'Over the past couple of days we have cycled over 160 km north, the countryside growing greener and more hilly. We continue to pass by numerous villages greeted by curious children, and small towns with roadside stalls selling fish, cassava, sweet potatoes and carpenters selling household furniture.
As a group we are getting to know each other, as we chat, laugh and encourage each other along the way, with our regular pit stops for food and drinks. Yesterday we passed beautiful scenery as we skirted between Lake Malawi and thickly forested hills, and later a sugar cane plantation. We were rewarded with a most comfortable overnight stay at the Makuzi Beach Lodge, where we dined on the beach under the stars. An added bonus was the whistle stop tour our guide Henk gave us of the astronomy of the southern hemisphere, quite magical.
Our cycle this morning was a pleasant undulating ride, in bright sunshine. The purpose of today was a visit to one of EMMS’s Nyanja projects at Chilambwe, which is providing training for nurses and new accommodation in 8 areas around that Lakeside. As a result 50,000 people are benefiting from improved access to health care in local clinics.
In the late morning we were met at the roadside by Dr Lynn Dowds from Livingstonia hospital and the project manager Mphatso, to lead us to the village. Although only a distance of 8 Km, the cycle proved unexpectedly challenging, up and down a deeply rutted, stony, dirt track, carrying our bikes across small streams and then a river where the bridge had been washed away by the floods of 2 years ago. As we arrived at the village we were greeted by dozens of curious children shouting “azunga, azunga” which means “white traveller”, none had seen a group of white people before, especially on bikes! One of our guides had bought all the female cyclists Malawian wraps to cover up, and Mphatso helped us to tie them appropriately.
After being welcomed, a nurse told us about the work of the clinic before guiding us round.
The daily health challenges faced by this small nurse led clinic are unimaginable to us at in the West. There is no direct access to water, and all water has to be fetched and carried some distance. This can be very serious in the summer if there is a drought. For the past 2 years, since the bridge was destroyed, there has been no vehicle access to the village.
In the event of serious illness the patient has to be carried by stretcher over very rough ground for about 30 minutes and carried across the riverbed, and then driven over an hour to the nearest District Hospital. This presents enormous problems coping with any medical emergency and particularly obstetric complications. The clinic was built over 35 years ago, funded by churches from the UK, but all the equipment now requires to be replaced. They have inadequate supplies of bandages and medications. There is also no electricity.
We were able to see the very basic maternity delivery room and the consultation rooms where daily health clinics are held. It was very poignant seeing 2 mothers nursing new babies, who whilst healthy appeared tiny compared to newborns at home.
Despite the many challenges faced by the staff, they are all cheerful and optimistic. They work so hard with the limited resources available to serve the community as best possible. They pray that more funds and resources will be provided, (especially the rebuilding of the bridge) and ask for our prayers in support of this. We were all profoundly affected by the unimaginable poverty in the village, just one typical example of countless others across rural Malawi. It was also humbling to see how the funds donated by EMMS are used so effectively to bring about positive improvements in the lives of these people'.