Although I only arrived last Wednesday I feel totally at home with each day being busy yet different. I am loving every minute. This note will add more “meat to the bones” of the previous one, enlarging on the context I find myself in.
The village of Sitima is far more remote than I had envisaged; It is 23 Kms away from Zomba along a bumpy dirt road, taking about an hour in a car. The isolation and lack of facilities contribute to the low levels of education and consequently the levels of poverty here. Most survive on subsistence farming, the success of which varies tremendously often due to the very localised weather patterns. The local church has just been successful in gaining emergency funding to buy grain to feed those families who experienced low yields as a result of minimal rain throughout the rainy season in their particular area.
I have spent the evening with the headteacher of the local secondary school who filled me in on lots of background information. She struggles to get teachers and many of those she does get are of a low standard. The ones who stay at the school tend to be those that other establishments will not take whilst those who perform well move on to centres of population where facilities such as housing, regular electricity, running water, medical care and shops are available. I was puzzled as to why she kept inept teachers but she explained that they are appointed by the Ministry and if she complains she is told that they are the only ones willing to work in this isolated area.
That said it is a really lovely community, very impoverished yet full of good cheer. Wherever you go you are warmly welcomed and made to feel part of whatever is going on. I don’t think I have ever seen so many smiles but for some reason faces often become serious in front of the camera.
As I returned home tonight, the grain mill was going full pelt and would continue through the night. The electricity has been off for most of the day so those women who had walked 8 or 10 Kms, to mill their grain, queued and waited in the hope that the electricity would kick in once more. Apparently there have been times when some have waited for 48 hours or more.
Yesterday I visited a building which until 10 years ago had functioned as a clinic, but when budget cuts were made it closed down and since then individuals have had to travel to Zomba for treatment or even to buy a painkiller. I heard of a case when very recently a 5 year old child, was badly scalded with boiling water across her abdomen and the only mode of transport available to take her to hospital along that bumpy dirt road was a bike taxi – yes a standard bike with an extra seat at the back!
N4BW is currently working on a feasibility study and researching funding opportunities for bringing that clinic facility back to life but not only will the building need to be completely renovated there will also be the need to create houses for a medical team. Then there is the question, as with education, about whether suitably trained, qualified and experienced staff will be willing to be based out here.
This morning I wandered down to the irrigation project where most of the 35 plot holders were busy preparing their land for fertiliser. These ladies, of all ages, were working from about 6.00am in order to take advantage of the lower morning temperatures. It is anticipated that the water pipes will be set during the next week or so and the irrigation system fully operational by the end of the month. The great advantage will be the ability to grow cash crops such as aubergines, peppers and tomatoes during the eight month long dry season bringing in some very necessary income. To kick start the programme the women will receive subsidised seeds and horticultural training.
It is totally refreshing and heart warming to enjoy time with the children of the village. I teach them English and they teach me Chichewa, although they seem to be much better learners than me! I have spent a lot of time playing cards with them – mostly concentration and snap as well as the inevitable kick around. Their creativity abounds. You might be able to see in the photo that the ball is a home made one; a blown up balloon, surrounded by plastic bags and tied up with string. It was surprisingly good.
In closing I wish you all a great Easter weekend and will be in touch with you again soon.