Last month, I had the privilege of travel to Africa, specifically Malawi. The goal of the trip was to teach basic sex ed and sewing skills. How do those two have anything to do with the other? We were teaching how to sew reusable maxi pads with the hope that the women will be able to start a business selling these pads to women in other villages. The name of the program I traveled with is called Days for Girls (
). In many rural villages in Africa, women and girls believe that getting their first period is a sign of witchcraft. In addition, there are no sanitary products or options for many women. We reached out in advance to the village and found that the chief leaders (men) were excited about our visit and expressed that they knew it was time that Africa changed and that women were offered this valuable information. Sewing, teaching and working closely with these women was only part of my experience. While I was there, I lived with a gracious family who showed me true hospitality and kindness.
Everyone said it would be a life changing experience, but I was so consumed by planning the travel, learning about the culture, and the language that I did not pay much attention to this. The full reality of the trip didn't sink in until our first night in Llongwe, Malawi. Laying in bed, so far away from home, I started to wrap my mind around what the next 10 days might be like.
Nothing I imagined that first night could compare to the reality I experienced. After 10 days I have so many stories and memories. Stories of driving into a village and being met by 20 women dancing and ululating, welcoming us to their home. Stories of sewing with women who were eager to start their own business of sewing and selling reusable maxi pads. Memories of the most primitive place I have ever stayed where there was no electricity, no running water (nearest well was ¼ mile away). Memories of sleeping on the floor with giant cockroaches and lizards. The nights were pitch black until the full moon rose over the hill, In all of this, I never once felt afraid. Never once did I wish I was somewhere else. Time felt like it passed slower. No internet and darkness at 5:30 pm changes the way you look at your day. It was refreshing.
But here's what hit me most poignantly: People are people everywhere you go. In extreme poverty these incredibly loving and generous people opened thier homes to us and offered us the very best they had. They love their children and care about their education and health just like we do. They are proud of their homes and keeping them clean. On the first day I was perplexed by the children sweeping the dirt, but. after a day or two I noticed that leaves and branches blew into their homes so yes, the sweeping mattered.
To say that people are people everywhere might sound silly. But often we live in a bubble and forget that in fact, there's a whole world out there. A whole world of people who live their lives everyday just trying to survive and hopefully thrive. I'm so grateful I got to see it and live it.
Yes, it changed my life. And yes, I'll go back.
Get out of your comfort zone. You never know what you might find out there.