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Thursday, May 19

Snapshots from Malawi: Connectedness

It’s been one year since I returned home from my trip to Malawi with ONE and Heifer International. One year since I dropped my kids off at school on my first full day back then fled to my car and wept. One year since I could not figure out how to process all that I had seen and learned. Over that year I have thought a lot about the experiences I had in Malawi and talked with many people about the trip. As I’ve grappled with a way to explain it all, I think I have finally found the word that encapsulates what our visit to Malawi was all about: connectedness.

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

I did a quick Internet search on the word connectedness and found on Wikipedia that in mathematics “connectedness” is used to refer to properties meaning “all in one piece.” Bingo. That’s it. This entire world and all the people in it, all in one piece.

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

I wrote many posts last year about the trip but never finished sharing everything that I wanted to. I probably never will share it all, but today, one year later, I want to offer a few highlights that represent connectedness.

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

Connectedness happened…when a woman named Josephine in a remote village in Malawi gave her phone number to me, embraced me like a family member, and shared the amazing work she does organizing village savings & loan groups that give people the opportunity to lift one another through pooling resources. Her work is transformative.

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

Connectedness happened…when the women in Josephine’s savings & loan group decorated the folding table set up for the meeting with a tablecloth and vase of flowers, as women do pretty much anywhere there is a group of them surrounding a table.

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

Connectedness happened…when we visited a hospital in Monkey Bay and unexpectedly entered a pediatric room with two children inside, one a toddler, who was all smiles, and another older child whose body was visibly affected by malaria, even in sleep. The child’s father sat at the bedside with a look so worn and heartbroken I felt we had entered, uninvited, into a harrowing yet equally sacred space.

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

Connectedness happened…when we saw first hand the impact that the Global Fund (where all of (RED)‘s funds go) and PEPFAR have had in saving lives. So many lives.

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

Connectedness happened…when we took a boat ride on the Shire river through the Liwonde National Park, home to some 2,000 hippos and countless crocodiles, living in a pristine, untouched body of water. All I could think about on that boat was how desperately I want for the people of Malawi to experience development and prosperity, but that I hope we as humans can evolve and creatively find new ways to develop that won’t destroy these natural resources like we have done pretty much everywhere else.

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

Connectedness happened…when we sat with a group of HIV-positive mothers holding their HIV-free babies, babies saved by CRT therapy that is stopping HIV transmission from mother to child. It is nothing short of miraculous. PEPFAR’s goal of working towards an AIDS-free generation is about to happen and it is a thing to behold.

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

Connectedness happened…when a farmer named Mr. Mtika showed us his family’s new kitchen, a separate structure from their home complete with a clay oven that burns wood more efficiently than an open fire. Mr. Mtika mentioned that their family uses one-third of the wood they used to, allowing them to reduce their carbon footprint. The Mtikas don’t even have electricity and Mr. Mtika is acutely aware of climate change and his impact on it. (I’ll just let that sink in for a moment…)

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

Connectedness happened…when we visited a small labor and delivery room in a medical clinic on the shores of Lake Malawi. They explained the clinic did not have the resources for c-section operations and emergent patients must travel 30-40 minutes over bumpy roads to get necessary surgery. Under those circumstances I would most certainly not have my youngest son in my life today. The sorrows that room had seen we could only begin to imagine.

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

Connectedness happened…when we spotted a herd of elephants, with strikingly dark grey skin, walking through the forest.

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

Connectedness happened…when the man from whom we purchased hand-carved wooden jewelry and key chains on the beach of Lake Malawi emailed us weeks after the trip, to tell us that he and his family are doing well, how happy he was to have our support that day and that he hopes we will not forget him.

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

Connectedness happened…when, time and time again, we stepped off of the bus into a new community and were welcomed with smiles, songs, embraces and love. Genuine love.

Connectedness. That what it is all about. That’s why all of this matters, why ONE and Heifer International took a group of writers halfway across the world to see the issues, the problems, the solutions, the impact of foreign assistance, so we can continue to spread the word, to reaffirm our connectedness, the very fact that we are all in one piece.

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

As part of our trip we had the opportunity to meet with Oliver Pierson, Resident Country Director at Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), and Patrick Kadewa, Systems Operations and Power Trading Manager, Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM), as well as take a tour of the National Control Center for ESCOM. As a follow up to the trip I had the chance to interview the CEO of MCC, Dana Hyde. To refresh, MCC is an organization created by Congress in 2004 with strong bipartisan support to fight poverty by providing U.S. government foreign assistance in really smart and targeted ways. All countries that work with MCC are extensively vetted and each project takes 18-24 months to come to fruition. In addition, each country receives a scorecard, which you can (and should) check out here.

Dana and I talked extensively about why Americans should care about foreign aid. Dana pointed out that foreign assistance is not only the right thing to do and reflects our country’s values, but it is also in America’s best self interest to provide it to poverty-stricken areas of the world. Dana outlined three ways that U.S. foreign assistance has an impact, all three things that MCC is very good at targeting:

  1. Economic: The untold story of our government’s assistance is that, when done right, it can help provide markets and opportunity for trading partners for American business. We live in a global economy and aid helps with the growth of other economies, which in turn fuels our own.
  2. National Security: Extreme poverty leads to instability, so investments in fighting extreme poverty reduces the need for investing in security. (Dana referenced comments by Defense Secretary Gates from early in this administration about this very issue – click here to read his thoughts on the matter, which are awesome and make so much sense.)
  3. Shared values and a moral perspective. This one is self explanatory – assistance is, quite simply, the right thing to do.

So, I’ve shared my stories and experiences. Dana has explained why foreign assistance is good for everyone. Now what?

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

Believe it or not you and I can have an impact. There is always the option of donating money to different causes and organizations like Heifer International and supporting programs like (RED). But your voice is also as powerful as your checkbook. Organizations like ONE and the US Global Leadership Coalition are constantly informing citizens about legislation and actions we as citizens can take to make sure our government continues to fund foreign assistance programs.

For example, just today I received a text from ONE letting me know that the Global Food Security Act (S. 1252) is coming up for vote in the House. By responding to the text, ONE automatically connects me with my representative. That’s all it takes, a phone call to say you support the legislation! (Click here to find your representative!)

Connectedness: ONE - Heifer International Trip to Malawi May 2015 | photo by @janemaynard

Malawi will forever hold a unique place in my heart. I hope to return. My daughters write letters to Mr. and Mrs. Mtika’s daughters, who are the same age as they are. I hope these girls can stay connected and meet in person one day. But beyond Malawi, I hope that the fire I felt after that trip to tell the world how intimately and beautifully we are all connected never fades. (This is to say that if you ever ask about my trip to Malawi, get comfortable.)

Malawi, you truly are the warm heart of Africa. Thank you for sharing your sorrows, your joys, your people, your love.

 

I traveled to Malawi as an expense-paid guest of The ONE Campaign (www.one.org) and Heifer International (www.heifer.org). We visited to see the economic progress—and the lives changed—made possible by U.S.-funded programs and Heifer International’s donor-supported programs.

ONE is a campaigning and advocacy organization of more than 6 million people taking action to end extreme poverty and preventable disease, particularly in Africa. Not politically partisan, ONE raises public awareness and presses political leaders to combat AIDS and preventable diseases, increase investments in agriculture and nutrition, and demand greater transparency in poverty-fighting programs. ONE is not a grant-making organization and does not solicit funding from the public or receive government funding.

Heifer International’s mission is to end hunger and poverty while caring for the Earth. For more than 70 years, Heifer International has provided livestock and environmentally sound agricultural training to improve the lives of those who struggle daily for reliable sources of food and income. Heifer is currently working in more than 30 countries, including the United States, to help families and communities become more self-reliant.


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