June 28, 2010

I started my morning thinking about my mother. A piece of pineapple made me think of her. Why? Because she recently showed me how to cut open and slice a fresh pineapple. A small thing – but I was suddenly thankful for all of the things she has shown me. I have been amazed at my mother over the past months. She has shown such courage, strength and hope in the future. She misses my dad a lot – we all do too – but she has embraced her life and been an example for us all.

I made my way in the Lilongwe morning commute to SOS village this morning as well. Funny how the mini-buses to Area 24 were not in the same place they were yesterday, but I eventually found them. You cannot imagine the people, buses, and occasional cars in the middle of the Town section of Lilongwe. So, I just hustled along with the crowds. The road has been finished near SOS village, so that saved me a long walk, as the mini-bus took me right to the village gates.

SOS was bustling with kids in school, and mothers in training. SOS village is made up of houses (each with 12 children and a house mother), a primary school, a secondary school, a medical complex and a children’s rehabilitation center. The children in the houses are called orphans – but it may be that they have one parent who is not able to care for them alone. As soon as they are in their teenage years, they move to a home where they manage independently. Until then, a house mother provides food and supervision for them. House mothers are usually older women, who have older, grown children. They leave their homes to work at SOS village as house mothers. This week, they are concluding 3 months of training.

At the Children’s Rehabilitation Centre I was welcomed by the physical therapist, Miriam Mwale, the communication specialist, Morgan, and the occupational therapist, TiTi, and the medical facilities director Arthur Mallungo.

In the morning, a bus arrives with mothers and children. The come into the center chatting and ready for a morning of therapy. The mothers are the therapists – however – settling their children into play activities on their stomachs, sitting, in standers, and walking outside. With only one physical therapist for 30-40 kids, the mothers have assumed the lead role. The therapist circulates through the children, mainly following up on doctors appointments, medication changes, and progress.

The children are organized into groups – a stomach-lying playgroup, a sitting group, a stander group and a walking group – depending on their child’s abilities. In the nearby room, there is a sensory group, an oral motor group and a communication group as well. Many of the children participate in more than one group, but I couldn’t quite figure out how they all knew where to go, when. After all of the groups (about 2 hours), they all come together for socialization and lunch. At the end of the morning, most of the kids are asleep on their mother’s back.

These mothers are amazing. Competently cuing their child to lift his head, while repositioning the child’s arms over the boppy pillow and shaking a brightly colored toy. They are able to quickly pick up on anything they are shown, and offer great insight into their children – telling me what they are working on, how it is going, and what their child likes and doesn’t like. Not that my Chichewa is good enough to get it all, but I can get the main ideas (sometimes!).

So, it was a day of celebrating mothers – my own, and those who care for children with disabilities at SOS.


World Cup Excitement

June 25, 2010

I had a great trip across the ocean from New York to Johannesburg on a flight full of World Cup fans. They had quite a night – chanting, drinking, and taking lots of flash pictures. It would have been annoying if you wanted some sleep, but for me it was just fun entertainment. Lots of “USA, USA, USA” and of course “Ole, Ole, Ole…”. Many languages, and many shirts that did not match the language – and Arabic speaking Brazilian? At the airport in Johannesburg, the fun continued with horns blaring, wild hats and lots of expensive souvenirs. I could only imagine the atmosphere at the actual games. What craziness the fans have brought to Africa!

I am settled in Lilongwe for the next ten days. Monday morning I will be heading to the Children’s Rehabilitation Centre in Area 24 of Lilongwe to begin work with the therapists, children and families. Sight, sounds and smells are familiar here. I will venture into the heart of Old Town tomorrow to get some breakfast and lunch food, and SIM cards. I am grateful to have both bags of my luggage – with all of the pediatric therapy textbooks and other donations intact!

Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole! USA! USA! USA!


June 21, 2010

I am getting ready to return to Malawi for the summer. I’ll be in Lilongwe at the SOS Village Children’s Rehabilitation Centre for ten days, and then at St. Gabriel’s Hospital in Namitete for another six weeks. Jeff, my husband, will be making his first trip to Malawi at the end of July to join me for the last two weeks. I hope to be able to post regularly; however, I have heard that they are having Internet problems at St. Gabriel’s.

This blog was named for the Walking Tree – Banyan (Ficus bengalhensis) tree – that has the ability to move by growing long aerial roots from the branches to the ground. Depending upon the conditions, these new roots can become strong trunks. The Walking Tree is an inspiration for moving in a new direction, from a stable base. It is a model for adaptation, change and problem solving in resource-limited circumstances.

This summer’s posts start with a thought on “unbowed” – courageous, free, not conquered. This is a title of  Wangari Muta Maathai’s memoir. She was the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize recipient for her work as an environmentalist and an advocate for women’s rights. She tells the story of groups of women gathering to plant trees, and the women’s rights movement that grew from their opportunity to share ideas as they cared for the trees. Actually, her story is much more that that – a great book to pick up over the summer.

I have always admired the Malawian’s courage to face their many challenges.  I hope to work together to overcome some of the hardships, and share ideas.