This is the story of my trip to Malawi to see how we can help change and save lives in Africa. You can make a difference too, please help by donating here. Thank You.
DAY 1. Feb 10 2015
Today I arrived at Lake Malawi.
There is a village that surrounds the area that's the home of 16,000 people.
Water doesn't seem to be such an issue. However, education, HIV and housing are a huge problem.
Primary education is free.
There is 1 primary school which has over 2,000 children attending but only 20 teachers. Some class rooms have more than 100 pupils and children are sitting 3 to a desk - if they're lucky enough to have a desk.
The surrounding areas have 2 secondary schools, however secondary education has to be paid for, so many children don't ever get to go to secondary school as they just can't afford it. Instead they go to work farming, fishing, chopping and collecting fire wood.
The rainy season has been harsh this year with lots of homes destroyed by the rain and more about to fall down if any more rains comes.
Houses are built so basically that they just cannot stand up to the storms they've been experiencing, leaving so many people homeless.
50% of children have lost 1 or both parents to HIV so are living with a grandparent who is too old to work and provide for them.
There are only 8 toilets at the school, and they're definitely not luxurious.
How adorable is the little boy in the middle??
If this doesn't make you smile nothing will.
A day spent at the school and at the nursery.
So good to see the projects with the children in them.
The children at the nursery have lost 1 or both of their parents to HIV and some of them were born with the virus. Because of a lack of funding they can only take 18 children and only from 8-11. There are 100's of other children in the same situation.
I spent time at the school and sat in on 1 class teaching English. 125 children in a small room.
The windows are tiny so no air can get in. The desks are in such a bad condition that they can't be used and those that can be used often have 3 to a desk.
Some of them don't have books to write in and there are only 2 text books in the entire class.
It's impossible learning conditions.
I spent the afternoon at the water project, learning how the filters work and how it has improved the health of the community.
The next steps are to finish the project and to continue it into the surrounding villages.
The work they have done is amazing and has definitely improved the quality of life here in Chenmbe.
Today has been a journey and an experience, filled with highs and lows.
With so many needy people and so much that needs to be done you are always left feeling you wish you could do more.
I started the day in the nursery. This is attended by 22 children. They have lost 1 or both of their parents to HIV. The nursery has hand-picked them from the village of Chembe as the most needy children. They only have enough money to look after these children from 8-11 and to feed them with 1 meal.
It cost around £10.00 a week to run the nursery.
Arriving there with a bag of toys and clothes I was mobbed by the children. Having nothing, they are happy with anything so the gift of a toy and new clothes was like a million Christmases all at once.
I then spent a few hours playing with the children, reading stories and feeding them.
After leaving the nursery, I walked around the village of Chambe, visiting some of the most needy parents and children, seeing their homes and understanding their lives.
We invited a selection of people to come to the lodge where I'm staying to give them donations of clothes, shoes, blankets, soap, tooth brushes and tooth paste.
From 12-2.30 we had families arriving and the gifts were given out.
The donations from everyone at home have truly made a difference to so many people in the village and on behalf of them I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart.
I then headed to a school, my personal donation to the village was the gift of books and pens.
I carried 180 books in a box on my head (African style) for 45 minutes in 30 degree heat to transport them from the lodge to the school. I wanted to get an understanding of how the girls and women feel when they have to carry items in this way. I was melting, it was hard work and I definitely don't have the balance these ladies do.
I arrived at the school and donated pens, pencils and books to each student.
For the very little ones who do not use writing material at the moment I spent time making stick men out of pipe cleaners with them. (Another donation)
I am returning back to the school tomorrow to distribute more to the other students that only attend the school in the mornings.
It's hard here and for everything you do you never feel it's enough.
Today I went back to the nursery.
I spent the morning with 22 beautiful children and brought books, colouring pencils, felt tip pens and crayons. I don't know how long it's been since they've had paper to draw on but the response was incredible. I drew butterflies and together we coloured them in.
It was so nice to see them in their new clothes and when I arrived they were playing with their new toys that had so kindly been donated.
I then helped to feed them. A meal of porridge, which is possibly they only meal they have in a day.
After that I headed back to the school at the other end of the village.
I distributed more books and pens to the students that weren't there yesterday.
Each book costs around 7p, it's amazing how families can't afford something so basic and so inexpensive. Receiving this gift made the children so happy.
Learning is almost impossible without pens and paper, but some kids have been without exercise books for months.
I then spent the afternoon on the water project. Trying to understand how it works, where more work needs to be done, problems in areas that don’t have the water system and the problems with sanitation and the lake being contaminated.
The system they have around the lake functions well but as with everything here there is more that needs to be done.
The village is so highly populated that more water tanks, more water stations and more taps are needed.
Sanitation is also a problem with the volume of people living in the area.
Today was my last day of working.
So I'm giving myself what I believe is a well earned day off, to get to enjoy the beauty of lake Malawi before the 3 days of travelling to get back to the UK.
Having a day off yesterday gave me a chance to reflect.
To think about my journey, who I have met, what I have seen and what we achieved in a small space of time.
It's heart breaking to say, but actually I don't feel that the Helen Hodgkins Trust can help this community anymore.
The sheer size of the village and the extent of what needs to be done......... It's just too big for us.
We raised £6,000 last year. An amount I am so proud of. But £6,000 just would not scratch the surface of what needs to be done here. It would be wasted.
We would have really needed to raised 100 times that amount to be able to start making a proper difference to the village of Chembe.
To finish the water project they need a minimum of 12 more units, 24 taps, 4 tanks, 1 pump and a generator. With the village’s ever growing population I'm not sure it will ever actually be completed.
Health wise, HIV is the biggest problem here followed soon after by malaria. The malaria awareness project is available to women and children, however you can give out mosquito nets and then they use them for fishing. The only way these problems will be resolved is through education.
The school is just not big enough for the 2000+ children that attend. There’s up to 185 pupils in 1 class room, some children sitting 3 to a desk, some not even having a desk. Not enough text books to learn from and sometimes the students don't have pens or paper to aid them with their studies.
And just 8 toilets.
No sports facilities for children to be able to enjoy football or any other form of exercise.
It's an impossible learning environment.
To solve the issues in the school they need to have twice the amount of class rooms, twice the amount of teachers, accommodation for teaching staff, a minimum of 500 more desks, students should have 15 exercise books 1 for each subject, books are only 7p each but when you need to supply them for 2000 students it's £140 just for 1 book each. Ideally 1 between 2 text books are needed for each subject, new toilet blocks and sports facilities.
Chembe village is a fishing village, stretching 2000m along the lake. Locals do have a way of making an income, they have a source of food and water. Also being in a very beautiful area of Malawi tourism is significant. This is one of the reasons the population is ever growing - more and more Malawians are moving to the area to try and make a better life for themselves.
I leave today wishing I could do more, but knowing that the money we have raised would just not be enough to make any real difference here.
For me the hardest part of my work for the charity is being able to decide who needs the money the most and who will benefit most from the funds we have.
Without talking to my trustees it's hard to say exactly where it will go but my heart is telling me that the projects in Ghana I worked on in 2013 would benefit more from our fundraising.
We can insure the school with life saving medical insurance for another year.
We can afford to send out lots of water filters to go to much smaller, more remote villages providing them with safe drinking water.
The money would have a much greater impact and for those handful of communities we support it really will save and change lives.
So I leave here a little disappointed, I couldn't do more.
But I know the small amount of time I have spent here has made a small difference to the people I have met and the lives I have touched.
I have learnt so much, we have helped a few and the experience has inspired and motivated me to want to do more.