Each of us has coped with vulnerability in our personal and professional lives. Often this has necessitated in changes. The changes that we face result in some modifications of belief systems or sometimes even more rigid upholding of the traditional ways. Moving into another culture in central Africa has been part of my life seems to be the norm in my retirement years. Part of the adjustment is being cognizant of vulnerabilities and changes in the country that one works or volunteers. Malawi’s motto is “The Warm Heart of Africa” and its genuine hospitality, despite being the fourth poorest nation in the world, is so obvious. The deep pride of almost no major internal or external conflicts over 50 years of independence is very notable among the Chewa, Tumbuka and Yao peoples.

Last January, I asked my Year One students to write an essay on any topic related to Malawi. My focus was to see if their written English had improved over four months; it was also an opportunity for me to learn more about Malawi, whether it be sports (world football is a second religion in many African nations), an upcoming national elections or about education, agriculture, etc. My editing of two or three essays on albinism in Malawi caught me unawares of an issue that soon was going to dominate discussions from villages to the capital in Lilongwe. After randomly reading an essay about the murder of a young person with albinism in one of the student’s home village, I made a point to seek the young man out for further discussion the next afternoon. It was normal for me to meet with many a student as we reviewed the editing of the paper but seldom did we have time to discuss the actual topic. As I listened, I could feel the sense of vulnerability that was he was sharing about his community’s response to the unexpected abduction and killing. Daily life is a challenge in Malawi, with only 14% of girls and 38% of boys receiving a high school education, often because families must pay for education after eighth grade and income is limited to tobacco and cotton sales (no mineral resources have been located in Malawi). Also with families displaced because of floods, which has been an occurrence in the last two years, concerns about adequate food security for individual families is a reality in “The Warm heart.” Thus adding another layer of physical vulnerability of open discrimination that led to killing against albinos was overwhelming for many.

Mary Furlong, a Lifetime Peacemaker, spent eight years in Zambia and Malawi on projects related to training teachers, serving as program coordinator for a rural HIV/AIDS project and was a recent lecturer at St. Anthony’s Seminary, a philosophical college, in Malawi. She serves on a number of local boards.

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