arms of other women, father more children, take more wives, all the while increasing the risk of the spread of HIV and perpetuating the cycle of hunger and poverty.
Lude acknowledged Martha for speaking upon her behalf about her situation. We enquired as to how long they had been friends. Martha replied that they weren’t friends, the women were just aware of what was going on within the village. I think this was possibly the saddest part of all, this young woman, who had been plucked from another village to marry a man she didn’t know, to whom she immediately bore a child, was completely and utterly alone. Friendless.
I asked Lelaso how this disclosure made him feel. To hear his wife speak of her wish to be away from this place, to be educated, to be independent, to be free of him. He was physically facing away from us by now and he declined to answer. But one of the other men present, spoke of the pressure that the man face to deliver, to provide, to come up with solutions when the odds are stacked up against them. It doesn’t excuse the violence but it made it understandable.
When I turned back to the women, I noticed that Lude had shifted her body, she was sitting more upright, closer to and facing into Claire. The tears that were silently rolling down Claire’s cheeks spoke more than any words could and in that moment a bond between these two beautiful young women was being formed.
Later in the day, we had the great honour of announcing to the community, on behalf of investors in THP Netherlands, that a partnership for community led development, had been agreed for the next five years. This was a daunting task for Ivana and Duffy and they did us, and our partners in the Netherlands, proud. There was much jubilation and celebration!
Standing behind the crowds that had gathered, Lude appeared, baby on hip. As we made our way to the bus and said our farewells, Lude and Claire walked together, Lude walking a little taller than she walked before, and as we drove away, our hope was that we left behind a little glimmer of hope in her heart.