The morning rain has just begun to recede and it’s 1 o’clock in the afternoon as I approach the home of Stephano and Dorothy who have graciously invited me into their home.
As I arrive they are gathered inside their small thatched mud house, taking a break from a days work on the farm, and sitting down to lunch. Lunch consists of Nsima, a form of hand porridge and green leafy vegetables.
Stephano,24 and Dorothy, 20 live in Chauwa village which consists of a community of subsistence farmers who grow crops exclusively for food. They would love to be able to sell some of their produce at the local market but this year’s El Nino has led one of the worst harvests in 3 years and there is no food to spare. “ We cultivate in others people’s gardens for money” Stephano explains, it’s their only way to produce an income and while it is vital, time spent cultivating for others means less time growing food for themselves, it’s a difficult game to balance.
The pressure is greater than usual as their baby son, Richard has turned one this year and it is crucially important that he gets enough food to sustain his growth. It is shocking to realise that malnutrition and stunting affects over 60% of children under 5 in Malawi.
Tentatively I mention Valentine’s Day to the couple, nervous that, in comparison to their day to day hardships Valentine’s might be trivial and of little importance. I needn’t have worried.
It turns out Valentines Day is a significant celebration here. I’m surprised to hear that there is in fact a Valentine’s Day concert taking place in Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital. Judy Boucher will be performing at the Bingu International Conference Centre. While there is no way Dorothy and Stephano can get tickets, one of their neighbours has a radio and as a family they will go and listen.
As I make to leave Dorothy approaches me keen to share one last bit of information. My working for Pump Aid had yet to come up in conversation, but they knew of course. Taking me slightly outside the village, Dorothy gestures at the Elephant Pump installed on top of one of the old wells.
They have been using the pump for several months now and the water it produces has helped in negating the effects of El Nino and prevented Richard from succumbing to one of the many water born diseases that all too often affect the young.
Wordlessly we look over the village before Dorothy bids me farewell and returns home. On my own journey back I think on the family’s plan for Valentines, and hope it is everything they deserve.