Having awoken refreshed and raring to go we went in search of familiar faces to say hello and to begin making plans as to how our short time here can be most useful. In true Malawian style we had no specific plans or arrangements, but everything seemed to fall into place!
Our first meeting of the day was with Devlin, one of the few clinical psychologists in Malawi. We reflected on the partnership between The Umoza Trust and St John of God (SJOG) and our plans for future placements (trainee clinical psychologists or other mental health professionals). Devlin shared his ideas around how we might support the psychosocial counselling course staff to develop their skills further by introducing therapeutic models that they may not be familiar with. One of the key values of The Umoza Trust is sustainability and this feels like a valuable way in which skills could be shared. We now need to give some thought as to how this could be culturally sensitive and how we can ensure that staff are able to link their psychological understanding of a client to the interventions they offer.
We then shifted focus during a meeting with the academic lead and principal of SJOG college. We thought about opportunities for collaborative research and how our time in Malawi could be used to scope out areas of need and speak to some of the psychosocial counselling students who are currently planning their research projects. One area which could benefit from a deeper understanding through research is the agogo (elderly) programme. We plan to spend time there tomorrow to learn more about these important services. We also discussed next steps towards The Umoza Scholarship which will offer support towards tuition fees for psychosocial counselling students. One of our tasks for this week is to design processes for this which ensure that it is fair and equitable.
Before lunch we took the opportunity to visit a class of children at the Elvira learning institute. We enjoyed spending their break-time with them and noticed how caring and supportive they were towards each other, particularly those with additional needs. They enjoyed wearing our sunglasses (much better than we do and sometimes upside down) and comparing skin colour. It’s lovely to see some of the children we spent time with on our first visit to Malawi in 2014 moving through the programme.
After lunch we wandered through the markets and beautiful countryside on our journey to the House of Hospitality, SJOGs inpatient ward. We visited Lakoma, their acute ward, and were able to spend time talking with the clients there. One lady introduced us to her newborn son who was staying in a separate building within the unit with her grandmother. She explained that she had struggled after the birth of her son but was feeling better after three weeks in hospital. When asked what had helped, she cited the values of SJOG staff, most importantly the respect she has been shown. Two gentlemen shared their belief that admission would clarify what was “wrong within their bodies and brains”. We wonder whether this reflects the increasing prevalence of a medical model within mental health services in Malawi. It was lovely to hear them talk of being accepted and considered equal to the staff providing care on the ward.
On our walk home we were joined by a student studying psychiatric nursing who we had met last year. He spoke of his decision to train as a nurse as the only way to develop the skills to do the best job he could in the hospital within which he worked. Unexpectedly he posed us the question “what do you like most about yourself”. In true British style we uhmmed and ahhed before answering for each other! We were intrigued as to how he would approach this question; he simply replied with “I like the fact that I am me”. Elaborating on this he explained that he couldn’t be happy trying to be somebody else, so tried his best not to compare himself to others. We thought that this was such a powerful philosophy to live by that we used it to inspire our blog title today (thanks Chesney Hawkes!)
Our final reconnection of the day came when we visited a friend and kind local who we met last year. She had been running a grocery stall but due to difficult times now transports her produce to various locations in the hope of increasing sales. As soon as she saw us she gave us both a hug and then rushed off. She returned with a parcel of food as a gift. As always in these moments we were struck by the kindness and friendship that people show in even the most difficult of times.
For an unplanned day we seem to have done quite a lot! Looking forward to updating you tomorrow 😊