The journey to Malawi has been great in so many aspects. I got to know a new country and culture—not to mention fantastic, friendly people—and it’s not for nothing that Malawi is called the Heart of Africa.
It’s been amazing to see how the money funded through the IKEA Foundation is being used in cooperation with UNICEF other NGOs and local communities. What perhaps strikes me the most is that many of the projects we have visited are very much dependent on people working on a voluntary basis. This is men and women, coming from very poor conditions themselves, still having the force to help others.
In a country where more than half of the population is under 18 years old, the abuse of young women is widely spread, teenage pregnancies are common and the inequality between men and women is a fact, the change needed is huge and will take generations.
Travelling with Michael, the UNICEF education specialist, and Kusali, a communication officer, seeing what we are able to do both long term in building systematic change and on an individual level here and now was breathtaking.
In one of the primary schools we visited, we got to meet a fantastic young women, an A student with the dream to become a doctor. She was 15 years old and had dropped out of school because her mother was an alcoholic, her father was dead and she was living with her grandmother. She got no formal support and her grandmother wanted her out, marrying her off much too young. The girl was prepared to have sex for the notebook she didn’t have. Kusali, our local UNICEF representative, asked to have a talk with her—a talk where she convinced the girl about her importance, all the things she was able to do if she stayed in school, stayed away from risky sex practices that could lead to HIV. From the bottom of my heart, I hope these young women will be able to realize their dreams. I know that Anke gave her IKEA notebooks, and probably she will get a scholarship. This is one life of many.
To understand the change needed and to drive that change, children need to go to school. The change that is being done to transform many schools to child-friendly schools with a safe and stimulating environment for children is impressive, but still so much more needs to be done.
Malawi is very much dependent on donation money; 40% of the country’s income comes from donations from other countries and organisations. Malawi needs to foster entrepreneurs and leaders who are not afraid to build from nothing to grow a business. A generation that is not prepared to live on donations but wants to contribute to drive growth.
Even though the challenges in Malawi are many and the conditions in many villages and schools are poor, I leave Africa with a warm heart. I leave feeling good with the many fantastic and strong leaders I met, who are willing to drive change and willing to make a difference. I leave with the memory of so many happy children and their smiley faces, having seen for myself the impact we can have working together.