The first of a three-part series of reflections from a recent supporter visit to Malawi, written by the trip leader, EMMS International's chair of trustees, Angus McLeod
Nine of us set off from various parts of the UK to travel to Malawi to see a number of projects supported through EMMS International with a particular focus on palliative care, which has been a key focus of the charity within recent years. After we all met up at Heathrow we then still had three flights to get to our final destination, Blantyre, as we had to change planes in Lilongwe as the resurfacing works at Blantyre airport had over run. Amazingly, all our luggage reached the destination on time although the visa process at Lilongwe proved lengthy as usual and the transfer within the airport to the Blantyre flight somewhat stressful due to a lack of clear guidance and signage! Land & Lakes had provided us with both a guide (Vasco) and driver (Wellington) for the week as well as a spacious mini coach so that there was plenty of room for us, our luggage and for additional passengers on our later visits.
Our first night at in Blantyre proved a relaxing end to a tiring journey and we were all keen and eager the next morning to visit the Palliative Care Support Trust who are based at the Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre. We were met by Isaac Chikonde, a palliative care nurse and our guide for the day outside the Hospital and then taken by him to the offices of PCST which would not have been easy to find otherwise. There we were joined by three other members of the PCST Team, Deliwe (Head of Operations), Mwandida (Nursing Lead) and Alex (Palliative Care Doctor) who in the next hour or so spoke both eloquently and passionately about the palliative care services they provide at the hospital and their involvement in the Chifundo project supported by EMMS International. It was inspiring to hear them talk about their work but also encouraging to learn that at least two of those present had been supported by EMMS International to obtain their professional qualifications.
We were then provided with a tour of the hospital itself, which is made up of a considerable number of buildings all linked together by a network of walkways within a fairly confined city centre site. Our first stop was to the child cancer unit, Umodzi, the only one of its kind in Malawi, but we later went on to see a whole variety of the services provided by this government-run hospital. There was quite a bit of variation in the quality of the buildings we saw, which was brought home most when we briefly visited the building that had been financed by Madonna which was in complete contrast to the others.
Lunch had been booked at the historic Mandala House where we were able to tour some of the old parts of the house and it was lovely to have that time to chat more with Isaac and to relax as a group after our morning visit. After lunch, we visited All Angels Church, the original mission church in Blantyre and also saw the other facilities there including the new worship building and the outdoor amphitheater. An enjoyable and encouraging visit to what is clearly a vibrant church community with considerable outreach to the wider community.