I am a Canadian prairie-girl who has been living in Sub Saharan Africa since 2009. My greatest joy is supporting the well-being of others, and my heart has a specific compassion for the elderly and bed-ridden. The unshakable desire to make Africa my home started with a simple letter from a pen pal in Ghana when I was 13 years old. I quickly became hooked on Africa! The road that has led me to Malawi, however, has not been effortless.
I completed my massage therapy diploma in Canada in 1999 and worked within various rehabilitative settings over the years, thriving in a career that revolved around alleviating pain for others. However, I always felt pulled to support communities in Sub-Sahara Africa in some practical way and began volunteering there at the age of 30. In my free time, I backpacked and hitchhiked through multiple neighboring countries, often travelling solo. I intentionally kept myself as close to a local experience as possible and quickly learned to value the variations in culture through country, tribe and family ties. The organization I was volunteering with focused on orphans and vulnerable kids, yet my eyes were continually drawn to the elderly who were caring for them. I never forget one home where an 8-year-old boy with special needs was being raised by his 80-year-old great-grandmother. As we tried to encourage her efforts in supporting him, I noticed her struggling with her own ailments. As she expressed the exhaustion she felt after having raised three generations, my heart sank to this tremendous gap in care. In that moment, I began to ask how we could meet the physical needs of the elders who have stood as the backbone of these countries.
After volunteering for three years in South Africa and two years in Zambia, I was ready to strike out on my own. I returned to Canada for a year in preparation before taking this leap. Driven by an undeniable desire to positively influence the lives I felt so drawn to all those years, in July 2015, I settled into the community of Nkhata Bay in Northern Malawi. A community where residents are most vulnerable due to a lack of accessible healthcare. When I first arrived, I again felt that the best road of learning was to live as close to the communities as possible. While walking the same paths through the mountains, sharing a bed where welcomed, or eating over the same plate of food, I engaged in conversation and did my best to listen. Learning the culture, the language and the traditions has given me an understanding that has guided me into where I am today.
We all know the discomfort of being in pain and the grave influence this has on daily life when it persists. The impact is even more profound for those who have minimal access to healthcare systems or avenues of relief. In these situations, it tends to become the custom to quietly accept the minimal help that is offered since those in supporting roles are often also struggling to survive. When pain and physical needs are not able to be expressed or responded to, human dignity disappears. My mission is to be a voice for those in rural communities who are unheard or overlooked so that they can once again experience a sense of self-worth through improved physical health and movement.
- Moving within their willingness.
The people in the community know their needs best, and my hope is to respectfully offer support to fit those needs. I am not here to direct change from an outside perspective, which can often leave a wake of unintended damage. Rather, I am firm in my resolve to listen and observe and from that place draw on my knowledge and skill to develop interventions.
- Dignity for all.
My heart is to develop a model of support encompassing aspects of the whole person: physical, spiritual and social. Ultimately, I hope to influence each person’s sense of worth as they grow to recognize the value in who they are and are becoming.
- Offering compassion.
We all deserve to be loved and cared for, but not all are afforded the opportunity. Through my faith I have come to recognize the depth of the adage “do for others as you would for yourself.” My heart is to share the compassion and love I have experienced so that they may have the same opportunity of receiving and in turn, give to others.
- Local sustainability.
I have come to understand that what I may bring to a home (materially), is not always best if maintaining and managing that item is not within their financial abilities. Therefore, all we do is designed by what’s available within the means of each community. This also allows for a sense of direct ownership in development and outcomes.