Quest to sustain vision
It is around 10 o’clock in the morning but it already sweltering hot. This is Nkhata Bay, a lakeshore district in northern part of Malawi. At a clinic in the area of Traditional Authority Malaza in the district, people have queued to receive their pair of reading glasses from a well-wisher.
One of them, 40 year-old Margret Mchawi, who is so eloquent in the queen’s language, narrates that five years ago, she used to be one of the fluent Bible readers at her church. Not anymore.
Margaret, a mother of six, says she has a blurry vision. She cannot clearly see an object at a stone’s-throw distance, worse still to read; a hobby she enjoyed most.
“I used to enjoy reading, especially at my church. I cannot read anymore, this worries me,” she said.
She had come at the clinic to meet Paul Luijf, a Dutch who had come to give out free pairs of glasses for reading to people around the clinic, which has a catchment area of about 8, 000 people.
Luijf showed up at the medical centre, constructed between Kande and Chinthetche in Nkhata Bay at around 11 am in the morning and he was in the company of his wife Eliane and daughter Jet.
Looking excited and energetic, he carried his box of optical objects and went straight into the consultation room as over 30 people had queued up, waiting for a free pair of glasses.
One after the other, the people went in for check up and out of the room smiling as they could now clearly read with precision.
Margaret also got her glasses. She pulled out her scriptures to read aloud when we met outside the facility.
“I am excited that I can now clearly read. This will help me strengthen my spiritual life,” she said, smiling her way home.
It was sometime in 2011 when then Dutch tourist, Paul Luijf visited Malawi, having read a lot about its beauty that is tucked in the country’s tourist destinations. He landed in Nkhata Bay.
Moving by one of the beaches along Lake Malawi, he bumped into a Malawian, Mgawa Msosa, who after a long chat, an idea struck his mind.
Mgawa’s mother had an eye problem which affected her for years. She could not read.
Being an optician, Luijf dared the problem and the mother was given glasses for free. Since then, Luijf has been giving out free pairs of glasses to those in dire need in Nkhata Bay District.
He says he has given out more than a thousand pairs of glasses to people at no cost. But this initiative is not sustainable, as he puts it.
“The money that I use is coming from my pocket, meaning if my pockets run dry, the service is gone as well,” he said.
During his stay in the lakeshore district, Luijf also witnessed the struggle of less privileged children who were just playing by the beach, looking hungry and were not going to school.
Together with the Msosa family, he mobilised resources and built a school block with the aim of bringing education closer to children in the communities.
The school, which has now an enrollment of about 60 learners, also has a feeding programme.
One of the volunteers at the school which is located at Kaweta in the same area, Emily Chirwa, said the children are given porridge every morning; an initiative that is encouraging parents to send their young ones to school.
“The school is free and apart from the porridge we do lots of exercises with the children. This approach has proved to be a success in as far as improving education is concerned,” she said.
To make the project sustainable, the school’s committee, with help of Group Village Headman Wachaza are raising goats and chicken for sale.
“We are also promoting hygiene and sanitation. We brought in a water pump just to make sure the kids have access to clean water. They are encouraged to clean their hands before eating, after visiting the toilet among other health hygienic practices,” Eliane, spouse to Paul, said.
The Msosa and Luijf families also procured land where they plant bananas, maize, Molinga trees and cassava whose proceeds are aimed at helping the school.
The clinic mentioned earlier was also built by the same families and was named after the Luijf daughter—Jet.
Paul says though it is a private hospital, the fees are very low just for the sustainability of the hospital.
One of the managers of the clinic, Juliet Msosa, said some of the common ailments that they are able to treat are malaria, high blood pressure, diabetes and they offer antenatal services among others.
“What we want is that the hospital should be able to sustain itself because that is key to development. We want to empower our community, they should be able to run a facility or a project on their own,” she said.
With support from Chintheche Health Centre, the clinic is also able to give out vaccines to under five children.
After all is said and done, the Luijf and Msosa families aspire to have communities potentially active to run projects on their own. This is the direction that Malawi should take, seeing it is already blessed with abundant natural resources such as water bodies, gorgeous mountains and most importantly, peaceful people. That way, the warm heart of Africa tag shall thrive.