07/14/2011versione stampabileprintinvia paginasend

Restored boat will be transformed into floating clinic to bring help to people in remote villages

Hope will arrive from Lake Malawi, an enormous body of water (the third largest on the continent) from which the country gets its name. The lake, an important resource for the people living along its shores, can also be an enormous obstacle when, for instance, you need to cross it to get to the nearest doctor. But hope is on the way in the name of Chauncy Maples, an Anglican priest who died in 1895 just after having been named sixth bishop of Nyasaland (Nyasa is the lake's former name, Editor's note)-the oldest boat in the country built in a Glasgow shipyard in 1898 and commissioned by a British university. The Chauncy Maples will set sail once again as a floating clinic with medical teams and modern equipment. It will bring medical assistance to people without access to healthcare living in remote villages where a visit to the nearest doctor can mean a full day's journey across Lake Malawi with its dangerous currents and crocodiles.

Healthcare is a serious problem in this African nation, where official figures cite one doctor for every 52 thousand inhabitants and 111 of every thousand children don't survive beyond the age of five (a mortality rate twenty times higher than in the US and Europe). More than half of the population of 13 million lives on less than a dollar a day in horrible conditions. The floating clinic will be able to reach tiny remote villages without roads. The Malawi government has been at work on the project since 2009 when TV writer Janie Hampton, who had vacationed on the lake, created the Chauncy Maples Malawi Trust to raise money. In one year she managed to collect more than a million Euros. She needs another million to finish the job.

And there's still a lot to do, particularly when it comes to restoring the boat, which has a very long history. It was originally designed to serve three separate functions: a missionary school, a refuge for people trying to evade slave traders, and a hospital. It was made into a battleship during the First World War and then in 1953, when it was sold by the British university program Mission to Central Africa, it became a fishing vessel. The Malawi government bought it and turned it into a sort of ferry that could also be used to transport goods. Now the ship is about to return to its original purpose as a floating clinic and travelling school, since the current plan also envisions classes in engineering and navigation for the people in the villages it visits. The ship's name reflects this return to its original function as a bringer of life and hope. Bishop Maples died as he was returning from Likoma, an island in the middle of the lake where he had founded his mission, to continue his work. His boat capsized in stormy waters and he was the only one on board who died. So the boat is named for someone who died, drowned in the lake where he was working to help others. This might at first sound like a macabre sort of irony. But in this case it's more like a triumph over death.


Alberto Tundo
Translated by Gary Cestaro