Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Children of Livingstonia



Our first full day of mission activities in Malawi began with a tour of the Presbyterian mission programs--the spiritual legacy of Dr. David Livingstone, 19th centiury missionary of the Scottish Presbyterian Church. The town of Ekwendeni was the original mission and current headquarters of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP)—CitiHope’s first major partner in Malawi.


Directly across the street from the Synod of Livingstonia Offices is the CCAP Nursery and Primary School—one of the 40 social institutions that CitiHope provides protein-fortified soup products (see Dennis and Monique with kids). Mrs. Nkhowani, the head teacher, welcomed us and introduced our team of ten to her 76 kids (1-8 years old). We all sang and dance with them in the yard, and then Clarissa Holland, the United Methodist pastor on our team, read a Bible story from a new Children’s Bible she donated to the Nursery (see photo).

Knowing that most poor Malawian children do not have tooth brushes or understand about oral hygiene, we gave their teachers enough tooth brushes and tooth pastes—donated by Colgate-Palmolive—to distribute to all the primary school age kids (53). Monique Webb, one of the nurses on our team, gave an animated demonstration of how to properly brush one’s teeth and tongue to the obvious delight and giggles of the kids and their teachers (see photo).

On the same campus(Synod of Livingstonia at Ekwendeni)is the Presbyterian Hospital. We toured the Pediatric and Maternity Wards, and enjoyed meeting young mothers and their children. A CitiHope donor had supplied 30 colorful and quality diaper bags which we presented, one by one, to expectant mothers and mothers who had given birth within the week.


What broke our hearts was meeting a young woman who lost her baby in child birth. She sat alone on her hospital bed in the room filled with many mothers and their babies. Her eyes were downcast as she starred blankly into her blanket, next to the mother in the adjacent bed who had successfully given birth to twins. Clarissa and Josie comforted her, prayed with her, and promised to bring her a shawl rather than the diaper bag. We asked the nurse whether it would be better to transfer her out of the maternity ward to help her grieve the loss of her baby. The nurse said that would make her feel even worse.

What really got to me in presenting the gift bags was visiting the young mothers of sick babies and premature babies. One baby girl was born to a mother after 7 months of pregnancy, weighing 1kg. The nurse explained how, in the same way a kangaroo keeps its tiny young alive in her pouch while it grows, the mother as a human incubator can keep her baby “skin to skin” strapped to her warm breast in order to help it fully develop. I saw another baby in the critical care ward was covered with a severe rash—from syphilis, I was told. Josie and I tried to encourage the mother, who was about 14 years old and also infected with STDs that had been passed on. For such patients, and for those infected with HIV/AIDS, the nutritional meals we provide are critical to their treatment.


Our third visit at the mission compound was the Ekwendeni School for the Blind and those mentally challenged. The Head Teacher explained that the School was founded in the 1890’s and now has an enrollment of 29 visually impaired students and 20 who have severe learning difficulties. We were told our ‘soup’ was very tasty and they love it. They expressed their gratitude by providing a marvelous and creative concert of songs and poems that brought us to tears. ‘Angelic’ was the only way to describe the experience of meeting and hearing these blind kids sing.

Monique, again, gave instructions to the kids about how to properly brush their teeth: twice daily, two minutes each, reaching way back, up and down, front and back. Though they could not see, they could feel the toothbrush in their hand and practiced the motions with care and expressive delight. I would not have guessed at the time that I requested the donation from an executive of Colgate-Palmolive in our church, that this common product would be so valued and appreciated in Malawi! We have 1000 oral hygiene kits and soap bars to distribute this week, and I’ve made a note to ask for more.

During our evening debriefing session at the Lodge, we processed the day and identified what moments of ministry made us laugh or cry, gave us joy, brought us fear, discomfort, or peace. We each had our moments and agreed that this was a good day indeed.