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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Ngala Mountain – The Mountain of the Smile

While our friends and family took on the Blackstairs Mountains at home, the programme lawyers decided to take on a challenge of our own – to summit Ngala Mountain. As many of you know Ngala holds a special place for us here in Malawi because it is this mountain that we scaled with some vulnerable children that we work with. Ngala represents a turning point in their lives as they are taken here by us when they successfully complete the 12 week behaviour change programme as part of their diversion conditions from police custody. For many of these children this will be the first time that they are treated to a weekend of fun as a reward for their hard work. In many cases their lives are dedicated simply to surviving. Depending on who you talk to Ngala, means the mountain of the ‘mouth’ or the ‘smile’ due to the large gash in the rock face at the front of the mountain. I like to think of it as the mountain of the smile, given the many fond memories we have of it.

That's me in the blue at the front struggling with the steep inclines!
We left Lilongwe early Saturday morning as we wanted to start the climb before the heat of the day really began to hit. We are now in the height of the summer and temperatures often rise to 35 degrees celcius by 9 in the morning. After being greeted by Chief Mkanga at his home and exchanging gifts we set off at 9:30 am to start the climb. We were escorted by the Chief and the Village Head Man on our hike together with a gaggle of excited children from the village who were fascinated by this bunch of ‘Muzungus’ (white people) who wanted to climb their mountain. Needless to say we Muzungus were put to shame by the energy of the children who ran up the steep slopes with not even shoes on!

Chief Mkanga’s son brought a battery radio with him and we all enjoyed the music as made our slow assent up Ngala. We reached the summit approximately 1 hour 30 minutes after starting and we greeted with breathtaking views of the surrounding country side. We were regaled with stories by Chief Mkanga of how his tribe fled high up into the mountain to escape the neighbouring Ngonis’ who wanted to claim their land many years ago. Fortunately now, we were assured by Chief Mkanga that they no longer face these problems but he is often called to mediate on disputes. I told him about the community based work we were doing and we exchanged ideas on top of Ngala. I also told him that our friends in Ireland were doing a hike to support our work in Malawi. Chief Mkanga assured me that my Irish friends would be most welcome to come to his village and climb Ngala!

Left to Right – Chief Mkanga, Jo Seth Smith, Suzanne Byrne, Lena Ryde Nord, Patrick Gerathy, Eithne Lynch, Mehallah Beckett and Village Group Head Leader.

After taking the obligatory photos to prove we actually made it we began our walk down the mountain, all a little more tired than when we set out but with huge grins and a sense of pride at our accomplishments! 

By Eithne Lynch, Programme Lawyer with the Malawi project

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