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Focus on Malawi (part of The Raven Trust); supports the development of eye eye-care in northern Malawi, mainly at Ekwendeni, Livingstonia and Embangweni CCAP mission hospitals, through providing resources, expertise and funding local training.
Newslink Summer 2019

Greetings everyone!
Thank you for your interest in Focus on Malawi, and welcome to Newslink, with our latest news and stories. As ever, we are so encouraged by all of you who contribute time, money, expertise, and who pray for this work. Thank you, and we hope you’ll enjoy reading what’s below!

We want to emphasise right at the beginning that this is not all about this organisation, but about our brothers and sisters in Malawi who have few of the benefits we take for granted. They are at the mercy of disease, crop-threatening weather, and an economy which rewards the very few. We are doing this, in partnership with the local church, trusting that supporting local people to improve sight in their communities will bring benefits in personal lives, in education and employment. And we believe this is a simple response to the love of God expressed in Jesus, who sought out the poor, the outcasts and the sick.   

The project’s main focus is to support our CCAP (Church of Central Africa Presbyterian) partners at Embangweni, Ekwendeni and Livingstonia hospitals, but recently, we’ve increased our involvement with some government hospitals in the same areas. And there have already been some fruitful outcomes, as you will see...


Embangweni Hospital

On 10 June, we received this message from Misheck Kumwenda, one of the student team at Embangweni Hospital eye clinic:
"Afternoon Sue - Friday and Saturday Cassim and his team from Mzimba [South] and Kasungu [government hospitals] came here in Embangweni Mission Hospital for trichiasis (trachoma) surgery, they involved us in the team and we screened patients the whole Embangweni up to Jenda rural development centre, was a good work and we had surgery of about 29 clients, I enjoyed the work and I like this field so much, thank you very much for allowing me to do this course, just waiting for date to go for school how ever they are still discussing, have a nice day."

Walking wounded now, but soon these patients will be finding welcome relief from the effects of a common, nasty infection.

It is very pleasing to see how the clinic at Embangweni has, since opening two years ago, become part of a fruitful collaboration with regional government eye care. And it's exciting to see how much the students, Misheck and Phinious, are enjoying their studies and work. They recently completed successfully their first year in optometric technician training the College of Health Sciences, Lilongwe. Regrettably, owing to a strike at the colleges, this year's studies are currently on hold. While waiting for a resumption, they are working in the clinic. This coming year, another member of staff from Embangweni, Mirriam Nyirenda, is set to commence a clinical-officer-in-ophthalmology course.

Busy-ness in the clinic: some recent snapshots taken by the staff at Embangweni.

Livingstonia (David Gordon Memorial Hospital)

It is with sadness that we report the recent death of Godfrey Mkandawire, ophthalmic clinical officer in charge of the eye clinic at the David Gordon Memorial Hospital, Livingstonia. Before his current work at this clinic, Mr Mkandawire was a lecturer in ophthalmology at the Malawi College of Health Sciences, Lilongwe.

Godfrey Mkandawire

He had retired from this work to return to his home area of Livingstonia. However, he was not at all ready to retire entirely and in 2014 duly took over the recently-built and equipped eye clinic. We celebrate and give thanks for Mr Mkandawire’s long career in training students and treating patients; his wise professional counsel; and his kindly manner. He will be missed very much at Livingstonia.

It is all change at DGMH, as Dr Lyn Dowds, the chief medical officer, has recently announced she is moving on. As regards the eye-clinic, it’s our task this year to offer our support to management in developing a plan for the future, and that will be an important part of our clinical visit in September this year. We pray every blessing for the future for Lyn, Johnny and their children.

Ekwendeni Hospital

Lesley Matimba from Ekwendeni recently completed his general clinical officer training at the College of Health Sciences, Blantyre, and is waiting for final exam results. After a year’s internship at Ekwendeni, he will go on to a further 18 months of training, specialising in ophthalmology, after which he be will able to carry out minor surgery on eyes, covering injuries, cataracts and trachoma. Evance Gama continues to work in the eye clinic, dispensing glasses. Hospital management have identified another member of staff to be trained in ophthalmology — Nicholus Chirwa — and the team will meet him when visiting in September.

In January this year, optometry students from Mzuzu University undertook clinical placements at Ekwendeni Hospital eye clinic, seeing real patients and putting their learning into practice.


New optometric equipment

We recently purchased a lot of optometric equipment for clinics that are planning to develop their services further. From an optometrist practice in Southend-on-Sea that had closed following the retirement of the owner, Mr Ashok Bhardwaja, we bought almost everything in the shop! Then we travelled to Yorkshire to visit Mr David Tate to purchase a second-hand lens cutter and edger for preparing lenses for frames.

These items are bound for Embangweni Mission Hospital and for Mzimba South government hospital and will complete the equipping of their new optometric departments. Mzimba South is in the same region as Embangweni, and we expect that the two clinics will provide complimentary services reaching needy communities.

Our thanks to Ashok Bhardwaja and David Tate who let us have the equipment at generous prices. Thanks also to some heavy lifters from Southend Vineyard Church; to Sue and John Challis who met us at both locations and drove all the equipment up to Scotland; to our good friends and dentists Vicky and Nigel Milne of Smileawi and their workers in Scotland who let us occupy space in their container, which departed Strachur on 7 May 2019; and to the generous donors who made the purchases possible.


Student sponsorships

We're currently sponsoring the training of two members of CCAP hospital medical staff, with a third and fourth to start soon. All these students are local people who are committed to serving their local communities. Providing the funds for this training is a key part of Focus on Malawi’s objective to help enable sustainable eye care services at the mission hospitals in northern Malawi.

Collecting and measuring used glasses

We continue with our Goggle Works parties hosted by Colchester Vineyard Church, where friends sort, wash, measure and pack donated second-hand glasses, ready to send off to our partners in Malawi.

Some members of the Goggle Works party.

Many thanks to all who have collected and are collecting — we are just about coping with the supply! So thanks also to those who sort and measure at home between Goggle Works gatherings. (A quick reminder that we also require sun glasses, both for children and adults.) We’d also like to mention Carol Evans, long-term Raven Trust supporter in Birmingham, who is liaising with the optometry department at Aston University to learn how to measure the donated glasses she is collecting!

Amongst the donated glasses sent to us in Colchester, we occasionally find retro or vintage gems. Some of them are in demand from vintage enthusiasts and collectors and, if we can sell them, the proceeds can be used for training students in Malawi. During 2018-9 winter, volunteers set up stalls at three flea/vintage markets and made over £500 selling retro glasses, some other donated items, and a specially-designed Focus on Malawi calendar. The calendar was the idea of young Nathan Usher who, with his mum Lorraine (an ophthalmic nurse), were part of the 2018 visiting team.

Nathan’s calendar, featuring many of his photographs, were sold in his school and to supporters’ friends and family around the Colchester area, raising over £250!

2019 Clinical visit

We welcome growing opportunities for co-operation between mission and government hospitals where there are clear mutual benefits. During our next visit, planned for September, we aim to be making contact with Rhumpi, Karonga, Mzimba North and Mzuzu hospitals, as well as Mzuzu University optometry department. 

Sue K will be joined by four new volunteers: two optometrists, one dispensing optician and the engineer from whom we bought the glazing equipment. They will be helping install and set up the new optical workshops in Embangweni and Mzimba South hospitals. A room at Embangweni is already decorated and waiting. They'll also be visiting the school for the hard-of-hearing at Embangweni and assessing the children for visual problems.

Our expert supporter and friend, Emma Hewson (optometrist at Colchester General Hospital and a veteran of four visits already), together with a research nurse colleague, will be joining the trip for a further two weeks to go to Livingstonia and Ekwendeni hospitals, plus the Ekwendeni School for the Blind. We’ve received a donation for the children at the school for blind to buy some items specifically for their needs (sunglasses, sun hats, visual stimulation toys). We hope to buy these in Malawi to support local businesses.


In other news...

Many thanks to our friends Richard Jarvis and Caracas CIC who, after some expert research, tracked down and obtained a transformer to replace one which was damaged in the equipment sent to Embangweni hospital in the 2017 lorry crash. This small but vital item will enable the precious slit lamp finally to work! A slit lamp is used when carrying out a medical examination of the eyes.

Transformative: Richard Jarvis finds the essential component.

Clinical drugs

The limited and erratic availability of basic drugs, such as antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, prevents the clinics from treating some of the most common eye problems. We hope this year to be able to find a local source of medications and establish a reliable supply chain.

Water Wells

With the Trust concentrating on the development of eye care, it's been winding down its remaining, non-eye projects. The very last of these was a Pilot Water Well Maintenance Project for the Ekwendeni Catchment area, and it was completed, with the issue of a report, in July 2019. Chris Challis, the project consultant, writes in his summary: "The provision of water wells in developing countries seldom includes a strategic water well maintenance or inspection programme. Ekwendeni Primary Health Care has provided assistance in repairing water wells, but has a very limited capacity. In 2012 the Raven Trust undertook 323 water well surveys and, without exception, every well required improvement. Following on from these surveys, a pilot water well maintenance programme was undertaken." See the rest of Chris’s summary and download the full report here.

And finally...

We (Sue and John Kevan) had an opportunity to travel round some of Scotland in July this year, and while we couldn’t visit all of the Trust's wonderful supporters and encouragers there, we did manage to drop in on a few — among them Linda MacIntyre on Bute, the Trust’s trusty admin person; the Challises, who continue to support practically and with advice; Nigel and Vicky Milne of Smileawi at Dunoon, in whose containers we have shared space (we look forward to working with them in Malawi this September when the latest box arrives!); Bob and Jan Baxter whose wise counsel and practical help we value so much; Alan Laverock of Bananabox Trust, Dundee, whose presence in Malawi for much of the year is vital to us, and whose containers we will depend on in the future; and the people of Gardenstown New Church, whose amazing generosity makes so much possible. And it was great to spend some time with Cathie Montgomerie and Ian MacPhillimy, former trustees.

These few words don't do justice to those mentioned, let alone those not mentioned, and we hope to be back in Scotland in November to catch up with a few more people.

Well, that’s it for now. We’d love to hear from you if you have any queries or thoughts or ideas. Keep praying for our friends in Malawi — and thank you again!

Sue Kevan, on behalf of the trustees.
Copyright © 2019 The Raven Trust. All rights reserved.