The Nkhoma Mission Guest House is becoming something of a second home for me. It has great charm, built around a quadrangle with deep verandas. Originally it was a small boarding school for missionary children but has been renovated and repurposed as a nine-bedroom guesthouse.
This is needed since Nkhoma Mission receives many guests. Located in a rural setting about an hour’s drive from Lilongwe, Malawi’s capital city, it has a busy hospital and a growing University campus as well as being the centre of a large network of churches with more than a million members.
When I first came to stay as I was starting my work with the University last year, it was a busy place. Round the dinner table were medical personnel from the hospital, members of a church committee, guests from overseas visiting Malawi projects. For the past few days, however, I have had the whole place to myself.
Why are things so quiet? “Corona,” is the simple answer everyone gives. Not that Nkhoma is an area where many people have been infected by the virus. In fact, there have only been two known cases. But the indirect effects are nonetheless taking their toll.
Many small businesses are spin-offs from the thriving institutional life of Nkhoma. All have seen a steep downturn in their business as the corona situation has meant less activity and less services. For many people these small businesses mean the difference between abject poverty and at least having a waterproof house, educational opportunity for their children and access to basic healthcare when required.
Richer countries have reserves to fall back on when there is an economic shock. The UK, for example, has a furlough scheme that pays wages to people who are not able to do their normal work because of corona restrictions. In Malawi it is not possible for the Government to make up the shortfall being suffered by many. Those with the least reserves are hardest hit and the world’s inequality is thrown into sharp relief once again. As the world looks to “build back” can it build more fairly?