By Natchasiri (Froy) Kunaporn
Two weeks have passed and the wall is still empty. At noon the wall is hit by the huge African sun and is blasting legit heat waves, it hurts my eyes to even stare. It’s even bigger now with the lime on. When I was painting the top part of the wall, my legs were shaking, one hand with the tray and one with the brush. It was only 5 meters high, but having a phobia for heights, I would say it’s quite an achievement getting myself to even go near that ladder.
The design is nearly ready, with a plot twist at the end when we found out that the wall is not as symmetrical as we thought it would was. The contractor shamed the paint we got, and the roughness of the wall literally devours my pencil when I try to sketch. I realized I couldn’t draw the grids alone, so two of my colleagues and a couple of little Malawian boys were helping me hold the strings and eyeing the straightness; it was fun and rainbows until I realized that the bottom part is also not straight. So I slowly crawl back into my thinking hat to think of a better way to map the design, and probably map my whole plan.
While sitting on the porch of the community center, looking out as the little helpers are playing jump rope with the strings. I would describe the site as rocky, rough, uneven, and full of construction bits and shards. They boys had no shoes on, and every time they land on the ground from jumping there is a huge THUD, THUD, THUD. My initial reaction would be ‘Stop you fools! You’ll all hurt yourself!’ But a part of me was so amazed by the constant laughter and that none of them were bothered by my horrified expression, I just watched. Nothing happened. My background music continued to be laughter’s of Malawian kiddies. As I gazed off at the sunset I realize I need to grow tougher skin, not just on my toes, but everywhere. I must overcome that stupid ladder, but also my mind has to be tougher and more critical.
If I have to describe my approach to art, I would say that I am very stubborn and that I get attached to ideas that lead me being not very open to critics. I take many things to heart and find it hard to believe that there is a ‘better way’. What I need to work on is being very open minded about ideas of others, even the people who are not familiar in my area. I remember having a very strong dislike for abstract art and realizing later that my work has some degree of ‘abstract’ in it.
My obsession with symbols plays a big part in my lack of critical thinking. I get attached to putting symbols in my work without making it come out naturally between my research. It slows me down most of the time. I find that I work the fastest when I see and hear things from other people, not when I try digging in my brain to find something that is not there. During the period of this course, we put a lot of emphasis on the importance of dialogue. Being engaged in deeper conversations will assist our journey in experiential learning. Being ‘searchers’ instead of ‘planners’ will eventually produce a richer result.
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 Marten Sealy
This has been such a detour. I used to look at a thick book and wonder where the author found the fuel to fill many pages. I was an avid young reader, but I often worry that the time might come when I would be called upon to contribute back to the pool of knowledge from which I quenched my thirst. I was intimidated. I’m a perfectionist, which means that the nozzle controlling my flow of thought onto the page is slow. Some unseen power is confining me to a sad little leaking dribble. Give me a fire hose. Let me soak everything. It’s frustrating. Woe is me. I’m reflecting now, and realizing how silly that fear of authoring a big book really is. Have some humility, Marten.
The truth is, a “fire hose” would do me no good. What reservoir do I really have to pull from? I walk around, eyes wide open and head held high convinced that I see a lot, but I’m a little bit full of myself! Patience Marty, you’ll be an elder someday. Keep those eyes open, but don’t worry about preaching at the ripe age twenty. You’ve got to be young and dumb before you can ever hope to be old and wise. Perhaps someday I will organize myself and decide upon a collection of thoughts cohesive and important enough to be ‘book worthy’. For now, let me share what has perked my senses recently, coupled with some modest insights.
Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. NY, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
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 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.
By Kate Newhouse
We have been working with the Malawi unit some more, selecting subjects that we can turn into lesson plans. Kirsten and I selected a lesson that had to do with the Malawian national anthem and their national flag. Here is when we learned from our co-learners the meaning and controversies about their flag, which we found really interesting.
There is a debate about which flag should be used; the old flag, or the new one. Both flags have the same 3 stripes. Black on the top, red in the middle and green on the bottom. The colors represent the same things too. Black represents the dark times that Malawi has been through. Red represents the blood that was shed and green represents their agriculture and land. The only difference between the two flags is the sun. In the old flag the sun is red and “half risen” to represent that Malawi is slowly rising, but on the new one there is a white sun in the middle of the flag to represent that Malawi has risen.
I think the debate was whether or not Malawi has risen. Obviously this is a controversial issue. Depending who you are and where you are from changes your stance on this.
I think patriotism is an interesting subject here in Malawi. In North America we are very patriotic and are proud of where we come from. Here some people are still proud for many reasons of where they come from, but some are not so proud and feel as though Africa is still set in the past. I think both flags represent where Africa is. To me Africa is still rising as they still have a long way to go until they are out of the severe conditions they are in, but saying that, they have also improved quite a bit since that flag was made
By Amber Fortin
Upon finishing the reading of The Betrayal of Africa by Gerald Caplan, I have been furthering my reflection on Africa, its relationships, its triumphs and challenges. After taking courses on Problems in International Development and African Politics I gained critical thinking skills and a clearer understanding of global politics as well as the issues that have been perpetuated by the extensive exploitation of underdeveloped countries. The Betrayal of Africa by Gerald Caplan gives a great summary that explores not only the history, but also the exploitation and the problems the continent of Africa faces.
The amount of interest in Africa has always been evident, but colonialism and the horrific slave trade raised these interests promoting more interference by other countries in the continent. Now, “Africa is deeply divided by a sense of vexing fault lines – French versus English speakers, North versus South, Christian versus Muslim, South Africa versus Nigeria, democrats versus dictators, terribly poor versus poor,” (Caplan, Gerald p.114). These divisions in many cases are caused by outsider interferences as well as the historic preconceived notion that Whites know what is best, which is now a misconception that plagues true African independence. What I mean by true African independence is that even though countries in Africa have become independent after colonialism, the Western world still has its hands in politics, resources, trade, and economic affairs of Africa. Whether through bribery, arming guerilla movements or extremely high loan interests, the influence is still very much present in everyday societies of Africa. Developed countries have interests in many cases, which are disguised as aid, but in reality their reward is far greater than countries in Africa, which they are “aiding”. As long as, “Western countries treat aid as a political tool to advance their own self-interest, and so long as most International Non-Governmental Organizations compete against one another, the prospect of a more rational and less wasteful system remains a pipedream. In the meantime, we criticize Africans for being inefficient,” (Caplan, Gerald p.107).
My heart aches more than ever; I cannot stand the historic and present exploitation that my disgustingly privileged country and its allies inflict on this magnificent continent and its people to this day. Between 5 million and 2.5 million BCE, our ancestors emerged in Ethiopia and eastern Africa, we all came from this continent at one point, yet a serious lack of respect for human rights from our global relatives is evident in every continent and in every country. Even Canada currently has been under pressure from the United Nations for is human rights abuses against the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, some of which do not have clean drinking water or safe housing on reserves. Canada, like other Western countries, favor the rich and ignore many issues which are left to sit and rot. As well there is a tendency to assist those who can give something back, those who are of interest and use. “For years, African and Western leaders have had a cynical little deal – African governments would pretend to reform themselves and the Westerners would pretend to live up to their pledges and help them,” (Caplan, Gerald p.113). USAid and the World Bank are examples mentioned multiple times by Caplan as exploitative organizations. Here in Malawi I have noticed many organizations including USAid, World Vision and Jw.org in lavish buildings with green shrubbery despite the dry season. Aid often has strings attached, whatever it does for the country in need, which is often unclear, aid always benefits the rich country most. Italy and the United States are among the most selfish offenders of this “tied” aid. Our despicable ancestors and present “developed” countries began and continue to exploit those who cannot afford any food. My favorite quote is as follows from the finale of this novel, which I think really rings with truth and should be taken into consideration when thinking about how to give and respect human rights as well as appreciating what you have.
“We need to help Africa, not out of our selfishness and compassion but as restitution, compensation, an act of justice for the generations of crisis, conflict, exploitation and underdevelopment for which we bear so much responsibility. Many speak without irony of the desire to “give something back”, without realizing the cruel reality of the phase. In fact, that’s exactly what the rich world should do. We give back what we have plundered and looted and stolen. 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 African mess, until then we’ll continue- in our caring and compassionate way –to impose policies that actually make the mess even worse,” (Caplan, Gerald p.127).
Caplan, G. (2008). The betrayal of Africa. Toronto, Ontario: Groundwork Books.
By Natchisiri (Froy Choi) Kunaporn
Growing up, I see myself as an active listener and a nosey observer. I look up at the clouds and never fail to see some sort of picture. There was a period when I was convinced that I was a cloud expert. In long car rides, as the cloud moves along with us, I can go on forever about what is happening up there. I also love listening and looking for the changes in tone and expression so if charisma is a person, I am her audience.
A lot of unexpected events happened today. Other than exchanging a portrait of the contractor for the use of the ladder through the course of the project to finishing a third of the mural design, the massive wall of the community hall is already being plastered by my newly made friend. I spent nearly the whole day with him, surprisingly the language barrier did not affect my learning, and I observed what he was doing. The owner of the tuck shop helped me translate some sentences which surprisingly are not technical at all, especially when I was learning how to plaster a wall. ‘Iwe Sekerera’ means you are smiling or literally ‘you smile’; I kept saying that to the man plastering the wall when he wasn’t smiling as much, as a gesture to reassure myself to stay out of guilt for not being so much help to him (I was terrible at throwing the cement to the wall). Because I was saying that multiple times to him, it was our own personal greeting style. It reminded me that nourishment was necessary when building relationships, and observing is the way to go.
Sometimes when I spend too much time looking at the wall, it gets bigger, and I have felt very discouraged about my project because of how I want it to have a very high impact. The book I am reading now is called ‘About Looking’ written by John Berger. He is a critic and writes a lot of small chapters on all different kinds of art. A quote from a French book during 1950’s about La Tour when translated is “Painting is a magic interpretation of the most profound thoughts and the most beautiful dream” (112), which sheds a bit of light to my doubts. An idea does not happen in a day, it requires a lot of trust and research and a lot of looking.
However, being creative has a great burden to it. For example, when we suggested that the mosquito nets could be used as a football net, it sounded like a very good idea at first but Dr. Stonebanks told us that when fishermen were using the mosquito nets as fishing nets, the rates for Malaria shot up exponentially.
If I can ever master the art of looking, I am pretty sure I will become a cloud expert when I retire.
Berger, J. (1980). About looking. New York, NY: Pantheon Books
By Jessica Fobert
I woke up bright and early this morning to hack away at the moist red soil from last night’s water. My hero Kirsten woke up at 6 am to assist me with digging up the 1 metre deep compost pit. The soil here is not like it is back in Canada. It dries up in the winter seasons and lacks essential nutrients and therefore needs a lot of fertilizer to maintain certain crops. Most of you probably don’t know much about Malawi, but a large number of the population relies on agriculture as a source of income and necessity to life. For that reason, I chose to base my research work around agriculture and to provide a sustainable way of farming for the people of Malawi. My plans are to educate the people in the surrounding villages about the benefits of composting while experimenting with fertilizer versus compost. I hope to inform Malawians about the benefits of composting so that they can learn to live more sustainable.
As Kirsten and I hacked at the moistened soil for 2 hours we finally began to see some progress being made. Chief Makupo came to the Campus around 9 am and walked right to the compost pit. He gave us a hand and what Kirsten and I had accomplished in 2 hours, the Chief had completed in 10 minutes! I was astonished at the hard labour that the Chief performed, but as more helpers arrived I noticed that most Malawians are used to this type of work. It seemed much easier to them than it was for Kirsten and me.
Malawians are hard working people! Even the children are constantly helping out their families by taking care of siblings, collecting water and working in the fields planting and harvesting crops. Being in Malawi has allowed me to appreciate the easy, laid back life that we live in Canada. I’ve never experienced collecting my own fresh water or walking an hour and a half to reach the closest town; however, this is a part of the daily routines for Malawians. Each day that I am in Malawi I am constantly amazed at the skills and the strenuous work that Malawians perform on a daily basis. I can see that the Transformative Praxis: Malawi group is working their hardest by collaborating with locals to provide a more sustainable lifestyle for Malawians.
By Kassandra Norrie
A few weeks ago as I was preparing to leave for Malawi and excitedly telling my friends about Transformative Praxis: Malawi I heard your name over and over again. The only time that most of my friends had heard of Malawi was in relation to your adopted children and the charitable work done by your organization Raising Malawi. When I told people I was coming to Malawi I was often cut off with, “that’s where Madonna’s kids are from” or “Madonna built a school there”. I had heard about both of these statements before but never really thought about either or done any research of my own. People at home in Canada make a happy connection when thinking of Malawi and Madonna, so I thank you for making little Malawi known to the world but that is where my thanks stop.
I landed in Lilongwe two weeks ago and have since been living in the Kasungu region of Malawi. When speaking with other educators in Malawi your name does not provoke the same reaction here as it does at home. I was in disbelief when I was told that you have never actually built a school here. Really Madonna? If I was home I would have just Googled this on my phone. But today I had to get a ride to Kasungu Town to the closest internet café. I waited for what seemed like forever as the dialup connection was made because I wanted to know the truth. I opened webpage after webpage and they all said the same two things 1) despite millions being spent the Raising Malawi Academy For Girls project never broke ground 2) you claim to have built ten schools when really you have only renovated and built classrooms on existing government schools. Madonna, it really seems like you are overstating your contributions here in Malawi. I heard about land that was given to you to build your school for girls, I read every word written on the Raising Malawi website, and I even saw the promotional pictures of you laying the first brick, but is that all it was? Promotional? And what were you promoting exactly? Yourself being a philanthropist or the fact that schools are desperately needed right now in Malawi. The tiny eight room school block near our campus site hosts 1434 primary students, so I really hope those promotional pictures were about the desperate need for schools in Malawi and not all about your image.
During my rushed research in the tiny internet café today I found lots of numbers about your budget so I’m going to use the smallest figures I saw to not overstate any contributions (as some of us are here). Your project had a budget of $15 million to work with and you spent $2.4 million before even breaking ground, so now I have some questions for you, because maybe I am confused.
7. Do you have any idea what I could do if I had a budget of $15 million to put towards education in Malawi?
Madonna, we have one thing in common, we don’t like to hear the word “no” from anyone. For very different reasons I believe. You are the pop star who thinks it’s okay to ask a third world country to roll out the red carpet for you when you wave around money in the name of education. I on the other hand, won’t allow people to say “no” to me when I am doing what I know is right and good.
Again, correct me if I am wrong: You may have come to Malawi with great and honourable intentions, but you got lost and gave up. You promised education to some of the neediest girls in the world and then you took it away. You made a promise of elite education, but then renovated some classrooms instead. You claimed to be dedicated to helping the extreme poor and orphaned children of Malawi, but then spent $2.4 million that cannot be accounted for. You heard the word “no” and then you gave up. This is where we are different. I have been told “no” many times in the field of education, and every time I do it makes me fight harder. I was told “no” when I thought I could not come to Malawi this year, but with the support of amazing people I am here. I was told “no” when lack of funding jeopardized student projects and experiential learning, but I raised money with only a few weeks left before our departure (and I can’t throw concerts for my rich celebrity friends on the North Lawn of the United Nations in New York). I was told “no” when my team was hit with issue after issue after arriving on site in Chilanga, but we found solutions together every time. You may hate to hear the word “no”, but at least it does not take the fight out of me.
I am not making accusations; these are real questions that I am posing to you. Madonna, I have to ask you again: Do you have any idea what I could do if I had a budget of $15 million to put towards education in Malawi? I’m not quite sure either. But I am imagining it now, and it’s a heck of a lot more than one school for girls that never broke ground.
P.S. Why don’t you take a chance on us and see what Transformative Praxis: Malawi can do with the rest of your $15 million?
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