For me, it started, rather unglamorously, in Sainsbury’s in Bath in 2007, packing up people’s shopping into those bright orange bags. The next year I arrived in Blantyre on a three week trip with Kingswood School. From reading a bedtime story to Ephraim in Harrogate House, to swimming in the freezing cold pools on Mt Mulanje, elephants in Liwonde NP and getting covered in mud making bricks in Mangochi, it was an amazing experience. Although this trip only scratched the surface.
A new side to Malawi
I returned a three times to Open Arms. On the next few trips, my view became a little less idealised. It gave me a greater and more realistic insight into the challenges faced by Malawians and the important problems that Open Arms tackles. This wasn’t always an easy moment to face up to. In 2010, I witnessed the impact of a measles epidemic, which affected a lot of the infants in the homes. Particularly in Mangochi, where the local hospital didn’t have enough infant sized oxygen tubes. This story doesn’t conjure up the usual smiling babies and supportive ‘mothers’ at the homes (although, of course, this was a huge part of my Open Arms experience as well!). But gave me a glimpse into the struggles that the communities face.
The wonderful times shared with the infants, eating nsima and dancing with the ‘mothers’, is one of the reasons why I have returned to Open Arms so much, even with my whole family, and why I have stood out on those cold winter days shaking a bucket! However, the times that weren’t filled with laughter, when the matrons were stressed with getting babies vaccinated, the ‘mothers’ were struggling with problems in their own families, and a fuel crisis meant the home had to start storing fuel months ahead, is actually what has been a greater motivation. Open Arms fills a vital gap in the provision of infant care in southern Malawi and that’s been one of my greatest motivators.
A lasting impact
The impact of Open Arms’ professional and efficient model is highly effective. The sustainability of returning infants to their communities, rather than keeping them institutionalised for their whole lives, creates empowerment and benefit reaching further than the walls of the homes. Although I haven’t had the time to go back out to Malawi in the past couple of years, it’s been great to get involved with supporting fundraising in the UK. Along with others, I organised our first London event – a Pub Quiz! It was great to meet some fellow Open Arms ex-volunteers. We’re planning some more London events, even bigger than the last, so watch this space and get involved!
If you would like to find out more about volunteering with Open Arms please complete the online volunteer form or call 01423 530129 for more information.