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The Republic of Malawi is a land-locked nation with Southern Africa, although it is considered be situated in East Africa. It is bordered between Tanzania, (to the north) and Zambia (on the north-west) and Mozambique on the east, south and west. Lake Malawi makes up for about a fifth of the country's territory. The capital city is Lilongwe. With a population at 12.159 million people, and stretches through most of it's eastern border. (7/05) 85% of whom live in rural areas. Malawi is one of the world's poorest countries (GNP per capita is $170). Malawi is one of Sub-Saharan Africa's most densely populated countries. The population of Lilongwe alone --Malawi's capital since 1971-- exceeds 400,000.   The population age/ratio: (0-14): 46.9% , (15-64): 50.4%, 65+: 2.8%. The official language is English and Chichewa the regional language.

Historically: Dr. Banda became Prime Minister on February 1, 1963, although the British still controlled Malawi's financial security, and judicial systems. A new constitution took effect in May 1963, providing for virtually complete internal self-government. The Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was dissolved on December 31, 1963, and Malawi became a fully independent member of the (formerly British) Commonwealth on July 6, 1964. Two years later, Malawi became a republic with Dr. Banda as its first President and was also declared a one-party state.

Humanitarian crisis: Life expectancy in Malawi is now as low as 36.5 years; five years lower than it was 50 years ago. This drop is due to population's impoverishment, which is constituted by many factors:
-low income (per capita income in Malawi is less than $1 per day)\
-insufficient nutrition
-poor access to medical treatment
-insufficient school education
-spread of HIV/AIDS

Health: Child mortality is 103/1000. There are more than a million orphans, 700,000 of which became orphans when their parents died of AIDS. According to Malawi the government estimates 14.2% of the population are HIV-positive, and 90,000 deaths in 2003 were due to AIDS. Unofficial estimates based on private hospital entries give a HIV infection percentage of 30%.

Nutrition: Malawi's staple food is maize but like other countries in Southern Africa, Malawi has repeatedly been affected by famines since 2002, when food was scarce for almost one third of the population. In 2003, 30% of the population was affected. According to a Food and Agriculture report from June 2005, 4.22 million inhabitants of

Malawi, 1/4 of the population, would not have enough food in 2005 to survive. In the south of the country, the rate of the population affected will be between 55% and 76%.
Literacy rate total population (58%)- male: (72.8%) female (43.4%) -----Per capita income = $170 (2005 est.)

What was the story I was covering?
In January 2006 I took my first trip to Africa. (Club Med Morocco when I was 9 years old does not count!). I have wanted to travel to Africa for so many years and I have a feeling I will be continuing my travels here for quite some time. Plan USA had asked me to document the ongoing food crisis in Malawi and cover what programs (long and short-term) they were a part of. While I had heard of the droughts and flooding in East Africa I knew very little else about Malawi; and so began my research and my journey,

My introduction to Malawi began with my meeting with the Plan Communication Manager, Patrick Zgambo. Over the next 10 days Patrick and I were joined at the hip traveling from the Southern to Northern tip of Malawi. I could not have been any luckier to have this wonderful host and guide. He was a slender gentle giant of twenty-nine years, who was more than accommodating with my every wish, and calm beyond my imagination!   Extremely well informed with all the work that Plan is involved in and so passionate about being a part of change for his Country.

My experiences in Malawi will stay with me forever! The land is vast and breath taking, and the people are full of such joy and happiness. But with all the challenges that they live through daily, I witnessed no pity and no doubt, and a tremendous amount of hope and determination to make their lives better. Their attitudes were fantastic! And their enthusiasm for working with Plan was an honor to witness. Plan 's approach has always been about "team work". Instead of going into a village and "telling" the community members "what to do" ---their approach is to meet with the Chief of the Village and the community to find out what they need and how together they can work to achieve this.

Why is there a food crisis is Malawi?
Malawi is facing a severe food crisis.   According to UNICEF it is estimated that 4.2 to 4.6 million of the population of approximately 12 million will face food shortages between now and the next harvest in March 2006. The crisis is born chiefly out of years of successive droughts. This year yielded 26% less maize than last year's harvest. Though the country has one of the largest lakes in the continent, irrigation schemes are limited and changing climates and delayed rains have decimated the largely agrarian economy.

There are three reasons for the food crisis in addition to the drought issue.
•  Rainfall pattern
•  Lack of farming inputs to produce (like chemical fertilizer -- very expensive)
•  Lack of technology (winter cropping program has just started now)

Even though there were rains last year, the rainfall was very erratic. Maize, known to Americans as corn, is the main staple food in Malawi. Maize is a crop that is very sensitive to any amount of rainfall and sunlight that it receives. If there is a persistent dry spell for a period of three weeks or so, it can affect the growth of maize and you do not get a good yield at harvest time. However the same goes with too much rainfall. If you have too much rain you may not get the same harvest. Due to the climate changes that have been happening globally, even the climate here in Malawi has been changing over the last past few years, and the amounts of rainfall that maize needs to get in order to develop properly have not been coming. Therefore the food shortage has been chronic over the last three to four years but this year has been one of the worst years.

What is Plan doing?
Plan has a short-term and long-term plan.
The short -term plan is the FOOD RELIEF DISTRIBUTION program organized by WORLD FOOD PROGRAMME and distributed by 7 NGO's in the area. Plan covers an area in the North called Mzimba. The program started in December 2005 and will last 4 months until March 2006.

The long-term plan is part of the Plan's RACE AGAINST HUNGER campaign launched in November 2005. This is a 3-year project and the idea is to promote families in Plan 's communities to produce crops that are drought resistant and can sustain the present rainfall pattern. These crops include cassava, (yucca) pigeon peas and others that do not need fertilizer. This is known as winter cropping. People in Malawi ideally only grow food once a year. The rainy season is October through April, and people plant in November and harvest the following May. The winter copping program promotes irrigation so people can get water from the river and natural resources and can prime twice a year and harvest twice a year.

The winter cropping program is a process where farmers plant drought resistant crops like cassava (yucca) and beans in the winter months (April--July). The differences between winter cropping and the regular maize cropping are:
1) winter cropping is not severely affected by varying amounts of rainfall
2) the farmers can harvest after one to two months instead of the four month harvest time with maize
3) there are multiple dishes that come from cassava
4) no fertilizer is needed for winter cropping, which is great as is too expensive.

The farmers are taught the winter cropping process with Plan's assistance and donations and have been so very grateful. When I met my first farmer in the Cha Cha Cha community, a wonderful woman named, Jane Chrisi, I asked her, "What do you like most about winter-cropping", She answered beamingly, "I can finally feed my children". It's that simple .... With the assistance of the great work of Plan, a farmer in Africa can now feed her family. I think about this moment often as I am cooking dinner at home, never worrying about where my food comes from.

RACE AGAINST HUNGER campaign was also created as a sustainable project for communities. This includes learning about the benefits of compost manure. Using local resources to make compost manure to place in community gardens saves the farmers from using fertilizer, which is just too expensive.

The Malnutrition Crisis
In addition to teaching the farmers how to increase technology skills in order to help ease this food crisis, there is also the need to help the children survive the malnutrition crisis. Plan built a Nutrition Rehabilitation Unit (NRU) inside the local Nkhamenya Hospital located in the Kasungu district. Chingati Brown (Plan Community Development Facilitator) was my guide at the NRU. Plan built the NRU in 2001 and it is the only center that takes care of malnourished children in the district. There are 2 rooms with beds for 20 children (but sometimes the extra children have to sleep on the floor). There is also a home garden in the NRU for food supplies and educational benefits. The children stay in the NRU for 2 to 21 days. Some of the patients walk an hour to get the NRU and some even come from nearby districts like Zambia (1km away -0.62mile).  

All the patients at the NRU are under 5 years old and they are all severely malnourished. I did ask Patrick in my naïve way, why I was not seeing children that "looked" so very malnourished. He told me that because the children are not eating any protein and too much starch it provides a puffy look to their faces and bodies. So while they may look plump they are far from it. Regarding the number of attendance is it interesting to note how the months of December through April have the highest attendance of 12-46 each month. During the summer months the attendance falls to 3-10 children each month. With the winter cropping program it would help to reduce these numbers in December-April period.

Which NGO’s (non-government agencies) was I representing?
I was covering the work of Plan USA:

My final thoughts
We all at some point have read reports that list the statistics and reports of AIDS in Africa. I ask you to take another moment to read these numbers.

According to the UNAIDS 2004 Report on the global AIDS epidemic:
•  900,000: Estimated number of people living with HIV/AIDS by the end of 2003
•  14.2%: Estimated percentage of adults (ages 15-49) living with HIV/AIDS by end of 2003
•  460,000: Estimated number of women (ages 15-49) living with HIV/AIDS by the end of 2003
•  83,000: Estimated number of children (ages 0-15) living with HIV/AIDS by the end of 2003
•  84,000: Estimated number of deaths due to AIDS during 2003
•  500,000: Estimated number of children who have lost their mother or father or both parents to AIDS and who were alive and under the age of 17 end of 2003

As I talk to Patrick about the HIV/AIDS situation in Malawi he tells me that the official life expectancy of Malawians is 36-37 years old. Please take a minute to re-read that sentence . I would be dead already if I lived in Malawi, and I have only lived half of my life. Patrick tells me 70,000 is an estimated number of annual deaths but he believes because of poor records it is much higher.

Not once while I was in Malawi did I fixate about AIDS. I instead thought about the heart and soul of these amazing people. I thought about the families that they were desperately trying to feed. I thought about the children they were trying to educate. And above all I thought about the amazing strength, courage and determination of these Malawians to make their lives better. I wanted to honor them with dignity and allow myself to see them as the amazing people they were and are. Perhaps if more of us could do this; then we would be able to face them a little easier and then be willing to realize we are all more similar than different. We all want the same; love, happiness, food, education, and recognition in some ways.

The people of Malawi will be in my heart forever and I am honored to bear witness to their beauty, strength & joy.

faces of tomorrow, photographs by diana barnett