Heaven Sent

Baby Emma came into the world on this day four years ago. Although, maybe it was four years tomorrow. No one is quite sure if it was the first or the second of June 2012, only that she arrived very quickly… and that the next day her mother was dead.

Arriving at HOH

I was volunteering at the orphanage the day the tiny baby arrived. Dressed in a purple taffeta dolls dress that was too big for her little limbs and wrapped neatly in a chitenje and big blue blanket. Her father had ridden for eight hours, with his mother sitting on the back of the bicycle holding Emma, to come and ask for help. Emma was twelve days old. Her family could not get her to drink the cow’s milk that one of their neighbours in the village shared with them. They could not afford formula. Sitting in Agogo’s lounge room opposite the grieving family and sleeping baby, I was brought to tears. And it was in this moment, as the cliché goes, my life changed forever.

The arrival of little Emma signaled a shift in my understanding of some of the issues faced in Malawi. It cemented my relationship with the orphanage and the vision that one day these children might not end up in an orphanage, instead living their days with their family because their parents weren’t dying from illness, child-birth, malnutrition or disease. The arrival of Emma also brought a purpose back to my life. For the first few days of her arrival she was in my care, until we could arrange another caregiver for her. The first 24 hours were touch and go. She slept almost the entire time and was barely taking in any formula. After twelve days of life she weighed less than 1.5kg. One afternoon, while struggling to feed Emma, my sister suggested using a syringe. We filled it up to 5mL and squirted 1mL in her mouth. She cried out and in doing so gulped the liquid down. We did it again. And finally she latched her little lips around the syringe and guzzled the entire 5mL.

Bath time

Curling up with Emma that night in bed, the smell of soap and milk lingering on her skin, I listened to her breathing. Unable to sleep, in case the soft little puffs of air suddenly stopped. My heart ached. It ached for the loss of a mother who would never see her baby grow up. It ached for a little baby who might not survive until the morning. It ached for all the children I’d met and spent time with at the orphanage who shared a similar story to Emma, or in some cases, far more horrific stories of their own arrival into the world.

That night, my heart also ached for myself. As the intricacies of my life were thrust into the spotlight of my consciousness to finally start to deal with, I realized that I needed to care about something again. I’d fallen off the rails at home: I’d left a few relationships in the space of a couple of years; been in a domestic violence situation; I’d lost an incredible friend to a plane crash; and I drank enough everyday to keep the grief, hurt and memories at bay. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the most pleasant drunk person either. I’d turned into someone I no longer recognized and I couldn’t stand the person I’d become.

Another favourite chill out spot

Maybe Agogo had sensed this and that was his reason for bringing little Emma and I together. Maybe it was God. Or the universe. Or whatever greater force it is that is out there orchestrating these moments that ultimately change our lives. Whatever it was, I’m grateful for it. I am grateful that four years on Emma is healthy and happy and loving life.

Emma 3 years

While we live in different countries, and I don’t get to visit as often as I did in her first two years of life, Emma and I will forever be linked. She may not realize it yet, and every time I do visit I have to work to regain her friendship and trust, but Emma inspired a dream that will, one day, improve the lives for lots of other babies and children in Malawi. Each year a team of dedicated people, that grows daily, come together to change the lives of women and children in Malawi. Firstly, through the sewing project to teach secondary school graduates sewing skills that could allow them to generate income, which led to the sanitary pad project, and now the Emergency Baby Home. Each step has been devised in partnership with the young women of the orphanage, providing them with support to make the choices in their lives. The Emergency Baby Care Home is not just a place for orphaned babies to live, as ultimately the next generation of young women would like to live for a long time and watch their children grow old. It’s a safe space for women to meet, to learn about pre-natal and ante-natal care, nutrition and health for women, and baby care. It’s a safe space for babies whose mothers perhaps cannot look after them because the mother needs support and care herself or the baby comes from a particularly vulnerable situation and requires high-needs care.

By the time Emma grows up, hopefully she will have the opportunity to choose for herself how the rest of her story goes. Hopefully she will be educated and able to step up and question the choices available to her. Deciding what is best for her future and re-writing her families ending, so that she too doesn’t die in child-birth leaving a baby motherless in this world.

Emma 19 months

Happy 4th birthday Emma. May your life continue to shine brightly upon this world. xx

If you would like to help mothers in Malawi to live long and healthy lives, or babies – like Emma – in emergency situations please consider donating to the Emergency Baby Care Home fundraising campaign.

em and em

Women of Malawi

I set off to Malawi with this idea that I wanted to document some of the orphans stories. Share what they have gone through at such an early age. But as I started reading and talking to the children, caregivers, local villagers and Malawians, my idea grew into sharing the stories of some of the women of Malawi. The women who are working hard to empower a country and change the course of the future for themselves and the next generation. The women who are left behind due to lack of services, education and health problems. The mix is vast, but there is a definite shift in the driving force behind empowering the country, particularly with the death of previous President Bingu wa Mutharika in April and the second woman head of state in Africa, Joyce Banda stepping up to lead the Republic of Malawi in a new direction.

Initially it was the children’s stories that provoked my interest in the women of Malawi. Children orphaned from parents dying of HIV/AIDs; babies buried alive at one day old with their deceased mother to prevent the mother’s spirit from being angered; babies orphaned as their extended family handed over the child as the mentally ill mother was raped and after the child’s birth the mother tried to kill the baby; a 9 year-old girl running a child-headed household on a social welfare payment of 2000 Kw a month ($7.39 USD) to provide food and other needs for her and her 5 & 6 year-old siblings; a 16 year-old girl fortunate enough to attend high school with the dream to be a Pastor, except in Malawian culture they do not allow women Pastor’s so instead she aims to study nursing after completing school. This is just the beginning of the stories shared. And they are horrifying and heart breaking stories, but after years listed as one of the poorest nations in the world and with global development indexes ranking very low in all areas of education, health, life expectancy, etc, there are many people working hard to change the outcomes for future generations.

Ezalina & her siblings living at an orphanage 4 years after they were found living as a child headed household

Magret is 12 years-old when I meet her. She is the leader of her choir group and loves singing. She is in Standard 6 and after school loves to hang out with her friends Dorothy and Ezalina. They help with feeding the younger babies or like to draw with their colouring in pencils. When Magret finishes school she would like to go to college to study to be a Secretary. Singing though is what makes her the happiest in the world. Margret knows that her mother died while giving birth to her. She also knows that her extended family buried her with her mother the following day. She is fortunate that one relative was upset by her baby cries that day and had the graveyard boys dig her back up, and immediately took her to the orphanage so that she could have a chance at life. Magret smiles while answering my questions and when I ask if I can take her photo she beams and begins posing with her friends and by her self, not shy of the spot light.

Magret and her friends

Female school attendance after the age of 14 is fairly uncommon. It is the females place to stay at home and help with the care of younger children or tending to the crops to help with providing an income for the family. This skill on the land though is being used in a new business strategy by women in the villages. A co-operative formed of women from the Sampha, Chalendewa and Kalumba villages outside Lilongwe, has a plot of land in the Sampha village where they grow organic Aromatherapy crops. Aromatherapy crops have the potential to bring in four times the income of Tobacco as they can harvest several times a year and co-plant other food crops in amongst the aromatherapy crops. This adds an additional source of income through food crops the women can sell at the market. The women’s co-operative has a workshop set up with a lab and distillation equipment in the process of being set up this month. They have received training through Build A School UK to use the equipment and are negotiating export of their organic fair trade oils and products in the UK and throughout Africa.

Women’s Co-operative farmers

As of April this year, the second female head-of-state in Africa, Mrs Joyce Banda has already begun leading the nation in an attempt to empower the people. Firstly selling off the presidential jet and 60 Mercedes limousines in an attempt to redirect the priorities of the government towards the needs of the people. The fact that the Republic of Malawi is lead by a woman is a huge step in overcoming cultural inequalities faced by the 7.6 million females of Malawi.

Mental health seems to be a common factor amongst reasons for orphaned children. In my short time visiting the country and reading through 600 of the almost 1 million orphans stories mental illness was a recurring issue. The mother was often noted to “go mad” after giving birth and either tried to kill her baby or herself. Suicide was a recurring reason for the mother’s death. The type of mental illness never specified. Mostly due to the lack of training of health officials (Malawi now has two qualified Psychologists) in being able to diagnose and treat Post Natal Depression or other pre-existing mental illnesses or conditions, these women are suffering silently. Their extended family often caring for the mother and her new-born baby, as the mother cannot cope or doesn’t want the baby. It is in this way that babies like 4 month-old Hugh end up in an orphanage after his mother repeatedly tried to kill him by flushing him down a toilet or attempting to put him in a pot of boiling water when he was less than a month old.

Malawi has a long way to go. But as more schools become available to support female attendance and health care improves the country is slowly improving its rank on the UN human development index. After years of oppression the women in the villages are empowering themselves, their families, communities and the future generation of women to come, through education and support from the government and many NGO’s. This is just the beginning of the story. It’s the tip of the research I’ve conducted for a longer piece I need to do at university this upcoming semester. The more people share with me about their lives, dreams and the future they are working towards the more I want to know. The more I want to return to Malawi and keep learning and being involved.

2012 Really Late Bucket List

I guess it’s better late than never. Making a Bucket List of all the things I’d like to do this year. It’s been easy putting one together. After sitting in front of my laptop all weekend typing assignments and with two weeks to go until the end of university for the semester, my mind easily wanders to the fun things I’d like to achieve in 2012.

So my bucket list for the rest of 2012:

1. Complete a 30 day Yoga challenge.

2. Watch the turtles hatch at Mon Repos.

3. Go to Tanzania (this is a cheat add-on to the list, because it is a new country I know I am going to visit soon).

4. Road trip all summer following wakeboard competitions and just generally hanging out in the sun and water.

5. Spend my 30th birthday on the beach chilling out with family and friends.

6. Do a remedial massage course.

7. Read a book written in Spanish and not understand a word of it (but try looking things up and see what they mean).

8. Learn to scuba dive.

9. Try a pole dancing class or circus acrobatics class.

10. Teach myself to make sushi.

I think in between university that’s a good list to aim to achieve in 2012. Now to stick the list to my fridge so that I am reminded of all the things I want to do with myself this year!

 

 

 

Distractions

I am coming into the final weeks of this semester at university.  With seven assignments due in the next month, I should be hard at work on these.  Instead I find myself scouring the internet for information on an idea I’ve had.  You know one of those projects you have a dream about and upon waking in the morning, it’s all you think about?  Well two days ago, I had one of those ideas and ever since I have been going through details to make it a reality.

The problem is that my idea is quite large and therefore wouldn’t be able to be fulfilled until March/April 2014.  Which is 23 months away.  Plenty of time.  Unlike my impending deadlines for my seven assignments at the end of May 2012.  And yet, I can’t shake my enthusiasm to start planning my project, even though I have more pressing responsibilities at uni.  Here lies the great problem with procrastination.  It’s far more fun to plan an overseas adventure than it is to analyse the techniques used and their link to social context in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights.  And without passing my classes at uni, the projects I dream up will never become a reality… because I will spend the rest of my life at university repeating subjects until I finally finish something.

So with this in mind, I guess the logical choice is to get back to writing assignments.  For it’s only one month away until the end of the semester and then I can spend seven weeks plotting and planning the logistics of my new project.  I guess in the mean time you’ll just have to watch this space to find out more…

ANZAC Day

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Lest we forget.

Today is a proud day in my family, like many other Australians.  A day to reflect on all the people who served to protect our safety and security as a country and their own lives they may have sacrificed in the process.  It’s a day to be extremely grateful for all that we have.  In my families case it’s a day to be thankful that we exist.

My grandfather, as many other grandfathers did, signed up and was shipped off to fight in WW2.  As far as we knew growing up, he had been involved in communications as a radio operator somewhere in the South Pacific.  He had played an important role, but never been involved in armed combat or on the front line.  That was the end of his war story… until the 11th July 2006, when we finally discovered the real story.

Squil Taylor Ming Cleary
Hawthorn

The day of my grandfather’s funeral was a sad occasion, but at the same time a celebration of one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.  My grandfather lived to 88 years of age.  He was married to the love of his life for over 60 years, until she had passed away two years previously.  He had received an Order of Australia medal for his work in the community and he’d had false teeth that he used to poke out at my sister and I, to send us running, screaming and laughing through the house to cuddle up to grandma or mum or dad, in the hopes that those crazy teeth didn’t get us.

I don’t think my Dad, Sister or I fully understood just how amazing he was until the wake held in the little rec room at my grandfather’s local church on a sunny July afternoon.  When we spoke with a friend of my grandfather’s, who used to bring him library books to read each week.  It was on one of these visits that a book triggered my grandfather  to share this story with him…    In WW2 my grandfather had been in the field.  He had been based in Victoria Township in Labaun, Borneo.  One particular Sunday he was supposed to lead his men out into the field, as per normal routine.  This particular Sunday, him and his men stayed in camp to attend a church service run by a visiting preacher.  They’d not had any religious guidance in months and my grandfather, a man of faith, didn’t want to pass up the opportunity.  This applied to the other groups of men due to go on patrol.  Some decided to stay and others decided to go.  On this particular Sunday, the men who stayed to pray, survived.  The men who went on patrol did not.  They made it less than 10 miles outside of camp before they were bombed/gunned down.

Bomb Dump

This is all of the story we ever received.  We’d always asked my grandfather about the war, but he always managed to vaguely glaze over his experience and redirect the conversation.  It was at this moment that my Dad, Sister and I wished that we’d continued asking questions.  Wished that we’d gotten to know the full story.  But it was too late.  We would never know the full details of the story or how close to truth it was.  But it didn’t really matter.  All that did matter was that due to a small act on faith, my family, myself, exist today.  It could have turned out very differently, as many other families have experienced with the loss of sons fighting for our country.  Anzac Day is a day to remember not just those that have served and continued to serve to protect our country, but a day to be grateful for the freedom and existence we have because of their courage.

Frank and Heather Makepeace

My Favourites

I have been looking through old travel photos a lot today as I’ve worked on a travel article about Malawi.  I couldn’t help myself.  It started with “research” of my photos of Malawi and then I slid into the South African photos and then I couldn’t stop.  I found myself going through my entire digital photo catalogue which, while it’s not all of my photos taken during this time, it is all the photos I’ve managed to retrieve and put on to this computer from 2007 until the present moment.

So todays post is another photo display.  Rather than all the usual pretty landscapes or standard postcard shots I seem to include with my posts, I’m delving into my favourite photos from the past five years of my adventures.  The candid moments, the people, the memories that I continually revisit from the absurd to the downright unbelievable to me just being a weirdo.  The moments captured that bring a smile and a laugh to my lips every time I see them.

My favourite photos…

She Walks in Beauty

 
She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
   Meet in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
   Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
   Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
   Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
   How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
   So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
   But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
   A heart whose love is innocent!
~ Lord Byron

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