On our third morning we’d arranged to visit some agogos (an honorific term for the older generation). Although we’d been asked to be ready for 8.30am we had no idea who would be picking us up; it was a pleasant surprise to see Brother Jean-Claud, who we stayed with last year and who makes excellent Guava jam!
Jean-Claud and a medical clinician took us to visit the Towilane elderly service, just outside of Mzuzu. We visited the service a year earlier, when they were using a school building whilst a purpose-built centre was being constructed. See below for before and after photos!
On our arrival we were greeted warmly by the agogos, some of whom remembered us from our previous brief visit. They enjoyed seeing a photo of their group which we had taken last year. Unexpectedly but to our complete delight the agogos burst into song to welcome us back – a moment we didn’t capture on camera because we wanted to fully experience it.
We then joined Jean-Claud and two staff members on a series of home visits to agogos who could not independently reach the service. Our first visit of the day was with a beautiful and friendly man who we later learned was the chief of his village. He had broken his arm last year and this resulted in him having very little use of this arm and being in evident pain. He explained that he had to rely on his younger brother to take him outside of his village on a bike if needed. This visit and several others highlighted the lack of resources available for these agogos (e.g. walking aids and comodes) and the reliance on family to offer support.
On a later visit there were concerns about an older gentleman’s wellbeing following a stroke. We observed how difficult it seemed to explore his cognitive functioning without any standard processes for doing so. This led us to reflect on how useful cognitive screening tools might be within this setting and whether there is scope to translate and adapt any existing tools. In general, the visits largely focused on physical health monitoring (e.g. weight, blood pressure, temperature) and providing medication. Humour was often used to engage in discussions around difficult topics such as addiction. Staff were clear to offer advice to improve wellbeing; we noticed our personal pull to explore the reasons why these difficulties are around and what they meant to the person.
One of the staff spoke of his desire to further his training; there is a recurring theme of local people being motivated to want to better themselves for the benefit of their community. He explained his dilemma that to pursue further education would result in him losing his job and source of income; another example for us of why the Umoza Scholarship will be a valuable opportunity to promote sustained development.
We returned to the service base just as the agogos finished their lunch. They invited us to join them outside where they sat on the floor. Interestingly they were shocked when we sat on the floor with them and rushed to find chairs for us; this and a few comments about us being “from the Motherland” was a reminder of the history of Malawi and the fact that it was once (in the agogos’ lifetime) a British colony. We spent the afternoon trying not to reveal our lack of rhythm as we danced with the agogos to the sound of drums and their singing. We have put a few pictures here and will try to upload a video soon! The energy and openness of the group was a heartwarming experience to be part of.
We returned to Mzuzu just in time to see the children of the Umoza vulnerable children project, some of whom recognised us from previous visits. It was especially nice to see a boy who we met during our first visit to Malawi who had been very poorly last year but who now looks back to good health. Before leaving for the day all of the children were given a bowl of porridge and we were touched when one of them offered to share their porridge with us. Lots of the children were curious to learn about us and to make a connection; we now have lots of Chitumbuka teachers (their local language)!
This evening we are planning to meet up with Andy Davis, managing director of Trident Manor, a risk management company who have been incredibly generous in their support of The Umoza Trust. Andy has travelled to Malawi to support us with our own risk assessment and has offered his time to provide training to SJOG staff. We’ll tell you more about this tomorrow!