By Joanna Morrison, Iris Malawi

Sometimes a whole field of ministry just opens up before you when you are not even looking. In 2017, my daughter, Kalina, chose to research and write about Cerebral Palsy in her final year of homeschooling. As she researched, we began to see children with Cerebral Palsy in the villages around us in southern Malawi. Wondering about their experience with Cerebral Palsy, Kalina invited these families over one afternoon. There were 5 families who came and we sat outside on the grass and played with the children. As we asked them about their experiences, we soon found they were asking us about Cerebral Palsy. They didn’t know what was wrong with their children, or what to do about it, or what caused it. They spent any resources they had on going to bigger and better hospitals looking for a cure.

Kalina and I decided to take an online course through an organization through Physiopedia to learn more about the care of children with Cerebral Palsy. The course was excellent, and we simply translated what we learned each week for these mums and their children.

We discovered that most of these families carried a lot of shame and would often not even look at their child. We started to talk about each child as a gift, to learn their names, and to speak to them every time we saw them. We talked about the importance of communication especially where the child was not able to respond verbally. We played games and sang songs together. We learned some basic exercises to help the children.

The Cerebral Palsy group grew from 5 to 50 fairly quickly and we divided them 2 groups so that we could continue to know each child. It was so wonderful to see the original mothers set an example of love and respect for new families coming in. I felt like I was watching the birth of love in these families. Life is extremely tough in our region with seasons in every year where most families eat once a day. These mums and dads are my heroes. They do all the ordinary work of life in a rural Malawian village with a child, sometimes quite big, strapped to their back. They carry all their water, fetch fire wood, tend the garden, prepare food, wash clothes, and walk many miles.

Word spread and we now have 160 families registered in our Cerebral Palsy group, some of whom walk or bus more than 10 miles to come to the Iris base. We discussed how to effectively care for this many people. Since Kalina had returned to Canada for University, I recruited one of our Iris house mums to help me, and then we were joined by a wonderful physiotherapist who volunteers her time to help the children.

We decided to divide the group into 10 village groups led by mothers who have some experience with us. In the villages, the groups can meet on a weekly basis which provides more consistent encouragement to exercise with the kids. These groups are also communicating with their villages that they are not ashamed of their children and that every child is a gift. I see love growing even as the families support each other in times of crisis. We have several kids who are mobile but non-verbal and face many dangers on the roads and from men who would take advantage of them. The families join up to redirect these wandering children back to their homes, sometimes feeding and bathing them before they bring them home. Many of these families consider the Cerebral Palsy group to be their church. That is where they have seen and experienced the love of Jesus. That is where they hear the good news that Jesus loves us no matter what we can or cannot offer to him. Every child is a gift pointing us to the Father if we will only look and see.


Picture1: Kalina caring for the children attending the Cerebral Palsy program in Bangula, Malawi.


Picture2: Physiotherapist (in pink) volunteering to assist with the Iris Malawi Cerebral Palsy support program.