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Chapter One: And We’re Off!

  • Passport. Check.
  • Immunizations. Check.
  • Comfy work clothes. Check.
  • Sunscreen and insect repellent. Check.
  • Chichewa language phrasebook. Check.
  • Gifts to give our gracious Malawi hosts. Check.
  • Excitement, anticipation and a hunger to get started on MISSION POSSIBLE. Check, Check, Check!

As 2016 segued into 2017, the Hospice of the North Coast (HNC) four-person team traveling to Nkhoma Hospital from January 12-21, 2017 completed its training and shared last-minute questions and concerns.

For Executive Director Sharon Lutz, this would be her fourth trip to far-away Malawi, Africa, a personal and professional journey of compassion that began ten years ago. While leading the team and assessing the hospice and palliative care needs of the hospital, staff and thousands of patients throughout the vast catchment area, Sharon was eager to utilize her experience to smooth the way for her accompanying staff: Director of Philanthropy Shelly Dew, Care Advocate Cristina Montanez and Volunteer Coordinator Cyndie Acosta.

Shelly confided, “My mind is buzzing with everything I hope to accomplish in this short time. We will capture the experience in words and images so we can raise awareness here at home. Blogs, Facebook and other social media while we’re there as well as photography and videography – all this and more we’ll use to keep our HNC community informed. We want people to vicariously experience the challenges and achievements of our Global Partnership as we move forward.”

Preparation, Planning and a Few Jitters

In preparation for embarking on their life-changing, cross-cultural adventure, the foursome participated in Skype conversations with their Nkhoma Hospital counterparts, getting to know each other on screen before meeting in person.

Cristina related, “As the team member tasked with providing spiritual support to Nkhoma hospice efforts, I am thinking deeply about the ways in which the people we will support 10,000 miles away are different – and, even more so, about the ways in which we are alike. Every one of us on Earth, after all, is born into the world to one day depart from life.”

Team members studied their Trip Manual, discovering fascinating facts about the country. They learned that the country’s name, Malawi, comes from a Bantu people who immigrated to this southeast African area from the southern Congo in 1400 AD, and that soccer is now the most popular sport, having been introduced during British colonial rule before the country became an independent nation in 1964.

They immersed themselves in the everyday basics of the Chichewa language.

  • One dollar = 720 kwacha
  • Good morning = Mwadzuka bwanji
  • My name is = Dzina langa ndi
  • What is your name = Dzina Lanu ali chani
  • Please = Chonde
  • Thank you = Zikomo
  • Hello = Moni
  • Goodbye = Tiwonana

Cognizant that January weather is typically hot, humid and rainy, they were delighted to know they would board in a modest, but comfortable cottage with shaded picnic tables outside. They studied the long (100-year-plus!) history of Nkhoma Hospital and its patient services, understanding the challenges they would face in a country so plagued by disease; with death around every corner.

They were heartened by the competency and commitment of Nkhoma staff and volunteer caregivers, and looking forward – with some trepidations – to doing whatever they could, on this trip and afterward back at home – to help Nkhoma medical professionals provide palliative and hospice care tailored to the Malawi patients in terms of medical, emotional and spiritual support. They hoped they would be up to the challenge.

A Journey of Service

As they packed their suitcases and prepared to tell family and friends goodbye, Sharon, Shelly, Cristina and Cyndie kept it in their minds and in their hearts that the overarching reason for this trip, and for the Global Partnership, is to be of service. Cyndie explained, “We are each of us ready to be a learner, an observer and a servant. That is our mission on this journey.”

Not merely a mission. A MISSION POSSIBLE.