Wednesday, June 11, 2008

June Update

The District Commissioner for Blantyre has his office in a governmental complex on the south-east side of the city (Remember that the District is like a small state for this country―something like a county to those of you in the U.S.). He and his associates handle concerns and requests that come in from both urban and rural populations. These concerns can range from funding for community initiatives such as materials for community lessons to permits and partnerships with the local police to see grassroots events come to a full fruition. They've got to handle the concerns, or refer them to the proper agencies. They have a small staff and a big job.
I went to visit the District Commissioner early in the month of May to request a permit for a fundraising "Big Walk." I've been planning for this event with one of my Field Officers since April. We agreed that it would be best to start a few kilometers north of Lunzu and to walk south through town along the M-1 until we reach the big roundabout where you can split off towards Chileka and the airport, or choose one of two roads which take you directly into Blantyre. The walk will be slightly more than 20 km. The M-1 is the main trucking highway running north towards Lilongwe, the capitol city. We will need a security force of police to keep the walk from being dangerous.
When I first went to visit the D.C. I found him at his desk in his office. I didn't expect him to have the time to see me, but he did. He asked me to type up my request and told me that he would look it over and write a letter on our behalf to the police, authorizing our raising of funds, as well as our event itself. When I went back with the letter, he wasn't in the office. I went back a third time, and found myself in the same situation. I got his phone number from his secretary, and got him on the phone. He suggested that I see the HR manager for their department. He told me that she could write and sign the letter in his absence. I went to see her. She is wonderful. Listens to Christian, country music. Has the frenzied energy that only an elegant, over-worked, social-service career-minded mother, who loves her job, can have. She laughed as she typed up the letter. We talked about good days and bad days. How you never can tell how a day is going to go unless you follow your gut. How you can change a day around depending solely on your attitude. She gave me two dozen copies of the permit/letter―all stamped and signed, as well as just as many stamped and signed contribution forms for fundraising. She packed them all into a huge monstrosity of a manila-style envelope, which I had to fold twice to fit into my bag. And off I went.
I've remained in contact with different book donations organizations over the last couple of months. "Books for Africa" is one such organization. They are located in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. I found out that we could receive a portion of a container of books (to be shipped to Blantyre in July), but that we would need to cover the shipping costs to get our portion of the books here. That amount seemed to be too much. Roughly $3,500 USD. But I remained in correspondence with my contact at BFA, and I managed to find the resources to take care of the shipping charges. Sometime towards the middle of August, we will receive 35,000 donated textbooks, including encyclopedias, primary, secondary, and post-secondary materials. 25,000 of these books will head north and a little east up to Mangochi and a friar named Father Federico. His parish is funding a library expansion. 10,000 of the books will arrive for my project. Our biggest challenge is going to be in managing the distribution of the books, and the monitoring of the libraries as they receive and integrate these new resources. I want to split the books between the Field Officers I work with in Blantyre North, to those in Troop South, and to the two Troops in Zomba. If any of you have anything that you would like to send for use in the Fields (office or art supplies, HIV/AIDS materials, or any other ideas you have), please pack them very snugly in a well-sealed box, and ship it to the following address in MN. BFA will include your parcel in our shipment. It won't arrive until close to my departure date―I'm flying home on the 9th of October―and I would appreciate it if you would focus primarily on filling parcels with items to be used by and left for the Field Officers.
The address for BFA is:

Carole Patrikakos
Development Associate
BFA Warehouse
715 Minnehaha Ave. E.
St. Paul, MN 55106

Here is a note from Carole as well:
{Mark ALL four sides and the TOP of the box:DO NOT OPEN: Malawi shipment: DAPP/Ben M
And, have the people send me an email when they post the boxes. They should pack them well- don't leave any empty space in the box, or it will get crushed in transit.}
---------So, if you want to send a parcel, let me know asap, and I'll give you Carole's email address.

Also, if you've expressed an interest in contributing to the final portion of the shipping charges―the port/custom fees to get the books into Malawi, now is the time to mail those checks. The best option is to send a check to my Stepmom in Tennessee. She will manage the bank transactions. Let me know if you need that address, and I'll send you a separate email including it.
I am working on an update of both the primary school I've funded the building of, and the trainings of local leaders as volunteers in our HIV/AIDS social awareness project. My camera broke, so I'm waiting―rather impatiently at this point―for my project to get me the digital camera they have, so I can snap some photos of the school, the prospective students, and the local leaders.
I climbed up to the top of Mulanje Massif with a group of six friends. Before we climbed up we stayed in the same place I stayed over New Years. A really hospitable rainforest biologist (who specializes in discovering new species of butterflies) opened his home for the second time. But this time we didn't stay in the valley. We climbed up to the top one day, slept in a Presbyterian rental hut, and climbed down the other side the following day. The massif is huge. It took an hour and a half to hike from the top of our path up to our accommodations in the middle of just one of the sections of plateau. We found a group of rock pools overlooking the valley to the west and north. I jumped in to the coldest water that has ever touched my body and I screamed. Then I shaved two weeks of growth off of my face in one of the streams rolling off the mountain.
My day-to-day activities are in a cycle. I get comfortable and happy and then something changes. People are always coming and going here, including myself. I'm learning just how flexible I've become, and am becoming―to sustain a feeling of self-worth and satisfaction even as I deal with loneliness, failure, and frustration. I'm looking forward to coming home, but I will never regret the time I'm spending here.
-- Ben Mielenz

1 comment:

Priscila said...

Hello Ben! My name is Priscila, Iam from Brasil, and Iam the new TCE DI Blantyre South. I arrived 1 week ago and Iam still looking for the tasks, how runs the system and which are the positions as well. I was looking for Chilangoma news on internet, and I found your blog. Iam living in TCC Chilangoma, as Agnes (the last TCE DI) and I would like to make contact with you. Iam very lost between so many taks!! Let me know more about how long time you will still be here, and everything else. My email is (I tought I was going to Zambia...) Lets talk more! Thank you, Pri