Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Children of Malawi

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After a week in Malawi, I can start to understand why Madonna chose to adopt a child from here. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Madonna had absolutely no inclination whatsoever about raising children, was on vacation in Malawi, and after a few days couldn't help but decide to adopt some Malawi children.  Don't worry, I won't fall prey to that impulse myself, but there are definite times where i feel like i am in the middle of the Simpsons episode where all the adults where nowhere to be found (because of a Simpsons and Sons aphrodisiac) and the children take over Springfield.  There are children EVERYWHERE.

A few salient facts before i go on about what i have observed.  1) Malawi is the most densely populated  country in Africa.  It doesn't have the largest population, just the most people in a small amount of space. 2) The average family size is about 8 or 9, which includes 6-7 children.  In fact, more than 50% of the population  here are under the age of 18.

The children, as children are designed to be, are absolutely adorable. They run after cars, wave at strangers, smile constantly, and pretend to know kung-fu.  (Apparently, Malawans are under the impression that if you are Asian, you are a kung fu master, which may explain why i haven't been mugged yet, despite some obviously stupidity on my part.).  It is not unusual to see a train of children walking along the side of the road, completely unsupervised, and with ages ranging from 3years old to what must be 12-13.

Earlier today, i got the opportunity to take a walking tour through one of the local villages that was near the resort we were staying at.  One of the resort workers, who live there, was willing to walk me around and show me her village and, with trepidation, i went.

I was prepared to see small houses, huts even, and was worried about being mobbed for money, or having people try and sell me "handicrafts."  I was only right about the small houses and even then, i was a bit surprised at how cool, and well made they were. I got to see small plots of land used for subsistence farming, livestock such as chickens, goats and ducks.  I saw the local water pump which was established in 2001 and played such an important role in improving quality of life.  But most of all i got to see children. The boys who were making a soccer ball out of rope and plastic bags, the girls who were playing "net ball" (and ferociously and well).  And i was definitely, a source of entertainment for these kids.  It didn't take long for the children to just start following me wherever we went. I turned around and there were at least 20 kids behind me.  And as we walked through the village, more and more kids followed. The kids would all smile, laugh and some would copy what i say, such as "hello".  I didn't want to disappoint the children by being boring, so eventually i asked them all to sing a song for me.  That is what i recorded at the beginning of this post.

It is surprising how quickly you forget that these kids live with poor health care, with a secondary school that is literally 10km away and only accessible to them by foot, and with clothes that in the US only the homeless would wear. I guess big smiles, laughter and singing can do that.

I tried thinking about what happens to a poor country with so many of its citizens being so young.  I can't think  of much that is good about that combination, my only hope is that out of these shining, eager and happy faces a great leader will emerge, and hopefully with more help than harm from us.

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