It’s easy to take the little things for granted- toothpaste, electricity, underwear and running water. We come to expect it all. But in countries like Malawi, Africa, such commodities are the exception, not the rule.
Dahl Memorial Clinic provider Carol Borg joined the Peace Corps last year as a response volunteer, working on the campus of Mzuzu University. She lectures nursing students and provides clinical supervision in the hospital.
Forty-five minutes away sits the underdeveloped farming village of Yasaya Moya. Its children rarely, if ever, leave the village. They live in homes without electricity or running water. Women carry water from a nearby well. During the “hungry season” between December and April, most children receive one meal of corn porridge per day. Most go hungry at night.
Primary school is almost two kilometers away. Students sit on dirt floors without paper to write on or pens to write with.
Secondary school is five kilometers away and costs too much for most families. Many children will grow up to be subsistence farmers, with very little education or access to news and current events.
It’s a far cry from the carpeted floors and painted halls of Skagway School, so students decided to make a difference.
Through fundraisers like cakewalks, the Yuletide bazaar and book drives, along with donations from the community, organizations like the Elks and the Eagles, and Juneau’s Dr. Jared Erickson, the school’s Student Council was able to raise $1400 for a young woman’s college education.
It was Alice Mlambika’s goal to attend Mzuzu University where Borg teaches, in an effort to become a nurse. But the tuition costs were high. After looking through her application, Skagway School decided to donate enough money to cover her first year of tuition, as well as living expenses for her family of six. The family receives $80 per month.
But Student Council wanted to help the children, too. So they raised an additional $625 to go toward hygiene baskets, including toothpaste, toothbrushes, underwear, pencils and two bars of laundry soap. Two of Skagway School’s very own students delivered the items personally.
Mary and Mike Tidlow left for Africa in December, bringing daughters Olivia, 7, and Abigail, 9, with them. They ventured through Zimbabwe and the Serengeti on safari, riding amongst giraffes, elephants and lions. They visited South Africa, Tanzania and Swaziland. But the last part of their trip brought them Malawi.
[quote_right]“They live their life so simply,” she said. “They don’t have as much anger in their life. They seem happier because they don’t want. They don’t have greed.”[/quote_right]
Skagway School thought the Tidlows would need to purchase enough hygiene products for approximately 65 children. Upon arriving, they realized they would need enough goods for 420 students, more than six times the original amount.
The family of four bought as many toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste as they could find. They loaded up their vehicle with the boxed goods and made hygiene kits for all 420 students.
After handing out the gifts, the classroom rang out in song, as the students expressed their gratitude.
“Nothing like this has ever happened to them in their school before,” Borg said.
But despite having so little, Abigail said they seemed happy.
“They live their life so simply,” she said. “They don’t have as much anger in their life. They seem happier because they don’t want. They don’t have greed.”
The experience was eye opening for both of the young Skagway School students. Olivia said she feels lucky to have paper and her own desk. But overall, she learned that people from different places can act the same, having fun and just being kids.
“Seeing all those people, it made me feel so lucky to live in a place like America,” she said.
The Tidlows have returned home, but Skagway School continues to reach out to the village and hopes to send books to the children soon. Cost of shipping is quite high, but with continued fundraising, they should be able to send at least one box.
As for Borg, the journey continues on. She recently announced that she will be staying in Africa for an extra year, continuing on at the hospital, as well as focusing on community health. She will work on a grant that provides mobile planning services to women in remote villages.
“The experience has been full of joys, frustrations, and sadness,” Borg said. “Joy that sometimes I feel I am making a difference- especially with my nursing students when I see the light turn on in their eyes when they finally understand something that I have been trying to explain to them; frustrations in frequent power and water outage; sometimes feeling that no matter how hard you try you are never going to make a difference, and sadness at all the death and suffering that everyone in this country is so desensitized to from seeing it every day.”
But despite it all, she said she feels satisfied. Her experience thus far has been life-changing.
“I know that I will never look at the world the same way again.”