By Cassia Tremblay
Malawi is beautiful and hopeful and also a little intimidating. The light is soft and it’s easy to forget that there is so much that is not soft about this country and this continent. It’s a funny juxtaposition to read about corruption and violence and poverty in Gerald Caplan’s The Betrayal of Africa while looking out across the still and silent bush that stretches out in front of the hostel or while being surrounding by smiling kids. On one hand it is sort of a relief that my surroundings don’t feel as hectic as the Africa described in the book. On the other hand we’re very sheltered at the hostel and what we see of the communities around us doesn’t likely reflect reality entirely.
I hope that my project will help me move into a headspace somewhere between harsh reality and dreams for positive change. Excuse me while I replicate an obnoxiously long passage from the Betrayal of Africa from the two sections “The Role of Outsiders” and “Who Cares about Africa?”
“This book offers no magic bullets, no easy answers to Africa’s problems. There are none. Everywhere you look there are major problems, and all of them must be tackled at the same time, because they all interact. And the tackling must be done by Africans and outsiders. … We need to help Africa not out of our selflessness and compassion but as restitution, compensation, an act of justice for the generations of crises, conflict, exploitation and underdevelopment for which we bear so much responsibility. … Until we think about the West’s relationship with Africa honestly, until we face up to the real record, until we acknowledge our vast culpability and complicity in the Africa mess, until then we’ll continue – in our caring and compassionate way – to impose policies that actually make the mess even worse.”
This passage makes me frustrated with Big Money and Big Men but it also makes me frustrated with myself. Global inequality is abhorrent, and I benefit from it, and until Gerald Caplan pointed it out to me, I never thought to consider how I was connected to the people of Malawi before I had even heard of TPM. This sentiment reminds me to frame my days here in terms of courage, restitution, and cooperation rather than compassion and philanthropy. It is with this mentality that I hope to move forward into my project (a project that is not really mine in any way).
The toilet project focuses on heath and sanitation, which feels like a lot to take on. There are so, so many aspects to social and community health that I cannot even anticipate. So instead of burdening myself with ‘health and sanitation’ I am going to try to think of the project in smaller terms: first we’ll gain an understanding of local hygiene practices, needs and wants, then we’ll plan a toilet, then we’ll build one and maybe repeat the process a second time.
It’s hard to grasp that I am only here for 5 weeks and I am trying to contribute to a project that will last years. It’s especially daunting to hear about how so many of last year’s projects didn’t survive. However, Melanie reminded me this morning that my efforts are a drop in the bucket and while I cannot fill or carry the bucket by myself, the drop I accomplish alongside my co-learners still matters. Those weren’t her exact words… but I’m pretty sure that’s what she meant.
By Katie-Alana Schouten
Today we ran an After-school program collaborating with the Education students based on hygiene and hydration. We showed the children the technique of hand washing to the song of the Macarena. We were then challenged with the option of providing an education outlet for children with disability. Instead of focusing on the school system of education it was proposed to start a temporary program where we can act as aids for the children during the lessons.
I felt unsure at first because a temporary program can end very quickly in Malawi. I thought it wasn’t sustainable as in this area there may be no teachers or no teachers to care to follow up the education that has started for people with disabilities. I also deeply felt that I didn’t have the skills to support these children, to meet their ever- changing needs. I felt and feel inadequate in doing something from my own mind that I couldn’t witness and criticize. Becoming the do-er instead of the audience was really a threat in this instance.
The role of the nurse became so much clearer in such a short time. This outlet of education wasn’t only for these children, but for us too. I hope it allows us to be holistic and focus on all the person’s needs. From a quick visit to the community we had during the week I could already see the need for the children with disabilities to be happy and fulfilled in experiences. Instead here, they are forced to stay at home due to the discrimination they face in the schools and in the villages.
I had an experience as a student nurse in practice where I found it difficult to participate in real communication with clients. I was always better at writing and doing physical work than communicating properly. A senior nurse told me that I could get anyone to participate in anything if I did it with love and kindness. Likewise, if I communicated with kindness I could achieve anything. This means meeting peoples individual needs in their current situation.
I liked her advice.
For someone with intellectual disability it can be difficult for some children to interact and communicate as directly as we would and that’s where my love for this role comes from. Individuals with a disability teach us to listen, to care and have patience, which is so difficult for me to do. I remember in school always being taught and talked at. We never had a conversation with our educators and our opinion wasn’t allowed because of being incorrect to the textbook. This created tension in me as a person because I didn’t feel like I was being listened to or understood.
Having the opportunity to create a space where individuals can reach their own achievable potential in Chilanga is amazing. Being able to focus on ability rather than what the individual may not be able to do is life changing. In an ideal world it should be an aspect of all education and not just for our children with individual differences.
‘Education recognizes energy and potential within each person and each community, and tries to empower them to make their full contribution to the process of building a new society in which it is possible for all people to meet their fundamental human needs.’ (Hope,Timmel &Hodzi, 1984).
Hope, A., Timmel, S., & Hodzi, C. (1984) Training for transformation : A handbook for community workers. Gweru, Zimbabwe: Mambo Press.
By Karen Jeffery
Everyday at 14:30 Malawian time, the Community Centre on our Campus is full of lively children eager to learn. The Education students are putting together an excellent curriculum for the Praxis Malawi Charter School and the After-school program is a chance for them to give it a trial run. Today, for the first time, three children with intellectual disabilities were included.
My friend and I had previously met with the children’s mothers and they agreed unanimously that Education was the biggest concern they had for each of their children. Some of the children had begun in local schools, but failed to stay there long due to bullying and exclusion. The children’s response to their new classmates today was natural and as expected. There was a level of discomfort, a quiet giggle, and curiosity; all feelings that can be altered by promoting inclusion, exposure and education about disability. These together lead to a richer society where all are valued and everyone is given the same chances.
In the class today, the children learned about their national flag and the meaning of their national anthem. The Malawian sun shone through the windows and the children stood together, all with different abilities, all with their hands over their heart singing the beautiful melody of the Malawian anthem. The anthem is a prayer to God, and I hope a glimpse of the future here;
Join together all our hearts as one that should be free from fear.
By Katie-Alana Schouten
Something close to my heart is the affect learning about religion and education has had on me. Two things that are now incredibly important to me and make my life more worthwhile. In secondary school I didn’t apply myself to learning, I find it hard to regret it as at that time it was what I wanted to do and I think I didn’t have enough real life experiences to understand it was important. Moving to college though, whether I became better at listening or started caring less I can’t be certain. But seeing the affect one story has on you about a patient, as a nurse is profound. Both on what you’ve learned from it and how to apply it to the clinical field, and how it makes you feel spiritually.
However, little I got out of my education in school I learned in college education is the essence of a person, the beginning of being human and being it to the full (or so it is in my case anyway). Learning to think critically, to be objective and learning to not put something down just because you can is something I’ve come to feel, and not just have an awareness of. Presently I have never been more grateful for having an understanding of people I meet both as a nurse and as a stranger. Their own opinions and why they do what they do could be wrong to everybody but I have an ability to take aspects such as context into consideration and see both sides of it.
That’s why when we held a meeting for parents with intellectually and physically disabled children it really saddened me when one parent spoke of her young daughter who commenced school and was discriminated against by other pupils and was left on her own. Eventually she stopped going. I asked myself do we still live in that age?
If someone has a child with a disability in the region of Kasungu, neighbours in the village look down not only on the child, but also on the family. A child with a disability is seen as negative and a burden to the village. If the child is brought to church on Sunday here, other people in the village are afraid of, in the parent’s words, ‘getting the disability’. If a child with a disability starts school they can be subject to all types of abuse like emotional, mental and social abuse. Do we still live in this age in 2015?
I’m sad to say we’ve all been a part of this. I spoke to an elementary school teacher after the meeting with my friend. He declared that we all have disabilities and likewise we all have abilities, and we are all different. I was happy that the teacher had the same mindset my friend and I had.
I recall Martin Luther King Jr. stated something to the effect of – the one who turns their back on what they see is wrong is the same as the person doing wrong. Both as a student and a 20-year old girl who has faith, I get caught in what I should say to keep everything peaceful or what I can do to make things right. I can either learn from this or be ignorant.
On this journey and from this experience of meeting these parents I can ignore what society thinks or be a weaver of society.
I can be a sheep or a wolf.
I don’t want to be a sheep.
By Katie Schouten
We landed in Lilongwe airport around midday Wednesday and to our delight we met a hostel co-coordinator, Francis, who took us to The Campus. The journey from the airport to the accommodation was one I can only describe as surreal. My eyes filled with amazement and fascination as we got to see women selling tomatoes on the side of the road and carrying heavy buckets of water on their head while no cars passed for miles. The fields full of sugar cane and maize really put into perspective the lifestyle I had pre-conceived before I arrived. As my main focus here is health and well being I looked around this brand new region wondering if people even had time to be unwell, or focus on pain or dwell on being sick. Making a living was a key component of survival. I felt a level of understanding and acceptance as to why people in these countries can put their health on the back burner. Making a living is the only means of food. Something so simple, yet most of us in other countries will always have food on the table without making a living. Being born into a level of poverty such as this is a question that really struck me. Such as being sick and having no medicine, no transportation or distractions. Being from this beautiful yet very poor part of the world is a question unanswerable, but contrast is definite. Why someone who has so much potential is given a life lacking basic needs and rights is overwhelming. I can only learn from this with the mindset I use while working as a student nurse with people with intellectual disabilities. I often feel that our world has people like us and people with disabilities to make us feel more. Individuals with a disability give us a real sense of why to care about others. In Chilanga where we stay in the Kasungu region I hope that I can strengthen these feelings. It’s important to me what I can bring home from this project as I learn more about this region each day.
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