The Warm Heart of Africa

Africa Challenge winner, Seren, recounts her experiences helping struggling families in Malawi with OB/GYN Dr. Lisa Masterson.

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The Warm Heart of Africa
Community, joy, and hope permeated throughout the atmosphere in Malawi, and it was beautiful to see. This is a land ravished by the downturn of the economy, upset by its investment in tobacco fields which no longer are in demand in the way that they used to be, and yet, everywhere we went we were greeted by smiling faces and proud hearts. 

“We are the warm heart of Africa,” said the bellman at the hotel in Lilongwe, and it was true.

Though many aspects of the journey were incredibly impactful and permanently etched in my memory, a handful of moments and experiences really exemplified Malawi.

The first couple of days we were in Malawi, I had the privilege of assisting Dr. Lisa at the Chiwamba Health Center. This clinic served more than 70,000 people, with no painkillers, no ultrasounds, no electricity, no ambulance, and the list of missing items goes on. What was the most remarkable thing, however, is that there was just one doctor and one nurse/midwife on staff for two weeks straight – day and night! When we asked Sera, the nurse, when she slept, as the clinic has as average of 8-10 births a day, she laughed, “Well, it is a challenge!” She brushed off the question as if it was nothing out of the ordinary to go two weeks without sleep. Consistently smiling, rushing from bed to bed, Sera astounded me with her ability to keep calm and [stay] in a genuinely jovial spirit, even amongst candlelit births and severe sleep deprivation.

As a psychology college graduate, with many a class taken in gender studies, I was also fascinated by Malawi’s lack of focus on the female body and sex in general. Unlike any other country I have visited, there was zero overt emphasis on it. Billboards advertised products with logos only, there were no full body shots with scantily-clad women holding a product, no suggestive messaging - virtually no billboards with people on them at all! Additionally, there was not that male gaze following our entourage. There were no eye stares, no cat calls, not that constant feeling of someone’s eyes watching you. It was a wonderfully refreshing experience to just BE.  

Finally, I was astounded by the creativity, resourcefulness, and sustainability of the Malawians' lives. Products that in western nations are simply recycled after use, are prized materials in Malawi. Old water bottles become lunch pails, old magazines become strips of glossy paper to turn into beads for necklaces, old bicycle gears become the snares on a drum, and old wine bottles become refurbished drinking glasses. There, children would not beg for money, they would beg for water bottles. This creates a system where innovation and low carbon footprint activities are ripe for developing! Certainly a beacon of hope for future developments in the county!

Winning Dr Lisa’s Africa Challenge was such an amazing experience, an incredible honor, and a wonderful surprise! I had been walking around in a stupor of joy for weeks after the announcement, and did not fully realize that I really was going until our plane landed in Lilongwe. Finally getting to spend time on the continent I had dreamed of since being a little girl, was not only a wish come true, but added even more fuel to my desire to spend more time there. To combine that with traveling and watching Dr. Lisa at work, a woman who not only sincerely cares about the health of impoverished women and children but actually does something about it, I truly can say my life has been changed. My desire to significantly impact the world with creative, sustainable and person-empowering ways has only been heightened, validated, and my new guiding light for the paths that I am choosing in life.

I am truly thankful to Dr. Lisa and the CBS team for spreading the needs of other nations to The Doctors, and for granting me the experience of a lifetime! The warm heart of Africa has stolen my heart, and I long for the day when I can return.