Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A soft toy in her hands

In May, Rohde Åkesson and I from ADRA Sweden visited ADRA Malawi together with two representatives for the Swedish organization Water for All. Our purpose was to learn more about what ADRA Malawi does to provide people with water. We spent about ten days visiting various water installations, and we soon realized that ADRA Malawi is doing a very professional and competent work. But the visit included more than that. We also visited some of the beneficiaries in a Women Empowerment project that ADRA Malawi is implementing in the Mulanje area, and that ADRA Sweden is supporting with money from the Swedish Mission Council. We did this in order to give our friends from Water for All a better understanding of what life is like for people in the villages of Malawi.

One of the visits made a special impression on us. We stopped outside an ordinary African house built from locally made bricks. A group of children were standing outside the house. Or, they were not really children. Another year and they would be called youth.

One of them was a girl who may have been about 13 years old. Her clothes were colorful but worn. They looked very bright in the weak evening light – and when she saw us arrive, her face broke into a smile that was even brighter than the fabric in her clothes. Though she was poor she seemed to have the ability to enjoy life.

The girl had a soft toy in her hands, a small elephant, and while she was talking to her friends she was stitching up the neck of the elephant. Andiyesa Mhango, who was our guide and travel companion, told us that the girl’s parents were dead and she and her four siblings were now living with their maternal grandmother. The grandmother had a small plot of land where she grew maize and other foodstuff, but the plot was not large enough to give the family all what it needed. They had enough to eat, but the crop was not large enough to give them any extra produce that they could sell in the market. So money was a constant problem. There was no money for clothes or school uniforms – no money at all.

Andiyesa explained that this is why the soft toy that the girl was stitching was so important. It was her key to a better future. Selling toys gives the family an extra income. Without that income, the girl’s grandmother would not be able to keep the girl at home. She would have to marry her off, probably to an older man looking for a young wife. A couple of years later, the girl would be the mother of one child and expecting another. And when she was 17, the man would probably leave her for a younger woman. In order to provide for her children she would then have to find another man she could live with. A few years later, when she was 24 or 25, she would be the mother of four children, HIV positive and soon dead in AIDS. This is what life looks like for many young women.

But this is not the way her life will be. After the girl’s mother had died, the grandmother joined the Women Empowerment Project that ADRA Malawi is implementing in the area. One of the things she learnt there was how to start an income generating project. Since Mulanje is a tourist area, she chose toy-making as her project. And this has changed the life of the whole family.

The family is still poor, but they have a small and steady extra income that gives them security they did not have before. Now the children will be able to go to school, and they will have a better future, a better life, than what their grandmother has had. And all of it thanks to the small toy animals that the grandmother and the children are producing.

The visit left a lasting impression on us all. It made us see how ADRA changes lives for the better.

Author: Per Bolling – ADRA Sweden.

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