Gillian Boyle, Logistics Manager in Malawi, organised Mary’s Meals first delivery of backpacks to schools on Likoma and Chizumulu, remote islands on Lake Malawi. This is her report.
Having loaded our truck with backpacks, footballs, crayons, notepads, paper and pencil cases, the distribution team made an early start. We were full of excitement, as it was the first time that any of us had travelled to the islands.
After a drive of over 690 km from Blantyre to Nkata Bay, we went to explore the metal boat we would be travelling on, the Ilala. Hundreds of people were moving on and off it, bringing shopping with them for the trip to their homes on the islands. I had never seen so many bananas in my life!
Finally, the time for departure was heralded by the loud blast of the ships horn.
We arrived in Chizumulu island at 0400. There is no dock so everything had to be unloaded by boat and brought to shore. It was mayhem as people tried to unload their goods with sleep filled eyes.
As we neared the beach we heard singing, shouting and clapping. We could hear the people but not see them in the darkness. When we got onto the beach it was full of women and children there to help and welcome us.
We walked the 1km to Chiteko school on foot and heard the cries of joy and excitement from the children as we got closer to the school. They were looking forward to seeing what was in the sacks and what Mary’s Meals had brought them.
We went from class to class giving the children the bags. When each child had one, they returned to their seats and waited until everyone in their class had received theirs. We then counted “1-2-3… Open” and they opened their bags together.
The cries of joy were deafening as the children discovered what goodies were inside. Some of them were on their hands praising God for their good fortune. The children were released from class early to go home and show their family what they received in their backpacks.
Once we had finished giving the bags to the children, we headed down the path to the shore line to head to the next school by boat. We met excited parents, clapping their hands and thanking us for the gifts we had brought. It lifted our tiredness to see so many happy families.
At Same, the next school, some of the children were waiting for us on the shore as they had heard the sound of the engine around the bay. The school was on a steep hill, so it was hard bringing the sacks to the school, but we persevered as the excitement of the waiting children kept us motivated.
Once again we gave each child a backpack. The sound from the children was deafening. As we were finishing up, children from the first school we had visited were arriving to show their friends what they received. Some of them were bouncing tennis balls and others had their new clothing put on over their uniforms. It was humbling to see such simple things bring such pleasure to so many children.
At about 11 o’clock, we returned to the boat to head to the third school, a junior school whose pupils were aged from five to seven. We thought the children would have left for the day, but they were still waiting for us.
The children saw the boat coming and as we approached were singing songs and dancing on the shore. Glory and William started to join in and there was a real festival mood. As we reached the shore, adults appeared from the bushes and houses to help us unload. The children’s faces lit up as they received their bags and promptly sat down with wide twinkling eyes and smiles that went from ear to ear.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday
We were up early to start distributions to the seven schools in Likoma island, the bigger of the two islands. Here there was one pick-up truck available to assist us.
Each evening we would meet people and they would tell us that their children were playing with their tennis balls or wearing their new clothes. We could hear the happy laughter as they played with each other in the evenings with their new things.
We headed back to meet the Ilala just as the sun was setting and we could see its silhouette on the water. Several of the local people who had helped us through the week met us at the shore to bid us farewell and thank us for the gifts Mary’s Meals had given to the youngsters on the island. We left these lovely, kind people with heavy hearts.
Just as we hauled anchor a storm broke and we got drenched. It was a frightening experience, seeing flashes of lightning hit the water and feeling the boat rock as the waves hit.
We finally reached Nkata Bay early in the morning, an exhausted but happy bunch. We realised that as a result of our work with Mary’s Meals and the contributions of its supporters, we had given a special gift to 3,546 children on the islands. This was the first trip of its kind for the Mary’s Meals logistics team. It was a tough challenge, but worth every bit of effort to see the joy on people’s faces.