I had heard of the organization World Camp for Kids when I was in North Carolina during this project’s planning stages. I have a few friends who have done their Malawi program and each one came back raving “oh Andrew you HAVE to go meet World Camp!! You have to go see what they do.” By coincidence their American office is in my home town Asheville and their Malawi office is in my “new home” town Lilongwe.
Today I had the privilege of accompanying World Camp on one of their excursions into a rural Malawian village. They were doing one of their signature HIV education and empowerment campaigns at a local school teeming with giddy children. As our Land Rover pulled into the schoolyard, the kids as if picking up on our scent swarmed toward us from the school and engulfed our vehicle. They chanted deafeningly “A-ZUN-GU!” “A-ZUN-GU!” (translated: WHITE PEOPLE! WHITE PEOPLE!) Having a horde of smiling little African children running up to you is exactly the kind of stereotype I try and dispel when describing Malawi to people, yet strangely….it happened. I soon learned what they were really cheering I for and its what any 10 year old kid cheers for after being cooped up in a classroom: recess.
The World Camp volunteers immediately rounded up the kids into groups and began singing rowdy camp songs and playing games. I felt like I was at summer camp all over again and said a boooom chick-a-boom as loud as my lungs would allow, while karate-kicking on each syllable.
The most meaningful part of the day was after the games had subsided and we huddled with the teachers to have an extensive and revealing conversation about HIV. I became transfixed on one teacher almost immediately. He had a youthful face but an aura of wisdom. He sat legs crossed with eyes looking at our translator purposefully, never fumbling over any response at questions directed at him. He is HIV positive. And open. I was floored at the degree of openness with which he talked about an infection cloaked in stigma.
After a long ‘Q and A’ with solely the azungus tossing the Qs, we adjourned. I talked to my translating friend about how inspiring this man’s story was and he agreed: “Yes! I’ve never met anyone in Malawi that open to talking about HIV.” Later that afternoon we walked into the village and found this young man and I described my project. After 10 minutes of carefully chosen English even more carefully translated by my brilliant Chichewa/English speaking friend the man spoke the following in Chichewa “I am more than ready to fight this war with you.”
There you have it. How to not feel absolutely energized with excitement at such a receptive and passionate individual and simultaneously humbled beyond belief? The antsy excitement stems from the eagerness to begin writing this man’s song. Then there is this humility I alluded to. Perhaps it’s this man’s incredibly calm energy (eyes fixed, words chosen so deliberately and easily), but I feel humbled by this man’s courage and matter-of-factness when talking about living with HIV. To know there are Malawians out there who won’t just entertain my idea but will commit to it, I feel reassured that yes in fact—we can actually do this.