Our morning was taken up by a Skype meeting with Ian Smith, a tutor on the Doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Lancaster University. Ian joined us during our visit last year and was keen to remain involved in thinking about opportunities to collaborate on research. Isaac (academic coordinator at the SJOG college) and Devlin (clinical psychologist) also joined us for these conversations. Together we identified a range of areas which would benefit from further exploration, with an overall aim of developing a psychological understanding of mental health difficulties and influencing the way in which care is provided within Malawi. These areas included: drug and alcohol addiction; the influence of increased access and use of social media on mental health; dementia and ageing; and post-natal mental health. The meeting felt very productive and we each left with a list of tasks and an enthusiasm to move these plans forward. Watch this space!
With the few hours of our day remaining, we headed over to see the children at the SJOG Umoza vulnerable children’s project and the Child Development Centre. We had brought some activities with us, as always the children were curious about us and what we had brought along and were keen to involve us in their games. We introduced them to the game of ‘snap’ with picture cards and soon had a few boisterous boys who enjoyed the chance to show off their newly developed prowess!
Each time we are with them we are struck by the respect they show to us, e.g. always bringing games back to us and not assuming ownership. We were lucky enough to be the models for a game of hairdressing and we noticed how the children enjoyed the feel of our hair and seemed intrigued by it being smooth to touch. Spending time with the Umoza children is always a humbling experience; it’s a privilege to be part of and witness them children and being playful, something which is unlikely to be a priority when they are outside of SJOGs walls.
We also spent some of the afternoon with children from the CDC; we had brought some sensory toys with us and soon had a group of children running around chasing bubbles and trying to figure out how these were being made. One of these children was a young girl who we had met during our first trip to Malawi in 2014. The week we met her was her first week at the CDC and there were concerns about whether she would thrive there as she was unable to communicate and having toileting accidents in the classroom. She was very withdrawn and seemed reluctant to engage with people but with lots of time and attention she began to come out of her shell. Today she ran up to us and immediately grabbed our hand to play ‘round and round the garden’, which we had taught her all those years ago. Speaking to the teachers also revealed that she has learnt some simple sign language and can now ask to go to the toilet and communicate other needs. It was fantastic to see her again, in particular the confidence and happiness which she showed. We feel so very lucky to watch these children grow up and be a small part of their lives.
At the end of the afternoon we spent time with Dixon, who we had previously met when he was attended the Umoza project but who is now training as a bricklayer with SJOG’s Institute of Vocational Training. Dixon and Joseph (Umoza’s music teacher) kindly gave us a further lesson in playing traditional African drums – there is video evidence but we’ve decided not to share that here!! This musical feast culminated in a spontaneous goodbye song – we hope you enjoy once we’ve posted it to Facebook!
We were invited to share one of our final evenings in Mzuzu with the Brothers of St John of God. It was lovely to return to their home, where we stayed during our trip last year. We shared good food, good company and a few rounds of ‘would you rather’ – we’ll leave you to ponder on whether you would rather have legs for arms or arms for legs!