By Kimberly Gregory
Paulo Freire (1970) proposes that liberation requires critical consciousness and creative thought (p.73). Unfortunately, this is something that is lacking in the Malawian education system and this was extremely apparent yesterday when working with some children in the After-school program. After having a long discussion about the six food groups included in the Malawian food guide and explaining the nutritional values of each, the students were asked to invent a fruit or vegetable that they had never seen before. They were also asked to draw it, name it and explain its nutritional values. When I saw that many of them were drawing fruits and vegetables that we had discussed, I reinforced the fact that I wanted them to use their imagination, however only 2 students actually invented and named items that did not already exist. Today, they also demonstrated that they struggle with using their imagination. For instance, when the students were asked to act out what a plant needs to grow, they all imitated the same thing that the first group did.
I discussed this phenomenon with my co-learner and he helped to elucidate what I had just observed. He explained to me that in the Malawian education system, most of the time, the students do not use their imagination to come up with things on their own because they are used to listening to the teacher and doing what they are told. Hence, the educational system in Malawi involves what Paulo Freire would call the “banking concept of education” (p.72). This system is based on the idea that the teacher is the source of knowledge and that they must deposit the “knowledge” in the student (p.72). The reason I write the word knowledge in quotation marks is because, in fact, as Freire has stated, I do not believe that authentic teaching and learning can take place in an “ivory tower of isolation but only in communication” (Freire, 1970, p.77). Thus, mutual activity and mutual exchange of knowledge is needed.
The banking concept of education makes students passive and it limits creativity. It is based on the idea of learning facts and memorizing them. However, to prepare students for today and tomorrow, “curriculum and instruction must change from traditional models based on coverage and rote memorization because this does not develop conceptual, creative and critical thinking which are essential for complex problem solving” (Erickson, 2008, p.7). The passivity that stems from the banking concept of education does not provide the students with the critical tools that are necessary to engage with the world.
Paulo Freire (1970) states that this type of education system suits the oppressors’ interests as it “adapts people to the role as dominated and passive” (p.74). In other words, it does not provide them with the tools they need for their liberation. The teacher-student relationship in the banking concept places students in an inferior position; it requires them to turn to the teacher to acquire knowledge. As a result, they have been conditioned to distrust themselves (Freire, 1970, p.64). They lack the confidence to try and figure things out on their own and this was evident in the After-school program. Freire (1970) goes as far as to say that “ any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence” (p.85). This is evident when exploring the way in which it keeps the local people in the oppressive situation that they are in today.
During my time here, I was to implement and construct a curriculum that continuously engages students in critical thinking. I do not want “content to be an end product, but merely a tool to lead students to deeper thought” (p.12). The more they engage in critical thinking, the better prepared they will to struggle for freedom and self-affirmation (Freire, 1970, p.64). Furthermore, I do not want the students to be subservient to the teacher, but rather create a teacher-student partnership in which both contribute knowledge to the classroom. This type of education has the power to change the current state of violent poverty in Malawi.
Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. NY, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
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 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 Kirsten Dobler
June 10, 2015
I have had a realization that has led me into many hours of contemplation. I am going to attempt to deconstruct it in this blog post. After many years of blissful ignorance I entered a course and the reality that I am living in a way that has taken away the soft glow that I once believed there to be around the world. Not that I don’t see this in the Western world, because I know it’s there. It’s just that there it is easier to see things as an outsider. This glow that I saw (metaphorically, obviously) occurred because of the goodness in the world. It was a strong glow in which I felt was due to the kindness and compassion of the world. It was people doing the right thing for the right reason. People so often believe that these little lights are enough in life, but not in the world of planners and searchers.
In a recent reading that we read, we learned about planners and searchers. I am going to attempt to break it down. A planner is someone that is told or is shown that a certain location needs light. Planners raise money to get lightbulbs and send the lightbulbs to the locations where they think that they lightbulbs should be. They believe that by providing and sending over the lightbulbs they have contributed enough and all of the happy feelings should be theirs. All of these lightbulbs are sent over in good heart and with good intentions, but when it comes to it, these people are not actually sharing light, they are sharing lightbulbs. Searchers move in ways that allow their light to be shared. A searcher goes beyond sending the lightbulb to the location they bring the light to the location. Searchers go on-site and they move. They work with the locals on the ground to get information and create a charge. With this charge that they have created with the community they become able to make the lights work. Rather than just supplying the light, they have acted as a catalyst and have brought the means to make light.
Okay, now back to the soft glow that I used to believe encompassed the earth. With all of the NGO’s and projects designed to help communities, our society believes that there are lights in the places that we’ve given lightbulbs. Unfortunately, in many, if not all, communities that need light, only have lightbulbs. There are so, so many lightbulbs, but there are few people that are willing to go and to make the changes necessary to get the lightbulbs to work.
I once believed that kindness gave the world a soft glow. With our actions we created ways in which you could soften a heart of stone, or take the green out of a greedy man’s eyes. Maybe many, many years ago this was the case, but as I come to know and learn more about our shared space on earth I am beginning to doubt the possibility of an everlasting glow. Unfortunately, I have no solution or even a hint of one. I know that the work I am doing may help some people, but I don’t know that this will be enough. There is a quote I often think about that goes, ‘Everybody has a little piece of them that wants to save the world. It’s okay if that world is your own.’ If I don’t do everything in my power to save this earth, I don’t know that my own world would be saved either. Now it’s time to get moving.
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 Taylor Lowery
The other students and I have a lot of time to chat here. I have found it interesting that many of us have expressed a similar weariness to the idea of returning to our privileged countries, our homes full of amenities, or our jobs serving bratty children with no idea of how much they really have. There is this almost unanimous discontent with our home culture, and a favoured appreciation for the community culture we find here. Although we can look around and see a lot of services that lack initiative/support, it’s hard for myself and the other students to feel anger towards the locals, we do not see them as being anything but gracious for having us here and sharing their time and resources. As Dr. Stonebanks says, nobody wants to be the one to be mean to an African, but at a certain point you need to engage in difficult conversations, ones that encourage locals to speak up, get angry, feel critical, feel passionate towards the development of their own home. What I can recognize for myself at least, is my current tendency to tack my feelings of disappointment onto the inadequacies of my own people.
I don’t want to find fault in the people of Malawi. I think who am I to have any judgment over how the people here conduct their business? About how they participate? The amount of feedback they give? Sure I think to myself it would be nice if the Malawian teachers we are working with would say “Hey Taylor, that idea you just proposed is rotten and here’s a better one;” I would sing out Hallelujiah! To date most of the ideas of us “Azungus” (white people) are only greeted with positivity. This is beginning to unnerve me but not to a point yet where I feel comfortable feeling critical. For now, all I can come up with are some criticisms for the ‘Developed’ areas. Here are some good ol’ fashion poems expressing my frustrations and observations with my own peers and society. These are the things I feel “comfortable” being critical of.
Comfort is a Privilege
To couch yourself from the discomforts of life is a benefit enjoyed by few.
An equilibrium of body and space.
A soft touch, at a safe space.
Comfort is a privilege.
When God said let there be light, He forgot to mention the fuse might blow.
Some will be illuminated;
Feel the warmth of being considered individuals in a whole.
Comfort is a privilege.
Said the West, “I’m so hot, I am dying of thirst.”
Here the semantic slip ups run deep
When you’re surrounded by those whose reality you actually speak.
Man is comfort a privilege.
The time has come to shake the dust.
When the uncomforted ones speak this message at us:
Be quiet. Sometimes your words are better left unsaid.
Just sit. Because your height is already seen.
Please listen. Just listen to the voices around.
Your comfort should not matter here.
It is your turn off the couch.
Can’t stop won’t stop to just
Uncomfortable with a pause…………………………………………………………………………………………………….. ……………………………………………………………………………………….plans…………………………………………………………………………………schedule ……………………………………………………………………………………………………… …………………………………………………plans……………………………………busy..……………………schedule………
(Unnerved with one silent moment in moments)
Must make NOISE, f ill S P A C E
Those “umms” kill grace
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ These are my people.
If the hills had eyes
If the hills had eyes, they would watch till the end.
If the trees had feet they would stay.
Or maybe they would run away from the sounds
of the chainsaws merrily at play.
If the stones had ears they would skip
the track where their ripple causes pain,
as the war blew apart the stones from their wall…
if only they had arms to rebuild it again.
If water had a heart is would beat for the sun
its passions adding up to a cloud.
Mix in some acid and hazy confusions
and the tears fall back down to the ground.
If man had the foresight to look at this Earth
through the eyes of those hills high above,
he might see that his ego has blinded the growth
of humanities worldwide love.
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 Vicki Miller
Even though I have only been here for less than a week, there are a lot of things that I have cut down on or realized have been cut down in order to conserve. The first and most important thing that everyone, everywhere, needs to survive is water, H2O. I found that I use infinitely less water here during my daily life than I do in North America. Daily doings that require water in Malawi: bathing, hand washing, dishwashing, laundry, drinking, cooking and more. At home I use it for all the same things but I am not conscious of the amount that I use.
In Malawi, I use about half a bucket (maybe 6L) to bathe. At home, I let the shower run for at least 10 minutes, enough to fill the entire bathtub! It’s absolutely crazy how when something is so plentiful, you take it for granted.
When it comes to food, it is the same concept in North America in that one should not be wasteful. Here, especially on our Campus, there is always a way to use food if there are leftovers. It can be composted, shared with others or it can be given to the dogs. It is always used in some way, never put to waste. It make me furious when people in North America use the excuse of “there are starving children in Africa” to make you finish your plate. Yes! There are children in Africa who are starving, but there are also children (and adults) EVERYWHERE who are starving. How is me finishing my meal going to help them? It’s not.
Light in our world in North America is essential for everyday living, or so we believe. In fact, light is essential for everyday living everywhere. But we have a burning ball of gas many kilometers away, that rises and sets each and everyday without fail. Here we only use electricity when that thing called the sun is no longer in the sky. Without the sun, we cannot see and we cannot work. During the day there is no need to use electricity because the windows in the hostel let in enough sunlight to work by. It is frankly a waste of energy to use electricity when it is not 100% essential. We also use the sun to power the electrical things we need. Talk about efficiency.
In North America we take having a pair of shoes and a change of clothes for granted. Some of the children have shoes, but the majority of them do not. For them, shoes are not an essential part of their lives. Whereas in North America we throw shoes out and buy the latest styles like they are going out of style, children here get along just fine in their bare feet. They also make very good use of their clothing. They don’t throw it out the moment they don’t like it anymore, they wear it until it has so many holes in it that it can no longer be called a shirt, a dress or shorts. Chetinjes are the most amazing article of clothing around here, but I will go into that another time.
Things to be grateful for: socks, toes, durability
By Natchisiri (Froy) Kunaporn
Being surrounded by the luxury of the hostel, I can definitely feel the isolation from the reality outside the ‘bubble’. A wonderful chef feeds us, there are a couple of women who do our dishes and laundry, and the hostel is constantly being cleaned. I try to be very helpful by fetching bath water (and showering cold!), doing my delicate laundries and some small dishes. I find myself being very careful not to do too much that it seems like I am taking their jobs away. The women here use the word ‘assist’ instead of help. They want to assist us and want our assistance; we all learn better that way.
Because of early nights and early mornings, my dreams lately have been very vivid. Walking out of campus is like snapping out of one. Almost like a sudden feeling of falling, or a slap in the face. When outside, the living conditions of many villagers are bittersweet to see. Even though most villagers I’ve passed have sincere painted smiles on their faces, nearly everyone had no proper footwear, ripped clothes, and drippy noses. Already coming from where poverty is very saturated, I try to accept what I see. Using a model that describes the five stages of culture shock (Pederson, 1995), I find myself struggling back and forth between the Honeymoon stage and Disintegration stage (anger at self). Sometimes it’s blissful and sometimes I get snapped back to the horrifying truth about life of many who are living right at our doorsteps.
But I guess truth is not always horrifying. When a colleague of mine was feeling guilty about the help she was receiving from the villagers, a Malawian lady said to us that they are so proud to ‘assist’ us. As long as we do our parts, it will all add up in the end. She also told us that people here have no choice but to be happy, because they know that life is short, and that they have no time to sit down and feel sad about the unfairness of luck. If people can choose where they want to live, some places may even be deserted. Being alive is enough push to keep people striving. ‘We can’t be sad forever because we know that life is going to end one day’. That kind of attitude is what I imagine stage four, Autonomy (acceptance) will be like. I think I am on my way.
By Ryan Moyer
In Regards to Hope and Doubt
My hope dwindles daily in this search. I wonder if Paulo Freire’s theory of dialogical education has ever really worked, or if it is completely irrelevant in post-modernity. There is no doubt that dialectics are dead, and all the Hegel quoting in the world won’t bring them back to life. So how can someone so confidently categorize humans into two neat categories of oppressor and oppressed? It’s like Freire is trying to pitch the world as a sequel to “A Christmas Story”, in which the ‘oppressed’ rise up and strike back at the bully! Then the bully realizes the immorality of his action and is all the better for it.
Freire (1970) states that “the one pole aspires not to liberation, but to identification with its opposite pole” (46), and since he was writing in the 1970’s this can be forgiven, but anyone who has even dipped a toe in post-structuralism is aware that there are no poles; they never existed. They were made up by theorists to simplify and sell books. Marxism and Freire at times commit the murder of anomie, like the game of chess being played through kaleidoscopes, explained using a simple game of 20/20 checkers as an example.
I doubt Freire’s theories often. Yet, I can’t debate them it if I don’t try to put them into action, if I don’t honestly test them. And so, I still have hope.
In Regards to Love
“I remember you were conflicted. Misusing your influence. Sometimes I did the same. Abusing my power; full of resentment. Resentment that turned into a deep depression. Found myself screaming in a hotel room. Lovin’ you is complicated.”
Paulo Freire throws around the word love as if it’s a hot potato; frequently and with determination. Unraveling and making sense of that word is a task that is impossible, like biting ones own teeth. Some may embrace love as the soaking of “pleasure from this charming and absurd difference that nature has put between the sexes” or, and seemingly most often, love is simply a “narcissistic game of capture and control” (Baudrillard, 1990, p. 17). I find myself combating the latter of the two theories of the L word as I proceed in work. The quotation that begins this piece states “Lovin’ you is complicated”, as everyone runs the threat of becoming adept to misusing their influence. Those without it may travel to Malawi and all of a sudden be granted sway and power based on skin colour and wealth alone. And as Peter Parker’s passing uncle proclaims, while looking at a young Spider Man; “With great power comes great responsibility”. In participatory research it is imperative to lessen ones influence, this is a large responsibility, yet in the face of slow or non-existent progress it is tempting to bypass community input and proceed using ones own best judgment. Honest dialogue here can be difficult, as it many times has meant reminding groups of my own inability to help in any type of practical or immediate way i.e. reiterating that “I am not a water specialist! I cannot build a well!” This gets tiresome, and I sometimes find myself resenting those who look to me to solve these structural problems because of my skin color. The honest answers I give can lead to very somber and morbid moods amongst the group, as this answer smothers any hope of clean water arriving any time soon. As they did for Dr. Stonebanks during moments of reflection, Linda Tuhiwai Smith’s words, concerning a researcher’s merit, begin to cross my mind often, repeating like a skipping CD.
“Are they useful to us?? Can they fix our generator? Can they actually do anything?” (Smith, 1999, p.10, from Stonebanks, 2014, Confronting Old Habits Overseas)
In Regards to Tranquility
“We live in a world of more and more information, but less and less meaning”
The above quote isn’t exact, as I don’t have Internet access to check its validity. I suppose that’s a good point to start on. There is no Internet here, and no television. No Blu Rays. No cell phone. Limited advertising. Basically, a lessening of the debauchery of signs. It has brought a certain level of tranquility. A new appreciation for the stars has resonated with me. In the urban metropolis the light pollution disallows their viewing, and when I do stay in the countryside I usually work during the evenings and miss their greeting. Here, I have the time to sit and just admire. I suppose these new feelings of tranquility have stemmed from spending more time with myself, whether reading or otherwise. Western society doesn’t allow for much time to yourself, and, even if it does, people don’t seem to embrace it. They’re either plugged into an iPod or fiddling with their smart phone. If you can’t spend time with your own thoughts, you’re in trouble. It’s been really nice to do that lately.
Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. NY, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.
Baudrillard, J. (1990) Fatal Strategies.
Kendrick Lamar (N/A) To pimp a butterfly.
About the Blog
From 2013 to 2017 students participating in Transformative Praxis: Malawi wrote blog posts reflecting on their experiences of participating in action research in Malawi.