The world of civil unrest was brought home last week as Tim Hortons owner Kelly Moores told fellow Rotarians Thursday morning that his son was hiding out in a hotel in Malawi, Africa.
A University of New Brunswick student, Spencer Moores is working with a non-governmental organization in Kauma Village, described as a “squatter area” east of the country’s capital Lilongwe.
One of the poorest nations in the world, Malawi is experiencing riots as citizens protest President Bingu wa Mutharika’s government.
“We went to the hotel because it was the only place near to us that would be safe and the reason we had no food is because the stores were being looted and were all shut down,” wrote Spencer in a July 24 email.
With what he describes as a newly imposed media blackout, Spencer offers his observations and opinions garnered by living in the country and conversing with local residents and aid workers.
As well as suffering a fuel crisis, he says current friction is the result of relationships formed between the government and several Asian nations that are investing in the country, often bringing in their own workers and with their eye on Malawi’s natural resources.
“In several case studies I reviewed this year at university, I came across instances where they would import their own employees, and mix them with African workers they had hired…,” he writes, noting the Africans are paid lower wages without benefits, something he compares to indentured slavery.
Spencer also blames the World Bank and International Monetary Fund whose Structural Adjustment Programs of the ’80s and ’90s failed to stimulate the economy of several impoverished African nations.
“This was detrimental to most countries they were imposed in, corruption worsened, and in Malawi, the textile industry was hit the hardest,” he says, pointing out thousands of Malawians were put out of work and the country’s once-thriving industry decimated. “Now you go to the market here in Lilongwe, and half of the clothes are tagged with prices from Value Village stickers. Importing clothes to Africa has become one of the most lucrative business opportunities in the West, and is continuing to impoverish countries, especially Malawi.”
As well, he says, the United Nations is withholding much-needed funds after President Mutharika got into a “spat” with the British high commissioner, losing 60 per cent of the country’s funding source in the process. Other countries slowly followed suit, and government coffers are sparse. Spencer also levels criticism at the West, who, including Canada, make promises that aren’t kept.
“Paul Martin had promised to reduce poverty, malnutrition and infant mortality rates, and then he was gone from Parliament within weeks,” he says. “These countries hold onto those promises made by the UN and when they don’t see results, it reflects on their leadership.”
Spencer’s internship is under the auspices of UNB and the Association of Universities and Colleges Canada.
He is working with Lilongwe Youth Organization in a poverty-stricken village of 30,000 Malawians, some 15,000 of whom are under the age of 15 – 7,000 of them orphans. The HIV/AIDS rate is around 25 per cent.
Spencer’s mother, Margaret, is proud of him and her two daughters, all of whom volunteer.
“I guess it’s our philosophy at home; we’ve always been travellers and we’d rather our kids do it while giving back,” she says.
Daughters Hayley and Charlotte travelled to India with Salmon Arm Senior Secondary where they volunteered at Mother Theresa’s Home for the Dying.
Hayley volunteered for three months in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, a trip Charlotte will embark on this fall.
Two years ago, Spencer spent the summer volunteering in Tanzania.
While she admits to being worried about him, Margaret says she is confident in the group he’s with.
“He’s fortunate to be associated with the university because he does have that structure behind him,” she says, pointing out that helps to relieve some of the worry for the parents. “We haven’t heard anything (as of Monday morning), so I think it’s calming down. But I’m just looking forward to getting him home.”