The Unexpected That Made My Trip Worthwhile

I traveled to Malawi in April for my annual monitoring and evaluation trip. Because I communicate daily with our field staff, my trip went pretty much as expected. But, it was those things that I did not expect that made my trip worthwhile.

For two days, I took our field staff away from the daily grind of work, persistent asks for support, and the hustle and bustle of Phalombe (Phalombe is a rural village, but market days can be quite active!). I hosted a retreat at a rustic lodge located in the shadow of Mount Mulanje, just 30 minutes from Phalombe. To commence the retreat and get to know our staff better (we have 3 new employees since I last visited), we completed a core values exercise. The point of the exercise is to determine your core values and how those core values play a role in your life. What surprised us all was that of the 18 core values listed, all 6 of us shared only four of them (justice, love, family, and wisdom). This exercise lay the foundation for the next two days where we bonded and gained increased trust in one another.

Prior to my trip, we identified a few program challenges. I asked our field staff to come to the retreat prepared with proposed solutions. I simply asked questions to fill in the gaps and we found a way forward. Because our field staff further developed EKARI’s programs on their own, they will take more ownership of the programs moving forward and be more passionate about their work. I saw their passion for EKARI’s work not only at the retreat, but also during my field visits. Jacqueline beamed with joy when she introduced me to one of the Village Savings and Loan groups we work with; she calls them her ‘baby’ because the VSL was on the brink of collapse when she started working with them and now all 20 members experience profits. In amazement, I saw that this is not just a job for Jacqueline; it is a way of giving back to her fellow Malawians.

A two week school holiday occurred during my visit. I stayed in our new home with the girls we support. I must admit that I can easily get overwhelmed living with 30 youth. It can be noisy and chaotic. And usually there is a constant barrage of questions from students asking me for things. This year was different. It was quieter; the students respected study hours without Elias having to remind them like he used to. The youth strictly adhered to a chore chart. I assumed Elias had created it, but when I looked closer I saw that one of our students was the author. And not a single student asked me for anything – this was the greatest surprise of my trip. Instead we had fabulous conversations about EKARI, America, and our families. The Saturday morning that I departed, I could only find a few students. “Where is everyone?”, I asked thinking that they had gone to the market to have fun. I was way off. They were in the field next door working hard to harvest corn for EKARI’s 3 Meals a Day Program! I called them out of the field and got a bunch of sweaty hugs. That was the best send off I could have received. The dependency syndrome that we struggle with is greatly decreasing among our youth!

Thank you to all who support EKARI’s amazing work! Although you cannot see it directly with your own eyes, through mine, please know that you are making a difference.

Zabwino zonse (all my best),
Michelle Bradley

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