Best eight days of my life (psssst don’t tell my own kids).
After meticulous planning I set off to Malawi in October with five other visitors to see the progress of Great Minds Bright Futures. And as always Malawi delivered with its mission to be the “Warm Heart of Africa”.
Given the schedule and the short time on the ground, I left my own three children in the UK and headed to Lilongwe. Thank you Claire my babysitter.
At the airport our Great Minds Bright Futures orphans accompanied by our superb team on the ground, to welcome myself, Katie Porter, Julia Marsden, Asher Edwards, Richard Edozie and Tiktok sensation ZaddyB.
We transferred to our hotel and discussed how our next few days would look.
Monday morning arrived and the team were greeted in Lumbadzi by orphans donning their Great Minds Bright Futures T shirts for our charity run into Dowa!
The kids set off at fast pace, chanting and running in-step with one another. Despite all my training in the gym ahead of the trip, the heat and the hills to the Dowa turn off made it difficult to keep up.
On arrival at Chunzu School we were greeted by 1,600 children all excited to see us and welcome us with song and dance.
I advise anyone reading this to join me on future trips, as it is hard to explain in words the happiness you feel with such a euphoric welcome.
Even now, I can hear the beautiful singing and see the smiling faces. Every child wants to shake hands, every child wants to touch your skin, as white skin is still rare in this region.
I will never tire of the endless smiles and joy in the eyes of the children.
During our short time in Dowa there were many highlights and given our packed schedule, this is not surprising. Also, the team on the ground led by Kennedy (Managing Director) and Charles (Finance Director) are doing such an amazing job encouraging the orphans. Coupled with the dedication of their team and our daily feeding, even from my visit in March, I can see that the orphans are thriving.
Each one the UK/Nigerian team on the trip fully emersed themselves into the community at Dowa. Asher led “egg and spoon races” and “goal scoring” competitions, Katie danced with 100 orphans when they were taught a new street dance routine, Richard encouraged the children to play games, Julia was the referee to many netball matches and Zaddyb showed so much love to the kids with smiles and cuddles. For myself I tried to speak in Chichewa to engage with the children as much as possible. I drifted between smiles and happiness at what Great Minds Bright Futures is achieving through to sadness and hopelessness for the scale of the problems we are tackling in Malawi as life for ordinary Malawians is hard. Please keep me motivated to have hope!
Everyday in the UK, I am involved with decisions that are affecting the lives of these wonderful orphans and it’s thoroughly rewarding to see some of those decisions playing a part in shaping the lives of our Great Minds Bright Futures family. For instance, one day we visited two boys (David and Yohane) in their new Government boarding schools. With our support we have encouraged these boys to attend Chunzu Primary School on a regular basis and do well with their studies. They came 1st and 3rd in their class giving them the opportunity to attend Government boarding schools, however, their extended families have no means to pay for their fees, accommodation, books, uniforms, shoes, food and other items. Great Minds Bright Futures covers all these costs and without the support of our lovely fundraisers, friends, donors we would be unable to do this.
David and Yohane are very happy in their new environments, meeting new peers, learning new subjects and enjoying the whole experience. We wish them every success in the years ahead of them, as we know with our continued intervention, they will achieve great things. We talked to other students who were also enjoying the school, which gave us a lot of comfort we had made the right decision for these boys. We reminded them that we are just a phone-call away. All boarders have parents who visit them on a regular basis. Can you imagine being the only child who doesn’t receive a visit from a parent? Kennedy and Charles with take this role and visit to encourage and remind them they are loved and not alone in the World.
Komanso (my favourite Chichewa word) which means “also” other highlights of the trip included watching the talent show by the orphans. Kennedy and his team had spent a lot of time in the run up to the event (and opening of our first ever Great Minds Bright Futures orphan day care centre) encouraging the children to showcase their skills. All children tried exceptionally well with singing, dancing, acrobatics, poem reading etc. It was hard to choose winners as they are all winners in my eyes.
Those who had exhibited the most efforts were invited to a trip to the Lake on the penultimate day of our trip. We set off in two minibuses with seventeen children for their first trip to Lake Malawi. They loved the journey and on arrival they couldn’t wait to jump into the Lake and splash around. I think along with the kids, I spent three hours in the Lake, the kids only coming out for food and a boat trip. In the Lake, the joy in their faces was beautiful to see. I just know that they will be talking about the trip to their families and peers for days, weeks and years to come.
As we arrived at a small island in the Lake by boat and one girl asked, “have we left Malawi?” I jokingly replied, “this is England”. She gasped with excitement. The sun was setting, and the children tried a little rock climbing, free of Heath and Safety risk assessments that would need to take place in the UK.
On returning to the beach the children toasted marshmallows for the first time ever. Can you remember the first time you toasted a marshmallow?
There was so much happiness on the minibuses returning home. I felt enormous pride that for as little as £500 (donated by well wishers, not charity monies) these children could have such a remarkable day trip.
Life is hard for Malawians living in the rural communities. During our time in Malawi, our team were made aware of a family really struggling. A single mum with two daughters. The girl’s attendance at Chunzu School was poor, as without food on a daily basis they were in no condition to learn. We were told the family were going three or four days without food. This is common. And often girls as young as 12 in Malawi are taken out of school to work on the land to grow food to feed the family or worse offered as child brides, so there is one less mouth to feed.
Great Minds Bright Futures had to intervene and along with Kennedy, I went to meet the family.
The home they lived in was basically three tiny rooms with almost no protection from rains or the sun, as the roof was in poor condition. The girls slept in a space no bigger than a single bed with no mattress and no blankets. Their mother spoke of how often they could go days without food. The outlook for these girls was very bleak. Kennedy explained how the girls were invited to Great Minds Bright Futures daily to receive food. It was like a tonne of bricks had been lifted from the shoulders of their mother who was struggling to make ends meet following the loss of the children’s father. A lump the size of Mount Mulanje was in my throat hearing and seeing this family.
We reassured the girls mum that she was not on her own, we left them with clothes, soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes, pens and pencils.
We also invited the family to the talent show the following day and extended an offer for the two girls to come on the trip to Lake Malawi.
In response, mum (and her daughters) danced and sang with joy.
At the Lake the girls were very quiet. I think it was a little overwhelming for them, but I know in time with my team in Malawi, they will soon be very comfortable in the Great Minds Bright Futures family. Without the kind help of donor’s, we would not be able to support children like these girls. I know we also need to replace the roof on the home for this family and help with bedding.
I know we are doing great things, but I know we can do so much more.
Please find it in your heart to support us with regular donations or perhaps hosting a fundraiser. Every penny donated to Great Minds Bright Futures will go directly to Malawi and help the children.
Finally, I would like to thank the UK/Nigerian visitors for giving up their time and showing so much love to our Great Minds Bright Futures orphans. The hope they have given the children is more than they can ever imagine possible.
Thanks for reading.
Founder Great Minds Bright Futures