Today and tomorrow – that’s all that remains of my Leave For Change mandate with the Agricultural Research and Extension Trust (ARET) of Malawi. Two working days with which to finalize a set of deliverables, including a final report full of recommendations and ideas for partnerships that is intended to provide a path towards a long term program for effective data management, community outreach, education, and extension. Two working days to complete the various reports and exit documentation for World University Service of Canada (WUSC). And of course, two working days with which to say farewell – but not necessarily goodbye – to the amazing people I’ve had the opportunity to work with for the past four weeks, and the incredible friends I’ve made along the way.
It’s going to be a very full two days.
It’s a little hard to believe that four weeks have flown by so quickly. I’m sure that as I board the plane on Friday I’ll be feeling as if I had just stepped off the plane, blinked, and turned around to head back home. But despite the seemingly impossible bending of space-time that connects the beginnings and the endings of remarkable experiences, I know that in the space between I’ve collected countless memories, satisfied childhood dreams, added new and amazingly brilliant people to the list of people I call friends, and hopefully helped in some small way to build the resiliency and capacity of an incredible country and deeply beautiful people.
The more I sit and reflect on this experience, the more I am impressed and inspired by Malawi and its people. Although the country is listed as one of the poorest in the world, and given the very real challenges that the country faces in light of climate change, food security, and insufficient infrastructure (to name a few), the people carry on every day with huge smiles. They speak about the beauty of Malawi from a place rooted deep inside, and in a way that tells me that they will not simply manage adversity, they will triumph over it. The spirit here is incredibly strong, and it’s impossibly inspiring.
Malawi is indeed the Warm Heart of Africa. It’s evident in the burnt red soil, and in the brilliant red and pink and orange sunrises and sunsets. But more than that, much more than that, the Warm Heart of Africa is a badge of honour, an attitude and way of life that is evident in the smiling faces of every single person I meet here, in their unreserved hellos and good mornings or good evenings whenever I pass by. It’s in their hospitality and their desire to share their culture and language unashamedly and freely. This attitude seems to radiate from within them regardless of what they are doing or what their current lot in life, and it’s at once both heartbreaking and beautiful. It’s heartbreaking because the challenges they deal with every day could easily be solved if we spent more time caring about our fellow human beings than what any random celebrity is wearing, but it’s also incredibly beautiful because it speaks of a strength and resiliency and purpose that I hope to carry with me when I leave Malawi.
Ultimately as I spend my last few days finalizing paperwork and putting the final touches on deliverables, I feel that I’ve cheated the system. WUSC sent me here with a mandate to work with ARET, to teach skills that would build capacity and resiliency in the organization so they could more effectively do the important work they do with and for the farmers of Malawi. But after four short weeks I feel that I’m about to leave here having learned far more than I’ve managed to teach, having shared in experiences that I would never get to experience at home, and having been reminded of the things that I take for granted on a minute-by-minute basis back home. I have gained so much from this trip that it seems for me to leave now is unfair, that I haven’t done enough with my time here. Malawi has given me far more than I feel I could ever give it in return, and for that I’m eternally grateful.
I will miss this place but I know I’ll return. And in the time between then and now, I’ll do my best to keep the Warm Heart of Africa alive as I go about my day-to-day life.