12/02/2015 05:22 GMT | Updated 13/04/2015 06:59 BST

The Lessons I've Learned From My Malawian Mother

Life has its ways of surprising you - catching you off guard and taking you down a direction that you're probably not even aware of yet. It works in a weird but beautiful way that I don't think I'll ever truly understand but I love the journey I've embarked on and the people I've encountered.

For the last six years I have worked in the beautiful country of Malawi but this is the first time I'm taking a moment to really try and understand the experience and once again the people of Malawi have enlightened me, educated me. Their strength, their unity and compassion is utterly breath-taking.

Love is a word I use often, but never too often. I love to love. I wouldn't want its overuse to undermine my genuine feeling of love. I loved Mercy, and recently her health has been at the forefront of my mind. I met Mercy back in 2009 when I returned to Lilongwe, Malawi. Mercy had already been feeding over 400 children with her feeding programme but we clicked, she became my Malawian mother, and with the help of both our families we built Tilinanu orphanage.

A few months ago we were tirelessly planning for the trip ahead to Malawi, all of our effort geared towards ensuring that the people of Malawi would benefit as much as possible from our loving volunteers that were coming to help. Unbeknown to anyone, including Mercy, she was critically ill. She had previously had a hysterectomy and apparently the doctors simply forgot to mention the cancerous cells they had found. They proceeded to misplace her samples therefore failing to report back on the state of the cancerous cell growth. It saddens me to say that Gift, Mercy's son, and Mercy herself were too worried to tell me about her health because they were so worried about mine as I had recently been in hospital.

The state of the government hospital Mercy was a patient at bordered on madness. Little to no medication, doctors with little to no interest in the patient and equipment that would be thrown in the bin in the UK. With health situations such as Mercy's it was always going to be an uphill battle. Needless to say Mercy's health deteriorated dramatically. It would appear that the practitioners we came in contact with were driven by little more than corruption, power and very long 'lunch breaks.'

The practice of 'sweet back-handers' given to these doctors has always upset me but moreover strengthened my resolve to never have to resort to that. However when life or death depends on the money in your pocket, well, that's an impossible position even when in direct contrast to your principles. I couldn't risk it. Mercy's life was worth so much more but at a cost cheaper than a train journey to London.

With constant pushing and of course a buffer of money Mercy received the best care that she could physically have but it does sit heavily on me knowing that we had to adhere to certain practices in order to achieve this, it only makes it more difficult for those who don't have anyone in their corner fighting for them. Would it have been the same if Mercy had not been accompanied by someone with white skin and Kwacha in their supposedly bottomless pockets? I don't know.

The day Mercy was told about her cancer being terminal is a day I will never forget. She lowered her head for a few brief seconds and said "Alice, my daughter, I want a meeting with the boys [her sons] and you." She didn't flinch, she didn't ask questions she was just anxious to get home.

The meeting with Mercy's family was called and obviously her sons showed incredible sadness but Mercy remained strong, raising her voice and focusing on the two things that really mattered to her. The Tilinanu orphanage and her grandchildren whom she had raised as her own. I couldn't believe it, Mercy was telling her children that she was dying and her first thought was of her dedication and loyalty to the orphanage - her love for those children was like no other.

The acceptance and welcome of the family at the funeral service was humbling. The community could see our unbreakable relationship and I was proud to be a part of it, empowered by it.

Mercy is resting in peace. Her soul is with the wind that blows, the leaves that lay on the Malawian dust and in the moon and stars that guide us through the night. I believe in her strength, courage and wisdom, and I carry her with me every day.