At the end of September two parishioners from the Cathedral parish of St John the Baptist spent two weeks in Sitima, a rural parish in southern Malawi where Fr Owen O’Donnell, a Montfort Missionary, has been working with N4BW since 2013.
N4BW has a house near the parish church to accommodate volunteers who oversee development and missionary projects. Working through the local administrative and church leaders, projects are identified which will benefit those in most need of support, whether that be physical, emotional or spiritual, and whether they be of any faith background or none.
During my visit with Angela Stone, we saw first-hand the on-going projects currently being overseen by Marian, a volunteer from Kendal, who is reaching the end of a year-long placement. Amongst these projects are the construction/renovation of classrooms, school toilets with washing facilities, and teachers’ houses, as well as the self-sustaining provision of solar lights and fuel efficient stoves, leased on a long-term HP agreement to local people. Also, emergency distribution of food aid, funding of sports leagues and an irrigation project where 30 female heads of households can grow cash crops all year.
This project includes education on climate change, adult literacy, sustainable agricultural methods and business skills, available to the whole community, including schools.
There are also English classes, public health education and a local women’s group which is making washable sanitary products to distribute within schools – many girls leave school at puberty or at least miss one week a month.
An example of spiritual connection with people was a prayer meeting with a group of elderly widows; together we recited the rosary and sang the hymn ‘Ave, Ave, Ave Maria’ to the tune with which we are all so familiar. After the meeting there was a sharing of food and singing in thanksgiving.
The aim of N4BW is to help people move from poverty so that they are able to access those things that we take for granted, eg food, education, health care. But at times a family may need a direct donation of goods to relieve immediate distress.
One such family is that of Sarah, who is the aunt of four orphans, two of whom are disabled. The children are aged 8, 10, 12 and 14 and they live in a two-room brick house with a straw roof.
Sarah cooks, when food is available, on three stones. There is a pit latrine outside. When we saw Sarah, she was preparing to cook a small bowl of pigeon peas, the last food in the house, for the children. Through financial donations from St John’s parishioners we were able to provide some food for a couple of weeks, some blankets (knitted by the Knit & Natter group at St John’s), an eco-friendly stove, some clothes and a solar lamp (normally bed time is lit by a small pile of straw being set alight in the corner of the bedroom, and total darkness prevails when this goes out).
We were also able to put Sarah’s name forward for one of two vacant allotments at the irrigation project, so that she may secure an income in the future.
Other money given by parishioners and others was spent on the refurbishment of 30 desks for the top year students in one of the 17 primary schools in the area, whilst over £500 raised by a lady who also attends St John’s, who ran a marathon earlier this year, was put towards some of the new toilets at another school.
For further information on N4BW, how to support our work or to become a volunteer, please visit www.n4bw.org.uk.
Pictured above are Mary and Angela with Thomas and Veronica, the older couple, and some of their large family, nine of whom live in the two-roomed house in the picture, which N4BW has helped to renovate.