Third day in Blantyre looking at projects

Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Blantyre, Malawi
Our day began a bit late. The car that we have been generously given to use by Cephas Chapamba had a flat tire and Gracious Mpilangwe had to repair it. He keeps the car at his home overnight while we are here. Among the membership in Blantyre there is only one car and it is owned by Cephas Chapamba and he is here only temporarily while he is going to school. He is seeking a diploma in clinical medicine. This will give him a higher certification as a medical officer. It's a position higher than a nurse, but short of a doctor. We live in a walled-in compound and rely on the scanty resources of others for transportation. This is not an easy place to visit.
Our visits to all the LifeNets projects and grantees had been very informational. We have been so pleased at the impact of Jennifer Myers who we had sent over this past summer to teach a "Business 101" seminar. This helped those receiving livelihood development grants understand better how to make a go of their enterprise. Jennifer has done a great job and left such a tremendous footprint in this area. My wife Beverly has been extraordinary in processing all the grant applications, communications with Lewis Salawila and managing all the progress reports. She has been the beating heart of both the Malawi and Zambia livelihood development success stories.  
We finally got going at 10:30, stopped at the bank to change money. The largest banknote in Malawi is the 500 Kwacha...which is equivalent to about $3.80. You have to carry a lot of cash. The lodge we stay at does not take credit cards, so you have to carry a large volume of cash.  
Off now with Mr. Salawila and Gracious Mpilangwe to those we have given LifeNets grants to and to talk to them about how they are doing.
Our first stop is at Manuel and Doris Thambo's home. He is a skilled buyer and seller of maize and pigeon peas. He buys them out in the country and sells to large exporters such at the Mulli brothers in Blantyre. With the money we have given him he has done very well. He understands the complexities and subtleties of the commodity market and has been able to turn modest profits. We were pleased to see how he was taking money from profits and reinvesting to buy (and thereby sell more) either maize or the pigeon peas that look like soybeans. Jennifer Myers seminar was applied well. 

From there we went to the home of Dixon and Modesto Chiwaya. She was given for a sewing machine and sewing lessons and he was given for tools in his construction work. That included wheelbarrows, picks, hammers, trowels and the like. With his tools and skills Dixon was able to land a nice contract to build a home. He was very happy and we were very happy to see another success story. Without the LifeNets help he would not have had the means to have do this work and thereby support his family.  
After the Chiwaya's we went out to Peter and Rose Kawinga's farming project. We had provided them pumps, both foot and gasoline to help them raise more food for their consumption and for cash. We have been very pleased to see what they have been able to do. However, the land that they are farming will be taken over by the government for a reforestation project. They live on the side of a mountain. But, it is uncertain when that will happen.
Then to Nicholas Mbicholo's home who lives nearby. He is a 70 year-old widower who has received a LifeNets grant for studying journalism. He has done free-lance writing and has done reporting for the Church. He does have a computer and his son helps him keep up the software. We are so happy to see our LifeNets grants lift people's spirits up and give them hope and new outlook on life. In Malawi a well-thought through grant can go a long way to bring transformation in a human spirit.
From there we went on to the Chirimba area of Blantyre for our last three stops. First we stopped by Lewis and Kudu Salawila's home. Lewis works as an accountant at Sobo bottler's. They are the only bottler of soda and beer in Blantyre and distribute Coca Cola along with many other products. He was just given a managerial promotion. We have helped him gain a higher certification in accounting and this helped with the promotion. We have helped his wife Kudu with some of her buying of blankets (among other things) and reselling them in Malawi.
Coming into the Chirimbe area we left Gracious and Cephas' car on the tar road. The road into Chirimba has got to be the worst road I have ever travelled. It was an absolute disaster with ruts, mounds, complete blowouts, high rises - you name it. We were calling certain sections of the road diamonds and double diamonds. (Skiers know what this means).
So, in order to spare our car, a taxi driver by name of Dennis Chinangwa. We had helped him with a grant to repair a car and make it into a taxi. He as done well with steady clients as a taxi driver and has been able to actually build a home from his taxi service. He and his new wife Flora live along this terrible Chirimba road. They met us out at the tar and we drove on in. After our stop at Lewis and Kudu Salawila's, we stopped at his home and visited with him and Flora. We have also helped her with sewing. 
Then off to James and Mary Mapinda's home where my Rotary Club supplied the funding for a bore hole that serves about 1600 people in the community. The water from this well was running strong. They have maintained the well admirably and have had the blessing of this water for personal use and irrigation as well as serve the community. I again thank my Rotary Club for this grant of about $2500 for the borehole.
Back to our guest house. For dinner tonight we are guests of Agnes Katsonga Phiri and her husband Mark. Agnes, as I mentioned, heads up Malawi's Customs and Excise. She formerly was the head of Inland Revenue for Southern Malawi. Her husband Mark is a Member of Parliament and a leader in the PPM (People's Progressive Movement), one of Malawi's active 4-5 political parties.
She is a most giving and caring person. Yes, she is tough and understands why people succeed and why they fail and clearly sees the African problems. She is an active Rotarian having served as Assistant District Governor of a an area that encompasses Malawi, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mozambique. She runs a personal micro-credit program for 800 Malawi women. She was late by 45 minutes to pick us up because she went over to see people whose adult daughter had died. She said that she went over to just sit with them and bring them some food.
They took us out to dinner at a Blantyre Steak House. We had an enjoyable evening, even though it was interrupted by phone calls. Mark Phiri also runs a large poultry operation and AXA, the largest bus company in Malawi. He is going to India next week to see about buying ten more busses to the fleet of 40 he already has in this country. Mark had offered to help us with his expertise in the poultry business to help our LifeNets poultry project.
It was a pleasant evening. The Phiri's took us back to our lodge, but seemed interested in the place we were staying in because it was new. They came in and met the owners Yahaya and Nellie M'maadi who showed them around. The owner was the former Malawi Ambassador to Egypt and many of the nice things he had in this lodge were furnishing he had brought down from Egypt.
It was a full and exciting day. What next? 
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