Heather Palmer, co-founder and CEO, explains how African Vision Malawi started out:
I lived in Malawi, as a child, for 10 years, and, for some time, had wanted to go back. I didn’t, however, want to return to Malawi as a tourist. I had been supporting a charity called “Child Survival in Malawi” for some years and contacted them to see if anything could be done to help while I was there. They asked me to contact certain projects they supported, to report back on their situation and to take photographs. I asked Gaynor Cook and Judith Mackie, both members of St. Matthew’s Church, to join me. Gaynor is a photographer and Judith said she would take some video footage.
While preparing for the trip, Judith and Gaynor learned a lot about Malawi. For both of them, this was their first experience of Africa. Unlike other well-known African countries, which are frequently in the news, little is known about Malawi. This is due mainly to the fact it is a peaceful country, which has not been affected by war. It is also a very small country, slightly smaller than England, and is landlocked. Sadly HIV/AIDS and malaria are rife and there is now a generation gap leaving many orphans.
I had been in contact with The Central Church of Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) and, for some time, had been in contact with their representatives, Kafumbi Njewa and Essie Longwe. They were very helpful, both in the initial planning of our trip and while we were in Malawi. A few years ago St. Matthew’s Church, along with the community of Surbiton, Surrey, had raised £10,000 for WaterAid. This money was sent to Malawi and so we were asked by the Church to make contact with WaterAid and find out how the money was spent. Gaynor had also met Chris Knott who had started a charity called Starfish and they were building a much needed school in Malawi, and they too asked if we could visit and take photographs and video footage of the progress.
We left the UK on 1st April 2005, not having any real idea how much this trip would affect all our lives. The first full day in Malawi was a Sunday and we all went to church with Kafumbi and Essie: a truly amazing experience. People in Malawi queue up to go to church and in spite of all the difficulties they have to cope with, their faith is very strong.
On the first Monday of our visit we visited 4 villages of the 6 just north of Lilongwe, which is the capital of Malawi. In each village there were between 250 and 350 orphans. Over the next three and a half weeks we visited schools, hospitals, orphan feeding centres and malnutrition centres throughout Southern Malawi. There were encouraging signs in some, but others had little or no help, and the situation was heartbreaking. There seemed to be no orphanages, as we would know them. Orphaned children were placed with their extended family, normally their grandparents who themselves were experiencing great difficulty.
In general the people of Malawi do not want handouts, what they do need is some help to enable them to become independent and self-sufficient. By the end of our trip we had decided to set up a charity supporting the area that we had seen in our first few days; that had no support at all. On our return we decided to set up the charity calling it Landirani which simply means in Chichewa ‘please receive’ and we thought that a fitting name. Our Vision is to see a healthy, educated, self-sufficient community in Malawi.