November 12, 2009

no guts, no glory

I rallied the girls. A friend of a friend was launching his project somewhere in area three... should be good maybe interesting. First disappointment – no booze. Secondly, it was full of young, enthusiastic, teetotallers – us alcoholic grannies didn’t know anyone. Thirdly, since when was spirituality a requirement for humanitarian interest? We stood around, read a leaflet ten times. We dutifully listened to the intro, we dutifully watched the video...

In Malawi everyone is terribly miserable (lots of sad-eyes shots), there’s wars and bombs, fires and riot police, oh no that’s actually in the rest of Africa . Back to Malawi … there’s only huts, poor poor people, seems they just sit around and look glum. But don’t worry its all good… apparently there’s some kids in a village who we play football with, lots of football, lots of running (slow mo shots). There’s also some feeding going on (kids smiling), walking around villages, chats with women. Join us, lets make a change together (text on the screen), or something similar.

We’re giving each other side-ways glances, the video has made us into smug bitches… who do they think we are? We don’t buy this shit, we know better. Maybe this kind of thing goes down well in America – pulls a few heart-strings, but we see through it. We want objectives and action points. We want to know where they get their funding, how they spend it. Hey christians, the devil is in the details!

Ahhh well don’t knock them too hard, they’re doing a million times more than we are, yes that’s right cos we’re doing absolutely nothing. Ok that’s uncomfortable; don’t want to think about that. But anyway at least we came, and we saw, now where can we make our donation? Let’s get out of here; nearest pub ‘Mabuya’.

That’s when it gets REALLY uncomfortable…. they don’t want our money!!! What? What do you mean they don’t want money? It’s a project right, an orphan project or something. They need money to run, I’ve got a spare K500 note, I want to help poor kids. They don’t want my money?! Gimme a basket goddamnit. If they’re not fundraising, what the hell was this about. Now the smug bitches are pissed off, confused, was this a complete waste of time? We were the first to leave. By way of apology, I got the first round.

Like most new organisations in Malawi, the Chisomo Idea has areas that it can work on, strengthen and improve. What sets it apart from other would-be-do-gooders is that it’s a ‘movement’. This means that leader Noel doesn’t want your spare change, he wants your soul!! Ha-ha. No seriously, they’re looking for investments of the personal kind. Manpower, football skills, prayers, inspirational speaking… er actually they’re not really sure what they want from you… but they’ll be happy to use anything on offer to help their work in various villages. I’ve never come across a bunch of people so open and flexible, inclusive, so receptive to new ideas. Actions speak louder than any words, or strategies or annual reports.

I love Noel’s concept cos I get it. Just a little bit of personal investment leads to more interest, commitment, ongoing involvement, maybe even passion. No guts; no glory. No sweat; no sweet. As my life changes, so do the villagers’. This is in line with the ubuntu approach to true community (I am because we are), it ticks Gandhi’s box (be the change you seek), it’s consistent with humanitarian concern (love your neighbour as yourself), but it also emphasises the importance of the right motive (the lord looks at the heart). With the ultimate resource – people who actually care, I think the rest will fall into place, including funding.

There’s a catch. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Involvement is a tough requirement, many fall by the wayside. Like me; months after expressing my willingness to help (few days after the launch, had a nice chat with Noel, discussed some options), all I’ve done is answer a few phone calls from the group. I think I was supposed to attend a meeting, maybe watch some kids play football, but ahem I’m a professional – sorry not available in working hours, weekends are also hectic etcetera etcetera. Is the Chisomo Idea more than just a nice idea? I imagined amazing possibilities, but I didn’t get stuck in and make them happen. Not so smug now bitch.

So far, I haven’t made the grade to join this movement of people hell-bent on loving their neighbours, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t…. check out what they do in the villages, see if you care enough to watch some football, hang out with the guys, find out what else is possible. I know that by ensuring personal commitment, the Chisomo Idea will achieve great things.

by Acacia, published on The Chisomo Idea > website link November 2009


  1. Dannie Grant Phiri12 November, 2009 15:38

    Was it one way of getting you to be more fully involved?

  2. wow - what a challenging concept...

  3. where privilege and poverty come face to face...interesting... as you sipping Moet u helping a poor child....mmh....

  4. Thanks for sharing Jess. I have been thinking about this article alot since we posted it on our site. As a kid that grew up hanging out in some of the toughest neighborhoods of Lilongwe, I just want to clarify that this is not about helping the poor "African child," it is about becoming friends with people and begining to feel their pain. I think many people [myself included] are so hanged on the idea of changing the world that noone is willing to do the small things.

    I have found that when I take 30 minutes of my time to hang out with people and walk with them in their struggles and listen to them, the next person gets inspired and takes an hour. When I invest the little I have, the next person invests more than I could ever dream.

    ...I am so far away from arriving. I think I am still a very selfish person. I think I still side with systems that oppress people. But part of my journey has been to wrestle with the idea of "finding and redefining my dreams in serving other." I wrestle with rationality of our process- a process that says just get more for yourself however you want it, whenever you want it.

    ...either way, more later...

    Noel Noxy

  5. that made me laugh...well put, Jess.

  6. Hey Jess,

    This is a very wonderful piece. You are such a fine artist. keep up the good work


  7. The idea is great...

    BUT... as Jess points out, for most of us, time is a commodity that we just don't have a lot of.

    However - as a Malawian, I am very keen to see a shift from the ways that we - and I know that we are not alone here - have become accustomed to here (that's that we are a country VERY dependent on 'aid' and "help" from other countries), to the determent of our general populations abilities.

    SO... from that point of view, I really love The Chisomo Idea's (interesting choice of name incidentally) approach, and share Noels' passion and see the end vision.

    Jess - another awesome piece of writing, as always, thought provoking and revealing. Your writing is truly inspirational.



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