Malawi, most famously known as “the warm heart of Africa”, is a desperately beautiful country. Within its 2,880km borders, the land rises from plains to mountains, transforms from desert landscapes to forests, and to the east it includes Lake Malawi – one of Africa’s largest fresh water lakes with over 250 species of tropical fish.
Formerly known as Nyasaland, Malawi obtained its independence from the British in 1964. President Kamuzu Hastings Banda rose to power and ruled until 1994, at which time the country transitioned into a multi-party democracy. Joyce Banda is the current president of Malawi, and only the second female president in all of Africa. She was vice president to President Bingu wa Mutharika, and assumed office according to the country’s consitution after he died suddenly in April 2012.
Despite its peaceful history, Malawi remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Although Malawi’s population is now reaching 18 million and only 20 percent of the land is arable, the vast majority of Malawians continue to rely on subsistence farming. Industry is limited and major exports include: tea, coffee, sugar, and tobacco. Progressive deforestation and land degradation foreshadow difficulties ahead and each year pockets of the country suffer from famine.
Women in Malawi have an average of five children. Twelve percent of children die before the age of five. It is not uncommon to meet young mothers in the public hospitals who have already buried multiple children. Unfortunately, Malawi also suffers one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates.
According to the WHO, life expectancy in Malawi is 61 for men and 67 for women, with preventable and treatable illnesses as well as parasitic infections being common causes of death. Like most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, HIV is also major problem, WHO/UNAIDS estimate that somewhere around 11% of adults are HIV positive. Both in town and in villages, widows caring for their orphaned grandchildren are all too common.
Malawi’s health care system operates at a skeletal level; with less than 300 physicians in the entire country (approximately two doctors for every 100,000 people), the majority of care is provided by nurses and clinical officers. Even so, clinics and hospitals face a severe staff shortage. It is in this setting that we are putting down roots.