Bringing hope to Malawi - Day one: 'A sea of friendly, welcoming smiles despite the evident poverty'

Bringing hope to Malawi - Day one: 'A sea of friendly, welcoming smiles despite the evident poverty'

Irish Post in Malawi
Monday, June 3

AS our plane descended into the Malawian capital, I was surprised to see how rural the surrounding areas were.

I gazed out the window at my first proper glimpse of Africa and could see nothing but countryside for miles around.

With an image of a barren and dusty region in my mind, I was pleasantly startled to see how lush and green the landscape was.

After over 16 long hours travelling, my fellow visitor, London Irish player James Sandford, and I, along with Eimear from Concern and our photographer, stepped off the plane at Lilongwe airport into the stifling 26-degree heat.

We were promptly bustled into the terminal building and when I arrived at the immigration desk, I was asked by the somewhat serious officer what the purpose of my trip was.

I replied, slightly apprehensively, that I was here with Concern Worldwide to visit the programmes that they run and as I saw a slight glimmer of a smile spread across his face, I breathed a slight sigh of relief.

It was obvious from the moment we began to interact with the local population that the work that Concern does in the country is both respected and appreciated.

This warmth of the Malawian people continued to be felt as we made our way through the arrivals hall and were greeted with a sea of friendly, welcoming smiles.

We were met by Stewart Gee, who coordinates Concern’s Food, Income and Markets Programme in the country, and our driver, Michael.

Our bags were hurriedly picked up by some young local boys, who proceeded, despite our objections, to take them to our waiting car.

Their pleading for payment in return for their help was the first insight I saw into some of the poverty that exists here.

The drive into the capital was an experience in itself with the usual laws of indicating and yielding, that we take as such commonplace, proving non-existent and it being pretty much a free for all with plenty of road rage to make it a little more interesting.

It was an insight into Malawian daily life to see the local people going about their daily business, balancing large parcels, tree branches and crops on their heads as they made their way down the side of the main streets.

The rest of the day was to be spent gathering our bearings and preparing for the busy few days ahead.

After being laden down on the journey, including carrying hefty photography equipment and London Irish RFC kit that James has brought for the kids, we got the chance to drop our bags off at what would be our accommodation for the night.

We then headed to the Concern office to meet some more of the staff and hear some more about what our visit will entail.

The sun was starting to set as we made our way and the lush tree lined streets en route made for an idyllic setting to arrive to and showed the beauty of Africa.

We had a full briefing on the programmes that we’d be visiting and we were also lucky enough to meet Noel Molony, who is the Interim Country Director for Malawi, as well as some other members of the Concern team.

An early night is on the cards as we have a very early start tomorrow morning to make the long journey to Nkhotakhota where we have a busy but exciting schedule for the remainder of the week.