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July and August: Hanging with the Pres, a New Surprise Project, and the Best Camp Ever - Camp GLOW

Muli bwanji nonse?!

After several picture updates on the blog, it’s about time for me to descriptive update you on my service here in Malawi. WHAT A COUPLE OF MONTHS THIS HAS BEEN. I will give you a quick run-down on a few noteworthy events, but I will focus the blog on the one thing that has completely consumed this last month, Camp GLOW.

During July (my memory doesn’t seem to extend past there), we celebrated another Independence Day at the Ambassador’s house. It wasn’t nearly as overwhelming as it was last year, but much more laid back and the food was just as good, if not better. Once again, I ate twice my weight in food and went to bed a very happy and satisfied person. It will be the last Independence Day with Ambassador Bodey here in Malawi as he recently received a huge promotion for development in the Middle East. Another nice addition to the Independence Day weekend was meeting Jamie’s friend from home, Dorothy. I was able to spend a few days with Jamie and Dorothy and had a wonderful time. I don’t think it was only me who had a good time… I believe Dorothy had a blast, so if anyone is looking for an adventure, please feel free to join me here in Malawi for any length of time ;)

The following two weeks were spent meeting with the Sompho community talking about pit latrines… almost all of the small pit latrine bricks were ready to go, and they had another little surprise waiting for me also… another 8000 bricks (!!!) as a commitment to me if I would help them find funding to build an immunization and family planning clinic in their community. Wow. I was shocked. These projects usually take a lot of time, but if the proposal goes through quickly, I think everything can be done by the time I leave Malawi. Upon arriving to Salima (one year ago!), I swore I would not help with any construction projects. Many projects which involve buildings seem to go into a quick disrepair and disuse after the contributing volunteer leaves. After seeing how large the catchment area is, however, and noting how many women simply cannot access the health facilities due to the distance, I feel better about helping with this project. I should not forget to mention that the community came to me with prepared bricks and a commitment of community laborers. Their dream is to have it done in November. My role as a volunteer is not to provide mass amounts of monetary aid, but to see where a need can meet up with opportunity and connect the two. If this is truly as much of a community motivated project as it seems to be, I, against my original oath, have no problem helping out. The thought of providing a confidential place for women and mother’s to access birth control methods, for children to receive immunizations, and for the entirety of the community to be able to test for HIV feels good.

After a couple weeks of work in the village, the Peace Corps volunteer community was called into Lilongwe for a very special event, a Presidential Luncheon. The President of Malawi invited all volunteers and staff of Peace Corps to the Statehouse for a day of music, food, and drinks. No matter how politics fall into play – whether we all personally agree or disagree with the direction of the executives - it was quite the affair and as a “lowly volunteer”, it was truly humbling. How cool to say that I met, shook hands, and danced with (okay…near) the President of Malawi! Just so we are all clear, every portion of the “presidential” meal included meat. And yes, I ate it all.

What a perfect high to the beginning of my M-O-N-T-H in Lilongwe. The other Camp GLOW Coordinators and I made a new home at Mufasa Lodge in Lilongwe for our last month of preparation for what would be the Best Camp Ever (B.C.E. as we would commonly refer to it). No need to go into detail about those few weeks… it was a lot of menial tasks, stress, and blisters on my feet. I did, however, receive a soft bristled tooth brush from some new friends (to-be-dentists doing volunteer work for the summer) and it changed my world. The small things in life… *sigh*

Camp GLOW was amazing. Humbling, invigorating, and inspiring. We were graced with the presence of 75 campers, 7 incredible junior counselors, 7 local mentors in the role of counselors, and a host of willing Peace Corps volunteers. Most of our campers and junior campers come from the villages (not the city), where poverty and culture poses seemingly insurmountable barriers for young women to become educated and independent. This was most likely the first time they had ever traveled away from home. The week brought in motivational speakers – members of parliament, government ministers, a radio talk show host, teachers, nurses, a deputy-warden of the southern prison system, the director of the National Youth Council of Malawi, and… are you ready for it?!?!?! Joyce Banda, the Vice President of Malawi herself. Wow. That all of these inspiring Malawian women would respond to our invitation with an eagerness to motivate our campers had us all in awe. For many of the young women who attended, these leading ladies are their role models; they are people they hear about in the news and secretly hope they can become. Wow. In combination with curriculum focusing on self-esteem and leadership, reproductive health, the environment, human rights and planning for their futures, these inspirational speakers were paramount in affecting the transition the girls made during the week.

We witnessed some truly special moments – whether a girl opened up about her HIV status, traumatic events in her past or current life, the barriers she will face when she returns home, or the new lofty goals she set for herself – we were often brought to tears. I knew the camp was a success when one of our guest speakers said to me “these girls are truly listening.” The perfect close to the camp was our Guest of Honor, Vice President Joyce Banda (three girls made BEAUTIFUL speeches to address her), as well as the awarding of a scholarship taking one of our participants to Scotland for a few weeks next year. Some of these young women will be changed for good and Malawi will be the better for it.

It is impossible to describe every moment of the camp. Photos seem to do a much better job. I have already posted several on Facebook, but being that I am currently at Khombedza, uploading photos onto my blog would be near impossible. Next time I am in Lilongwe, I promise to post some on here for those of you who cannot access my account.

I can hardly believe Camp GLOW is over… it has consumed the majority of my time here in Malawi and if I left today, I would leave knowing that I did what I came to do. I am NOT leaving today, however, and am excited to be back in Khombedza re-defining my role as a Peace Corps Volunteer. There is much left to be done and I am eager to spend more time with my community talking about and acting on it.

I have invited a new friend to join me at my house here in Khombedza… Odi, a 6 week old puppy and my new night guard. “Odi” is what people say to announce their arrival at someone’s house. It actually means “zikomo” in Chichewa, or “thank you.” Thanks to Dannelle for giving me the idea for this name… now every time someone announces their arrival at my house, the dog will go and greet them.

This is all the news I can update you with for now… Hopefully having an (unreliable) internet source in the village will help me to be in much better contact. I miss you all immensely each and every day, but my heart is comforted knowing I have such strong support back at home. Thank you.

Abundant Love,

I also want to thank several people who have inundated me with packages in the last couple months, I am so incredibly grateful (believe me, after spending all my money surviving the prices of Lilongwe, I am happy to announce I will be able to eat throughout September!!).
Thank you to:

Dan and Rhea – the dehydrated ice cream sandwich was an entirely new experience, it was... interesting but good! I will let you know how the rest go :) How many fast food places did you raid for the mayonnaise and mustard packets? Awesome. The magazines will be a huge help as I prepare for job applications at home – you ROCK. P.S. Dan, I started training for a half-marathon… whether or not I do it here, you better be ready for me when I get home.

Brian and Kristy Rolig – you’ve lived in Malawi before, haven’t you? Even if some of the things were “pulled from your pantry,” you knew exactly what to send. I will take the pictures to Matenje for everyone to see. So great to hear from you, and thank you.

David and Art – I received your packages the day I left to travel back home to Khombedza. A week later, all of the Smarties have been devoured and I am still committed to saving the mac and cheese for my birthday dinner! :) I had a great time sorting through it all and I don’t think the gift receipt will be of any use. Also, I shared a few razors with some girlfriends… hah. You two are incredible. Thank you guys.

Alinon – You already saw me in the hat, your button is on my backpack, and I’m halfway through the book :) I love you, but you know that.

Aunt Debbie and Uncle Jeff – I have the prettiest toes and the best smelling armpits in Peace Corps. Sometimes there is no better way to cope with the stresses here than to pamper yourself for a day. The novel was AMAZING – potentially one of my new favorites, in fact. Thank you so very much. I love receiving your notes every so often as you are constantly in my thoughts. xo


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