a taste of hunger part 2

NalizyeraHow do you measure hunger? Is it through the number of people who are reported to have died of starvation? But that does not reflect those who have become weakened by the lack of food and die of another cause such as sickness.
Maybe through the official statistics of food hand outs by NGOs or Government sources. But who is to say whether all those who receive help are truly without food, or even if all those who are genuinely without have been included in the list of those to be helped.
Recently we moved to help some of the members of one of our village churches where we had received notice that people were struggling to find food. We delivered nearly one ton of maize flour to be shared between 40 families within this church. We interviewed a random choice of people from that group. Here in brief are the stories of three of these women.

Nalizyera is a married woman in her 20s. She has 3 surviving children and also cares for her elderly mother. Her husband has been gone for several months ostensibly to look for work to help support the family, but his absence just means that the entire family depends upon Nalizyera. last year the poor rains meant that she harvested only a little food. Now the family eat when she finds piece work in the fields, and do not when she fails to find work. A days piece work would provide food enough for 2 days if she is careful. There has been no work for some time because the rains have failed  for much of the current rainy season. Indeed our own investigation showed that there is clearly no work to be done in the fields now and has probably been none for a week or two. Nalizyera has no food whatsoever in her home and had been 3 days without food when we met her. She is obviously getting a lot thinner. It is doubtful that the baby on her breast is getting much nourishment.

Donika is in her 40s. Last year she and her husband harvested nothing. her food store finished several months ago. Her family have survived to now on the piece work she has found since then. Predictably she can go for days without eating at all. Often the food she finds are maize husks – the same food which we use to feed our pigs.

Agogo Loyta is a widow and a grandmother. Age approximately 70. We have known her for many years. Although she is still quite fleshy to look at it is obvious to us that she has lost a lot of weight in recent weeks. She supports a teenage grand daughter who is now sick. Her clean home is quite empty. We had a look but there was nothing to eat in the home at all. The food we left her would be enough for her and her grand daughter to eat twice a day for 2 weeks. We do not expect to be able to bring more help for a further 28 days.

None of these stories are unusual. They are repeated up and down the country in every village. Although each year produces similar stories of suffering, hunger having become a part of life in rural Malawi, there is no doubt that there are many more people struggling this year, without any end in sight.

A Taste of Hunger – Part 1

visiting 2 old womenThis week we met a colleague who lives in a rural part of the Lilongwe district. His region is suffering great hunger after the drought earlier this year. Little had been harvested. I asked him for further details. He described his village where the majority of families have no food, and where the wells have run dry.  Strangely, it is still possible to buy food but it is far too expensive for the villagers to allow them to buy enough. He believes that many people are eating just one meal every five days. They have been able to supplement that meal with eating mangos off the trees in the fields – but those are now finished. We heard of these troubles before we returned to Malawi 2 weeks ago and bought maize flour to help our churches in that area. The gift is now finished but it meant that the church families were able to eat 2 meals a day for the 9 days after the gift had been received.

Drinking water is a problem and so this man and his young family drink from the local dam. As do the cattle from villages from near and far. Predictably there are many who are sick.
It has not been difficult to foresee that this hunger problem would arrive. it is a perennial issue but our friend has never seen it as bad as it is now. If rains come now and persist, then we might hope that there will be food again in late March or early April – but not before.

In our area we had better rain but it ended 4 weeks early. People here too are without food. We meet many old people who are not eating every day. We have set up groups in our churches in the Dedza area who visit the elderly, give food to enable them to survive, pray for their immediate needs, and share messages of hope from the scriptures. We are covering nearly 200 people, but this is a drop in the ocean of hunger.

At Christmas when we remember the birth of the One who was called the Light of the World please also give a thought to those who live in such hopelessness – to whom it is possible for us to bring light in their dark moments.

The Pool of Life

girl stands in dirty water and laughs-18

The Pool of Life

She could have had such a beautiful face

But what was missing was love and grace

Like a stagnant backwater her life had become

Full of intentions but none of them done

The pool of her life became dirty and dim

Stagnant you see with what we call sin

And like a pool can emit a smell

So her life was pointing towards hell

Just as a pool can be renewed by the tide

The spirit he came and opened her wide

Like sunlit waters can bring us pleasure

He filled her life with wonderful treasure

Acceptance, the first treasure she found

Enabled her to no longer be bound

Expectations of others had pushed her around

But this new knowledge kept her feet on the ground

To be loved and accepted just as she stood

Refreshed her soul and did her good

The ultimate treasure trove that she found

Was the one who loved her and brought her around

The one who had watched her through strain and strife

The one for her who gave his life

The one who took on himself her sin

Without any fuss or even a din

These things she began to understand

And so she was guided by his hand

Her life became peaceful, refreshed and cool

Like sparkling waters on a beautiful pool.

woman baptised at Khoswe

An emotional week

Each Monday afternoon we meet with some of our church leaders to pray, study the word of God and discuss current issues faced by these men. This week I was struck afresh by the fact that of the 7 Malawian men in the room, 2 are dying. ‘S’ knows that he is HIV+. Twice this year he has been pulled back from the brink of death through prayer. ‘B’ on the other hand has only recently been diagnosed with TB. As we prayed for him on Monday he fell from his seat to the ground. Obviously suffering he explained that his chest had started to hurt him greatly, although a pain in his tooth had just disappeared. We continued, and his writhing on the ground ended. His chest had stopped troubling him.

Both men need protein rich food that they cannot afford. What a bonus it is to them that we are able to help them buy such food, and the group are able to help them in prayer so effectively!

On Wednesday, we had our normal round of visiting suffering people in one of our neighbouring villages. Our last visit was to a woman of my age who is considered to be elderly! She also is dying, because of HIV. Her lonely life is only interrupted by an hour long daily visit by her daughter who cooks food we give her, but otherwise she sees no one. As we sat in the gloom of the unlit single room hut, listening to wind blowing a gale through her grass roof, making the plastic sheet which lies beneath the grass flap madly, it sounded as if we were on a sail boat in a storm. It was easy to understand why she rarely stirs from her bed – a reed mat on the dirt floor. How hard is life for those who do not have family around them.

I felt unable to take photos around this suffering woman. But I was free to snap another old woman we visited. As you see she came crawling painfully slowly towards where we sheltered from the intense midday sun, in order that she might participate in our prayers and teaching.

old woman crawling to meet us

I wish that these dear people could be considered to be rarities, but sadly in our little part of rural Malawi we meet old men and women in very similar situations in almost each of the 20 or so villages where we work.

“Shoe Christians?”

It is well documented that when working among the poor, some needy people readily assume the outward appearance of the religion of those who are willing to help them. Especially if, by appearing to be converted to that religion, they expect to make a material gain. The tag of ‘rice christians’ has often been applied to such groups.

We have been careful to try to avoid this problem when we have given blankets or food to the most deprived. Nonetheless, we have recently experienced our own version of this phenomenon. Earlier this year we received a generous gift of shoes from some English churches. We shared the children’s shoes among the orphans whom we care for, and then began to use the remaining shoes to help the children in the local village. Suddenly our children’s meetings became very popular indeed. In fact so many children have begun to attend that there is not enough space in the house where we meet. The accompanying photograph fails to show the many children that were waiting outside the room.

there was not enough room inside the house
there was not enough room inside the house

This experience has continued to be repeated for several weeks now. So much so that the children now meet in the church building as seen in the following photo which didn’t include all of the youngsters with us yesterday.

new comers meet now in church building

Vanishing trees


Isaiah 55 contains a delightful word picture of trees of the fields clapping their hands for joy at the coming of God’s salvation. Conversely, scripture also describes the pain of creation as it awaits this liberation.

We have lived in the Dedza district of Malawi for nearly 7 years. In that time we have witnessed the rapid denuding on our mountains of their once wonderful tree cover. In the last 18 months alone, the nearby large pine plantation has been largely harvested, with only a small fraction of the fields being replanted. We feel a real pain when we see the destruction of the trees.

truck carries logs from forest

As the clearance of the pine trees has continued unabated, the thousands of villagers who depend upon the branches of these trees for firewood have had to resort to cutting indigenous trees. The local area still retains a beauty in isolated places because of the local trees, but for how much longer?beautiful trees

With the vast majority of Malawi’s population still totally reliant on firewood for cooking, boiling water, and for heating during the cold season, we understand that trees need to be cut. However, it is increasingly a matter for concern where people will find firewood in the future. Today their suffering is principally because of hunger. For the coming years, the question will be how they will cook the food they find.

woman carrying heavy log on her head

Mphatso (Gift)

Today I was greeted by a bright smile for the first time since we began caring for Mphatso. Finally it appears that she has overcome her sickness. She (and all of us too) can now look forward to her improving health as she enjoys the protein rich diet she is receiving. Mphatso now smiling

The other four children are doing well now – they just need to gain more weight.

Me Myself Him – a poem by Caroline

Me Myself Him

As I sit at my desk
I think of all the things I do best
Then at length my mind is turned
I think of all the bad things learned
Racked with grief and pain and guilt
Those awful things build up like silt
And every time I move my feet
Those silty sins come to greet
Those sins around my neck are hung
It’s like walking through a field of dung
The weight of this as I walk around
Means no joy can be found

dawnBut what is this that I hear
A Lord and Saviour drawing near
He brings with Him the greatest gift
Cos all my sins He will lift
When I know Him and believe
The burden of life He will relieve
And as I confess the things I’ve done
My heart will know the victory’s won
The one who loves and knows me well
Has saved me from the depths of hell.

our young patients

Good news! Today 4 of the 5 youngsters are up and about, looking so much better than just one week ago. The 2 boys are now bright, and the one who looked close to dying when we took him to the hospital 4 weeks ago has spent the last few days actively playing with the other children living near us.

This leaves only one girl who has not yet thrown off her sickness, Mphatso.

There has been a great cooperation between the village, which has sent adults to care for the children, and ourselves. We have been able to provide a protein rich diet, educate the adults in basic hygiene, make sure the children take the medicine which some have been reluctant to do. The way to go.

4 children looking better
4 children looking better

Back home from Nkhoma

Back home from Nkhoma

An update to our earlier blog concerning the 2 children. Both have been discharged from the hospital. It appears that each had the same underlying medical condition – namely malnutrition. For the boy this had exposed him to pneumonia. I never got a diagnosis for the girl.

Although it is great news to have them back in the village the challenge is now how to help them and their family so that they do not have to return to the hospital. It worries everyone that children can be suffering from malnutrition so early in the year. A member of the hospital believes that it will be not be too long before they have to turn away cases such as these as there will be no room in the hospital!

We believe that there are several other cases of malnutrition within the village – 4 months before the normal hunger season traditionally rears its head in December!

a petit girl showing the effects of a life time of poor nutrition
a petit girl showing the effects of a life time of poor nutrition
Luka about to be discharged
Luka about to be discharged looking so much better than 9 days ago