“I want to do what my dad did 17 years ago,” said 16-year-old Colin Mackay. “I want to get my medical license and go back to Livingstonia or Ekwendeni.”
The aspiring doctor and his brother Keir, 14, joined their parents for a three-week exposure tour this August, visiting a mission in northern Malawi that has been pivotal to the family for two generations.
In 1992, Dr. Fraser Mackay and his wife Karen, a professional communicator, quit their jobs, sold their car and set off to Malawi for a year-long stint with missions supported by Presbyterian World Service and Development. He worked as superintendent of a hospital in Livingstonia and as one of three physicians in Ekwendeni, about 20 km east of Mzuzu. She bought a 15-year-old car and set about gathering photographs, information and stories.
“One of the greatest pleasures for Karen and I [when we returned] was seeing how many of the projects that were being started when we were first in Malawi have really made a difference,” said Fraser. “The public outreach programs were doing very well, and the indigenous people who had just started to take over leadership are now in major leadership roles.”
A children’s nutrition centre in Ekwendeni, which 17 years ago was a fledgling project to help malnourished infants, has expanded to help mothers with HIV/AIDS prevent the disease from spreading to their offspring. The maternity ward remains the largest section of the hospital; although local staff said the average family size had been shrinking as the standard of living in the area improved, the overall population of Malawi has risen from just under 10 million in 1993 to over 12 million by 2008.
“I went over not really believing the stats,” noted Fraser, who now works in addiction and urgent care clinics in St. Catharines, Ont. “But I think everyone on the tour was overwhelmed by the number of children under five. It’s such a different demographic from what we’re used to in North America.”
Colin said he was particularly struck when he met a 17-year-old boy who had been caring for four young siblings since his parents died of AIDS three years ago. “I’m almost 17,” he said. “I couldn’t do that.”
“It was very important for us to bring our children so they could see firsthand many of these experiences we’d talked about as a family, but also so they could see the bigger picture and what the church is doing abroad,” Fraser said. “Now we’re looking back on that as a family, praying on that and asking, how can we get involved? How can we make a difference?”
The Mackay’s tour was organized by Education for Mission.