Updated: Dec 19, 2022
In the midst of holiday chaos I find myself seeking refuge by quietly leafing through photos that reconnect me to a time and a place where my heart was overwhelmed with breathtaking beauty. My time in Malawi remains a gift that nudges me daily to retain the lessons and learnings gifted to me by some of the most unexpected gift givers. Embracing simplicity, pure joy and peace in the hustle and bustle of a middle-class, first-world, privileged life is difficult. During the holiday season it is near impossible. So if like me you are attempting to settle in, quiet the noise, breathe in and exhale slowly, I invite you to gently unwrap this gift with me. Picture by picture these memories and moments transform this traditional Christmas story into something a little different. A universal gift of smiles, joy, laughter and learning. From my heart to yours - "Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night."
*All photos in this post were taken with permission (and enthusiasm). They are not, intended to exploit the beautiful people and communities of Northern Malawi, rather to share and educate those who are open and willing to peer into another world.
T'was the night before Christmas and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there; Hope is what elevates each of us to step forward in difficult times. Hope for a future that includes access to clean water, hygiene, safe shelter, education, food security and sustainable agriculture is what motivates Love a Village to provide resources to the communities of Luhomero, Malawi.
The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
Beds are reserved for the wealthy. With 76 percent of Malawians living on less than $1.90 a day, the comfort of a warm lap, or a grass mat are where people nestle in.
While visions of sugar plums danc'd in their heads,
Sugarcane is abundant in Malawi and is one of the country's top three exports.
And Mama in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled in for a long winter's nap
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
Agriculture programs that provide seeds, small crops, tools for cultivating the land, irrigation systems and more, provide the foundation needed to build and manage community plots of land that become local crops for feeding individual families, villages and surplus that is used to trade and sell, creating an economy of nutrition and health.
I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Boreholes funded by Love a Village provide clean, fresh spring water that help reduce disease and improve quality of life.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters, and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new fallen snow,
This photo was taken overlooking Lake Malawi while sleeping outside. The moon was so bright that it put the sun that day to shame. Lake Malawi is home to more species of fish than any other lake in the world.
Gave the lustre of mid-day to objects below;
When, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer, While there is no sleigh, these eight children were watching as a chameleon was ever so slowly making his way across the road. They were also entertained by the "mzungu" (white person) who was giddy with joy at the sight of her first "wild" chameleon.
With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
Witnessing one truck break down, while another passing by elects to take as many as they can, prioritizing the elderly, sick and young children ahead of others. Caring for others comes naturally in Malawi.
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and call'd them by name:
"Now! Dasher, now! Dancer, now! Prancer, and Vixen,
"On! Comet, on! Cupid, on! Donner and Blitzen;"
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
"Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!"
Fizzy drinks are a sweet treat that bring children dashing to visit while boasting even sweeter grins.
As dry leaves before the wild hurricane fly,
Dried rice is removed by hand, thrashing the long stems that it grows on.
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
With a sleigh full of Toys - and St. Nicholas too:
This doll is hand-crafted by a child using clay.
And then in a twinkling, I heard on the roof,
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
Food security programs that gift a male and female goat to villagers are the catalyst to a pass-on program whereby the offspring of the first two goats are gifted to another community member. This pattern is sustained creating a long-term solution to limited protein resources. The success of this program also yields enough to trade and sell the offspring to support other priorities in the community.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound:
At the tender ages of six and two these children (among others in their community) are often left at home to cook for themselves while mom walks an average of 5K to fetch water, or wood.
He was dress'd all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnish'd with ashes and soot;
This young man is carrying coal on his bike to the nearest city approximately 20km away. It is both time-consuming and risky to make and sell coal. There is a constant risk of being arrested as it is illegal to cut down the trees to help combat deforestation. A bundle this size may garner $5 and is the outcome of a long week of work.
A bundle of toys was flung on her back, Tea, sugarcane and tobacco are Malawi's top three exports. The women below are working in the tea fields.
And he look'd like a peddler just opening his pack:
His eyes - how they twinkled! his dimples how merry,
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry;
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard of his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
At first glance you may not see the leg that has been amputated. With many villages being remote, access to healthcare is a challenge and many simple conditions are left untreated.
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
She had a broad face, and a little round belly,
That shook when she laugh'd, like a bowl full of jelly:
She was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
Sewing programs provide a skill that is in demand, creating an opportunity to make money and be lifted out of poverty.
And I laugh'd when I saw her in spite of myself;
A wink of her eye and a twist of her head,
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.
Long-term, sustainable programs like water, agriculture, hygiene and more are priorities for the community and supported by Love a Village.
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
With a simple mallet, this man is turning large rocks into gravel for a borehole being drilled in his community.
And fill'd all the stockings; then turn'd with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.
He sprung to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew, like the down of a thistle:
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight-
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.
Learn more about the opportunities provided by Love a Village through Rural Development Partners in Northern Malawi at www.loveavillage.org