Malawi’s failing economy both hurts and helps CURE hospital

By December 16, 2011

Malawi (MNN) — While Greece has been in the forefront of the economic world in recent weeks, Malawi's economy has been silently spiraling out of control.

Over the last number of months, the small, central African nation of Malawi has gone from bad to worse economically. Previously on Mission Network News, we informed readers about the significant foreign exchange issues Malawi has been facing, not to mention its severe fuel and food shortages.

The problems have all gotten worse. And CURE International is in the thick of it.

One major problem for the people as well as the hospital is the increasing shortage of fuel. The hospital needs fuel for ambulances and other necessities, but it's exceedingly hard to come by.

"I've had to contract for nearly half a million U.S. dollars worth of fuel in order to secure [CURE] a very modest 2,000 liters [528 gallons] a month," notes the CURE Malawi's executive director Stuart Palmer.

The value of the Malawian currency, the kwacha, has also caused problems. "The Malawi kwacha is officially held at 166 Malawi kwacha to one U.S. dollar inside the country. But across the border, it trades at 230-240 Malawi kwacha to one dollar," explains Palmer. "So that's about 38-40% overvalued in the country."

Meanwhile, food shortages are worsening. Palmer notes that one feeding program has increased its enrollment by 90% for children under five over the last few months.

Power outages are increasing. Even for those lucky enough to have a generator, fuel is nowhere in sight to power the generators.

To put the proverbial icing on the cake, in late November, Malawi implemented a Zero Deficit Budget, reports All Africa. Essentially, instead of receiving the usual 40% of its annual budget from donors, the government will cover this amount by sourcing funds from elsewhere–namely through the introduction of exorbitant taxes on products.

From fuel shortages to budget crises, the situation is unarguably sticky. It's not hopeless, but with so many problems, Palmer says it's hard to know what to attack first. "As a country, it's difficult to see what could be done apart from a large devaluation of the currency, which would be quite painful."

CURE has suffered directly from all of these trials. Nonetheless, the hospital continues to be a beacon of light in an ever darkening place.

"I think many times we forget, as Christians, that how we walk through times of challenge can be our greatest testimony," Palmer observes.

Eyes have certainly been on CURE. Despite the extreme difficulties in what is already one of the world's poorest nations, in-country giving to CURE's efforts to provide free surgeries for disabled children has actually increased as people recognize the importance of what CURE is doing. Hearts are softening more in Malawi, already named "The Warm Heart of Africa" for its friendliness. Palmer says that softening is moving people toward the Gospel as well.

Besides performing surgeries, says Palmer, "We also share the Gospel with all the children and the guardians that come through, and that really is a very life-changing experience for many of them. They've never come across what I would call a true, balanced, Christian, Gospel message before."

This extremely trying economic season for Malawi coincides with a joyful time of giving for Christians–Christmas. CURE already helps the poorest of the poor, but those people are now getting even poorer. This holiday season, you can help CURE give one of these children the chance to walk on earth, and also to walk one day in heaven. Partner with CURE by supporting just one of these children in prayer, or by helping to pay for a surgery.

To see the faces and read the stories of the kids you could help, click here.

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