Sunday, May 31, 2015

Helping Hands - Carole's Post

Before George and I arrived in Malawi, I read everything I could find about the country, Blantyre, and in particular, any information about the LDS church in this part of the world. In some ways, the church experience here is similar to many African countries and obviously, in some ways Malawi is its own unique place.  As I was reading some of the blogs of previous and current missionaries, I came across references to Helping Hands projects, such as painting police stations, cleaning up city-owned areas, and improving school and orphanage facilities. 

Helping Hands is the name that the LDS church gives to organized projects where church members give of their time and talents to bless those in need.  Such projects occur in response to disasters when wards and stakes organize to improve conditions of those victims.  But Helping Hands is also a worldwide name for church-organized efforts to perform volunteer community service. Wards or branches, stakes or districts provide service laborers and not usually goods or materials.  (Totally separate, the Humanitarian arm of the church - and here in the Zambia Lusaka Mission
we have a senior couple serving in that capacity - determine when the church can best provide financial aid for worthwhile projects.)

The projects are not for the purpose of proselyting, but they can be the beginning of some gospel conversations. Helping Hands is also effective in developing beneficial relationships between church leaders and government officials or other opinion leaders. Usually the coordination and implementation of the project is delegated to the Public Affairs committee of the region, stake, or district. 

This year, the Blantyre district wanted to get input from some community leaders before deciding on a project.  And this year, rather than a single event, the church is willing to tackle a larger project that might take many days before turning it back to the community.  With this is mind, the committee organized a meeting and invited the mayor of Blantyre, the Councillors (similar to members of a city council), and the local chiefs of the city.  They hoped to introduce them to the church and glean ideas from them about how best to serve the people of Blantyre.

President Edward Matale is the Public Affairs Director for the church in all of Malawi and he is a counselor in the Blantyre District presidency.  He worked tirelessly to make this an effective meeting.
President Mwale is the other counselor in the Presidency and Sister Mwale has worked on church public affairs for many years.  She has an infectious enthusiasm and is an excellent voice for the church when working with civic leaders.  Even more than that, she spent the entire day cleaning the Blantyre meetinghouse the day before the scheduled meeting.  And it isn't easy for Sister Mwale to get to the church since she has to walk for an hour each way.

The two presidents in front of the Helping Hands logo.

There are always those who work behind the scenes to make things happen. Frank Manchichi is one of those;  he spends hours at the church working on the computer and making sure that "all the pieces fit together".
George, with Frank.  You can see that the church has some marvelous posters (that we had never seen before).  The Relief Society Room looked so wonderful.

The guests slowly began to trickle in.  It was scheduled to begin at 9:00 AM but this is can see that it is now 9:30 and just a few have arrived.  It finally commenced at about 9:50.

These four chiefs each represent a different part (neighborhood) of town. 
The 30+ chiefs in Blantyre hold inherited, not political, positions and have great influence over areas.
 A chief preserves public peace, carries out traditional functions of the office, assists in the collection of taxes and oversees the sale of lands and land uses. He/she might settle disputes between neighbors or businesses.

Two of the place cards:

VH is an abbreviation for Village Headman.  

Chilomoni is an area of Blantyre.

GVH stands for Group Village Headman.

Three of the elected city Councillors, each representing a ward,  were in attendance.

The mayor and a deputy mayor are elected by the 23 Councillors from among themselves.  Councillors serve for five years and the mayor is elected every 2 1/2 years.

The mayor was unable to attend our meeting but the deputy mayor came.  He came up to the building and stood outside talking to us for a short while.  Then he went back to his car to wait for the others to arrive.  It is important that the mayor or most important dignitary be the last to arrive.
When he walked in right before the meeting started, we all stood up as a sign of respect.

President Matale began with a Power Point presentation giving the history and background of Helping Hands.
George is sitting by the deputy mayor.

The deputy mayor read a list of concerns that the city has, such as broken street lights, unlicensed vendors, vandalism, illegal selling of land.

Then the Councillors and the chiefs explained some of their concerns.

After about 1 1/2 hours, the deputy mayor said he felt that there needed to be more discussion on how the church could help and recommended that we have another meeting, this time with more of the Councillors.  He even suggested that we take about ten minutes at the next meeting and give a description of our church, since it was relatively new in Malawi.

George gave the final talk (unknown to him until he saw the agenda at the meeting!) and did an exemplary job of explaining how our religion is a church of volunteers.  He told the story of the Mormon migration to the west, the pioneers who crossed the plains,  planting maize and other crops along the trail, so that the following wagon trains would be able to harvest it and have food for their companies. We could see that it resonated with our guests.

After the closing prayer, we gave a tour of the building to our guests, and visited while eating chips, apples and candy.

A very successful morning!