As schools across the province are in the midst of end of year festivities and rituals from graduation and exams to field trips and track meets, half way across the world in Malawi, Africa a school instead of preparing to close up for a couple of months has just laid down the footings of its first classroom. The construction of a grade one class, accompanied by housing for the teacher and family along with the creation of the primary curriculum has been a work in progress for the past five years. As I write this post, countless hours of discussion, deliberation, and deep thinking are transforming from the theoretical into reality.
As I have written about previously, my husband, Dr. Christopher Stonebanks, has traveled each spring to Malawi, Africa to live in the village of Makupo. It is indeed one of the poorest places on earth, with no running water or electricity but home to a wonderful people who indeed do deserve the title of “The Warm Heart of Africa” by which Malawi is appropriately known.
This is the fifth year that Christopher has taken students for five weeks in order to engage in research. To read about how this project came to be, I invite you to read this post. It is a journey of unexpected twists and turns and has been an authentic example of lifelong learning. There have been celebrations and tears along the way. And as in any exemplary classroom, whether it lives inside a building or out over the garden wall, collaboration, commitment and lasting collegiality have been developed, fostered and maintained.
This year’s group of eleven students include a wonderful combination from Bishop’s University, two groups of students from McGill University as well as students from Champlain College. Take a minute to introduce yourself to this amazing team of young academics and future teachers. Read a bit about who they are, where they come from and what their aspirations are for their time in this tiny village in Sub-Saharan Africa. I am always so impressed by the quality and diversity of students that are attracted to this type of experiential learning. It is an endeavour that takes them away from the comforts and security of home and thrusts them headfirst into the unsettling environment of the unknown and culture shock.
For the first time, each of the Praxis Malawi team members has been chronicling their personal and professional journeys by means of a blog – this one. Narratives of learning the local language, cooking with the ladies, brushing teeth under a starry sky and fighting off large and hungry insects are interspersed with reflections on interviews with Malawian teachers and residents, challenges of creating a curriculum that will support the needs and wishes of the community as well as navigating through the stages of culture shock that each one experiences in their own way can be found here.
I urge you to visit the blog and discover more about this wonderful project and all the incredible adventures the students have been up to. If you have time to leave a comment or two, I am sure it will do wonders to encourage them along their journey. There is nothing more reassuring to one who is “out in the field” than to receive a note from home reinforcing the notion that all their struggles and efforts as well as their successes have been recognized by a peer, a mentor or simply an advocate.
I as well, have an invitation to offer those of you who might be moved into wanting to participate in this type of humanitarian association. As this will be a project that will continue over many years, we are looking for support by means of a Professional Learning Community. I have set one up through LEARN and what I am hoping for is to have people from all corners of the education community here assist in the building of this new school. Through this PLC, you will be linked to the online community and free to offer support by means of links to resources, suggestions, direction or inspiration. This is so crucial when building curriculum.
In the fall, we will be hosting a LEARN web event that will highlight ways that schools can connect with and learn about another school half way around the world. Rich curricular ideas and activities to build global citizenship and social awareness as well as develop reciprocal and sustainable learning will be featured. If you think you and you class might be interested joining and supporting Praxis Malawi send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can discuss the multiple possibilities for involvement. Please pass along the link to the blog and the invitation to the PLC to anyone who you think might be interested.
The old adage “It Takes a Village” really does ring true here. And the beautiful thing is that with the voice and direction coming from the village of Makupo, Malawi we are simply joining in on the conversation.