Jayne and Sam in Malawi!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

What a Difference Six Weeks Make

Is it February all ready? I simply can’t believe how quickly the time is passing – I have been in Malawi for seven months now - it’s incredible. AND THE LIGHTHOUSE IS BUSY !!

Since January, things have taken off for us in a big way. So much so, that we are actually discussing the need for another member of staff here. Our customer numbers and our takings are now substantially higher and of course, this is wonderful news; if TLH is going to survive, we have to make this extra money. However, the flip side of this situation is that we are finding it difficult to offer the quality of service that is at the heart of our vision here. How we do things is very important to us and over the last few weeks, there have been times when we have been running around like crazy people. We have been delivering a conveyor belt approach to customer service – serving one person and then moving on to the next – it’s certainly not what we set out to do and yet we have had no choice. So the fine tuning of TLH continues; we have never been a regular business and making money has never been our first priority. We need the money – of course we do - but we certainly don’t want to lose the ‘personal touch’ that has become our business trademark. Perhaps the biggest casualty in all of this has been the work we do with local children. We get loads coming in to read our books and they really are a sorry sight – dirty, ragged and smelly. It is pretty heartbreaking, but it is wonderful to be able to give them the experience of enjoying books. Lately however, we have been turning these children away because we simply can’t supervise them – books have been stolen and damaged and obviously this is unacceptable. We have to find a better way of working – one that allows us to be a financially viable business, without compromising the quality of the work we do with our customers – adults and children. So we are moving forward with the determination to get a better balance here. Thus, the challenges continue and we are being kept firmly on our toes as a result!

As I said above, I am amazed at how quickly the time is passing by. In the seven months that I have been here, I have learnt so much – about Malawi and about its people. Entering another culture is a funny old business. The key difference between visiting a country as a tourist and actually living in a country long term, is that one gets to see below the surface veneer to understand how things really are. One is able to experience the culture in a far less superficial way. Malawi is universally known as ‘the warm heart of Africa’ and in many ways, I still believe this to be true. But there is certainly another side to the country and to its people and there is nothing warm about it. To put it bluntly, so many people here are ‘on the make’ and it is very, very draining to be on the receiving end of this every day. I have lost count of the number of times I have been taken advantage of; it is very upsetting – and expensive! People here have a habit of saying one thing and of doing another - it is therefore difficult to take people at face value and/or to trust them. It sometimes feels that truth and honesty are thin on the ground here and it is easy to get demoralized. Yet ultimately, it is a reminder of how badly many people here need the Christian faith and the values/morals that it embodies. People need to understand that there is a different way. That’s why the work of Joy to the World and TLH is so important.

Yet delivering charity in a country like Malawi is a complex and often difficult business. When you come to a country like Malawi and suddenly find yourself face to face with the kind of poverty that afflicts Africa, your first instinct is to give. However, what I have come to understand is that in many ways, this is actually one of the worst things that one can do. Seven months ago I would have found such a statement hard to believe – how on earth can giving to people in desperate need be a bad thing? The answer is actually quite simple – because it doesn’t help them to help themselves. Malawi has appalling poverty and the need here is all pervading – you can’t turn your head without seeing evidence of this need. People are circumstantially poor – of this there is no doubt. But the problems go far deeper than this; there is a spirit of poverty here that is hard to stomach at times. In other words, first and foremost, people see themselves as ‘poor’ and as a result, they expect to be given handouts. What they don’t want to do is work – work so that they can better themselves and their lives. If Malawi is ever going to move forward, this prevailing attitude needs to change. Joy to the World has a ‘no handouts’ policy and this is strictly adhered to. So giving money to people is a complete ‘no-no’. At first I found this extraordinarily hard, but now I know that it is the only way – it is a ‘tough love’ approach and absolutely necessary if people are going to understand their own responsibility within the situation that they find themselves in. So seven months in, I still regard Malawi as having a warm heart, but I am under no illusions that frequently, the warm heart on display is motivated by an ulterior motive. It’s sad, but true. I guess the key word in that sentence is frequently and it is important to acknowledge that I have met many wonderful, straightforward and honest people. I am currently preparing to return to the UK for a couple of weeks and I have been surprised at how sentimental I am feeling about the prospect of leaving – even for a short time. I have made many attachments here over the last seven months and I will miss these people while I am away. Being back in the UK is sure to feel weird and I am so curious about how I will respond. The thought of going into a shop like Tesco to buy food is something that is hard to imagine right now – it is just so hard to remember what it is like to have choice.

I arrive back in the UK on 6th March; in the mean time, thank you for your kind thoughts and prayers , which as always, are gratefully received. I look forward to seeing some of you soon. God Bless until I see you. Jayne xxx