For many years there has been this little dream simmering away in my heart, to somehow make myself useful in Africa. I’ve always had this fascination with all things African, even as a child, and when I traveled to Tanzania several years ago, I absolutely fell in love and just knew I had to come back someday. But it wasn’t until after my husband and I separated, I decided to focus on turning this dream into reality and the planning got underway. And no matter how hard things got, I reminded myself it was OK, because I was going to Africa. How blessed are we to have the resources to make our dreams come true? But as often happens when the universe works it’s magic, things turn out even better than you could dream up yourself. This was definitley the case when late last year I traveled to Malawi to work for ADRA Australia / ADRA Malawi (a development organisation, which if I can do anything about it will soon be a household name, as it already is in Malawi, because their work is just incredible!).
How do I even start by describing my experience? Probably the best way is to say that I’ve never felt so alive! I cried so many happy tears while I was there, and it simply felt like my soul had come home. Every day was a pinch-me-now moment! My brief from ADRA was “go capture the amazing things that are happening” (music to any photographer’s ears, right?!), and I was absolutely blown away by what I saw and learned. For almost two weeks I was surrounded by positivity, gratitude and hearty Malawian laughter, as I listened to stories of empowerment and how people were able to thrive and realise their individual gifts by being given the opportunity they needed. Having worked in rehab here in Australia, I feel so lucky that I was able to come in at the very end of a programme that has been running for several years, after all the hard work has already been done, and hear all about the amazing progress made overall. Each day I interviewed and photographed two people, and sitting on the ground or the front porch, chatting and listening to stories shared from the heart, was truly my happy place. And have I mentioned the singing??? I best not or I might start crying again 😉
What struck me the most was how every.single.person I spoke to was so proud of their accomplishments, and the feeling of empowerment and gratitude simply shone out from them. ADRA takes on the approach of rather than giving hand-outs, to give a hand-up, and all interventions are based on community consultation and self-direction. For example, after a community has demonstrated commitment to a savings and loans (community banking) programme, whereby they pool their own resources and grow their own funds through interest paid, then incentives are given to complement the hard work already being done by themselves. This may include incentives such as goats, or a window or a door for their home. At the end of the trip we delivered the images taken whilst there, as a way of saying thanks, and the reaction within communities was just priceless! It was one of the happiest days of my life! Don’t miss the video below (but please excuse the shaky footage-it was my first time videoing and I was just a tad excited!!!).
I feel so grateful to have been part of the ADRA team, and to finally at the age of 38 to have found my passion in life! Thank-you so much for having me. To my beautiful Malawian family, thank-you a million times over for making me feel so welcome, and for just being you. The passion and care you have for your work was truly inspiring, and none of the images taken would have been possible if it wasn’t for the warm relationship you have within communities. Thinking of you all as you deal with the flooding at the moment.
So I invite you to imagine you’ve just received this warm Malawian welcome and the straw mat has been laid out for you. Come and sit with us and enjoy some amazing success stories…some of the most treasured memories of my life…Muli Bwanji :-)