“How did we not meet any snakes?” The screenplay of our trip to Africa

Cut to the airport in Prague. Five excited women stand waiting. Anticipation takes flight and takes us along for the ride. Eventually we touch down in Frankfurt and find our connection. As we board, the First Officer of our Ethiopian airline asks us, „Where exactly is Prague?“ It was only a few months ago that we were asking the same about Malawi.

Cut to Bole International Airport in Addis Ababa. Our first touch with the real Africa. Now that feeling, that realization, is sinking in, becoming more tangible. We are the ones standing out now, the ones who are wearing strange clothes. We take flight once again and travel through Blantyre despite it being further away than our final destination of Lilongwe, Malawi.

Malawi from above
Malawi from above

Cut to us, us exhausted and exhilarated five, standing in Lilongwe airport. The whole airport is one basic building, with high-tech finger and eye scanners accompanied with low-tech stamps in a paper envelope. From the very beginning, we discovered Malawi is a land filled with people who are quite simply nice, polite and humble. We are greeted by UNICEF representatives who are waiting for us with 2 Land Cruisers with massive antenae in the front. The cars look like Rhinos with wheels. They’re the domesticated kind though, and they’re kind enough to take us to our hotel. It’s during our journey to the hotel that one of our fears is put to rest. The UNICEF representatives assure us that when we finally meet that deadly snake we’re so afraid of that we take a picture, because it would be the first of it’s kind in Malawi. Relieved, we finally reach the hotel and settle in. Soon after we continue on to dinner where we meet our Canadian colleagues Viola, Natasa, and Jennifer, and our colleague from the IKEA Foundation, Jonathan. We’re here and together and everything‘s going to be alright.

The next day takes us to a meeting at UNICEF headquarters. We discover that UNICEF’s speciality is not just good will and empowering others, it is also, as acting director John puts it, „very good at providing death by PowerPoint“. With our weary eyes, but still beating hearts, we learn that providing education is much more complex than just teaching numbers to children. It is about survival, through health care and nutrition; it’s about development, through education; and it’s about participation, by taking an active role in the society. We also had the honor of meeting Mr. Michael Banda, who is responsible for education, which is in part sponsored by the IKEA Soft Toy Campaign.

UNICEF meeting
UNICEF meeting

Cut to Mchuchu school, our first fieldwork. The school is introduced to us by the Head Teacher, Elise, and the Deputy Head Teacher, Anette. They tell us about the history of this school and show us around the classrooms, toilets and bareholes. Then we meet them, it’s hard not to fall in love with them. Very sweet, very curious, they love the camera, but are still shy. It’s just impossible to stop taking pictures of these amazing children.

Looking at their pictures
Looking at their pictures

Later, we are invited to observe a lesson in Life skills. The subject of this lesson is regarding the barriers preventing effective communication about HIV. The topic provides us a new perspective and the only audience members more engaged than us are the ten year old pupils.

Thanks to the support of UNICEF, kids are now learning in classrooms
Thanks to the support of UNICEF, kids are now learning in classrooms

Cut to us now as we are being introduced to the members of a school committee and a mother’s group. They play a key role in the children’s education, especially the girls‘. These mothers are appointed from nearby villages and come together twice a month to talk to girls about their troubles. They also visit girls who dropped out of school because they had children. They are trying to persuade them to come back to school to gain an education, which would broaden their options in the future.

Meeting the mother group
Meeting the mother group

As we bid farewell to the children, who were kind enough to show us a glimpse of their culture by playing music with some buckets, complete with some dancing and singing, we handed over an IKEA Family suitcase full of goodies (i.e. pencils, exercise books and footballs).

As we close the door on the first leg of our adventure we look forward to driving a few hours to our next stop, Blantyre. Weren’t we just there yesterday?

– Petra, Adela, Stazi & Maca