Promoting Social-Emotional Wellbeing for Youth in Malawi
Culture shock: Simply put, I am feeling disoriented from the sudden re-entry into the U.S. way of life and set of attitudes. My senses are heightened to the “problems” here, that after my trip to Malawi, hardly even seem significant to me. Entry into a country living within the means of a vastly differently defined dollar, and the subsequent re-entry into a country full of noise and flash has my mind spinning. What consciousness allows individuals, such as me, to live an entire life oblivious of the cost of living in a disposable world? How many degrees of separation are there to sufficiently divert attention so that human lives are not considered worthy of nutrition, medical attention, clean, running water, and electricity? How can one group of people spend millions of dollars on election campaigns when babies are still dying of diseases that have preventative medicines?
If New York State residents gave up their lattes and espressos for a week we could raise enough money to build enough windmills and solar panels to power the entire country of Malawi! Upon my return, the neighborhoods that I used to consider lower income in my home town now seem like intimate palaces. The freedom we possess to enjoy our space without the requirement for barbed wire is blatantly obvious; the barbed wire is indicative of desperation incited by starvation.
I see Africa, as a continent, and wonder why there are so many small, individual countries. From Malawi to South Africa, we exchanged money from USD to Kwacha to Rand. In my own mind, I imagine Africa’s potential as “united states” instead of individual countries. Without implying they should follow the same laws as the U.S., I imagine the amount of power the continent would possess collectively when negotiating with other larger, wealthier countries. While this concept is unlikely, I find the idea appealing in that the playing field would level to some degree. This program has taught me that the value of money is relative.
This leads me one step further, as I imagine a world sharing the morals and values inclusive of human rights; one that increases a comfortable middle class internationally. This idea encompasses decreasing infant mortality, increasing economic development, reducing poverty levels, harnessing natural resources, and reducing the dependency of countries receiving aid while simultaneously developing global interactions that foster mutual aid. With determination, the economies currently supporting reliant countries could influence them to stabilize their governments through collaboration and compromise, reduce population growth, increase literacy, medical treatment options and providers.
The small elite upper class in Malawi controlling the wealth and resources in my view is the country’s principal issue, leading to a trickle-down waterfall effect of other problems. I can’t help but wonder if there was global influence and human rights were protected first and foremost, how would Malawi, and Africa as a whole, transform? If people miraculously realized that exploiting others is corrupt and began trading within a humane network, exchanging goods and crops with a balanced financial approach, wouldn’t we all benefit in the long term?
Human equity: An investment, the kind of stock that isn’t sold out when the trends get a little bumpy. This is the kind of investment one holds and rides out, because the long term benefits far outweigh the short term sale. Gains are emotional, spiritual, communal, economic, environmental, and global.
Global citizenship to protect human rights and a global definition of employment rates and living costs to balance the financial playing field would eradicate the confusion. Actions to clarify that people who are poor and starving in places like Malawi are like this because they are paid cents a day—not because they aren’t working hard enough—would prove invaluable internationally.
As I assimilate back into my everyday living, I find I have learned far more than I taught. While we left with intentions to teach children activities, the young women more ventures for their initiatives project, and even microfinance for the adult women, I’m finding I am the one that learned the most in this exchange. My heart rests; my spirit is calm; my mind is centered. I appreciate so much more, and with so much less. As a competitive type, I find the challenge within my newly acquired knowledge and look forward to harnessing my, and my community’s, inner strengths to educate others of our global needs and further the work underway in Malawi.