My roommate, Kristen, and I were recently talking about her move to Malawi this summer to be an intern for 2 months for an organization that serves the children who are the future of this small country in the southeastern part of Africa. She said to me, “Malawi is sweet” and made me pause for a second. Although “sweet” may be one of Kristen’s favorite words, it is probably not how most people would describe this place that ranks 67th in the world with a population of 14.3 million but 15th in the world when it comes to people living with HIV/AIDS. Malawi’s economic state is not much more encouraging.
Malawi seems to be a country that I’m supposed to know about. In addition to Kristen’s travels, we have another friend who was moved by a trip there in 2007 and has since started an organization to provide secondary education for girls in particular and with subsequent visits her vision is really starting to take off. Then, the ELCA World Hunger program is starting a library of books and videos for congregations, groups, individuals, really anyone, to check out if they want to learn more or host discussions about a particular topic. We were asked to help start writing synopses of these to make the database for the checkout process. The video I picked up was a documentary called Lifecycles: a story of AIDS in Malawi.
Lifecycles provides a unique look at the country of Malawi, a place where there is no longer a family that can claim it has not been touched by AIDS. As a documentary, the filmmakers have real conversations with the people who are living in these difficult and uncertain times where 200 people a day are dying from HIV/AIDS and related diseases. 24 million people in Africa are infected, and an estimated 1 million of them live in Malawi. It examines various aspects of life from those who are considered wealthy because they can afford the medicines to fight their HIV to prostitutes who are aware of the dangers but feel they have no other option to provide for themselves. The film is only about an hour long and shows a picture of the country that most have probably never had the opportunity to see. (If you are looking for a copy of this DVD check out this link: www.amazon.com/Lifecycles-story-Malawi-Doug-Karr/dp/B000QRIK3G/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1246291681&sr=8-1)
I have loved learning about this country so far. While all of the statistics and stories about Malawi paint a grim picture, there is hope in this country and for its people. The documentary shows people who are clinging to this hope with such passion and it is inspiring. There are also people there on the ground, listening to what Malawians need and want help with. From Kristen and her ministry with the kids to our friend Cassie and her passion for the women of Malawi to the ELCA’s own partnerships with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Malawi (www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/Our-Three-Expressions/Churchwide-Organization/Global-Mission/Where-We-Work/Africa/Malawi.aspx) through our Companion Synods program, there is hope and it comes from listening to those who are there and living through the tough times.
If you want to learn more about Malawi, or any country, a great place to start is the CIA World Factbook at www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook. I encourage you to find someplace and start investigating. You might just find that seemingly down and out places have some pretty “sweet” things to offer if you look for them.