The Playground

This blog is an appeal for help.

Fatima is one of the poorest districts in Malawi, the people here struggle to afford food from one day to the next. Education is a luxury that many cannot afford and due to the cost of healthcare it is often only sought when it is too late! These are problems that I cannot hope to solve but what I can do, with your help, is to provide some fun for the children (and relief for tired parents!)

We have all seen the pictures of African children making toys out of old tin cans and the like and that is true here in Fatima as well. I have to guard the pit in which I burn my rubbish, if I don’t the children will be in it trying to find things they can use! But what I would like to provide is an area specifically designed for their play, with climbing frames, slides and swings. I have secured the land, which is attached to a small nursery here in the village, but what I need is to raise the funds to provide the equipment.

Will it be used??? I recently went to a small town where some Dutch volunteers had built a playground; the area was gated and closely monitored thus ensuring the children were safe. This area was a huge success providing hours and hours of fun and helped to keep ‘little people’ out of mischief!

We all know how important play is to a child’s development providing this in a safe and structured environment will have a huge and positive impact for the children of Fatima. Please follow the link and support this cause. Thank you in advance for your kindness and generosity.

The just giving page can be found at.


The Ugly Side of Life

In Fatima we have had a spate of burglaries, this is obviously very distressing for people. Poverty is such that replacing stolen belongings can be very difficult if not impossible for some people. It is common for Malawians to take justice into their own hands (mob rule). Being suspected of a crime is enough for an individual to be beaten to death.

On Wednesday at 3 am I was woken to the sound of a mob outside my bedroom window, the noise of 30+ people baying for blood is terrifying and something I will not forget for a long time. I opened the curtain to see what was obviously someone being beaten, the mob had clubs, sticks and one had an axe. I stood paralysed for a few moments, I then called my housemate and we tried to decide what to do. We went onto the front porch and tried to shout at the mob, they obviously didn’t listen but one of the medical officers from the hospital who was trying to restrain them told us they had found the thief and they were going to take him to the police. They tied the young man up and marched him towards the hospital. I will never forget that young mans’ look of terror and they marched him past my door. On the way to the hospital the Administrator heard the noise and came out with his gun. He fired into the mob to try and disperse them, this had little effect and the beating continued. By this time they had stripped him naked and the mob was growing my the minute. Another tutor joined him and together they managed to prevent the crowd from killing him. The police were called but were reluctant to come until the administrator told them a police vehicle was being damaged, they then arrived within minutes.

The boy was 17 years old and a known psychiatric patient. He had gone to the guards at the hospital and started throwing stones, he had shouted that he was a thief, his dad forced him to do it and he didn’t want to do it any more. In fact he was not a thief, his father never made him do anything he was delusional and had not been taking his medication. He was well know in the village and at the hospital, someone in that mob must have known but they didn’t care they just wanted revenge for a crime the boy didn’t commit. A similar thing happened, again to an innocent man, about 6 months ago. As yet no action had been taken against any of those involved so I am not hopeful that anything will happen this time.

The whole experience made me feeling very emotional, many of the mob were students that I teach, how could these people that have become my friends do this? I spent quite some time on Thursday crying and I am left feeling very, very sad.

A Life Saved


Monday started like any other Monday, 7.30 morning report followed by ward round. I enjoy the ward round, it is a great learning experience for me and I like to think I am a bit of help to the medical officer (pro-active nurses are few and far between here in Malawi). As soon as we got onto the ward the first thing that hit us was the stench – gangrene, there is nothing like it and once smelt never forgotten. It catches you in the back of the throat and I was struggling not to vomit but my Dad’s words came flooding back “mind over matter” and I managed to stay for the whole consultation (even the medical officer did the consultation from the door of the side room). I asked if this elderly gentleman was going to theatre today to have his leg amputated. I was informed that they still needed to do some tests such as checking his blood group and checking his Hb. I pointed out that he was clearly going to die if we didn’t do something quickly. “Hmmm” said the medical officer


The following morning my colleague went to morning report, she came back to me saying there is an old man who needs his leg amputating but his Hb is 4.8 and they wont operate without him being transfused but the hospital does not have any blood. The medical officer says he is going to die! I felt so cross, to lose a life for the sake of a unit of blood is ridiculous. I am sure those who know me well can imagine me marching off to the ward; thrusting my arm at the medical officer and saying take my blood! Well, that is what I did, assuring him that I am O negative (for those who don’t have a medical background that means that anyone can have my blood). A few test later, mum, you will be pleased to know that I don’t have syphilis, HIV or hepatitis, and a unit of blood was donated. I then carried my blood, still warm, to the ward and watched until the transfusion was started (I wanted to make sure there were no delays). Two hours later the 89 year old man was on his way to theatre. Two hours after that he was returning to the ward minus the offending leg. I obviously followed his progress quite keenly; I had a lot invested in this man. I am delighted to report that he is doing really well, and should be on his way home shortly.


Following my donation, my colleague and some Dutch student nurses that we have at Trinity at the moment also decided to donate, all of their blood has now been used. I have donated many times in the past but have never seen first hand what that pint of blood means to someone else. It was an amazing feeling; that man would have died for the want of a pint of bloodImage 


Turning 50!

Is it possible, I don’t feel old enough to be 50? But here I am, the big ‘5’ ‘0’ has arrived. I am not sure if I am having some sort of epiphany or just a mid-life crisis but Africa certainly has a pull and I cant imagine this is the last time I will be here. I have a complete absence of stress in my life or at least a whole lot less than I had in the UK. Life here is simple, you very quickly realize that you don’t ‘need’ all those things that you clutter up your life with. I was sat in a mini bus on my way from Fatima to Blantyre this morning, the bus leaves at 5.30 and already the village is coming to life, stalls are being set up, the road swept and water collected. As we drove along the sun slowly started to rise from behind the mountains it illuminated the countryside below. The whole scene was in the soft focus created by the early morning mist. This really is a beautiful place (I hope that hasn’t sent you rushing for the vomit bow).

I arrived in Blantyre at about 9 am, this is a busy city but surprisingly calm, that is except for the roads, they are like the dodgems and crossing a road is risky business! The sun is already warm and the streets are filled with vendors selling anything from oranges to mobile phone credit. The guys shining shoes are busy polishing the patent leather shoes of the city’s bankers and the minibus drivers are sitting on a wall arguing over something or another while they wait for enough customers to make it worth their while setting off.


I was here to find the one hairdresser in Blantyre that specializes in European hair. My housemate assures me that they are ‘Vidal Sassoon’ standard and that the ‘birds nest’ I am carrying around on the top of my head will be transformed. Finding the place was my first (an hopefully last) challenge of the day. Various people pointed me in various directions; I called my housemate, whose instructions, despite repeated attempts, just got me more confused. In case you don’t know, directions are not my strong point. An hour (plus a lot of expletives) later I found said hairdresser. What a delight, a real birthday treat, so much so that I decided to throw in an eyebrow shape for good measure. 


Next stop, the immigration office to get my visa sorted. Unfortunately, due to my earlier ineptitude at following simple directions I arrived at 12.10 to be informed that they close at 12 and I should come back at 1.30. OK, what should I do???? Well, here in Blantyre we have a very old colonial hotel called Ryalls, well it didn’t seem unreasonable that I should spoil myself a little bit more, after all I had turned 50! So here I am sitting with a glass of chilled white wine waiting for my king prawn Caesar salad, my birthday weekend has started…….


As I was leaving Ryalls hotel and heading for the Immigration office I received a call from a friend who told me they had a birthday surprise for me, I was to walk to the top of the road and look around, hmm all very mysterious, but I followed instructions only to find a billboard on a telegraph pole saying ‘happy birthday Elizabeth’, I have included a photo of that just to prove it was real! This really is turning out to be an amazing birthday.

Saturday morning and I met up with Jo, Vicky and later Naomi for cocktails by the pool at yet another rather ‘posh’ Blantyre hotel (I’ve included a photo of that too). Throughout the afternoon more and more friends joined us; it really was lovely. That evening we had a party back at Kabulla Lodge where I spent my first month doing orientation. It was great food, great location, and best of all great friends, which all adds up to a fantastic birthday and one I will never forget.


Image. l)



Photo gallery

This young man is alive today because he bit the crocodile in the eye

This young man is alive today because he bit the crocodile in the eye

One of the many river crossings

One of the many river crossings

This man just wanted his photo takenAnother river crossingThe view at the escarpmentThe driveway to the hospital

The crocodile took his right arm

The crocodile took his right arm

Ah, the long awaited mat!

Ah, the long awaited mat!

Tubing handing out to dry ready for the next patient

Tubing handing out to dry ready for the next patient

Never smile at a crocodile!

The students are now all on placement, they have been sent to a variety of hospitals around Malawi, including Queens in Blantyre, Zomba and 8 students here at Trinity. I am supervising the group here at Trinity. Supervision involves supporting them with nursing care, ensuring they represent the college in a professional way at all times and supporting their learning needs. 7.30 first morning and all the students arrive on time, we are off to a flying start! Unfortunately, few of the other staff has the same sense of time-keeping and it is not until 7.50 that the last ‘straggler’ wanders in; hardly the best example to be showing the students. A classic case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’! Report starts after Morning Prayer and includes the whole hospital (sounds daunting but there are so few patients it doesn’t take long!) That done and we are off to the ward…..   The ward is divided into male and female, which is then further, divided into medical and surgical. Not dissimilar to the UK but there is no division by specialty.  The students and I joined the medical officer on the morning ward round. This is where all my experience counts for nothing and I may as well be a student again! Typhoid, malaria, TB, sleeping sickness, sickle cell anaemia to name but a few of the conditions that confronted me. It is pretty clear that I am going to need to spend a considerable amount of time with the books!! Good nursing care however, is good nursing care and that is something I don’t need to consult the books on. I allocated each student 3 patients, I asked him or her to prioritize and then provided total nursing care. They looked totally aghast and said ‘three patients!!! Lizzy that is far too many” By the end of the morning each student had only managed to care for one patient, I am now seriously considering rectal dynamite!   One of the highlights of that first day was meeting Steve. Steve is the health care assistant on the ward; he has been there since the ‘year dot’, knows everything and does 90% of the work. I asked him why he did not take a break, his reply “madam, our work involves saving lives, there is no time to rest” Enough said.   So why the title “never smile at a crocodile” well, out of the 20 or so patients on the ward that morning, 5 were crocodile attacks. Nsanje district is the poorest in Malawi and the people depend of the Shiri river for many of their everyday needs. Unfortunately for the fishermen and the rice growers this comes at considerable risk to ‘life and limb’. The first man had been fishing in the early morning and had lost his leg and was probably going to lose his arm (what was left of it). The next was a young man who had lost his arm and the ‘croc’ had a little ‘nibble’ at his leg. I asked him how he escaped he told me he bit the crocodile in the eye! I have included a photo of this lovely and very brave young man. We also had rather an amazing lady; she had been close to the waters edge, baby strapped to her back, planting rice when the crocodile attacked. She fought off this crocodile by ‘tucking’ it under her arm, its tail at one point flicked up leaving deep gashes in her back. She escaped with only losing part of her right hand and right breast – her child was completely unharmed!

This young man is alive today because he bit the crocodile in the eye

This young man is alive today because he bit the crocodile in the eye

ImageImageOh, incase you are wondering, pain relief for a crocodile bite – diclofenac!!!

More Questions than answers


I have been in Fatima for 3 weeks now and the questions just keep coming!


I am undoubtedly having quite and adventure and my personal growth and to a certain extent my professional development is undeniable what is less certain is the impact my actions are having on those around me.


The past two weeks have been spent in the classroom, I have been teaching the year two-student nurses. You couldn’t hope to meet a nicer group of people. They are so eager to learn and are a pleasure to teach (if not a little daunting being faced with 60 students all hanging off what I have to say). However, there are some areas of concern. I have been reading through some of the exam papers that have been set for the students (these are done by the colleges, the final exam being the only one set by the Malawian Nursing and Midwifery Council) there are some blatant mistakes and misinformation. I have to be somewhat judicious with the concerns I raise as upsetting the tutors would be in no-ones interest. I was asked if I would help teach a clinical examination class that was a real eye-opener!! Listening to the tutor inform the students that the apex of the heart could be located at the sternal notch was a little worrying and in that instance I found a way to correct the situation and was ask if I would lead the teaching session, the relief from the tutor when I agreed was palpable! There were three classes before the one I helped with so there are now umpteen students coming out of Trinity college who believe they will locate the apex beat at the sternal notch!!! I wont tell you how they were listening to breath sounds or examining the abdomen!


One of the biggest areas VSO don’t prepare you for is the begging. I have found this so distressing. Everyday there are people knocking at the door asking for money. Some of the students have also approached me for funds for various things ranging from their fees (MK57000 that equates to half my monthly allowance!) To money for transport, ‘sisters shoes’, books or simply a bar of soap. You very quickly realize that you can’t help everyone, so how do you choose??? Every story is heart-rending and I have found myself in tears on more than one occasion. I spoke to one of the tutors who told me “Malawi is a nation of beggars, they believe the white man is rich, so why shouldn’t he help, they need to stand on their own” This sounds quite harsh but I am not sure that just giving money is the answer either. Thus my plan is to buy goods (I may need another suitcase to bring home all the gifts I acquire)! I have included a photo of a local man and his family, he made me a fantastic rush mat for the living room and one for my bedroom.


I went back to Blantyre last week to catch up with friends, it was the first time we had got together since going to our placements so there was lots to catch up on! Friday night was a party to say good-bye to one of the medics who was heading back to Germany. My hangover the follow day tells me it was a great night!!

Saturday was spent doing the usual Saturday things – shopping! The weekend passed way to quickly, as weekends usually do.

Just found out that uploading photos is not possible here in Fatima. The next time I am in Blantyre I will post as many as I can.