Our first official M.E.L.T. trip was from June 24th to July 7th. We brought new books to establish our library, met with teachers, picked up the Toyota Land Cruiser (our mobile library), and so much more!
We had a productive, eventful trip full of trials and triumphs that kept us on our toes! One of our biggest missions on this trip was to pick up the new Toyota Land Cruiser and start to use it as the MELT Mobile Library. This ended up being one of our biggest trials. We imagined that when we arrived in Lilongwe we'd be loading our trunks full of MELT books and supplies into the new vehicle. However, upon arrival we found there to be two rental vehicles (one to carry our luggage, the other to transport us). Being a Sunday, we thought that perhaps come Monday we would take the new Land Cruiser on its maiden voyage north to Mzuzu. Again, this was not the case. It wasn't until the following Saturday that we would receive the vehicle (after a lot of calls and finalizations). There were a number of reasons for the delay, but most of them can be summed up by simply realizing that things operate differently in Malawi than in the U.S. Getting the vehicle so late meant we could not visit a few of the more remote schools that we planned on delivering books to. We spent most of our first week driving around in a Toyota Corolla with five adults, forcing all but the driver to exit the vehicle whenever a sizable rut, dip, or bump presented itself. We remained positive and are able to look back on that time as a productive week.
During our commutes in the Corolla we: purchased plastic bins to store our books, ordered custom shelves to house the bins, ordered a custom rack to carry our big books, visited Mbowe and Kanininga Schools, held an hours-long teacher brainstorming session and workshop, setup our library, shot multiple new book ideas, interviewed Sam and Freedom for Malawian folk story ideas, met with Deputy Director of Education Jeremiah Kamkuza, met with Director of the Children's Library at the University of Mzuzu, Gift Dube, and so much more!
We received the Land Cruiser in the nick of time on July 1st, the day before we were set to head south-east to the Nkhata Bay area where Chivumu School is located. Being our most remote school (about two hours from our hub of Mzuzu), we made the decision to give the school funds to have their own set of shelves built. This small library will store their copies of MELT readers, which will be more efficient than having Sam commute to Chivumu twice a month with the mobile library for book exchanges.
On our way back to Lilongwe, we were able to secure a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Malawi, Virginia Palmer. She was receptive to our mission and goals, and provided us with helpful information and contacts.
Though it was a trip full of itinerary changes and unexpected difficulties, we look back and see a very productive mission trip. A trip that has laid the groundwork for building MELT into a producer and distributor of early literacy content for the children of Northern Malawi.