Written by Annmarie Morin – Product Manager and Mercy Gondwe – Intern
When you enter a new day with its new tasks and challenges, one never expects to be confronted with the desperation that, until recently, I was all too lucky to never experience let alone face. When the task of a donation drive landed on my desk and I and Mercy, a 20-year-old engineering intern from the local Polytechnic, were to produce and donate 1750-liters of bleach to 35 government health centers around Blantyre city, my mind, automatically, kicked into gear trying to work out what would be needed: how many hours would I need? How much would this cost? How were we going to get to all health centers in the shortest amount of time?
And at some point, I even asked myself why does Muthi (our Team Leader) always want to make my life miserable, but, basically, these were the kinds of the thoughts that populated my mind when I received this task.
Another day! Another hustle! Another task!
Two weeks after that day, after 61 hours of bleach production using WaterStep’s award-winning tech, the BleachMaker, miles and miles of travel to some of the remotest parts of Blantyre imaginable and added bulge on my upper biceps from all the packing and lifting, I find myself, funny enough, with mixed feelings. A part of me feels a deep sense of achievement for what I and Mercy have achieved and the feedback was amazing; for example, at Chimembe and Chowe health centers, the officials were overwhelmingly grateful for the donation because it was the first COVID-related donation they had received – more than a month since the first registered case of COVID19 in Malawi. We even had a full page story in the local daily documenting our work and the impact it was having. What more could I ask for!
Job well done – right?
Besides the positive feedback and smiling faces of gratitude we received, there were other things we saw. We saw pregnant women being turned away from health centres due to lack of water. We saw the disappointed faces of people who thought we had come from the local government health office to fix their water problem. It was heartbreaking to see the disappointment lining the rims of their eyes. We saw health workers doing their best with the little personal protection to help the sick without consideration for their own health and safety.
Yes. I saw more than I had bargained for, and now, after two weeks on this donation drive, I feel something other than a deep sense of achievement: I feel inadequate. The environment of lack and near despair I witnessed in some of the health centers, just a few kilometers from the BASEflow office, was so debilitating, I began to wonder if our donation of bleach, 50-liters at each health centre, would ever make a difference in the grand scheme of things.
I wanted to do more! But I realize that no matter how much goodwill I may feel, no amount of virtue-signaling will ever be enough to fix the water at that health centre, protect those health-workers from potentially getting sick or help that pregnant woman I met. They don’t need my sympathy – they need my action – our action!
Of course, I and Mercy cannot fix the government system that has produced the desperate situation in the health centers – that requires a power and influence neither of us wield. But, I guess, I have to accept this feeling of inadequacy in the hopes it spurs us to do more than just our little part. Well, actually, Mercy, besides being a student engineer, penned a poem to vent her feelings about the donation drive experience (see below). I’m yet to figure out what to do with my feelings of inadequacy.
But, for now, I leave these words with you, dear reader, in the hopes that I spur you on to do your part – no matter how little or inadequate your part may seem.