After a long night’s rest under mosquito netting—which felt magical and odd all at once—we awoke with warm(ish) showers and a spread of delicious breakfast food. Our first meeting was held at the national headquarters of World Vision Malawi. We met with a woman named Lucy, head of MWASH, which stands for Malawi Water Sanitation Hygiene. Since 2006, Watering Malawi has been partnering with the organization to access clean water and sanitation—everything from toilets and hand-washing stations to fish ponds. MWASH is large-scale, long-term program with many organizations involved, but as Lucy explained with a deep sense of gratitude, “Colleen, you brought MWASH to Malawi.” It was a touching moment to witness (no doubt many, many more will follow).Talk turned to a new program that World Vision is launching in other countries called Strong Women, Strong World. It is currently in Mali, Niger, and Rwanda. Watering Malawi is interested in furthering a conversation with World Vision Malawi about how to leverage the work we are already doing to empower young girls. Lucy had copies of new reading materials they were distributing. What’s the connection to water? It is hard to teach water and sanitation hygiene to people who don’t have a basic education. The concepts around the importance of healthcare are too complicated to grasp. So we discussed the development of literacy programs with young girls (exciting!), and we compared a Watering Malawi-designed coloring book with primary school pamphlets designed by World Vision. Before we left, we laughed about a wrap Colleen wore on her last visit. Lucy remembered her wearing it because it was a very dated print. Yes ladies, fashion is everywhere! New Malawian prints come in and out of style. Just like us, Malawian women love color and design in their fabric.
So with fashion on the brain, we set out to discover a little place with a brilliant name: Smart Lady Boutique, run by a strong woman (notice a theme here?) named Rwinda. We practiced our bargaining skills at the local markets, then filled up on fried chicken and fries from Chicken Land (Malawi’s Chick-fil-A) before heading to our next meeting with another organization on the forefront of water education.At MATAMA (Mineral and Appropriate Technology Applicable in Malawi), we met the executive director, Mr. Mapulanga, who took us to a school in the city. Watering Malawi has partnered with MATAMA to put new bathroom and hand washing stations there. This statistics from this school are staggering, so prepare yourself. This school has 8,725 students (almost three times the size of my college!), 108 teachers, 32 toilets, 2 hand-washing stations, and 1 spigot for gathering fresh water. Yes, 1. Each classroom is about 20’ x 25,’ and on average, 400 students cram into the space. To handle the growing population, they’re building additional classrooms. But space will forever be an issue as over-crowding in the city remains a problem to be addressed on many levels. The toilets contained urinals, both for boys and for girls. Girls and urinals? (I asked). Girls squat to go to the bathroom (and they aren’t familiar with commodes), so urinals ensure that the run-off is collected somewhere sanitary. Wow.As we gathered under an acacia tree with school board members, advisors, and head teachers, we listened to each person express their thanks for the work of MATAMA sponsored by Watering Malawi. But as Colleen explained, we weren’t the ones to thank. It is the gifts raised by young girls and boys from Boston to Hawaii who’ve made it possible.When the time came to leave the school, children ran up in packs, cheesing for photos and goofing off as they do. It was a wonderful reminder that children are children, no matter where they live. What separates us is merely a matter of where we’re born.