WHEN the opportunity first arose a few months ago to travel to Malawi with Concern, to see first-hand the lifesaving programmes that they run in the South East African country, I felt privileged to have been offered the chance to get involved.
Africa has always been a continent that I have had a longing to visit.
Having grown up with an uncle who spent 15 years helping to rebuild a war-torn community in Mozambique, from an early age I heard stories of this beautiful and scenic land with its warm and welcoming people.
However, he also relayed tales of the hardship and pain that many of these people suffer on a daily basis as a result of the ever-worsening factors of hunger, poverty and disease.
These factors are some of those that Concern are trying to combat with the programmes that they have been running in Malawi since 2002.
If you have grown up in Ireland, you will almost certainly know Concern as a household name.
They are a charity that is recognised internationally for the difference that they make working with people all over the world to help them transform their lives and fight against poverty and the tragic circumstances that it creates.
I feel honoured that I have been given the chance to travel and see the work that they do, to meet and speak to some of the members of the communities that they engage with and to hear first-hand how they have helped them to become self-sufficient and enhance their own futures.
One of Concern’s ambitions is a world in which poverty and hunger do not exist, and with 218 million people in Africa struggling with this on a daily basis, they have a mammoth challenge on their hands.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a comfortable home in a suburb of Dublin during the Irish Celtic Tiger years, with so many educational and social opportunities available to me.
I therefore cannot begin to say that I can fully understand the struggles of hunger and poverty that the people of Malawi are constantly subject to.
I hope that hearing about our visit will highlight not only the life changing impact that Concern makes in Malawi, but also the little things that every one of us can do to make a difference to the world around us.
Travelling with James Sandford, from London Irish Rugby Club, and Eimear Rigby, the senior communications officer for Concern here in Britain, we will be touching down in Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe, on Monday morning.
Over the following four days, we will visit an array of programmes that are being run by Concern in the Nkhotakota district of the country.
This area, where the rural communities depend on agriculture as their main source of livelihood, sees 55 per cent of the population living in property.
The programmes that are being run by Concern in Malawi focus primarily on improving the lives of the communities, through agricultural reform, healthcare and education systems.
I am really looking forward to being able to get involved in some of these projects that are already underway, whether it’s helping to build a well to bring clean water to a village, having the chance to chat and share stories with the local mothers and children or meeting the farmers who have advanced their agricultural techniques to increase productivity and improve the quality of life of their family.
I am excited to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty.
I believe that the visit will be an eye opening and life changing experience that will really highlight for me the extremes and inequalities that unfortunately still exist in our world.
It will be the first time I will get to truly witness the underprivileged communities of Malawi as more than a heart wrenching image on a charity poster.
I am excited to immerse myself in their daily routine, to soak in all that their culture has to offer and to feel the warmth of a people I have heard so much, but know so little, about.
I am determined to remember all of the experiences that the trip will offer to me, whether they are moments of great sadness or of great joy, as I believe that they will result in me arriving back home with a very different view of the world.
And if I can share with others a little bit of how what I have seen will have changed my life and urge them to do something that might make a difference, be it donating to a good cause or getting involved in a project themselves, then it will have made the whole experience even more worthwhile.
Sarah will be blogging regularly from Malawi all week here on The Irish Post