Visiting LifeNets Projects in Blantyre--day 2

Monday, October 06, 2008
Blantyre, Malawi
We got off to an earlier start today because I wanted to get to an Internet Café and buy a cell phone. They are very cheap here. You can instantly get a number and buy prepaid credits.
As those reading this blog see, I finally got some entries for this blog up, but it was a painful process at the Café. Forget uploading photos. It doesn't look good for the next few days either.
We waited in the lobby of the lodge and chatted with several of the friendly staff. One was a young lady who just started here a few days ago. When we told her that we were with the United Church of God, she said that her grandfather was a member of our church. Through him she is related to many in the Church.
The discussion turned quickly to politics as they wanted to know what we felt about the upcoming national election. If Malawi voted, 110% of the vote would go to Obama. They asked if we happened to have an Obama T-shirt with us. I could have made a lot of money if I brought over a suitcase of Obama T-shirts.
Gracious M. and Mr. Salawila came by shortly after 9:00 am and we started with the Internet café. I wanted to see if there was any email. I answered a few urgent ones and posted the text of my blog so far. Don't have any idea if it was successful.
Then we went to Mr. Salawila's 86 year-old mother Felestina Kang'gona who lives in the same township of Blantyre as do most of the Salawila's: Ndirande. It resembles and in many places is a squatter's refuge with 300,000 people packed into a small area. It is full of people just standing around with no meaningful work. We asked our hosts, "what do these people do all day long?"  Their answer was that their sole purpose for the day was to get, find, work for enough money just to put something into their stomach. This was the lowest point of poverty that we have seen and it's everywhere here. The rest of the city of Blantyre is 300,000, but is much bigger in geographical area. The outlying areas of Blantyre make for about a 2,000,000 population metro area. It is Malawi's largest city and has heavy British influence going back to Colonial days.   
While Ndirande is an overpopulated area of poverty, it is relatively safe. The Malawian people are kind-hearted and have a natural humility that you have to experience first-hand. The country's tourist bureau has Malawi described as "the warm heart of Africa." 
After our visit with Mr. Salawila's mother, we headed over to the Salawila's home. There we met the family as usual. We are politely greeted us coming before us, bowing or kneeling and kindly shaking hands. It was that way in every home we visited. 
We saw the knitting machine that Mrs. Selya Salawila received from LifeNets. Their son Shadrach has been on LifeNets Developing Nations Scholarship Program and studies journalism. This is the first time we met him. He is really sharp and has a great deal of ambition in advertising and journalism.
The LifeNets maize mill is next door and we visited it. People were coming in throughout the time we were there. Often it was ten year old girls bringing in maize to be ground. This is my first visit since the sheller was added. One problem that has arisen is competition from two close-by maize mills and we talked about a marketing program to keep customers loyal.  
From this location we walked down about 150 yards to where Bilton and Miriam Salawila, live, have their music studio and tailor shop. Again, they were helped with LifeNets grants. He currently has ten students and is building up his clientele to about 20. They seemed like such a happy family.  
Then we went to a densely populated shopping area in Limbe, a suburb of Blantyre. There we have helped a young lady Hlupekile Chirwa with a sewing machine, cloth and other items. This helped her get set up in this choice market area to sell her goods. She works there five days a week from 8 to 4.  
Then we went and bought a cell phone. We got more world cell phone education today. In these countries, cell phone use is prepaid units use. Not at all like the calling plans in the US and other Western countries. You buy a phone, a SIM card (which contains your phone number and ties you into one of the networks), and however many units you want to buy. We were up and running in minutes and had our own phone number and made some calls right away.  

The Malawians are much more advanced than our people in the use of cell phones. We were told that in the smallest of villages, people have cell phones and expertly use them. When we got our first lecture about SIM cards, units, networks, we were overwhelmed. But then learned how the natives do it here and really saw how little I knew about cell phones. In spite of the poverty, you see people yakking on mobile phones. They are very cheap and the way they are set up, they are easy to use and have access to air time. We quickly ran out of units. We bought 700. We didn't know that that meant 700 SECONDS. They went by fast.
On to our last call for the day - about 30 miles away to the east of Blantyre and close to the Mozambique border. There we visited the Ken Meire family living in the village of Mikunde. We gave him a livelihood development grant to start a little grocery for the community where he's in. It is an area again of extreme poverty. In the dry season the people have to walk two miles for water. The closest grocery of any kind is on the main highway, again a few miles away. The location for this store that will sell basic items like soap. The grocery was not fully finished, but it was good to see where it was located and the area it would serve. These are things you can't fully grasp from write-ups and descriptions.
Sunset comes early-about 5:30 PM. We completed our second full day of visiting projects. Tomorrow is our last full day here in Blantyre before we go north to Balaka and Lilongwe. 
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