By Kirsten Dobler
June 11, 2015
Shortly before I left to come to Malawi we lost Toni Marciniak. I have tried to describe who Toni was to me in many ways but each way seems too short. Toni was a brilliant football (soccer) coach, hollering at us from the sidelines to get on our bikes, ensuring us of our abilities on the sidelines, and encouraging us in times of doubt. Rage was more than just a soccer team that played on the weekends. We travelled together, we warmed up in sync, and we played with a connection that I have not experienced on a football team since. Our success, even though we were so young at the time, had a large part in the ways that Toni, and Erros, coached us. As a player that definitely developed after the first season I can completely attest to the unconditional support that Toni gave me, and my love of the game. Toni’s presence in my life stretched past the field; as a father to three awesome people (sometimes I even thought that Chase had some Toni aspects) and a counselor at school that I know would always be available for a chat, but he came the most alive on the football pitch. It was here that we shared some amazing wins and some very, very tough losses. At the end of the day Rage is a part of my life that I will always look back on and smile, many parts in thanks to Toni.
I have been in Malawi for two weeks now and I have been thinking about Toni a lot this week. At the beginning of the week Marten began a week of football matches, so I have been watching a lot of football. Each day I think a little while longer about Toni and about football. As I stood on the sidelines today I began to think about football and the ways that it brings together communities. It is especially visible in Kasungu, the area that we are in, because each team brings with them their community. Men young and old line the sidelines with their arms folded as they watch the U20 players fight for village pride. Children are dancing on the sidelines waiting for a goal to be scored so they can run onto the field and celebrate. A sense of community that I have witnessed in no other location has come to life in a way that celebrates whole communities. I know that in Canada this is something that we might feel more when we are watching hockey, but I can’t help but imagine Toni standing on the sidelines here, watching the lads.
I have come to the realization of the importance of football in the world. Football is a language that translates into all languages. The objectives and the rules are universal, while the spirit is infectious. Sports are so critical in communities and they create bonds between members and the community. Every night our Campus field comes to life as people crowd the sidelines. Every night I smile when I think of how excited and proud Toni would be for me being here and to know that football is such an important element. On the very last game that we played as Rage, Toni gathered us together and asked us if we knew what carpe diem meant. Of course we were fifteen, so we didn’t know, and I remember how pinnacle it was for me. This was the closest that we came to provincials and as we circled around Toni and he expressed to us (in a very Robin Williams circa Dead Poets Society) that this was an opportunity for us to live in the moment. I have never played as hard as I did in that game. I remember so clearly so much of the game, most particularly when Julie scored the first goal and it was the first glimpse of our future as a team. Of course we all know of the tears that were shed at the end of that game, but carpe diem stayed.
There are many moments when I am running for student government at Bishop’s or deciding which European country that I am going to visit while au pairing in Italy that I think carpe diem. I am very sad that I was not able to come home to give Hills, Kate and Jord big hugs, but I know that the rest of the community was there. However I know that Toni would be proud and probably would love to hear about the influence of football, even in small villages of Malawi, Africa. I have recently began thanking my parents for raising me with the confidence to go all the places that I have gone, but I have many other people that I should also be thanking. Toni shared with us so much of himself, leaving everything that he shared with us to live on, both on and off the football pitch. Toni shaped us football girls with his leadership, his passion, and his belief in all of us. For that I am forever grateful. RIP Toni.
By Kassandra Norrie
I was texting a friend a few months ago and I just went through my text history to find the conversation for you.
“I have a theory that any major social injustice could be fixed in three generations.”
He replied, “Dying to hear this theory!”
“It’s simple… First generation acknowledges there is a problem, second generation starts the fight, and the third generation accepts the change completely.”
His response, “Fascinating. My generation carried on the fight, your generation is opening us up to the humanistic realities. But there has to be a variable and overlap in the theory which will account for some generations planting the seeds of change?”
I thought about it for a moment and simply replied, “The Gems”.
I realize now that I was being a little naive in thinking once a Gem starts the fight it simply continues to be fought for three generations until the White Hats win. Three generations, that’s it. I know that to live the changes I am imagining in my head it will probably take longer than three generations for Malawi. However, today I want to talk about The Three Gems in Transformative Praxis: Malawi.
The first Gem in Jenny. Jenny is a local Malawian, the TPM Director on the ground, and our Mama Bwana (Boss in Chichewa). Jenny is one of the most kind hearted and strongest woman I have ever met. She is the local Gem who sees that Malawi Education needs a change and is more than willing to spend her time and energy working for the change. Jenny is strong enough to stand up to a group of village chiefs and sweet enough to dig into her own pocket when the project is in need. Without Jenny on the ground I wonder if the project would successfully move forward.
The newest Gem in TPM is Dr. Fintan Sheeran. Fintan is the caring man who threw himself in whole heartedly after learning about Transformative Praxis: Malawi. The health initiative that Fintan is starting from our campus is going to change the Chilanga Region. Not only is he spreading awareness of local health issues, but he is working with a group of Malawian volunteers who will be his little gems and start the change. Fintan is a shimmering Gem but he is turning others into Gems as well.
The final Gem is a combination of five people who have given so much: The Stonebanks. The strongest Gem in this group is Dr. C. Darius Stonebanks who started Praxis Malawi and is the reason it continues. He is the kindest man I know and I have caught myself wondering many times and even asked him on a few occasions, “how can he always be so good?” His Gem stays strong because the most generous Gem, Melanie, supports her husband more than anyone I have ever met. Christopher, Melanie, and their children have all given more to this project than everyone else combined. When issues arrive it is the Stonebanks who always sacrifice whatever is necessary to see the project succeed.
It is the Gems in the world that plant the seeds for change, but only the brightest Gems continue to fight the good fight. And it is the Gems in my life who encourage me to be a Gem one 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