A good/bad day in Malawi.

cropped shedMost days on the road with Heifer are really good days. And some are just hard.

The last day we spent visiting projects in Malawi was a hard one – not because of what we did but because of what we saw. We were visiting the Khongoni project near Lilongwe that supports people with HIV/AIDS by providing them with training, trees, seeds, and milk-producing goats. I expected the towns close to the capital city to be more affluent, but in fact they were some of the poorest communities in this very poor country.hardwell & wife

Our first visit was with Hardwell Chidesmbo –a HIV-positive father of 16 (yeah, that’s right) whose first wife died of AIDS, leaving behind 8 children. With his second wife (also HIV-positive) he has had another 8. That boggled my mind but far worse, the children were dirty, frantic and hanger-thin. The entire household seemed teetering on the verge of neglect and one little lamb had a broken leg. One of Hardwell’s daughters was disabled and another had died, leaving behind an infant daughter who was also HIV positive. The situation seemed more than any mere livestock could improve.

How much can 2 goats do?

These two goats from Heifer will bring much-needed nutrition and income for Hardwell’s family.

And yet, Ginison Moliyere, the local Community Animal Health Worker that Heifer has trained to provide animal services, was not feeling discouraged. He told me that Hardwell’s family had only just received the goats so he felt there was plenty of time for them to progress and improve their situation. Ginison had come to splint the lamb’s leg after it tumbled out of its new shed and it’s now healing well.

Ginison Moliyere, Heifer's intrepid CAHW.

Ginison Moliyere, Heifer’s intrepid Community Animal Health Worker with his Heifer bike.

I can’t tell you how this young man’s dedication moved me.  Ginison spends 2 days each week on his Heifer bike, traveling the 15 km. radius of this project and helping people keep their goats robust and healthy. Ginison helps them do that with advice, encouragement, and hands-on training (and the government provides anti-retroviral drugs). And he does it all as a volunteer.


Belvin Manda and Victor Mhango from the central Heifer office, going over records under Ginison’s goat’s watchful eye.

Ginison also gives vaccines, keeps impeccable records for 5 groups of about 250 recipients, and is raising two goats of his own (although one of his pregnant goats died the day before – a big setback). But at age 39, HIV-positive, with six children of his own and a new wife (his first wife died), Ginison doesn’t seem to sweat the small stuff; he is tremendously dignified and remarkably resolute. His household is neat as a pin, his children are all in school, and clearly he has a gifted way with animals.Gidion talks

Despite his volunteer status (farmers do pay him a small fee and eventually it should become a business), Ginison’s role could not be more important. Heifer’s project is a joint effort with the National Association of People Living with HIV and AIDS (PLWHA) and will reach 1,000 HIV-affected families with meat or dairy goats to improve their income and nutrition (goat milk is easier to digest than regular milk and has been shown to increase white blood cells). If it weren’t for people like Ginison willing to offer day-to-day support to the project beneficiaries and extend the reach of Heifer staffers, there is no way this project could reach its goals.

Sweet but so, so poor ...

Although 1 in 7 Malawians have HIV/AIDS, the numbers are going down – hopefully fast enough to protect the next generation.

Some people like Hardwell, with his 16 ragtag children, seem almost beyond the reach of Heifer’s battery of trainings. (Although Heifer’s gender equity and family health trainings are certainly encouraging people to control their own reproductive future — and of course, educating girls has been proven to be the most effective route to decreasing family size, and Heifer is all about keeping kids in school.) While it would be naive to think that every Heifer story would be one of immediate success, it was still  difficult not to feel some despair at the prospects for Hardwell’s family.

But then Ginison took us to meet Rebecca Mzingwa… and she was nothing short of an antidote and an inspiration.Rebecca2

In August 2011, this HIV-positive widowed mother with 3 children and 1 mere acre of land received 2 goats from Heifer. In September, her goats gave birth to 2 more, she passed them on to another HIV family, and since then, her goats have kidded again (I love that phrase) and now she has 5 healthy thriving goats. She sells 3 liters of milk every day (saving ½ liter for herself and 8-year old Bernard) collects grass from the public wetlands every day to feed her goats, and raises maize and vegetables on her 1 acre, fertilized with goat manure.Rebecca Mzingwa

In 2-3 years, she wants to have 20 goats and I don’t doubt for a minute that she’ll do it.

“My children are orphans so I need to support them with these goats,” she says confidently, as Bernard snuggles up to her. “I am very healthy and very strong. I am fine.”Rebecca & goat2

She’s more than fine; she is a woman with a plan. And some very healthy goats.

Categories: Africa, Animals, Heifer International, Mothers, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments

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24 thoughts on “A good/bad day in Malawi.

  1. Much admiration for these people with big hearts, positive minds and giving souls.

  2. Oh wow … nothing glib to say to day Betty. Just, “Oh wow”.

  3. Deb Morrow Palmer

    It would be good if the program giving the antiviral drug could give birth control pills, [or better yet the shot] if the families were willing. Maybe Hardwell will think of something else to do with his wife now that he has goats!!! Ha!! Keep the women educated and the men too busy working and then maybe the household numbers will get smaller. I expect Rebecca won’t be looking for another husband as fast as the men were looking for another wife!!! My poor hubby. I have always been a strong woman, and then gave him 3 very strong spirited daughters. We own an Animal Hospital and he has 14 women and 2 men for employees! I told him all the women in his life are taking credit for helping him evolve into a better man!! Sorry for my ramble but I firmly believe we need more women in government all around the world. [Especially Egypt!!] okay I am finished. Ha! Once again an excellent thought producing read!!

    • Joan Marie


    • I love all your rambles, Deb — they’re always so full of thought-provoking ideas! I’m not entirely sure how birth control is distributed or how available it is, but I suspect most of the clinics are strongly urging people to practice it … because it’s very hard on the health of an HIV + mother to have children. I also totally share your feeling that more women in government would be a VERY good thing!

  4. Joan Marie

    Blessings on all who are working to make this crazy world more livable. Thanks for telling it like it is. At this time of Christmas, it is good to see this need for action and prayer.

  5. I think I will read this post every day to remind me how lucky I am and how little it takes to help someone else.

    • My journey certainly has made me a LOT more aware and passionately interested in what’s going on around the world — and given me a lot of hope for the future. Particularly if we in the developed world continue to offer concrete and meaningful assistance! THANKS for your comment, S —

  6. Meredith

    so glad for the positive will-do spirit and Heifer’s hard workers; thanks for hanging in there, Betty
    Happy holidays and a wonderful 2013!

  7. heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time…thanks for your insightful stories of life lived by so many, on the edge.

    • That’s so true, Cindy — so many people are living in real poverty and yet it never ceases to amaze me their joy and fierce commitment to making their lives better!

  8. Janet

    Another wonderful post from Betty. This series has been amazing and Rebecca is another story. Thank you Betty for a year of wonderful stories.

  9. Anonymous

    Oh my, is there something more Heifer (or someone) could be doing to encourage birth control?! Why doesn’t Heifer give Ginison a salary for his work? And finally, a picky question. Does Ginison’s family also have sheep? You mentioned a lamb whose leg was broken—-at first I thought you were referring to one of the children. Baby goats would be kids, right?
    Thanks for this post, albeit a sad one. Rebecca was a fine antidote, but—I will repeat—oh my!

    • Heifer DOES encourage people to practice family planning both in its gender equity series and family health series of trainings. Heifer doesn’t pay Ginison for his work but they do provide all their Animal Health Workers with a means of transportation (bike or motorcycle), training, an opportunity to visit other villages to learn best practices, and the CAHW often get a small stipend from the families for the services they provide — and many do indeed turn this into a small business once the project is complete. Ginison’s family also raises sheep and he received two very beautiful Boer cross-breed goats (much more valuable) from the project. Hardwell’s family was the one with a lamb with a broken leg. It is very difficult to see such extreme poverty as we saw at Hardwell’s — as well as the prospect of more children being raised with little opportunity for education or a better future — but Rebecca’s children I am quite sure will finish school and be inspired to accomplish quite a lot. And Ginison’s children, too! The amazing thing is how many of Heifer’s beneficiaries take such wonderful advantage of the opportunity they’ve been given, and work SO hard to achieve a better life — that’s what I try to concentrate on and what I’ve certainly witnessed!

  10. Anonymous

    PS The above was from Martha, but I’m on another computer, so today I was “anonymous”!

  11. Susannah

    Thanks for this reminder of how much so many of us have.

  12. It’s interesting that Rebecca refers to her children as orphans. They are clearly being raised by a strong-willed and courageous mother.

    Speaking of the children, are there any reliable statistics concerning the number who are born HIV-positive? With so many mothers dying of AIDS after giving birth multiple times, it seems obvious that the numbers who are infected must be climbing. We just don’t hear about it as much anymore.

    Thank you, as always, for showing us another piece of the world — the wonderful and the not-so-wonderful. Change can’t happen without honesty.

  13. BB — it’s interesting in Africa that people always refer to children who have lost even one parent as “orphans.” I saw that in Uganda and Rwanda and Malawi. Regarding the children born HIV+ … those numbers have gone down dramatically as there is a $1 drug that can be given to the mother before delivery that prevents transmission … and now that it’s funded pretty much everywhere (it didn’t used to be), most children are born healthy — although certainly having a baby when you’re HIV+ is very hard on a woman’s body and strongly discouraged. Rates of HIV/AIDS in Malawi have gone down in the past few years, from 16% to 14% (although actual numbers are very hard to come by as most women do not want to be tested as their husbands, who typically gave them the disease, will often divorce them and marry another uninfected woman. But – the government and lots of agencies have been working very hard to get people tested and on ARV drug therapies — so the trend is to fewer cases.
    As for this story – I thought long and hard about writing such a downer of a story (it was very difficult and depressing to visit Hardwell and not feel rather hopeless about the family’s condition) but I think that it’s important to share the reality of what you sometimes encounter … although the real miracle, I think, is how infrequently I have had this feeling through my 12 months on the road with Heifer. In all honesty — it’s been only 3-4 times. The rest of the journey has left me quite optimistic about the chances of the families I’ve seen managing to lift themselves out of poverty — and what’s a happier ending than that??? Thanks so much for your comment, Charles !

  14. I can understand that you weren’t sure whether to post such a downer of a story but you had to tell the AIDS story, you had to let the rest of the world know that HIV-AIDS is still so prevalent and virulent in Africa.
    Thanks to organizations like Heifer the rates are going down one small goat at a time.

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