Photos by Marieke van der Velden
(additional photos by Regina Kosa and myself)
Enormous eyes and velvety smooth chocolate brown skin. The children of Malawi, especially in the rural areas, welcomed us with friendly waves, wide smiles and shouts of hello as we drove through the vast expanse of dry bush. They came running out of their huts, excited at the sight of the van, which was following the outreach mobile unit…children of all ages everywhere. They were seemingly unattended, tots as young as three with siblings not older than ten walking along the dirt banks of the long stretch of road.
Then, when we arrived at the primary school where women were waiting for their check up, hordes of children cames swarming around us, giddy with excitement, laughing and giggling shyly, curious at our arrival, but feeling bold enough to approach us because they stuck together for reassurance. What a welcome that was.
I noticed that when you look directly into their eyes and smile at them, the connection with these children is overwhelming. They positively beam with happiness. It is as if something clicks and they understand that you are not seeing him or her as “just another poor African child” who has curiosity value or is there to be pitied. We could not comunicate with words but in my heart I know they understood that I was saying “I am seeing YOU, as an individual, a unique human being.”
The hand-me-down attire tugs at your heart. A little girl wears a dirty, tattered pink High School Musical T-shirt. I wonder where it came from and what the little girl who discarded it would think if she saw it now. The poignancy is heartbreaking..
Two other girls are wearing matching sparkly bright green party dresses which are two sizes too big…incongruous clothes for these surroundings.
It is something you see a lot these out of place garments. But when you don’t have much, clothes are clothes, who cares if they are not ’appropriate’?
We take countless photos of the children and they strike a pose proudly.
When I show them the results they ooh and ahh with pleasure. I take a short video of them with my camera and they are ecstatic to see themselves captured on film. I think of the spoiled kids back home and want to cry at the unfairness of it all.
Later at a youth centre one teenager is wearing mismatched football shoes. Without shoelaces. But he was happy because at least he had shoes …most are playing football barefoot.
I try to imagine a Maltese teenager (even one from the most socially deprived background) not minding wearing mismatched shoes in public…and I cannot.
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