By Amber Fortin
Moni! Hello! After over 18 hours of travelling we finally arrived at the campus. It was strange because some things have changed a lot, but others have stayed the same. Either way it is very comforting to be back on the campus. I have found myself overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done as many of the projects have fallen to the wayside and even been forgotten. But thankfully one project still seems to be standing; the sustainable chicken coop cooperative project that I worked on last year with the Women’s Group. There are over 27 baby chicks running around the campus now, two roosters and 6 hens, all of which are healthy and growing free-range. Many people would say it was out of laziness that the other projects fell apart, but being around the culture here in Malawi; I can say that laziness is not something I would use to describe anyone. Work is 24/7 for most people and usually they only receive enough kwacha to survive on. The projects seem to have fallen apart due to lack of leadership and limited sense of ownership due to the project being on community land. These are not problems of laziness; these are problems that come with group dynamics and a lack of structure in the group. Once the group structure that Transformative Praxis: Malawi members provided by being here every day during the setup of these projects was not as present, the structure seemingly began to deteriorate. This year my 5 weeks will definitely be more challenging, as there are more projects I am dealing with than just the chicken cooperative. Hopefully, the Women’s Group, Ashwini, and I can work together to find solutions to the challenges of the last year.
My name is Amber Fortin and this will be my second time in Malawi doing fieldwork with Transformative Praxis: Malawi. I was there last summer working with the Community Women’s Group on a cooperative model chicken coop with hopes of producing both eggs and chickens to sell in order to create a sustainable income. I have recently graduated from Mount Allison University with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in International Relation and Sociology with a minor in Political Science. I am very excited to be returning and to use the knowledge from my degree and past research to put into action here in Malawi. This year my project will be to work with the Women’s Group again on the management of the Tuck Shop, Chicken Coop, Community Center, Experimental Garden and the Compost Pit from last year’s projects. Ashwini, who is a new students joining the team this year, and I will be assisting the women on the management and development of these projects as well as the implementation of a Development Committee.
My name is Ashwini Manohar and I’m 24 years old. I’m currently a third year Economics student at Simon Fraser University, to which I’ve just recently transferred from Mount Allison University, where I discovered my love for economics. I stumbled into it quite accidentally, because all my life I’ve wanted to be involved in film and theatre. That’s sort of on the backburner now.
I was born in Singapore, where almost all of my extended family still live, and came to Canada with my parents, siblings and paternal grandmother in 2005 at age 13. To qualify it as a shock to the system would be an understatement, and my very first impression of Vancouver, I regret to say, was one of disappointment. I’d never been outside of Asia before and I missed the heat and the lush greenery that lined Singapore’s barricaded concrete streets. In fact, I think the relative openness of Vancouver’s roads (and Western culture, as I found out eventually in school) was what sent me reeling. I remember still that I spent that whole summer huddled in a sweater, (because 20-something degrees is actually cold to somebody used to 30-something degree weather!) angry with my parents for “destroying” my secure and comfortable life in my beloved Singapore.
These past 11 years have been a period of gradual but substantial change, more mental than physical. Vancouver has become home, in the true sense of the word, a place where I find serenity and peace. Today, I inhabit some hyphenated identity that I can’t fully comprehend myself.
This will be my first time in Malawi, and perhaps because I realize what I’m in for with the culture shock, or perhaps because I don’t truly know what I’m in for, in addition to excitement, curiosity and unbridled optimism (which I expect to be crushed a little), there is also an underbelly of nervousness and anxiety as the weeks turn into days, and then into hours before my departure date. I’m told this is going to be a life-changing experience. I find myself pacing my house, up and down the stairs, heart thumping, unable to calm my scatterbrained thoughts. The only reprieve comes in the form of my family’s six-month-old golden doodle, Romeo, whose presence I’ll greatly miss while in Malawi.
I’m currently reading North of South by Shiva Naipaul, recommended by Dr. Stonebanks, since the political and historical connotations of my Indian-descended brown body in Africa is something I need to understand and grapple with prior to, during and after my trip. Ensuring that I’m not part of or perpetuating harmful ideologies while in Malawi is important to me as well as to the project itself.
I’m looking forward to learning and growing in the next few weeks and to share my thoughts here. Thanks for reading!
My name is Cassia Tremblay (or Cass or whatever you like!). My hometown is Calgary, Alberta but I have just finished up my third year of a Biology undergrad at St.FX University in Nova Scotia. The small town of Antigonish has become a second home to me and has provided me with so many opportunities (like introducing me to TPM!). I’m thrilled to be joining the TPM team for the first year this summer! I’m hoping to be able to apply some of what I have learned in my courses to contribute to a health related project on the ground in Malawi. This will involve working with community and other TPM members to plan and then construct composting pit toilets. I hope that the introduction of composting toilets to the community, paired with education, will encourage discussion about improving sanitation and can even benefit agriculture. It sounds like the toilets will greatly benefit the community if built near the Community Centre, Radio Station, and the soccer pitch. I hope these locations allow me to work with the sports projects being lead by other TPM members as well as explore mental health radio programming that is in place in other locations in Malawi. I am really looking forward to learning about and contributing to collaborative work and research throughout the duration of this trip. Can’t wait to get started!
My name is Kassandra Norrie and I am a M.A. graduate student in the School of Education at Bishop’s University. This is my third time travelling to Malawi with TPM. I first joined Transformative Praxis: Malawi during my final year as an undergrad at Bishop’s University, and it was because of this experience that I decided to continue on to graduate studies. The grassroots project is completely funded by student fundraising and a few generous donations from supporters, like Switzerland’s Jahan Foundation. After graduating with my B.Ed, I taught in Halifax for three years and began my M.A. at Acadia University. I returned to Malawi last year as a student in the graduate course, and wrote a paper as my final assignment on perceptions of learned helplessness in rural Malawi based on my own observations and dialogue with leaders in the community. Following this experience I made the decision to transfer back to Bishop’s to work under Dr. Stonebanks’ excellent supervision and become more involved with TPM.
What differentiates our work from other charity-based programs is that we are steeped in a research approach, with professors, undergraduates and graduate students working collaboratively with community. We don’t just help to build schools; the work we do is collaborative and fused with dialogue. An example would be the hybrid curriculum currently being designed, piloted in an after school program, and soon enacted in the charter school. We are now actively fundraising for the construction of a grade one, two and three classroom block. In my experience, it is the small projects that are driven by heart that create the most lasting changes in development work, and I encourage you continue following the work of all TPM members!
Hello, I’m Kirsten Dobler! If you were taking a look at our previous blogs you will have seen me before! This is my second time to Malawi. I travelled to Malawi last year with a focus on education and the after school program. I will be working on these projects again, as well as with the Teacher Professional Development. I am very happy to be returning to our TPM Campus. I am looking forward to continuing what our group developed last year and to see the smiley faces of the kids from the surrounding villages. This year, I will be bringing an accumulation of my first experience in Malawi, my first back-to-the-west culture shock, and the completion of one university degree. While I have had an experience in Malawi before, I can only assume that this one will be entirely different. I’m preparing myself to ensure that my projects will have continuity. I am also doing my best to prepare myself to offer support to my peers that have never been to Malawi before.
Although this will be my second time in Malawi I believe that it will be a completely new experience. You’ll be hearing from me lots!
Hi! My name is Laura Donoghue and I am 23 years old. I am studying Kindergarten and Elementary Education at McGill University. I grew up just outside of Montreal in a little tourist town, St Sauveur. Growing up I got to ski all winter, play soccer all summer and horse ride year round. Over all I grew up in a very safe and sheltered area.
I moved into an apartment in Montreal in 2010 to attend Dawson College. I studied North-South studies and had the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua. I learned so much on this trip. We lived with host families in the rural towns and got some insight into their way of life. What stuck with me the most was the children, and how much I loved spending time with them. Their eagerness to learn and go to school was eye opening to me. We had a conference with one of the local school principals and there I found out that many of the children with special needs in the area were left behind due to the lack of resources available to them. This stuck with me as I had always taken for granted the extra help I got in school and had not realized how fortunate I truly was.
After Nicaragua I took a year off to explore my interests. I ended up working for an activities camp in England where I taught a variety of activities, such as archery, climbing, and team building. I then worked for the same company on the Mediterranean coast of Spain for the following two summers. I loved living in a new country and experiencing the culture, language and way of life.
Last summer I decide to yet again work abroad for the summer, except this time I worked with teenagers on a teen tour in Italy. This was a very different experience and reminded me of how much I loved working with the local Nicaraguans and learning from their knowledge and life style.
After hearing about Transformative Praxis: Malawi, I was determined to find out more and get involved. I am inspired by the collaborative nature of the trip and cannot wait to learn from the locals. As one of the focuses for Transformative Praxis: Malawi is education, I decided it was a phenomenal opportunity for me. There are many unknown aspects of this trip, and I am sure I will be challenged in ways I have not even imagined. Though there are many nerves that come along with participating in this trip, my excitement to learn from my peers and the locals is overwhelming.
My name is Marcello Glo. I was born and raised in Nicaragua until the age of 13 when I moved to Miami to finish the remaining years of Middle School and High School. After graduation I wanted to change a bit from the environment in Miami (very materialistic) to something a little saner, so I decided to come up North for a change of pace. Honestly, I can say that it was the best decision I’ve ever made. Bishop’s has offered not only a multicultural experience but also exposed me to environmental studies, which is what I will be majoring in. I learnt about Transformative Praxis: Malawi through my professor, Dr. Darren Bardati, who will be joining us this summer as well. I will be working with Dr. Bardati doing research on landscape and environmental conditions to build a framework to develop sustainable ways of agriculture. The idea of empowering communities so that they can maybe one day become self-reliant instead of depending on international aid seemed to be an amazing idea considering my own country experiences many of the similar problems as Malawians. Additionally, the idea of being able to apply the knowledge I’ve learned so far in my studies seemed like an amazing opportunity I couldn’t say no to. I am super excited to spend these 5 weeks with you guys and get to gain some perspective on what the real situation is and what part we can play in hopefully making the world a better place (one can dream right?). I know it sounds a little corny and maybe even naïve, but hopefully it does make a change and maybe I will learn a couple of things I can even apply in my own country in the future. Anyways, I’m really excited and I hope we can get to know each other a little more.
Hello! Dzina langa ndili Mark Freedman (My name is Mark Freedman). I am from Montreal, Québec, Canada. I am currently an undergrad student at Bishop’s University, well into my degree of secondary education and social studies. I have always been the type to stand in the ‘teacher’ role throughout my various jobs growing up while at the same time, I believe there is no cap on learning or what you can achieve in a lifetime, it’s limitless. I have a huge respect for my fellow human beings and the environment we inhabit, and with that I enjoy learning about and appreciating other cultures and ways of life around me.
While in Malawi, there is so much I could hope to accomplish alongside my colleagues, collaborators, and co-learners. My goals are to take monumental steps in empowering women through sport as a step toward the greater goal of alleviating human suffering through dialogic and collaborative education. Trying to remain as realistic as possible, my goals are simple, and anything above and beyond is icing on the cake, so to speak. Also, building around the idea of sustainability, I’m interested to find out what the local people think about collecting rainwater for garden use, and potentially collaborating on some sort of rain harvesting system.
One of my greatest hopes is that I will learn just as much from the people as they can learn from me; whether it’s about culture, customs, or education, there will be exchanges. Having a passion for education, I look forward to learning about and collaborating on curriculum with my co-learners as well.
So long for now!
Hi! My name is Mélissa Chapdelaine Poirier and I’m heading into my second year in a French Major. My home town is Les Cèdres, in Québec. Going to Bishop’s University is a real opportunity for me, as it has provided me with services to improve my academic records, to find a job and to get experience in volunteering. When I heard about Transformative Praxis: Malawi, I was excited about this new opportunity to possibly make a small change in the world. As it was one of my resolutions this year, I decided to pursue this opportunity. Although I have experience volunteering in the past, going to Malawi is the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had. But hey, it’s a good idea to learn a new culture and a new environment in the world. I actually love to learn about new cultures and new languages. In life, my passions are in arts: music, painting, writing, photography and drawing. Also, I like languages; I’m actually studying French, English and Spanish, as I like travelling. I have travelled to Ontario, Quebec and United States. My goal during my time in Malawi is to make a small change with English as a second language. As a person who grew up with a second language, I know how difficult it is to remember the grammar rules and vocabulary after the lessons. I am excited and enjoying the moments before the real challenge starts!
Hi all, I’m Sunny Man Chu Lau, associate professor in the School of Education at Bishop’s University. Second language education is my research area and my teaching profile. In particular, I’m interested in critical pedagogy that promotes critical literacy learning and dynamic plurilingualism and multiliteracies that resist the monolingual bias. I was born and raised in Hong Kong when it was still a British colony at the time. Having experienced the colonial education, I felt deeply for the need to design curricula and adopt pedagogies that reflect, embrace and mobilize the local cultural and linguistic resources for learning that is meaningful and purposeful for the local. What attracts me to the TPM project is the heightened awareness of the importance to work WITH the local people, respecting their own defined needs as well as the strengths and resources they have. I look forward to the opportunity to exchange with the local teachers about language and literacy teaching practices in the two different contexts.
We just had the first online seminar on Sunday and I was surprisingly happy to find that most TPM participants seemed to know each other very well already and I did feel like being welcomed into a close family full of cheeky fun and laughter. Look forward to getting to know you all as well as the project more!
To those who will read this, My name is Tim O’Connell and I am a 28-year-old resident of Montreal, born and raised in the West Island. I am a recent graduate from McGill University’s Elementary Education program. Before entering McGill, I graduated from Concordia’s JMSB program and worked in sales, before realizing that business was not my forte.
Ever since hearing about Transformative Praxis: Malawi in my ELA class taught by Professor Bennett some two years ago, I was hooked. I have always wanted to do something along the lines of traveling to an underdeveloped country and work with the locals; however, no other organization or trip option really grabbed my attention like Transformative Praxis: Malawi. I wasn’t interested in traveling to an exotic country, help build a house in a few weeks, snap some pictures with the local kids and party for the rest of the trip. I wanted something meaningful that was more than just a quick stay somewhere foreign. TPM offered all that I was looking for; an opportunity to travel to a beautiful country and work and learn alongside the locals in a collaborative environment. Additionally, to have the possibility to implement change and continuously work towards that change far beyond the trip’s duration. I look forward to bonding with the people of Malawi, the dedicated professors and fellow peers that will be participating in this amazing adventure.
While in Malawi, I would like to implement a rugby program that will aim to teach the students the basic skills required to play the game. The focus will be around physical activity, teamwork, and fun. Rugby is an amazing sport that can be enjoyed by anyone at any age or ability and I hope to pass on my passion of the game to the locals of Malawi.
About the Blog
Since 2013, students participating in Transformative Praxis: Malawi have been writing blog posts reflecting on their experiences of participating in action research in Malawi. The original blog with the full archive can be found here