By Lina Xu
It was on a rainy afternoon of June 5th that we headed for Montreal for the preparation of the early flight the next day. Thanks to the arrangement by our organizers, we were driven to a hotel which provides shuttle service to the airport in the early morning.
The morning call alarm rang at 2:40 am the next morning and we packed and caught the 3:30 am bus to the Montreal airport. Although it was still early, there were many people in the airport. We gathered at the counter of Air Canada at 4:00 am, sticking group labels on our bags and writing down our contact information. Our group took shape at this moment. Fortunately, we arrived at the airport early since we were informed that our flight was an hour earlier than what we were told by the agent. It was a short flight from Montreal to Toronto. During the transition in Toronto, we saw so many Asian faces there and I was somehow homesick. It took us 13 hours to fly from Toronto to Addis Ababa by Air Ethiopia, who provided fantastic service and tasty food during the flight. What impressed me most was the sunrise, which was so marvelous to see on the plane. It was my first time to see the sunrise. Arriving at Addis Ababa, it was completely a different world: the crowded passengers and the out-of-service escalators reminded me of the old train stations in China. There was no toilet paper and you may see some Africans doing make-up in the restroom and some women are well-dressed. It was a hard time for us to transit in Addis Ababa since there was no seats available at the waiting area. We stood for two hours before we boarded on the plane and it took us four hours to arrive at our final destination, Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi.
We were excited on stepping on the earth of the African continent. We were here finally after the long journey. At the entrance of the Customs, an old friend of our program director was waiting for us. He greeted each of us with his big smile; I have already tasted the warm heart of Africa at this moment. The procedure of going through the Customs was tedious. As Chinese citizens, we could apply for visa upon arrival. There are two counters for visa application, one for checking on the application form, the other for payment and issuing the visa. People gathered and crowded outside the counters in line. I assumed 30 minutes was sufficient since there were only five people in front of me. But something weird happened, the number of people who were in front of me was getting large since the staff with VIP vests jumped the queue from time to time. It was also strange that people who came for airport pickup could enter the Customs area. Later, I was told that it is normal as long as you are familiar with the officials, you could come in. In addition, by giving US$5 bucks you would not have to wait in the queue. I was surprised by this for the reason that I believe the Customs is a sacred place, which stands for authority. How could they challenge the authority like this? I did hear about the terrible bribery in Malawi, but I did not expect it happen the minute I walked off the plane. Anyway, it took us over one hour to go through the visa application and the Customs. During our wait in the Customs area, I was also told that the salary for the officials in the Customs was only around US$60 per month. It was a relief to see some people holding names of visitors at the exit and at least we could see some order in this country.
The airport in Lilongwe is beautiful with shops for mobile services, travel agencies and car rentals. Outside the airport, the blue sky and green trees reminded me of southeast Asian countries. Our airport pick-up van was a Toyota, whose front window was broken and there was no security belt. Sitting in the van, holding tightly onto the side rails, I prayed along the way. The road outside the airport was acceptable since they were smooth. Scattered earth-made houses were seen with few brick-made houses. Many local people wandered around their house, and I wonder if they have a job or not during the dry season.
I believe there is a lot for me to discover on this mysterious field, and I am looking forward to what is to come.
By Lara McTrigue
I was woken up with a startle at the airport upon landing in Malawi. I hurried to catch the rest of the group on our way to fill out VISA applications. The tiny space we entered that was the immigration area could be comparable to a large living room back home. There was a big sense of urgency as people came flooding in off of their flights and tried to find a surface to write on. Lines were identified by sheets of white paper with marker reading “cash/debit” and so on. While waiting in line, there were attendants wearing yellow “VIP” vests who ushered an older white lady to the front of the line. Was the man trying to help her because of her age? Soon a pattern developed however that found many people similarly butting ahead of us. I later learned that these guards were payed to help travelers jump the line which in turn caused the entire operation to slow to practically a halt every time. There was no order as 6 guards would huddle around one counter at a time or the man behind the desk would talk on his cell phone as he signed the VISA forms. About a ten foot line from the table to pay, our group waited approximately 45 minutes to get through.
As we collected our bags and made our way to our bus van, we were warned not to allow men outside to help us with our baggage. However, 8 to 10 men soon surrounded us and started loading our suitcases onto the truck. The men were hard to keep track of. Differentiating who was with our group and who were strangers was virtually impossible. Suffice it to say the men ended up getting paid to load the truck. On previous trips taken in the past, I’ve experienced similar scenarios of men trying to help with baggage for tips but these situations have normally been accompanied by close relatives. I noted that maybe one reason for the difference in outcomes this time could have been a result of our group of students not yet being very familiar with each other and our multicultural backgrounds which may have some effect on a varied range of instinctive responses to the situation.
On our drive from the airport to our campus, I was surprised to see so many people. This might sound funny, but for some reason I was taken aback by the practically constant stream of people by the side of the road on the nearly 2 hour drive. There were just so many people. Children, babies, mothers, fathers, friends were seen working, carrying water, playing or selling food. Most of them walked without shoes among the red soil ground cluttered with rocks and litter. Piles of unrecognizable fresh fruit, hanging raw meat under small straw huts and dead mice on a stick were common sights. Men approached our van during a gas stop trying to sell us eggs and used jackets. I wasn’t sure whether to smile, respond or do nothing. I wanted to follow the pace of the group, especially returners among us – keep in mind we were also all delirious from the long set of flights at this point – and they seemed to keep to themselves, so I did the same. Stop signs were clearly more like suggestions and there was no speed limit to speak of so the frequent horn honks kept me conscious despite my heavy eyes.
Kate announced from the front of the bus that we were getting close and I took a breath to try and remain open to whatever we were about to witness. The road veered off to a bumpy, I mean really bumpy, dirt narrow path between tall stalks of foliage on either side of the vehicle. Children’s yelling could be heard from the overgrown field around us but I couldn’t spot them. We pulled past a few decaying houses, I wasn’t sure if they were a part of the campus or not, before we came to a cleared opening where 30 to 50 unknown faces all stood staring and smiling at us. As soon as we got out of the van, strong hugs came from all directions with ecstatic exclamations and laughs. We kept receiving handshakes that had an extra squeeze or movement in it, a unique cultural custom I had yet to learn, as the faces seemed to blend together in the rapidity of it all. I spotted a large group children waiting excitedly to get their look at us foreigners. I waved to them and some waved back, others giggled and some looked away shyly. A young guy who must have been about 8 years old came running towards me to get a high five before we were pulled away and asked to get our belongings into the hostel.
We entered our rooms quickly and then took a rushed walk around the area. We peaked at the shower, washroom, tuck shop, community center, kitchen and security house. Everything moved so fast. It felt like the sun was beginning to set and we had only arrived 15 minutes ago. One young child called out sternly to me “come here” as he sat on a porch with a group of his pals which temporarily broke the fast pace of the tour. I replied that I’d “come back later” because I wanted to catch up to the rest of the group. As we continued, the sea of children following us grew. All of them had big grins or looks of awe on their small faces. Many of them asked my name. The boy who had called out to me earlier grabbed my hand and tried starting a game of thumb war. Or so I thought. I played along. He wasn’t really trying though as I beat him in a couple of rounds before I began to realize that perhaps he was unfamiliar with the game I grew up playing. I wondered if he was shocked that I was playing with him at all or if he was trying to be nice or if his game had a different set of rules. He kept pointing to his eye and my eye and saying “wila”. I wasn’t sure what he was trying to say but later when I noticed the children pointing at someone else’s glasses, I assumed that maybe they were talking about eye glasses. I never previously thought of these accessories I wear every day that help me see to be such an exceptional privilege.
By Mark Freedman
Culture shock. It is a process we all go through when introduced to a foreign situation. It can happen to you if you’re from the country and just visiting the ‘big city’ for the first time, or if you travel to another part of the world where everything is different, the culture, the norms, the taboos, the way of life…literally just about everything. Well, such is a fact even when travelling to Malawi for the second time. Generally, there are five stages of culture shock, the honeymoon stage, disintegration, reintegration, autonomy, and interdependence (Pederson, 1994). I use the term generally as my way of describing how there is some give within the constraints outlined by these five stages. I imagine culture shock as if it were a mountain, where the climber goes through the excitement of a new hike before starting, looking up at the beautiful struggle ahead. Then throughout the hike, the climber sees all these new things, the trees, possibly animals, and all the way to the top, there are positives along the way, something that you can look at while you are getting tired half way through the climb and you think to yourself “hey, this is still worth it, when I get to the top I’ll be able to enjoy it in the moment and for the rest of my life”. Feelings and aspects associated with each stage of culture shock, I believe, can be evident throughout the entire journey. However I can’t be certain for the fact that I believe I won’t reach some of the later stages of culture shock as they may take consecutive months to develop while living or being in a situation that is unfamiliar.
When we first got to the campus a few days ago, it felt familiar, everyone from the community that has become involved with TPM over the years was there to greet us, and coming back for the second time, it was nice and comforting to see the familiar faces and receive a personal greeting. The campus looks great. There is a new security house, a new addition since last year, the soccer pitch has grass on it, which school boys from the community got together to make possible. And seeing Kasungu mountain from the campus was definitely a honeymoon stage moment, having hiked it last year. But I have also already had moments where I’ve felt like a kid out of place. Just yesterday we went into town and while at a shop I was gathering the money I had put aside in my pocket; keep in mind this is Malawian Kwachas (the local currency) I’m talking about. So, while I gathered the bills, all of which were different denominations, and took them out of my pocket, I began to count, and hand the cashier money, and count, and hand him more change, and count again. Quickly I became flustered and was in a sort of shock where I just didn’t know what to do. It turned out that I didn’t give him the right amount, even though I counted about three times. I goofed, for lack of a better term. The feeling that ensued shook me a bit, but I realize that this moment was a moment of culture shock, being in an unfamiliar situation and not knowing what to do. But I feel I have definitely improved in getting to know the culture here, improving my cultural competence, if you will. In that sense, I definitely feel more comfortable in engaging with the locals Malawian’s especially with the few who know me from last year.
I will say this though, no matter the occasional feeling of being flustered, or shook by something, so far there is always an equal or greater moment of joy and hominess.
By Kate Newhouse
I look down to the dry red dirt. I can see strokes from the broom that must have recently swept. I am back in Malawi and back with the red dirt. My feet already know what they are in for and my hair too, but my unsettled mind doesn’t know what’s in store.
As we get off the plane in Lilongwe we can see the excitement and energy surrounding us. We are quickly ushered to fill out our visa papers and wait in line. Dr. Stonebanks goes first. After moments of waiting it’s clear that people are paying the locals to help them jump the line. The local men in safety vests ask people if they need help and then rush them to the front of the line and fast track them through the next few lines, cutting in front of a long line of people. We wait and wait, but aren’t moving. It was frustrating and quickly got to me and made me upset with the local people and their need for money. The priorities here in Malawi are something I am not used to. In Canada, I am used to having certain things guaranteed. We have systems in place to support most different needs and wants, but here in Malawi the needs are so great and the need for money influences almost every action. These actions make it hard for me to open up and trust local people. I am constantly thinking of their actions. Why they are being this way? What do they want from me? What would they do if they could? It becomes a wall for me; a huge barrier and it influences the actions I take. This impedes my conversations and my work. It’s a cycle I am trying to understand and work through.
This is my second time visiting Malawi. The first time I spent most of the trip in the honeymoon phase. I was figuring it all out and I was so in love with the campus and all the excitement that surrounds it. This time I hope I can really get my feet wet and try to understand this cycle. I need to find a way to penetrate the ideas and the thoughts and hesitations I have. I need to ask questions and persist on getting the answers and the honesty that is so critical. I need to begin the tough conversations.
We are reading William Easterly’s “The White Man’s Burden”. Here he talks about the importance and influence of foreign aid. He mentions that many sub-Saharan African governments spend their money on consumables and not on investments. I sense that local Chilanga residents do the same. It seems like anytime a Malawian makes money they buy necessities and then spend the rest quickly. That being said, I am sure all they are using the money for has a need. The money they receive may not be enough for their list of needs and wants, but it seems to be spent quickly. I am not an economist or a financial planner, but this makes sense. They are so used to spending what they have, as it usually isn’t much. I am wondering then where is the answer as Easterly makes me question a solution. Is there one?
I spoke with one of the ladies hired by Transformative Praxis: Malawi and she was very honest in saying that people here aren’t smart with their money. She mentioned having children and how many local people have children they cannot support. This she said is why children get married young and end up in unfortunate situations. She also spoke about the differences between men and women. She said men are often so focused on money and this leads them to not consider their children. The women want opportunities for their children, but their voices are often lost under the men.
Just being here 48 hours I feel like I have experienced so much. I know I have made no impact, but one honest conversation is a good start.
Howdy! I am a graduate student at McGill University. My research interests include narratives of marginalized identities, Islamic seminaries in Canada, the meanings embedded within our clothing and Participatory Action Research (PAR, YPAR, CBPAR). I am currently a research assistant (RA) in a few projects that have allowed me to participate in numerous stages of the research process. I work at the Social Equity and Diversity Education (SEDE) office at McGill, where we are currently organizing our inaugural research symposium on equity and diversity research, which we hope will enhance and strengthen interdisciplinary collaboration on equity, diversity and community research at McGill University. On my limited downtime, I am an avid gamer indulging in video games and table top games. I read and write about fashion, especially about our perceptions of what is considered a good outfit and what is not. I also am addicted to the NFL.
The month of June usually means anticipating and watching the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), however this June I will be a graduate student with Transformative Praxis: Malawi participating in conversations about development with local Malawians. A team of us, including Dr. Stonebanks will be working with TPM’s development committee in constructing a charter of values, mission statement and brainstorming sustainable project ideas that will contribute to the community and other TPM projects in education and health. We have an enriching month of collaboration ahead of us.
PS The boy has no name. (GoT reference???)
Hi, my name is Ashwini. I’m going to be honest – I don’t like writing introductions about myself because I’m never sure what to say, and the dry, mundane details about my life are too…well, dry and mundane to share. Since this blog is a (much dreaded, but essential) part of the course, because it forces us to critically reflect on our experiences in Malawi, here is my awesome life, in three short paragraphs.
I study Economics at Simon Fraser University at the undergraduate level. I’m interested in development economics, although I have yet to take a course on the topic at SFU. This is my second time in Malawi; I came last year as well, where I worked with the women’s cooperative on their projects, and local stakeholders on creating a Development Committee.
This year, I’ll be working with Aamir, Dr. Stonebanks and Jenny, our Malawian Field Director, on the Development Committee again, as the attempt to create one last year was frankly too rushed and ill-thought out and the group eventually fell apart as the year progressed after we’d left. I had expected it to, given how it was founded, so I wasn’t too surprised when news came from Malawi that only one or two members of the committee were regularly contributing to the campus, and it was, for all intents and purposes, defunct.
Being in Malawi for the second time will be interesting – it will be far easier to get my bearings and get to work; I’m more aware of what is expected of me and what I can expect from the local community. I’m looking forward to all the work that is to come, and to strengthen my relationships with people I met last year. If there is anything I learned from my last trip, it’s that relationships take a long time to build, especially across distance and cultures, and especially if you’re looking for equal partnership.
My name is Kate Newhouse. I am 22 years old and from Oakville, Ontario. It’s a waspy town on Lake Ontario about 45 minutes west of Toronto depending on traffic. My family is extremely supportive of me and has made it easy for me to do what I want and make choices about experiences I know many people miss out on. Their support and encouragement both financially and emotionally is very valuable to be. My life is very different from life in Chilanga.
I am a very observant person and I love to learn about different cultures. I find it fascinating. I also love children. I like to be around them all the time and hear the things their little bodies think and feel. I have been working in different summer camps since the age of 13 and completed university placements that really promoted my love of learning and growing with my students.
I recently graduated with my B.A and B. Ed from Bishop’s University in Sherbrooke, QC. Which means now I am tasked to find a job and become an adult, something I don’t know how to prepare for. Bishop’s introduced me to Dr. Stonebanks, his wife Melanie and Transformative Praxis: Malawi.
I became interested in going to Malawi after hearing Dr. Stonebanks talk about it in one of his lectures. From how he spoke about the culture and the different projects that were being supported, it was obvious this was his passion and is now his legacy. I didn’t know much about the project, but I knew I wanted to be involved. I came to Malawi first in 2015 as an undergraduate student .That year we started an after school program and made the campus come to life. This was the first year that TPM was staying on the permanent campus location. We were in the space and the after school program along with the soccer tournament, health initiatives, workshops and tuck shop made the campus come alive. It was truly amazing to see the progress that was made. I went home and began planning so that I could come back. I couldn’t wait. I really didn’t even unpack. For two year I had a box of Malawi stuff just waiting to be used again.
So after two years I am back. Excited, nervous, and ready. An Oakville girl ready to make a small difference. Working with the teachers this year in three local schools will be a challenge and disheartening at times, but I am excited to see what happens. There is a focus on English as a second language this year, which is new for me, so I will be learning alongside my Malawian colleagues. I have no real expectations, but the conversations we have and beginning to understand how they think and feel about education will hopefully empower them and motivate me to begin my teaching career.
If you’ve stumbled upon this page, thank you for taking the time to read a little bit about me. My name is Lara McTeigue. I just finished my third year at Bishop’s where I graduated from my first of two degrees. Convocation was not even one week before we boarded the plane for Malawi in fact. With a Bachelors of Arts in Education in Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL), I’ve had the chance in the last two years to begin student teaching in French elementary schools around Sherbrooke. Coming from Laval, a suburban area just outside of Montreal, Bishop’s has truly become the corny infamous home away from home it’s known to be for me. I’ve had the opportunity to participate in several different clubs including the Residence Events Committee and Educational Committee, the Bishop’s University Mentoring and Tutoring Club, the Language Teaching Club as well as the Jewish Students Association. I have mostly adopted a leadership role on the Bishop’s campus for the past couple of years while working in Residence Life. I’ve also volunteered in several different school initiatives including Sexual Assault Bystander Intervention Training and Mental Health and Wellness Week. I have worked with Dr. Sunny Lau as her research assistant and am excited that she is one of the professors who will be piloting this year’s course in Malawi.
Next year I will have my practicum placement in a high school while finishing my next undergraduate degree in Secondary Education. My experience working in the school environments so far have allowed me to begin shaping a professional identity as a teacher. My ultimate goal as a prospective teacher is to help make learning meaningful for my students. Working in a French environment while using the target language as the language of instruction has surely presented its challenges. I initially went into the TESL program with the hope to be able to spend some time teaching abroad. Working overseas would not only have me working with second language learners but may also very possibly have me working with foreign language learners with wide ranging cultural backgrounds. In classes at Bishop’s we’ve been taught theories that should allow us to become more culturally sensitive to diverse students in our ESL classrooms. These lessons stem from the desire to create more inclusive learning spaces. It is an entirely different experience to be working with these complex and unique individual learners in reality however. Transformative Praxis Malawi was an amazing opportunity to put these theories into practice while collaborating with a completely unfamiliar culture in a safe space.
I admired TPM’s goal to develop sustainable operations that would aid the community long after Bishop’s presence, much like I hope for my teaching to have sustainable impacts on my students. An area I really want to focus on exploring while I’m here is to help better understand the local sustainable learning systems called TALULAR (Teaching and Learning Using Locally Available Resources). TALULAR is a program adopted by the Malawi Institute of Education that has had some obstacles in its implementation. My hope is to observe its use or lack thereof, discuss and learn more of the teachers’ opinions of the program and experiment with it in developing and carrying out lessons in the classrooms. I believe that lessons should always be shaped entirely while having the students and their prior perspectives in mind. Perhaps using local resources can help me in learning how to make my lesson plans more relevant and impactful on students in a Quebec or even universal context. I expect to confront several obstacles myself while learning and collaborating in this foreign environment but I welcome these learning curves with arms wide open.
I hope that if you decide to continue reading that you are able to try not to pass judgement but instead understand that my blogs are simply a reflection of my raw learning process while I vulnerably navigate uncharted territory.
Hello, everyone. My name is Lina Xu. I come from China. I started my Master of Education at Bishop’s University this January. Before being in international studies in Canada, I have been working for over 10 years in the field of administration in China. As a matter of fact, I always planned to continue my further education overseas. I failed to do it right after graduation due to the fact that my family found it difficult to support me further financially since there was something wrong with my father’s business at that time. As a result, I began to work in Shanghai instead of going for a Master’s degree. I am easy-going, hilarious and open-minded. I was first introduced to Transformative Praxis: Malawi when our professor, Dr. Stonebanks, who is also the director of this program was giving us lectures on Globalization of Education at the beginning of the last semester. Since he was so passionate when speaking of this program, I was interested on the spot that I would like to join them this year to experience the most impoverished area in the world in person if possible. After a brief introduction on Transformative Praxis: Malawi by Dr. Stonebanks and his team, I decided to come this year.
Before I came to study in Canada, I was indeed quite interested and got myself involved in some social charitable events in China with some Non-Government Organizations. I would love to try my best to help those in need and I care about their feelings. Together with other volunteers, we organized activities to help the children of immigrant workers from the countryside to identify themselves in a positive way as the citizens in the new surroundings in big cities like Shanghai. We experienced bitterness and tasted happiness together, which was quite meaningful. In addition, I have seen some programs from the media about the mysterious Africa: the beautiful scenery, the genuine smiles from the bottom of their hearts despite their struggling against poverty. Meanwhile, I also read some articles on the development work in Africa. I wanted to go and see in person what is really going on in this field. Furthermore, having lived in big cities in China and then studying in the most advanced country in the world, both with a flourishing economy and promising welfare, I forget to cherish what I possessed from time to time and I always took things for granted. I believe the Malawi trip will not only provide me a brand new window to get to know the world, but it is also a platform to know myself better in the global context. Most importantly, we are here to be “a drop in the bucket” for the changes that are going on and for more changes to be come in the future. Hopefully we can bring something positive to the local community by our development work. Moreover, there is a course that we are going to take with the local teachers: Pedagogy of English as Second Language Learning. We hope to bring some new concepts to the local English language teaching using their local resources.
Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude towards Dr. Stonebanks, Prof. Melanie Stonebanks and our fabulous team members for 2017 Malawi. I am looking forward to this coming adventure. Together Each Achieve More!
In case you forgot, or are new to reading the blogs, my name is Mark and this is my second time in Malawi on the Transformative Praxis: Malawi (TPM) campus. I’m a secondary education student at Bishop’s University, and I’m going into my final step B. Ed program this upcoming fall. Over my years studying at Bishop’s I’ve become passionate about the field of education, and I could not pass up this opportunity to return to Malawi and take part in a collaborative knowledge transfer project over the course of several weeks in a professional development setting, among fellow teachers from the local schools near the campus here. Among other reasons, which I will get into in subsequent blogs, is this passion for education and learning, as well as the opportunity to collaborate with colleagues from the same profession whose circumstances and access to resources are drastically different from mine in Canada.
For now, I’ll tell you a little more about myself. Outside my studies, I have a passion for sports, I’ll try any physical activity, but my favorite still remains soccer. When I first arrived at Bishop’s I was studying history, and later switched into Secondary Education and Social Studies. I only recently realized it, but most of my jobs as a youth have been in a teaching role to some capacity, whether it be coaching or ski instructing, this always felt like the natural role and path for me to pursue.
Well, enough about me, I look forward to delving deeper into my reasons for coming here again and having you follow my journey from start to finish in the blogs to come.
Hello everyone, my name is Ning Ma, coming from Nanjing in China. Now I am studying in Bishop’s University as a master student in the Education Department. Just to be clear, I am not a student teacher originally. But when I started to get touch with the education area, I felt totally falling in love. This is a very meaningful area that can really change people a lot from their lives, values, even social status. This is also the reason why I have chosen to come to Africa. This is my first time to come to an underdeveloped country and I am curious about their real daily life and educational situation. I am thinking if I can have a chance to help them even a little or give them some encouragement at least. This is such a fantastic program for me to grow and to learn a lot about the local culture. Thanks for Dr. Christopher Stonebanks, Professor Melanie Bennett-Stonebanks and Dr. Sunny Lau to give us this opportunity to see and to feel the real Africa.
I did some research when I was in Canada. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. People here even cannot have their daily life to be guaranteed. So, I was wondering if they can have equal chances as the students from other countries to get suitable education. In the next three weeks, I will observe and learn from the local teachers to see how they use their local resources to develop their education. I hope after these days I can have new thinking and know more about the underdeveloped country.
My name is Yue Yao. I am doing my Masters of Education degree at Bishop’s University, and this is my second year. I come from China. My hometown is called Harbin, which is very close to Russia. It is famous for its ice and snow. When it is winter, you can see colorful ice lanterns anywhere, just like in a fairy tale world. I love my hometown so much! My parents are both engineers. They are open-minded and created a very comfortable environment for me growing up. I am very lucky to have parents who always support my decision economically and spiritually. I like music and I am a Jazz buff. Swimming is my favorite sport, and I really like the feeling of floating in the water. I am a curious person and am very interested in learning new things. I think that is why I love traveling so much. I have almost traveled the whole of China and to many other countries. I met different people and different cultures while traveling, which made me very delighted and excited.
When hearing about this program directed by Dr. Stonebanks, I immediately showed huge interest. Because I finally would have the chance to go to Africa, not as a tourist but as a student! I was always curious about Africa because it was so mysterious in the books. I heard about many customs that are different and interesting that made me very curious. So going to Africa was always a dream for me. After hearing Dr. Stonebanks’ talk about Malawi, I really wanted to know how people there led their lives in a harsh situation. I was also curious about how their education was being implemented with limited resources. In this program, I will have the opportunity to go into three local schools to see what they think of education, how Malawian teachers interact with their students, and how they use limited resources to teach. I have a lot of questions and look forward to talking with the local teachers. It is a very precious chance for me to know the different culture but not as a tourist. I also really want to make a contribution to Malawi even if it might be small, and I think discussing with them ways to improve their quality of education would be one of the most effective ways to help the development. Because only they have enough knowledge to solve their own problems I do believe that some of the problems could really be solved while collaborating with them in this way.
Hi, my name is Yuyin Ning, an international student from China. I just finished my first year of studies in the Master of Education program at Bishop’s University. I am very glad that I can join the family-like group of Transformative Praxis: Malawi. Professors are extremely considerable and caring about us like parents; the rest of group members are very friendly and care about each other as well.
After my first year of study in Canada, it’s hard to not notice the big differences between Canada and China’s education systems. Both education systems have advantages and disadvantages. The differences caused by politics, economies, education policies and teachers’ responsibilities impact students in vary different ways. We have a saying in Chinese : “hai zi shi guo jia de dongliang” which means “children are the foundation of a country”. Therefore, the education system can influence a country’s development profoundly.
When I found out about Transformative Praxis: Malawi, I started to be curious about the place where this project was located in Africa. I wanted to know many things like how do they develop education when the food supplement is still a primary problem? What do they learn? How do they learn especially when the educational resources are very limited? How do they develop the study of English as a second language while being a colonial country? As all of these questions came out, I decided to find the answers myself. So, here I am.
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 Ashwini Manohar
Malawi from the air is barren — red earth stretching for miles, shrubs, trees and occasionally a collection of huts. My first impression of Malawi was buoyed by intense curiosity, and I’m ashamed to say, filtered through the distorting lens of my camera.
Despite never being interested in documenting my life with pictures, the moment the chartered bus started moving from the parking lot of the airport, I whipped out my phone, went to the video feature and started recording. Soon enough, we left the relatively wealthy Lilongwe and headed towards Kasungu.
Poverty was ubiquitous. And I was mindlessly snapping, driven by some obscene desire to capture what was streaming by my window. Twenty minutes into the bus ride, realization struck: what was I doing? Why was I consuming poverty in this way? None of the people I’d snapped had given me explicit permission to take pictures of them. I put my phone away, ashamed and angry with myself.
I don’t really know how to put into words what I felt after that, as I gazed out the window. Mostly I felt numb, I think, not connecting the shanty huts with the fact that people lived in them. Occasionally we’d pass a busy business district, run-down stores selling everything from coffins to salon services. Sometimes music blasted from an unseen speaker.
We turned right on to a bumpy dirt road after a while. “We’re two minutes away,” Kassie said when I asked if we were close. The bus slowed to a crawling pace. As we rounded a corner, the TPM campus came into view. I immediately got anxious. Amber was almost jumping off her seat with excitement at seeing all the ladies she’d formed deep relationships with last year. Coming out of the bus in the midst of her squealing and hugging (oh Amber) was a bit overwhelming, but the kind and incredibly warm welcome I received put me at ease. I was happy and secure.
That feeling has remained the last three days as I acclimated (and still am) to life in Malawi. The sun rises before 6 and sets by about 7 in the evening. Roosters call and dogs howl during the night, and sunsets are breathtaking. You get one pail of hot water to shower, along with a cup; the two showers are conjoined in a small concrete building with wooden pellets and doors that don’t lock from the inside. The kitchen is outdoors — a cement structure with a partitioned pantry in the back, and most of the cooking is done with a charcoal fire in a mbaula: a clay pot handcrafted by women who poke holes in the bottom, which is then encircled by concrete and attached to a metal bottom that collects the ash from the burning charcoal. I recognized it from my childhood in Singapore. In preparation for Diwali, my grandmother would use it to fry her murukus (circular lentil biscuits) in a wok full of oil. I learned that a small mbaula costs about 1500 kwacha, or about $3 Canadian, and a bigger one costs about 2000 or 2500 kwacha, or about $4 or $5 Canadian. Almost every household has at least one.
All of Sunday I spent with Unna and Chimwemwe (which means Happiness in Chechewa, the language spoken in these parts of Malawi), who cook our meals, clean our hostel and haul water for us to clean ourselves and drink. Sunday was honestly the happiest I’ve felt this year. I learned how to make nsima and mpilu (green leaves that look like lettuce) and beans. Unna told me about life in Malawi — how women in Malawi relate to each other, the political system, what she feels about the political system, her husband and her two kids. I told her and Chimwemwe that the children in the field were making fun of my hairy arms, and they laughed at them too and said women in Malawi don’t really grow hair anywhere! (It’s true. I’m jealous.) We shared stories and laughed and had a really good time.
Though I am cocooned in a haze of happiness and contentment (Stage 1: Honeymoon Phase), confusion about my role in TPM and what TPM does still lingered. I was starting to get anxiety attacks because I didn’t want my experience for the next 5 weeks to be one of me floundering around for direction and for everything I do with the community here to be useless.
So on Saturday, I plucked up my courage and went to the professors’ house to ask Dr. Stonebanks and Melanie some questions. It was a good talk — I learned about the political structure of TPM, and of the nearby villages, and where the development committee fit in, which is what Amber and I were going to work on with the women in TPM.
I haven’t strayed beyond the protective boundaries of the campus, and want very much to walk through the villages. I’m sure that will happen in the coming weeks.
Tio nana (See you later).
By Kirsten Dobler
I’ve been attempting to catch and ponder my thoughts and feelings over the last two days. There are many ways to feel when you return to a place like Chilanga, Malawi.
I feel comfort in the familiarity of my surroundings: the faces and names that stuck in my mind, the children that call me Kiri (kee-ree) or Kristina, the groups of children that follow us to the football (soccer) pitch or follow and join us as we walk down the roads.
I feel unease when asking myself what I can contribute to the lives of those who live here. Even asking that question — am I so filled with the idea of being a ‘white savior’ that I must enact my knowledge onto the people I encounter? What does it mean to help people who aren’t asking, but expecting (in a sense) for us to help? It’s a double-edged sword because we are told by western society that we need to help and it is imprinted into colonial history for them to expect it. Have we ever given countries that we label Third World the opportunity to discover and develop on their own? Sure the ‘colonial powers’ aren’t ruling anymore, but their legacy is strong. Who cares if people act the same as us or work the same as us? If everyone is healthy and respected should that not be enough? Is it sensible for us to believe that we know what’s best?
I am filled with hope that all of my questions can be reached through communication and dialogue. If we’re going to succeed, we need to allow our community to mutually prosper. Of course we are going to help in all the ways that are of means, but we need to learn first. Our community must be sustainable in our relationships, practices, and goals.
I am frustrated at the people who have become a part of the project that chose to abandon the hard work they put in. Everyone cares about the project in Malawi, but what happens when they return to the West? Is it out of sight out of mind? I deeply worry that it sets an example for our community here. When people come and create things without local investment the projects are lost. One of the successes from the past year is the chicken coop. I believe that it’s because of the positive relationship that Amber has with the Women’s Group. If we can create relationships and autonomy then we can become sustainable.
In the next five weeks we will be looking towards many things we have on campus.
In the eleven months I was away from Malawi in the past year it was not always easy to envision myself back here. It was often difficult to think about my contribution on the ground. When you are absorbed into the fast paced reality of your life at home it’s difficult to think externally. As of this moment I am hoping and striving to create the relationships needed to mutually grow in knowledge and passion for the success of this, of our, TPM community.
By Kassandra Norrie
This past year was the first that I was able to remain involved with the TPM team through the full year. A project that had previously been five weeks and a couple of fundraisers to me became a major part of my life. There were many highs and lows throughout the year, days that brought me to tears, days that I would run into an office with great news to share, and days with so many mixed emotions. Many of these emotions were sparked by iPhone pictures sent from a colleague living on the campus in Malawi.
When projects began, buildings were constructed, ‘poop trees’ grew, the campus continued to evolve and I would receive pictures to my phone. When we arrived last year I was prepared for a brand new campus; however, this year I thought I knew exactly what I was arriving to. With all of the picture updates I saw through the year I mistakenly thought I was very prepared to arrive on the campus this week. As we got off the bus and I walked towards the two newest buildings, a radio station and a house for the field director, I was astounded with the constructions. The pictures on my phone screen did not do it justice. The radio station was at least twice the size I thought it was. The new home was more beautiful than I had imagined.
As someone who has already been to Malawi twice and lived on the campus for five weeks, I thought I knew exactly what these pictures looked like in reality. The realization of how underwhelming the pictures actually were (no offence to the photographer) made me realize how I may be portraying TPM to others in Canada. When I look at a picture of the TPM Community Center I automatically picture the tuck shop to the left, the beautiful mural on the sidewall, the imposing tree behind where chiefs gather in the shade, the gardens in front, children playing on the porch, committees meeting inside, and the striking sun rising from behind. When I show that same picture to someone who has not had the opportunity to visit our campus, what do they see? A plain brick building and wonder why I get so excited? Going from iPhone pictures to reality this year has made me rethink the pictures I use when showing others what TPM is, what they stand for, what they have done, and what they plan to accomplish. How can I (and other TPM members) take pictures that will show everyone else what I see when I look at a picture of a seemingly plain brick building?
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.
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