IT WAS an early start for us this morning but with a decent nights sleep, we were all full of energy and ready to get on the road.
We left at 7:30am to make the 200km drive to Nkhotakhota, with an adequate supply of large bottles of water and food supplies for the growing men in the group.
The roads were quite calm to start with, despite the previously mentioned radical driving, and it was a nice insight to watch the people of Lilongwe go about their daily routines as we made our way through the streets and out into the countryside.
The morning was hot and sticky, but we had the windows down and a cool breeze kept us all from overheating.
As we got further out of the capital, the road conditions got slightly bumpier but on a whole, the drive was really enjoyable and there was a buzz of anticipation as we chatted about the programmes we would be visiting today.
On arriving in Nkhotakhota, we visited the Concern office and were welcomed by the entire team of staff, including Lillian, the Health and Nutrition programme manager, and Grey, the Food, Income and Markets (FIM) programme manager.
We had a briefing on the programmes in the district, while sitting in a circle out in the courtyard under the glorious sunshine. i wish I could say it was a normal day in the office for me.
We dropped our stuff at the guesthouse where we will be staying for the next few days.
We were really delighted to see it is located right on the shores of Lake Malawi, or the Lake of Stars as it is called here.
We have been told under no circumstance to swim in the lake, as there is virus that can be easily contracted from the water, but there were quite a few of the local population enjoying a splash in the clear blue water to take a breather from the stifling afternoon sunshine I would imagine.
In the early afternoon we headed to the District Hospital to visit the Nutrition Rehabilitation Unit (NRU).
This specialist unit deals with helping children who are severely malnourished.
We were introduced to Maria, the nurse who runs the unit on a daily basis, and Peter, the NRU coordinator for the district.
They brought us through the wards and it was a visit that pulled massively on the heartstrings.
The children who are staying here are all suffering from serious symptoms of malnourishment but it was relieving to see the remarkable progress that they are making, thanks in large part to the support provided by Concern.
We got to meet some of the infants and speak with their mothers about the factors that brought them here and what their hopes and dreams are for the future for both themselves and their children.
We got to see them being weighed and measured and how they assess their progress, as well as hearing about the steps that the nursing team take to get the children back to full health.
It was lovely to see them smile, despite not being at all well, and there were a few giggles shared, especially with James being called the ‘big one’ by them, as they looked on in sheer amazement.
Later in the afternoon we headed to meet the members of the local Village Savings and Loans (VSL) group.
This particular group is called the Mtendere group, which means Peace.
We were told to anticipate a large group of women who were full of the joys of life and would welcome us warmly but what we received was more of an experience than I could ever have imagined.
We pulled down a dusty dirt track, by rows of mud huts and children playing in the road. We pulled up outside a small stone building and as we arrived outside, the singing started.
Close to 40 women spilled out of the building, in matching traditional African skirts, clapping and singing songs to welcome us.
Tens of children also danced around us, laughing and clapping. The women formed a circle around us and ushered us into the building, singing all the while.
I can honestly say I have never felt so welcome anywhere in all my life.
We heard about all the work the group does, which involves loaning money out to its members to enable them to better their home lives and businesses.
These loans can range from being spent on agricultural projects, to fishing, to household supplies to buying a home.
We were also lucky enough to have the chance to speak with both the VSL agent for the area, Chimwemwe Chapita, and the Chairperson of the group itself, Monica Julius.
As the sun started to go down and we grudgingly had to leave, the groups of children waved and laughed and chased the car down the track, smiling the whole way.
This evening, we will get to share dinner with the entire Concern team here in Nkhotakhota.
There will be 15 of us in total and it will be great to have the chance to chat to them in a more relaxed setting about the difference that they are actually making to the community here.
It has become evident within a very short time of being here, how vital the work that they do and their support is.