Photo show by MG Film Fest contestant shows hard but happy life in Malawi


Elliott Ruga’s entry in last month’s Film Festival was a thought-provoking documentary about urban planning in West Palm Beach.

So when Elliott invited us to check out his latest project, about life in one of the world’s poorest countries, Malawi, we were intrigued.

His photo exhibition is called Why Ain’t There No Tea in Malawi? and it runs through October at the J.B. Kline Gallery, at 25 Bridge St. in Lambertville.

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Videographer/photographer Elliott Ruga with his faithful assistant, Madison. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Over the summer Elliott spent 16 days in Malawi, Africa’s most densely populated nation, shooting a documentary about a demo project that distributed mobile phones to health workers. The idea was to streamline delivery of medicine and emergency services, explained the Harding resident, who also works as a policy analyst for the New Jersey Highlands Coalition.

Previously, Malawians might bicycle for miles to a hospital for a pickup, only to discover that a shipment of medicine had not arrived. The phones have enabled text messaging about these shipments. Ambulances also can be dispatched swiftly now, he said.

According to Elliott, Malawi has the world’s 12th highest infant mortality rate. Per capita income is $800 and life expectancy is just 52 years.  Eleven percent of citizens are infected with HIV/ AIDS.   In the video clip here, recorded by Elliott, the Nkhotakota District Hospital Office Band sings about the importance of contraception; songs are a vital way to spread information in a society with low literacy.

Yet for all the challenges faced by the people of Malawi, Elliott found them to be remarkably upbeat. His photos reflect that–and the exhibition’s title is meant to ask why Americans are so glum.

“Any American who claims to be a member of the Tea Party movement lives a life that is infinitely safer, healthier, more secure and more comfortable than 99.9 percent of the rest of humanity,” he said. “But all they can do is complain about how awful things are. Maybe we have to give up our Hummers. These people (in Malawi) have nothing.”

Somehow, he said, Malawaians “are happy, they get along, they laugh. They are a lot more content than people here who have everything.”

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