Another post, this time from July of last year on approaches to giving in Malawi along with a by now familiar fuel update….
I have been terrible at updating this blog, especially as it was originally supposed to be a platform from which I could spend more time pretending to be intellectual and write about some of the challenges and successes coming out of Malawian development discourse….
This week we had an interesting day in the office… I have often wondered about the culture and attitude to charity here in Malawi. In India, very few NGOs exist that aren’t religious (i.e. people don’t generally feel convicted to help their fellow citizens), sweeping generalisation as that may be, I have never really understood where Africa fits on the ‘giving’ map. It’s been 40 years of Wazungu’s trying to dominate the philanthropy and aid game in Sub Saharan Africa, and given the offensively low wages that local staff are paid, I (naively) never thought about people in Malawi (and elsewhere) giving to charity.
For Malawi, I guess it makes sense that people are naturally generous and want to share what they have. Certainly in my experience I have been inspired and amazed by the hospitality extended to me, time and time again, by people that have far less than I do but are always willing to make their meal extend to one more plate.
So in one day we had the dichotomy of ‘giving’ experiences. A chap walks into the office and I did a double take really; he reminded me very much of a chap I used to buy the big issue from back in Vauxhall, London. He was carrying an A4 folder and he came round the office visiting each persons desk. Turns out he was deaf, trying to raise money for a registered NGO here in Malawi working to help people who are deaf and/or suffer from hearing loss. He had all the registration information for the NGO and was asking people to record their names and contact information if they wanted to make a donation.
Observation number 1: BRILLIANT! Great to go with the ‘if i’m well organised and don’t harass people, they will recognise that this is a good cause and be more open to donate’ principle.
Observation number 2: everybody in the office donated generously; we have only 4 permanent expat staff in the office out of 25/30 Malawian staff.
Everyone gave generously, and the guy got a good reception. This doesn’t particularly surprise me, but it is great watching people who don’t paid a great deal, give a sizeable proportion of that to charity. People gave selflessly and without complaint, another attribute I love, and something which is quite rare to find amongst donors in the West… Then the very same day, a chap came through singing the song of ‘I am an orphan, I have HIV/AIDS, I don’t have a job, please give me money’ something we might be a bit more open to listening to if it weren’t for the fact he already borrowed £200 from the company before vanishing off the face of the earth for 2 years…. What a contrast.
In other news, the fuel crisis continues. It goes through phases; when petrol is available, diesel is not and when diesel is available petrol is not. The queues are out of this world, although I am well accustomed to them by now. People will queue through the night/several days just to get to the pump and be told they’re only allowed to receive 30 litres or whatever it is…. Until recently, what would happen is that people would crawl out of the woodwork with jerry cans once a tanker had refuelled a station. They would march straight to the pumps and get filled up and then likely sell it on the black market or give it to their employer who was probably number 135 in the queue…. then Bingu wa Numpty Mutharika decided to ban jerry cans, So you can now only fill up with your car at the pump. Half makes sense…. Anyway thankfully there has been a brief respite and diesel is back for a few days.
The crisis has been going on, on and off since February. The main reason for the fuel crisis this year, I have been told, is because of heavily reduced donor funding to the Malawi government – money that the gov. had assigned to purchasing fuel… so obviously, no money = no fuel coming into the country. I will miss a lot of things when I move back to the UK in september for a few months, but I definitely will NOT miss having to think and plan my life around fuel shortages.