Conversation on my way back from work today

I had an interesting conversation with my driver on my way back from work today.

It takes about 30 minutes to drive from Limbe (adjacent to BLantyre) where I stay to the hospital where I work. I have been driven the first first days in a minibus but today I was picked up by the hospital ambulance. The ambulance is not what you may think. It is a pick up truck with a cab to cover the back and the word Ambulance on the front.

So today on my way back from work, while riding the ambulance, I was taking to the driver which had many questions for me and how things are where i come from. He was interested in the types of crops that we grow, our main food / dish, our religion, etc.

In talking to him, i found out that many people are walking from Nguludi (where the hospital is located) to Limbe where they work. This on average a 2 hour walk, morning and night. Needless to say that people are very fit here. Women maybe even more so than men as they do most of the physical labor and always seen to be carrying something, most often on their head. Whether it is some produce to sell on the side of the street like corn or laundry, all the way to full size tables, and every thing in between.

If they are not walking, people usally get around on a bike, or on minibuses which are loaded to the max. A minibus will not leave for its destination onless is is full with people. And when I say full I mean full. Typically they have 2 seats at the front and 1 banquet seat for 2 people and 2 banquet seats for 3, for a total of 10 passengers. They actually manage to fit 3-5 people per banquet seat, plus groceries, bike parts, etc, plus someome who deals with the tickets floating between the side door and the seats for a total up to 17 peoples. Quite a circus act.

One of a staple in their diet is simba (not sure of the spelling) which is made from corn flour. It is a kind of side dish. The also have “Irish” potatoes, and sweet potatoes which they grow locally. For the ones who can afford it then they also sometimes have rice.

One important cash crop for the area is tobacco which seems to be sold mostly to China. Despite that only a few people actually smoke.

A small number of people can afford to have a television, in rural areas, less that 25%. My driver can only dream of having one. He said: “One day I have asked my friend how can he get anything done since he has a television. If it was me I would be in front of it watching every day, all day.” My driver cannot afford a television because he is supporting his brother who is going to school. His parents died and he is the main bread winner.

Here children from a young age go to boarding schools. Another of my drivers, who has 3 children between the ages of 5 to 12, only has the youngest living with her at home during the school year.

Another intereting fact is that homosexuality is illegal in Malawi. If someone is found to be gay he may be sent to prison.

Today was a good day. The first day time I could see the sun after a week being in Malawi.

We also got a lot done at work and progessing well with the development of their inventory management system. I am also teaching Jezman (pharmacy technician) and Sister Mary (pharmacy worker), 2 young kids between the age of 20 – 25, the basic elements of MS Access programming so that ther are part of the developement process but also that they can carry on with it after I am gone.


Feb 12 – 14

On Tuesday, i was oriented to some aspects of the country and the documentation that will be required for my project. On Wednesday, I traveled by car from Lilongwe to Blantyre (4 h), and got oriented to Blantyre by 2 other volunteers on Wednesday. I am staying in a  hotel in Blantyre which is about 30 min from the hospital were I work. Jay Graydon stayed at the hospital last year but they have provided me with a hotel room instead since there were no running water in the apartment were Jay was staying, The electricity and running water is a hit and miss even in this hotel which seems to be one of the nicest around. I am very appreciative of that.

Today, I started working at the hospital and learned about their inventory management system which is all done manually. Each product on the shelf has a log sheet beside it to keep track of inventory. Acquisition of the drugs is a huge challenge due to the availability of the drugs themselves but the limited funds to buy them. There has been a dramatic devaluation of the local currency, the Kwacha, over the last 1-2 year. In the past 12 months the price of goods have basically doubled. I have exchanged a $100 dollar bill for 36,500 Kwachas which I have received in 500 Kwacha denomination which ends up being about a 1 -1 1/2 inch stack of bills. The locals have difficulty keeping up.

There is almost no check taking place from a pharmacy point of view. They have a pharmacy technician but no pharmacist. The only thing that I can see so far is when someone is on antibiotics they verify if the patient had been on it the previous day or not so that it is OK to continue.

Only one physician serves the whole hospital with some “clinicians” that have less training but can also prescribe medications. Only the physician does surgery.

The Internet is extremely slow but can be accessed. It is not used very much.

I am just getting a sense of the scope of my project (implementing an electronic inventory management system). Hopefully, I will be able to complete it during my stay here but from what I saw today it is far from a sure thing.

Leave 4 Change program

What is the Leave for Change program?

Leave for Change® is a corporate volunteering initiative that enables employees from participating organizations to transform part of their annual vacation into a 3 to 4 week volunteer assignment in a developing country.

Leave for Change® is a corporate volunteering initiative that enables employees from participating organizations to transform part of their annual vacation into a 3 to 4 week volunteer assignment in a developing country. Employers invest in the development of their human resources and demonstrate leadership in corporate social responsibility. Employees put their knowledge and skills to work in an international development project, expand their personal and professional horizons and acquire a deeper understanding of broader global issues.