We began the day fulfilling a promise to the brothers’ cook Philip to show him an English recipe. With masterful supervision from Brother Michael, jammie bread and butter pudding was soon our new favourite breakfast food. Whilst waiting for the pud to bake, we climbed a nearby water tower to take in the view and the morning sun.
At the centre we spent time with current students who told us about the harsh realities of trying to fund training in mental health care in Malawi. This left us thinking about how The Umoza Trust might be able to assist, and we discussed the idea of setting up an Umoza Trust Scholarship with Isaac at the college.
We spent the early afternoon with the children at Umoza (the vulnerable children’s project) and had a great time interacting with them. A 7 year old boy even remembered Caroline’s name from her first visit here two years ago! We were struck by the politeness of the children, who despite having very little were keen to return the toys that we brought for them. Luckily we had the interpretative assistance of Moma who let the children know that they were to be shared by the children at Umoza.
Our final appointment of the afternoon was at the college, where we shared information about our training programmes in the UK and Malawi and made further plans for future collaborations in teaching and research.
We are now sat in the pitch black at the SJOG centre awaiting the arrival of Kelly and Hayley. Once they have arrived we will be sharing our evening meal with Devlin and his family (hopefully Kelly and Hayley will be able to stay awake!)
Back at St John’s mental health centre after a relaxing weekend we started early and were quickly ushered into the office of Flemings, the principal of the college for a meeting to talk about how we might collaborate in terms of both training and research. We will be following up this meeting over the next few days and have lots of exciting ideas to share and develop. We were then shown around the psychosocial counselling department, which has the unique advantage of having its own attached clinical services which students are very actively involved in running.
We spent the rest of the morning in the child development centre and in the Umoza vulnerable children’s project, where we were given a lesson in making nsima (by the mama of Umoza), in drumming (by an Umoza tutor) and swinging really high (by the children). We then retired for lunch where we chatted to some of the current students of the college and promised to visit Mzuzu prison at some point in the future to see the conditions there.
The afternoon began with us interviewing Devlin (local psychologist) on how he understands compassion in his work and in his culture. We are planning to use this material to co-author a book chapter in the near future. We were moved by his reflections and struck by the similarities and differences in the ways we conceptualise our work in relation to distress, compassion and empathy.
Finally, we went for a bumpy ride passing many interesting shop signs (see photo) to visit the newly established day-services for the elderly (locally called agogos) in the suburbs of Mzuzu. We met and shook hands with all the clients, who then all sang to us beautifully. We travelled a few more miles to visit the building of a new space for this service, which is currently being facilitated in a local school classroom. We finished the day by meeting old friends, buying fresh bread in the supermarket, and cooking ourselves a meal at home whilst chatting with the brothers. Another full day!
We started the weekend with a final briefing via Skype with Kelly, one of the trainees who will be arriving in Mzuzu on Tuesday. Part of our time on Friday was spent confirming details of their placement and making arrangements for their arrival; they are setting off on Monday so the excitement was palpable!
With services closed over the weekend, we took the opportunity to get more in tune with the local culture. After being taught how to make a Malawian salad by the chef at the Brothers’ house, we were picked up by our friendly driver Simon who took us to visit Lake Malawi. There we had a chance meeting with a very friendly gentleman who turned out to be none other than the Mayor of Mzuzu, William. He was very down to earth and didn’t hesitate to assist us in spelling the name of his city in shadows on the beach. After spending time with him and his family he invited us to visit him in his office this week which we are looking forward to.
We spent our evening at the lake under a canvass of starlight around a warm fire with the local security guards exchanging stories about our lives in England and Malawi. We then had a few hours of sleep before rising early to watch the sunrise – fortunately the lake was sufficiently choppy to deter the local crocodiles!
On our return to Mzuzu we spent the evening with the Brothers of St John of God, who had prepared us a lovely meal. We had interesting conversations about how people with mental health difficulties can be particularly vulnerable.
With more meetings planned tomorrow, we look forward to updating you soon!
After a 32 hour journey, we arrived in Mzuzu to be welcomed by the Brothers of St John of God at their home. Our first evening involved sharing local produce from our respective countries. We are now all firm fans of guava jam and wine! We will be staying with the Brothers for the next week.
Our first day was a busy one – we shared breakfast with the Brothers before sitting down to watch the news, which included a piece on the First Lady of Malawi visiting St John of God the previous day. It was lovely to see lots of familiar faces! We then headed to the St John of God centre for an early start. Although we hadn’t prearranged any meetings, everybody was welcoming and extremely keen to help and make time for us – our most heard phrase of the day was “you’ll find me when you need me”. By 9am we were sat with Charles, the Director, discussing our plans for our future collaborations.
During the day we visited many of the services to say hello to old friends and meet new ones. This included some therapeutic dancing at the House of Hospitality and around 6 miles of walking (which made a nice contrast to the day before!)
We spent lunch with Devlin and had interesting discussions about mental health in Malawi and the UK. Devlin reflected on the increase of materialism and wondered whether this linked to higher rates of substance misuse and psychological difficulties. He spoke of the ‘emptiness of looking forwards’ in a society which values material goods and quick gains, which he though had led to a loss of patience and resilience.
The conversations and experiences we have had today have left us feeling welcomed and excited for the remainder of our trip, and for our future work here in Malawi.