Thanksgiving in Malawi

November 26, 2010

I have always been thankful for the people of Malawi – the families, friends and co-workers who have been our partners. It was great to return to St. Gabriel’s on Thanksgiving day to greet people there, share our thanks, and gather news.

David Kamwani was born September 6, 2010 and is looking very healthy. His older brother, Patrick seems to be enjoying the extra excitement around the house. His parents, Regina and Deus are well.

Deus and David

David and Regina

Daniel and Patrick

Casey and David

Grace, Roderick, Malifa, Patso, and Alex are well. All were coming from school when we visited. We called Elizabeth while we were with Grace so they could greet each other. I am not sure Grace could quite appreciate the distance between her and Elizabeth. Elizabeth said hearing her say “Hello, how are you!” was amazing.

Grace and Pasto

It was good to see Father Wilhelm. I had missed him last summer because he was in Holland at a White Fathers’ Jubilee to celebrate 40 years. He has been in Malawi all of that time. It was also great to see the improvements in the guardian cooking rooms and shelters  – a project he has been working on for some time.

After visiting St. Gabriel’s, we cooked a Thanksgiving meal with Isaac Holeman and Tim. Isaac is the co-founder of Medic with my son Josh, and Tim is in Malawi to work on some of their projects. It was great to improvise and come up with quite a meal – chicken, mashed potatoes, turkey gravy, vegetables, cranberry sauce, and a pumpkin pie. I had brought some of the ingredients with me, and Isaac very persistently went to three stores to find the cinnamon – everything was really nice. It was great to share a meal, and our gratitude for being able to gather together when family was so far away.

Casey, Isaac and Tim cooking

Much to be thankful for


John walking with Faith

November 26, 2010

It has been wonderful to see the progress John has made over the years. He came to St. Gabriel’s four summers ago, with muscle weakness – suspected  Guillian Barre Syndrome. Over the past three and a half years, he has gained strength. Last summer it was amazing to see him walk with a walker for short distances. On our visit this week, he showed us how he is now able to walk by himself inside his house. He was even able to walk a short distance holding the hand of his four year old daughter, Faith.

Faith watching her father walk

John after walking from his living room to the side porch


John walking with Faith


He is hoping to sell his home far outside of Lilongwe, and move into the city where he and his wife may have more opportunities for sustainable work. I am looking forward to seeing him again in 2011, and continue to share in the joy of his independence.

In Malawi, you are known as the mother of your child. During the training of the mothers for the project, a leader emerged – the mother of Glory. She had traveled a few hours that morning in torrential rains, carrying her child, to participate in the training. Eight other mothers came as well, also from long distances to learn about their role in the project.

The mother of Glory

Blessing is in Area 25 in Lilongwe. It serves over 1,000 children with disabilities and their families. The children come with their mothers to the center for therapies, nutritional support, parent workshops, and clinics (epilepsy and orthopedic). An important part of the program, also, is the gathering of the mothers. Students also come to the center for an after school “catch-up” program where they receive help with their schoolwork.

The rains make travel treacherous

Meeting the mothers before the training

Daniel preparing for training

The mothers and children who are served by the program, however, are from a very large catchment area. Blessing is planning on expanding to include satellite sites so that the mothers do not have to travel such long distances for rehabilitation services. The expansion of the program to these satellite areas is a process – building partnerships with the local communities, finding space in local health centers and hospitals for the mothers to gather for therapies, and identifying the needs in the community.

Mothers helping each other

Blessings will be using the mothers they choose for the Medic project to be their contacts with these potential satellite locations. They will receive text messages about clinic dates and program activities. They will also relay information about needs of the children in their communities. These mothers will be a contact point for other mothers of children with disabilities. They were from Mgwangwa, Lumbadzi, Mtandire, Kuamba, Mchezi, Kwa Cent, Mayenje, and Mwambakanthu areas.

Kathy Bowler explained these responsibilities to the mothers – and that they have been chosen for this leadership role. The mothers focused on learning how to use the phones. The mother of Glory was helpful to some who had never used a phone before, and emerged as a leader in the group.

This training was also an opportunity for the mothers to get to know each other. Although they lived in areas that were far apart – they shared the role of being contact points for the center. There was a wonderful sense of support for these mothers both from the Blessing program, and among themselves.

Staff helping the mothers

Listening to Kathy

Learning how the messages are received at the center

Staff Orientation

November 26, 2010

Children of Blessing Trust Staff and Daniel

Tuesday, we met with the staff at Children of Blessing Trust – known as Blessing. Kathy Bolwer is the director of the program. She is a Canadian physical and occupational therapist who has been in Malawi since the early 1990’s. She has an amazing staff of rehabilitation technicians, teachers and others who provide services for the children in the program.

The Medic program is a tool – for the user, the staff at Blessing and the mothers of children with disabilities – to use as it benefits them. Out job was to introduce the tool, and facilitate discussion about what the possibilities were for its use. Some of these discussions took place in our planning phase. I had had discussions with Clara and Kathryn last summer, and had communicated by email with Kathy over the past few months. It is different, however, when the program is more tangible. As we showed the staff the set up, their ideas grew. We spent the afternoon talking about the uses of the program, and left with a number of things to prepare for the mother training the next day.

A welcoming play corner at Blessing

A mat area ready for mothers and children


Preparation: Daniel

November 26, 2010

We arrived in Malawi Sunday night and set to work on Monday morning to get ready to implement the Medic program on Tuesday. We were busy – finding the cheapest cell phones available, installing SIM cards, applying units, charging phones, learning how the cell phone system works in Malawi, organizing the Medic program, sorting out special features of the program, planning the details of the training, and labeling the phones. It was a lot of fun, and about 24 hours of work without sleep!

As I engraved the phones with an identification number, I thought of my dad – we were using his engraver he used a long time ago. Although he has passed away, I know somehow he has a part in this project.Who would think that the engraver he used in his shop would be useful to label cell phones in Malawi?

With Daniel’s incredible technology sense, tireless work,  and collaboration with Medic, we were ready for Tuesday morning!

The Medic project at Children of Blessing Trust started because I met Clara at a presentation I gave in Lilongwe last summer. She is a rehabilitation technician at Blessing and came to learn about evidence-based practice at a daylong class I gave at SOS village last July. I spent time last summer at Blessing, seeing the work she and a special education teacher, Kathryn, were doing with the many children benefiting from the program.

The support in the beginning also came from Medic – especially Isaac Holeman and Josh Nesbit. Isaac was in Malawi last year when I was developing the project, and is an incredible resource. Josh was great at guiding me to always keep my eye on the user, and the value of the Medic project to empower the users.

On board as well were the Loudoun Road Runners and Loudoun County Public School staff”s cell phone donations to HopePhones. It is through these donations, that I was able to purchase phones here in Malawi for the project.

Many thanks to all – including my adviser at OUHSC, Dr. Kolobe, who provided valuable insight into program evaluation and development as I was planning this project.