On this last day of our trip we are in the spirit of reflection. We all sat together and processed our different experiences and emotions. We all traveled to Africa with some idea of how the country would look like, how people work and live, and what UNICEF is doing to help the children in Africa. But the reality was quite different. Wild animals, that are located in national parks or zoos, are for us Europeans tempting attractions, but we soon realized that for the people of Malawi animals like goats, cows and chickens, from which they have year-round benefits, are much more important. The weather, with strong heat and heavy rains, affects more than just what clothes to wear. They are influential factors for crop nutrition and education of children (creating an environment conducive for learning and traveling long distances to school). We found that the role of UNICEF is not just supplying donations, but also working in close cooperation with the Government of Malawi and the people affected by impoverished and difficult conditions. Even UNICEF’s excellent schooling model alone would help Malawi become more self-sufficient if it was adapted across the country.
There are so many aspects that must be taken into account when developing programs to promote education: the fight against HIV / AIDS, malnutrition and poverty, ensure the protection of children, etc. It’s a difficult task, but thanks to the continuous work of UNICEF and more importantly, the resilient will and courage of Malawi’s population, it is proving effective and will continue to do so. For us it is surprising that the children enjoyed school, but the inherent benefits, which include uniforms, shoes, food, running water and toilets are a great motivation for the children of Malawi. Thanks in part to the Soft Toy campaign, generations of children will be afforded the opportunity to go to school and be better prepared to find a job, earn money and improve conditions of not only themselves, but also their families.
It was on the first day of our trip, with our visit to the school in Mchuchu that we quickly realized that with the help of UNICEF, the children are not necessarily learning outside under a tree, but are inside classes equipped with teaching aids. We saw that after using the toilet, they can wash their hands under running water to prevent the spread of disease. We experienced that the prevention of HIV / AIDS begins in the classroom with the inclusion of appropriate instruction and education into the school curriculum, supplemented with the distribution of condoms and other prevention programs. In addition, men are provided the opportunity to visit hospitals where they can voluntarily undergo circumcision, without cost, in an effort to increase hygiene and reduce the risk of transmission of venereal diseases to their partner.
Women are encouraged to bring their newborn children to a hospital for respective care and treatment. This includes free basic vaccinations and primary care. Despite these essentials, we have seen that in regards to hygiene, number of beds, and the ratio of ambulances to hospitals that Malawi still has a long way to go. But what did stand out were the coordination, effectiveness, and cohesion of all of the healthcare and educational programs.
Malawi is a very poor country, where many families live with only 12 USD per day. We had the opportunity to visit such a family. There was a mother and father with five children left struggling every day on little food and safety. Fortunately, four of their children go to the school organized by UNICEF, where conditions are better than at home, which is a small brick house without furniture, toilets and proper food.
Each of us leaves Malawi with the firm determination to implement the next Christmas Soft Toy campaign with even more effort than in the past because we now know from experience that every dollar, which flows to developing countries, has more value than we could previously ever imagine.
At the very end we would like to thank everyone who was involved in the preparation of our journey, including our colleagues from IKEA Czech Republic, and our friends and partners in UNICEF Czech Republic, UNICEF Malawi, and IKEA Foundation. But the biggest thanks are for the brave and hospitable people of Malawi, who let us into their private lives. Everyone with whom we spent time with were very friendly, humble and always smiling. They were very candid and openly discussed their problems without any shame. Their struggle to survive in this context was incredibly moving. Now we will never forget.