By Jessica Fobert
The Experimental Farm is coming together a lot faster then I was expecting. The women arrive each day at 9am and work strenuously until noon before the sun gets too hot. I am constantly amazed at the hard work that these women engage in on a daily basis. Creating a compost pit and building a garden has been an exhilarating adventure. While I teach the women about composting and experimental farming, they teach me of the diverse ways of gardening here in Malawi. For example, because of the heat from the sun, gardeners cover their garden beds with hay so that the water is not evaporated and the garden remains moist. Also, the women have used trees as poles and tall grass to make a fence to protect it from animals. I have noticed that Malawians are very creative and innovate people; they make use of as many resources as possible. My co-learner said that we needed to purchase a hoe for the garden so that we could construct the garden beds and dig up the ground. When I was given the hoe it was just the metal part with no handle attached. Malawians search for a piece of wood to make their own handle and custom design their tools to their needs.
I am learning new techniques and skills each day that the women return to the garden, and in return I am showing them some interesting and diverse ways of experimental farming. For instance, I gathered the women around me as I took 4 toothpicks and poked the side of an avocado seed and then suspended it over a cup filled with water. The women were amazed at what I was doing, and I informed them that this is a different way of planting an avocado tree. Let’s just hope that it grows! We are also experimenting with growing tomatoes upside down. Yes, you’ve read correctly… upside down. We have placed 4 tomato plants each in a separate bucket and cut a hole at the bottom of the bucket. The rationality is that it prevents bugs from eating the plants and that no sticks are needed to support them. I think just about everyone thinks we’re a little crazy, but we are experimenting and I hope that we achieve some success.
By Jessica Fobert
As the second week continues, I find myself more interested in learning as much as I can about Malawian culture and their traditional ways of doing things. I learned that Malawians have a unique handshake when they meet new people, their favourite meal is Nsima, a type of maize flower and water that is usually served with either rice, potatoes and/or pumpkin leaves. We have had lessons on their language of Chechewa and each day I try to learn new phrases that will be useful while working with the people here. It is imperative that we engage in dialogue with the locals in order to fully understand their wants and needs. Especially when working with the After-school program.
Before coming to Malawi, the Transformative Praxis: Malawi group read a chapter by Easterly called Planners versus Searchers. In the chapter, Easterly states that, “let’s call the advocate of the traditional approach the Planners, while we call the agents for change in the alternative approach the Searchers” (Easterly, 5). The Transformative Praxis: Malawi (TPM) group planned and discussed our objectives for our projects so that when we arrived in Malawi we would be prepared. Before coming to Malawi, I engaged in research based on curriculum development, gardening in Malawi and how to compost efficiently. Now that we are in Malawi it is time for us to expand on our research and try the alternative approach suggested by Easterly by searching for our answers. “Searchers know if something works only if the people at the bottom can give them feedback” (Easterly, 15).
The second week’s goal was to engage in more dialogue with locals to distinguish what Malawians wanted out of the after-school program, and to inform others about the benefits of composting. I shared with my co-learner some traditional and nutritious crops that I had researched and was planning on trying to grow here. I soon found out after being here that what I had researched had to be adjusted. Because I have started a compost pit, my co-learner suggested that we try and grow vegetables so that we could educate the women that our vegetable scraps can be used as compost.
I am very grateful to have a co-learner by my side so that I am aware of what the communities would like to try and grow at the TPM campus. She has provided me with five women, each from different villages, to work on the garden so that they can return home and tell the other women in their villages about what is taking place here on Campus. I am planning with my co-learner now to travel to each village and inform the women on what we are doing on Campus so that they feel included and a part of the program. Later this week the Education students have arranged to meet with local villages to discuss what the parents would like out of the After-school program. Engaging in dialogue with locals is imperative for change and success so that we accomplish our project goals in Malawi. Tionana (see you later).
Easterly, W (2006) The white man’s burden: why the West’s efforts to aid the rest have done so much ill and so little good. London, England: The Penguin Press.
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