By Lina Xu
As we drove further, we passed several markets, where fruits like tomatoes, sugar canes and apples, together with clothes, meat could be seen. However, we did not see many buyers around. When we passed the town, there were several banks and two gas filling stations facing each other. There were also snack booths along the road, a board caught our eyes by its advertisement: the best beer in the world. I guess maybe the locals consider this as the best they have ever tasted and they do not have the desire to learn what is outside of Malawi. To some extent, they are happy with their lives.
Upon approaching Kasungu, the road became bumpy and there was dirt everywhere when we drove by. We were too excited to arrive at our destination, the campus. It was striking in the area since the layout was quite neat. The minute we got out of the Toyota, we were surrounded by a group of people, most of whom were offered a temporary job during our stay. They took turns to greet us by shaking hands and hugs, the warm heart of Africa, I love it. They helped us move our luggage to the hostel.
After that, our peers who had come before showed us all the basic facilities. I was informed by Dr. Stonebanks that there were no electricity and no running water. Thanks to the solar power technology, there was limited electricity generated by the device, so there were bulbs in the hostel, but it was not bright enough. I believe we could get used to it.
Our first supper here was curry chicken. It was delicious, beyond my expectation. The rice tasted far better than what I had in Canada. In addition, there were shower rooms, but no electricity inside. We needed to rely on headlamps. By heating water over fires, the local women helped us with the hot water. I was too eager to take a shower after the long flight. I was told that hot water was ready and I got fully equipped. I heard from our peer that we were given a bucket of warm water for our shower. I assumed that there would be a big wooden bucket of water, like what we see in the sauna. That will be enough for me. To my surprise, a small plastic bucket of water was in my sight, which I believe to be 30 liters at the most. It was not enough for me to wash my hair. How can I take a whole shower with this limited water? What shall I do? The Field Director and my peers told me how to shower with this amount of water. Seeing the women working on others’ hot water, I decided to have a try. I made it at last, without complaints. I was somehow proud of myself in completing this. There was no hairdryer allowed here due to the scarcity of electricity. Feeling exhausted, I had to go to bed with my half wet hair.
I was woken up at midnight by some noises in the corridor, it seemed like several snakes were crawling and fighting from time to time. I was too terrified to open the door to see what was going on outside. I did not know when I fell asleep again. I checked with my peers the next day, no one heard similar noise, maybe I was anxious. But hopefully, it was not true, it was only my” imagination”.
On June 8, our first entire day on the campus, we got up at 6 am and had breakfast afterwards. It reminds me of the military training session when I was a freshman. I did some reading and went around the surroundings. It was good to know the people working here, they were hard working here. In the afternoon, the lab was open. I was surprised to see seven laptops, a printer and a projector. I could not imagine that under such severe conditions, how much effort Dr. Stonebanks and his team spent and how determined they have been.
There was a lot for me to explore further, the people as well as our projects.
By Lara McTeigue
During our first week in Malawi, we took 2 Chichewa lessons. Our teacher was a local man who had just finished Teachers College and works with TPM to help run the Learning Lab on campus. We had a session amongst our student group about intercultural communication prior to these classes where we discussed differences from individualist and collectivist cultures. One of the points of variance raised concerned how learners and teachers operate in the classroom in terms of asking questions. In collectivist societies, students may tend to refrain from asking questions in the classroom setting to avoid making the teacher look as if they did not do their job competently. With the new awareness of this cultural norm, I found myself feeling hyper sensitive to my natural dispositions. I was second-guessing my own instincts to question the presentation of course content in order to gain a deeper understanding; something I would habitually do in Canada.
Our first lesson together started off with the introduction of a greeting. “How are you” was translated on the board from English to Chichewa and we repeated the phrase after the teacher aloud several times. We were then asked one by one to say the phrase aloud. Kate, a student returning to Malawi for a second time, asked the teacher then what the very first thing you should say upon meeting someone is. We learnt that “how are you” is in fact what Malawians say when meeting for the very first time. I thought about the encounters we had had so far with locals and how they often replied “fine” when we would say “hello” or “nice to meet you”. This would explain the error. It also would be an early glimpse at how teaching with this very rehearsed “I say, we say, you say” structure that prepares students to reply with standard memorized responses in the language class really hinders their ability to communicate in authentic situations outside of the constructed classroom context.
Our teacher then jumped into teaching us numbers and days of the week using the similar threefold repetitive method. It was quickly being affirmed that repetition and memorization were patterns of teaching here without much explanation or deeper thinking of the content presented. We were asked to repeat the sayings aloud and then to close our books and practice in front of our peers. When questioned by the teacher, he often followed by asking if we were “confident” in our responses several times. He would also ask the class, “does she have the right answer?” Instead of encouraging us by praising our efforts, it became very intimidating to participate. I imagined that learners may be discouraged from contributing if the possibility to be ridiculed by peers was so high. On several occasions he also asked that we guess the next word to come without any prior knowledge to work off of. I found that this unfamiliar teaching style was slightly frustrating but we were able to chuckle off the majority of the awkwardness for now.
Chichewa is also an alphabetical language, like English or French, and so our second lesson started with a Chichewa song to help us remember the unique pronunciation of vowels. The song was short and fairly easy to perform. We sang it nearly 10 times in a row. We were all getting anxious about the chunk of time spent on singing from our short class together. We realized we were entering the schools and communities soon with next to no practical language knowledge. The teacher planned to move into parts of the body next but several of us collectively began to feel more comfortable to verbalize our learning expectations. As we grew more at ease with raising questions and steering our own learning, we learnt more subtle cultural features of the language. For example, adding ‘please’ to a request is a sign of begging rather than simple politeness. I always knew that language classrooms were spaces rich with cultural influences but as someone who had not personally been in the position as language learner for quite some time, I was reminded of how much one can learn of another culture while learning the language spoken.
I was perceiving the new language standards that we were learning and the teaching style carried out as being very much so a reflection of the country in which it took place. Through reading Pennycook, I’ve come to understand that the parallels I drew from my observations of the class (which were causing me to question what I previously learned about effective learning) and what I knew of the socio-political-cultural state in Malawi was more so “part of the outside world, and play[s] a role in how that outside world operates.” This awareness would come to help me comprehend the structures in the Malawian classrooms as results of the nation’s narrative. Considering Malawi’s history as a colonized nation which had only gained independence a mere 60 years ago, its education system and teaching practices are still young. How they develop their own institutions will be a big factor in how the country progresses and gains resilience as an independent state. When frustrations arise surrounding methods that are different from ones we are used to applying in our own classrooms, it is imperative that this context is kept in mind.
Schools are spaces that mold young students on a fundamental level. As learners and teachers who are constantly trying to improve our systems, we must try to push the confines of the four walls of our familiar classrooms if we hope to avoid having them become spaces that “serve to maintain the status quo” (Pennycook, 2000).
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 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 Kirsten Dobler
It is the first official full day at The Campus. Everyone is slowly waking up under the miles and miles of sky (under our beautiful roof of course). I awoke to the quiet bustle of the women that have been hired to clean the hostel. It is surprisingly pleasant to wake up to sweeping. I am currently sitting on the red soil that covers all of the grounds, and filled in my shoes. I am sitting under a small summer hut that has been made for us. It looks a bit like a gazebo. After my walk around The Campus this morning, I began to reflect on our arrival to the new Campus.
I did not try very hard after our many days of travel to keep my eyes open on the bus ride to The Campus, but when I did open my eyes I found merchants coming up to the side of the bus selling apples. Many people watched as we drove by and some waved to us with big smiles on their faces. I fell asleep again and I woke up as we were driving onto The Campus. As we drove down the red dirt road, packed into the bus with our suitcases, we could see that there were already people on The Campus awaiting our arrival. As we pulled in near the door, the women began to sing for us. I was tremendously moved by this and held in my emotions as we exited the bus. Coming off of the bus we were showered in hugs and handshakes from the people that we will be working with for the next five weeks. After our initial hellos we began to unpack the bus. A line of women, as well as our students began to take the bags in from the bus; however the women were very persistent on carrying the bags. This was the first moment of uncertainty that I had. I was unsure of the etiquette in this situation. Was I being rude if I did not help, or was I taking a job away that they are being paid? I am still not completely certain, but we found a way for everyone to participate last night and I am sure we will find ways again when they arise.
Once we got settled in, we noticed that there were a lot of children standing around with us so we brought out a ball to play with. The boys quickly ran with Marten to the soccer pitch and the girls played by throwing the ball to each other. As we began playing with the girls we decided to try a name game. We shared many laughs as we tried to speak their names and they tried to speak ours. It will be a lot of work to remember the names of everyone, but I am really hoping that I can remember at least a handful. The children only learn to speak English once they start grade three, so only the older children speak English. This lead to a lot of silly following-the-leader happening. I got to dance around and have all of them copy me while laughing at our silly actions. I even got them to do the chicken dance, and they thought it was hilarious. We played until the sun went down and we had to go inside. Before the children left, everyone got hugs and high fives and said many ‘see you tomorrows’.
One of the main goals that we discussed before we left for Malawi was bringing this new Campus to life. When we arrived, as we were welcomed onto The Campus with smiles and laughter, it felt alive. Even after the two days of travel to come here, we were all excited to play with the children and take a look around The Campus. Last night felt like the first moment of life that I am sure will continue on in the next five weeks, and hopefully after we leave.
By Amber Fortin
Nothing felt real until the night we settled into the hostel and saw our Campus for the first time. Between a 12 hour flight from Toronto to Ethiopia, a couple hours in the Addis Ababa airport then a two and a half hour flight until we finally landed in Lilongwe, it had been a long voyage. Once we landed in Malawi it took another two hours driving in a bus with our insane amount of luggage until we finally arrived in the village of Chilanga. While on the bus ride to the campus that afternoon, kids ran pointing and shouting “azungu” over and over again in the villages we passed through. Azungu means white people in Chechewa, the language spoken here. This was very unsettling for me as there was a very strong sense of dependence and importance in our presence. The belief that we know everything and can fix all of their problems is also evident. Post-colonial aftermath is still very real.
Once we arrived at The Campus, the women began singing and clapping and thanking us. Many of us didn’t know how to react out of surprise. We played with the kids to try to learn their names; all the kids really enjoyed copying our funny dances and trying to say our foreign western names. The hostel is beautiful and more than I imagined. I feel guilty living here while just down the street there are small deteriorating homes that people are living in on a daily basis, whereas I am only here for 5 weeks, and this is not my daily reality.
By Kimberly Gregory
I thought that I knew what to except when arriving in Malawi for my second year in a row, however I was wrong. I knew that I would experience culture shock despite having been here before but I thought that I would go through each stage as described by Pederson (1995) swiftly and with ease. As it turns out, I have completely skipped the honeymoon stage and have gone straight to the disintegration stage. Perhaps this was brought upon by my colleagues’ explicit euphoria from their new surroundings. On our drive to the hostel they were so amazed by everything, ironically they were even astonished by things like cows, chickens and goats which are not uncommon in Canada; a clear characteristic of the honeymoon stage. Another moment that drove me straight to the disintegration stage was when I saw the new location as it was even more prestigious than the last. It was a little mansion; the entrance had rounded stairs, the kind that is reminiscent of Mediterranean architecture. It had tall ceilings, and the rooms were enormous, much bigger than the rooms that you would find in most middle class Canadian homes. The beds had brand new mattresses with thick warm sheets for colder nights. Seeing this place invaded me with a sense of guilt because we had just driven from the airport where the majority of homes we saw were disheveled huts made of straw and mud. The only thing that brought me comfort was the fact that I knew this hostel would one day be used for students who want to study in the area. Thus, it was not a castle built exclusively for what was clearly the “white privileged people”.
I am concerned that living in this place creates barriers between us and the local community. Paulo Freire (1970) says “solidarity requires that one enter into a situation of those with whom one is solidary” (p.49). Living here prevents us from experiencing how most Malawians live and it reinforces the power inequities. In fact, I am living an even more privileged lifestyle than I would at home. There are people who cook for us and they have been cooking us the kind of meals that you would eat at a five star hotel. Meanwhile, many people here wonder if they will even be able to provide some sort of starch based meal for them and their family. Furthermore, there are even people who clean for us. I am aware that this is a way to provide direct economic relief, however there are certainly repercussions to this. Freire (1970) proposes that “the resolution for the oppressor –oppressed contradiction involves the disappearance of the oppressors as a dominant class” (p.56). There is already a clear dichotomy between the Malawian people and us Canadian students; did this have to be further reinforced by our living conditions? Do these power dynamics prevent us from building true reciprocity?
I fear that this upper class lifestyle will distract or even blind people from the entrenched poverty that surrounds us and in turn this lack of consciousness will contribute to less meaningful work in the field. It makes it too easy to return to the safe nest and forget the atrocities of the outside world and forgetting will not bring about the critical reflection that is needed when working on a project like this.
Pederson, P. (1995). The five Stages of culture shock: critical incidents around the world. Westport, C.T: Greenwood Press.
Freire, P. (1970). The pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury: New York.
By Vicki Miller
Arriving in Malawi was the most magical experience I have ever had. I was wide-eyed at everything the moment I stepped off the plane in Lilongwe (Malawi’s capital); the people, the cars, the lack of trees and all the goats and chickens roaming around. We pulled into The Campus in Chilanga to about twenty women singing and clapping; it was all for US! It was amazing the amount of warmth and bienvenue the entire community showed us. This being my first time in the village, it was all new, but it felt like coming home.
Things to be grateful for: the weather, the food, and the hospitality.
By Alex Bernier
I felt a sense of relief after all the overwhelming events happening on The Campus. A meeting with the Tuck Shop owner took place in the hostel discussing his plans, our suggestions, and questions about the Tuck Shop. The Tuck Shop is a new brick building that was constructed close to the Community Center where the friendly and committed owner is starting a business in selling items to the community. First impressions of him are good and he seems very excited about the potential success and a trustworthy partnership. He is getting ready to open the shop in two days. His cultural experience and understanding allows him to set appropriate prices that the villages will be able to afford. This presents a welcoming business environment to the community so that they won’t feel cheated and are happy to buy locally. An aspect I can bring to this project is my math skills. Calculating how much he pays for items, how much he can sell them for, what profits are made, and having an organized system. Other ideas have been to start a tab for the Transformative Praxis: Malawi members to make buying easier and to give the Tuck Shop owner money in advance to go buy supplies for the shop.
This has been my first relationship where respect was earned from both cultures to develop a sustainable Tuck Shop for the community. This is much different than when interacting with the children who copy and surround us constantly, with what I would say is undeserved respect and the idea that we are better or smarter than the rest of their community members.
I cannot wait until the end of our five weeks in Malawi to see the progress of the Tuck Shop. I hope it is appreciated and used often by the community long after we have returned home.
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.