Chapter Two: A Warm Welcome to Malawi
While California was in the throes of a series of bone-chilling January 2017 rainstorms, warm sunshine and even warmer welcomes from the Nkhoma Hospital Palliative Care team led by Dr. Sam Kabota greeted the HNC team upon their arrival on January 14, 2017 at Lilongwe Airport in Malawi.
Arriving by ambulance in the capital city of Lilongwe, Dr. Sam, along with Nkhoma team members Ellen and Andrew, shared a festive lunch with HNC’s Sharon Lutz, Cristina Montanez, Cyndie Acosta and Shelly Dew before they traveled the 37 miles to Nkhoma, their home for the following week.
Shelly said, “All four of us kept in mind that our overarching purpose was to observe and assess the needs of the Malawian patients and the Nkhoma team, which was doing an amazing job despite shortages of medications, trained personnel and other obstacles.” Sharon added, “We also were intent on returning to the U.S. with wisdom gleaned from our esteemed Nkhoma counterparts as well as action steps on how we can better serve our own North County community.”
Dr. Sam, a deeply insightful and compassionate man, characterized the HNC team’s commitment to the cause as “stepping on the doorstep of those who are suffering.”
Ready to Roll
Throughout their trip, the HNC foursome would be amazed and delighted at the welcome they enjoyed from everyone they met. They said, “From the staff to the patients and their families, Malawians embraced us – literally – with open arms. Over and over again, people expressed their deep appreciation that we would leave our families in California and the comforts of home to embark on a journey out of our comfort zone and into their world.”
The trip from Los Angeles to New York to Johannesburg to Lilongwe was long (26+ hours!), but the foursome’s energy was high, right from the start. Cyndie noted, “We were focused on building relationships through face-to-face personal encounters. We knew that progress would take place within a friendly environment of relationship-building.”
Cristina, a Care Advocate who is also a Certified Pastoral Counselor, was eager to connect with village chaplains. She was empathetic to their multiple, demanding responsibilities. She realized, “They are called upon to be chaplains, social workers and counselors all in one.”
ED Sharon Lutz said, “We knew we needed to see and do as much as possible in just a few days so despite our jet lag, we were ready to roll.” Having been here before, Sharon knew that they would frequently have to see and do a lot without benefit of electricity, which often goes out; thus their dinner by candlelight on their first night in the lodge followed by an early morning hike with Nkhoma Mountain in the background and friendly young Malawians eager to say hi.
Now the real work was set to begin.