Like so many people around the world, our family had very different expectations for 2020 then the way it turned out. From the end of March until early September, we were unable to physically be at Mulanje Mission. I’d like to take you along a reflection on this period.
What had happened? The reason to leave Malawi early March, was for our one year old daughter who needed a medical check-up after she had been very ill last year.
Mum Lisanne and daughter Mischa went alone, for what was to be a quick visit. However, it was discov- ered she needed further treatment. We decided to come together in the Netherlands for the initial weeks, then make further plans.
On arrival in Holland, within a few days the Covid pandemic became a serious reality with travel re- strictions and border closures.
A difficult dilemma followed – should I travel back while still possi- ble? There wasn’t much time to contemplate, as within a few days all international airtravel to Malawi was suspended.
We, like many others, were by then holding our breath – what was going to happen? How could we pre- pare ourselves for a wave of very sick and dyspnoeic patients; whilst protecting staff members caring for them? Leadership on the ground was now provided by our MO-in-charge, Dr Macpherson, who stepped in as acting Director of the hospital, followed by Dr Fatsani. It was hard to realize all I could now do is support the efforts at the hospital remotely only.
With the team on the ground com- municating their needs, we set to work on several fundraising efforts and making plans in case Covid would hit Mulanje hard.
For me and my colleagues this was the first time we had to work with Zoom and e-mail all the time; that was until now not part of office culture in Mulanje. Moving forward we learnt how to keep each other informed. We set to develop vari- ous projects; were succesful in get- ting our oxygen supplies ready, procure PPE and also produce our own, and get all staff at MMH and facilities we mentor trained and equipped.
The sense of urgency felt in the Netherlands wasn’t quite the same in Malawi – for very good reasons some here believed western coun- tries were exaggerating this particular infectious disease compared to other, deadlier ones. On the other hand, no one knew how bad Covid- 19 would play out in Africa, and so denial crept in, too.
As MD, one of the key elements of this role is translating between different cultures and almost different realities. Grappling with this; I did a series of online talks for our partners abroad, on the impact and context of Covid in Malawi. This was a fun and also personally helpful way to articulate needs but also put things in the right perspective.
There was more time for reflection and making future plans with new and old partners then when at the hospital.
There was also a strong sense of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It took time for Lisanne and me to work this out – but it did, guided by the recommendation in Phillipians 4 ‘’Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation...with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God...will guard your hearts and your minds’’
During these months, it became even more apparent how well the senior leadership at MMH is capa- ble of managing the hospital, and I will never forget those who stepped forward to fill in gaps and those who organized a locally appropriate response to the pandemic.
Beyond all the loss and grief Covid-19 inflicted, it also brought MMH a stronger team spirit and brought out leadership qualities.
We returned to the country a month ago. It is fantastic to be back at the Mission . It’s also much better to be able to check on someone in person rather then via a digital tool!