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.
“The right plan is to have no plan” (Easterly, 2006, pg. 5)
Calvin: “The more you know the harder it is to take decisive action. Once you become informed, you start seeing complexities and shades of gray. You realize that nothing is clear and simple as it first appears, ultimately, knowledge is paralyzing.”
The above is from a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip where Calvin is lamenting the paralyzing nature of taking decisive action informed by knowledge before he chucks his book away saying he’s a man of action and he cannot risk being informed. I cannot recall what Hobbes says in response to Calvin’s actions, perhaps a sarcastic quip as he is known to do. While I am not chucking books away a la Calvin, the paralyzing nature of knowledge as explained by Calvin is something that I constantly experience and navigate. Pre-departure I was concerned that this paralysis will only lead to inaction during my time in Malawi, and the advice of “Don’t Mess Up” kept wringing in my head as we made our way to the Transformative Praxis:Malawi campus from Lilongwe.
On my second day I stood watching TPM employees fill up buckets of water at the pump and I really wanted to help them. If this was in Canada do I stop my daily routine to help people complete their jobs? Nope. Do I stop a postal worker on their work routes and help them deliver mail? Nope. But if I was living in a community would I lend a hand to people I know in completing a task? Maybe. Do I know these workers? Nope. I watched as the buckets were filled as I stood there paralyzed in thought. These are the sorts of everyday decisions one has to make while living on campus, and they are not easy decisions. Nor do I know if my decision was right in this situation. Paralysis and inaction.
I think Transformative Praxis: Malawi requires you to let go of utopian plans for social innovation and change. Which is especially hard if you are a student from a Western country as you are only exposed to utopian ideas of development for Africa and the East, where the understanding is that if you throw enough money at the problem and tell people what to do you are on the right track. At least people won’t be able to say you didn’t do anything to combat poverty, right? The reality is that the answers to these issues haven’t been found in utopian ideas. The solutions are held within the local community who are most knowledgeable about their lived experiences, and utopian ideas have forgotten the community in their grandiose schemes for “eradicating poverty”.
Perhaps no action or plan is required of me, I can stand there in paralysis. Watching. Listening. Learning.
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.
My name is Amber Fortin and this will be my second time in Malawi doing fieldwork with Transformative Praxis: Malawi. I was there last summer working with the Community Women’s Group on a cooperative model chicken coop with hopes of producing both eggs and chickens to sell in order to create a sustainable income. I have recently graduated from Mount Allison University with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in International Relation and Sociology with a minor in Political Science. I am very excited to be returning and to use the knowledge from my degree and past research to put into action here in Malawi. This year my project will be to work with the Women’s Group again on the management of the Tuck Shop, Chicken Coop, Community Center, Experimental Garden and the Compost Pit from last year’s projects. Ashwini, who is a new students joining the team this year, and I will be assisting the women on the management and development of these projects as well as the implementation of a Development Committee.
My name is Ashwini Manohar and I’m 24 years old. I’m currently a third year Economics student at Simon Fraser University, to which I’ve just recently transferred from Mount Allison University, where I discovered my love for economics. I stumbled into it quite accidentally, because all my life I’ve wanted to be involved in film and theatre. That’s sort of on the backburner now.
I was born in Singapore, where almost all of my extended family still live, and came to Canada with my parents, siblings and paternal grandmother in 2005 at age 13. To qualify it as a shock to the system would be an understatement, and my very first impression of Vancouver, I regret to say, was one of disappointment. I’d never been outside of Asia before and I missed the heat and the lush greenery that lined Singapore’s barricaded concrete streets. In fact, I think the relative openness of Vancouver’s roads (and Western culture, as I found out eventually in school) was what sent me reeling. I remember still that I spent that whole summer huddled in a sweater, (because 20-something degrees is actually cold to somebody used to 30-something degree weather!) angry with my parents for “destroying” my secure and comfortable life in my beloved Singapore.
These past 11 years have been a period of gradual but substantial change, more mental than physical. Vancouver has become home, in the true sense of the word, a place where I find serenity and peace. Today, I inhabit some hyphenated identity that I can’t fully comprehend myself.
This will be my first time in Malawi, and perhaps because I realize what I’m in for with the culture shock, or perhaps because I don’t truly know what I’m in for, in addition to excitement, curiosity and unbridled optimism (which I expect to be crushed a little), there is also an underbelly of nervousness and anxiety as the weeks turn into days, and then into hours before my departure date. I’m told this is going to be a life-changing experience. I find myself pacing my house, up and down the stairs, heart thumping, unable to calm my scatterbrained thoughts. The only reprieve comes in the form of my family’s six-month-old golden doodle, Romeo, whose presence I’ll greatly miss while in Malawi.
I’m currently reading North of South by Shiva Naipaul, recommended by Dr. Stonebanks, since the political and historical connotations of my Indian-descended brown body in Africa is something I need to understand and grapple with prior to, during and after my trip. Ensuring that I’m not part of or perpetuating harmful ideologies while in Malawi is important to me as well as to the project itself.
I’m looking forward to learning and growing in the next few weeks and to share my thoughts here. Thanks for reading!
My name is Cassia Tremblay (or Cass or whatever you like!). My hometown is Calgary, Alberta but I have just finished up my third year of a Biology undergrad at St.FX University in Nova Scotia. The small town of Antigonish has become a second home to me and has provided me with so many opportunities (like introducing me to TPM!). I’m thrilled to be joining the TPM team for the first year this summer! I’m hoping to be able to apply some of what I have learned in my courses to contribute to a health related project on the ground in Malawi. This will involve working with community and other TPM members to plan and then construct composting pit toilets. I hope that the introduction of composting toilets to the community, paired with education, will encourage discussion about improving sanitation and can even benefit agriculture. It sounds like the toilets will greatly benefit the community if built near the Community Centre, Radio Station, and the soccer pitch. I hope these locations allow me to work with the sports projects being lead by other TPM members as well as explore mental health radio programming that is in place in other locations in Malawi. I am really looking forward to learning about and contributing to collaborative work and research throughout the duration of this trip. Can’t wait to get started!
My name is Kassandra Norrie and I am a M.A. graduate student in the School of Education at Bishop’s University. This is my third time travelling to Malawi with TPM. I first joined Transformative Praxis: Malawi during my final year as an undergrad at Bishop’s University, and it was because of this experience that I decided to continue on to graduate studies. The grassroots project is completely funded by student fundraising and a few generous donations from supporters, like Switzerland’s Jahan Foundation. After graduating with my B.Ed, I taught in Halifax for three years and began my M.A. at Acadia University. I returned to Malawi last year as a student in the graduate course, and wrote a paper as my final assignment on perceptions of learned helplessness in rural Malawi based on my own observations and dialogue with leaders in the community. Following this experience I made the decision to transfer back to Bishop’s to work under Dr. Stonebanks’ excellent supervision and become more involved with TPM.
What differentiates our work from other charity-based programs is that we are steeped in a research approach, with professors, undergraduates and graduate students working collaboratively with community. We don’t just help to build schools; the work we do is collaborative and fused with dialogue. An example would be the hybrid curriculum currently being designed, piloted in an after school program, and soon enacted in the charter school. We are now actively fundraising for the construction of a grade one, two and three classroom block. In my experience, it is the small projects that are driven by heart that create the most lasting changes in development work, and I encourage you continue following the work of all TPM members!
Hello, I’m Kirsten Dobler! If you were taking a look at our previous blogs you will have seen me before! This is my second time to Malawi. I travelled to Malawi last year with a focus on education and the after school program. I will be working on these projects again, as well as with the Teacher Professional Development. I am very happy to be returning to our TPM Campus. I am looking forward to continuing what our group developed last year and to see the smiley faces of the kids from the surrounding villages. This year, I will be bringing an accumulation of my first experience in Malawi, my first back-to-the-west culture shock, and the completion of one university degree. While I have had an experience in Malawi before, I can only assume that this one will be entirely different. I’m preparing myself to ensure that my projects will have continuity. I am also doing my best to prepare myself to offer support to my peers that have never been to Malawi before.
Although this will be my second time in Malawi I believe that it will be a completely new experience. You’ll be hearing from me lots!
Hi! My name is Laura Donoghue and I am 23 years old. I am studying Kindergarten and Elementary Education at McGill University. I grew up just outside of Montreal in a little tourist town, St Sauveur. Growing up I got to ski all winter, play soccer all summer and horse ride year round. Over all I grew up in a very safe and sheltered area.
I moved into an apartment in Montreal in 2010 to attend Dawson College. I studied North-South studies and had the opportunity to travel to Nicaragua. I learned so much on this trip. We lived with host families in the rural towns and got some insight into their way of life. What stuck with me the most was the children, and how much I loved spending time with them. Their eagerness to learn and go to school was eye opening to me. We had a conference with one of the local school principals and there I found out that many of the children with special needs in the area were left behind due to the lack of resources available to them. This stuck with me as I had always taken for granted the extra help I got in school and had not realized how fortunate I truly was.
After Nicaragua I took a year off to explore my interests. I ended up working for an activities camp in England where I taught a variety of activities, such as archery, climbing, and team building. I then worked for the same company on the Mediterranean coast of Spain for the following two summers. I loved living in a new country and experiencing the culture, language and way of life.
Last summer I decide to yet again work abroad for the summer, except this time I worked with teenagers on a teen tour in Italy. This was a very different experience and reminded me of how much I loved working with the local Nicaraguans and learning from their knowledge and life style.
After hearing about Transformative Praxis: Malawi, I was determined to find out more and get involved. I am inspired by the collaborative nature of the trip and cannot wait to learn from the locals. As one of the focuses for Transformative Praxis: Malawi is education, I decided it was a phenomenal opportunity for me. There are many unknown aspects of this trip, and I am sure I will be challenged in ways I have not even imagined. Though there are many nerves that come along with participating in this trip, my excitement to learn from my peers and the locals is overwhelming.
My name is Marcello Glo. I was born and raised in Nicaragua until the age of 13 when I moved to Miami to finish the remaining years of Middle School and High School. After graduation I wanted to change a bit from the environment in Miami (very materialistic) to something a little saner, so I decided to come up North for a change of pace. Honestly, I can say that it was the best decision I’ve ever made. Bishop’s has offered not only a multicultural experience but also exposed me to environmental studies, which is what I will be majoring in. I learnt about Transformative Praxis: Malawi through my professor, Dr. Darren Bardati, who will be joining us this summer as well. I will be working with Dr. Bardati doing research on landscape and environmental conditions to build a framework to develop sustainable ways of agriculture. The idea of empowering communities so that they can maybe one day become self-reliant instead of depending on international aid seemed to be an amazing idea considering my own country experiences many of the similar problems as Malawians. Additionally, the idea of being able to apply the knowledge I’ve learned so far in my studies seemed like an amazing opportunity I couldn’t say no to. I am super excited to spend these 5 weeks with you guys and get to gain some perspective on what the real situation is and what part we can play in hopefully making the world a better place (one can dream right?). I know it sounds a little corny and maybe even naïve, but hopefully it does make a change and maybe I will learn a couple of things I can even apply in my own country in the future. Anyways, I’m really excited and I hope we can get to know each other a little more.
Hello! Dzina langa ndili Mark Freedman (My name is Mark Freedman). I am from Montreal, Québec, Canada. I am currently an undergrad student at Bishop’s University, well into my degree of secondary education and social studies. I have always been the type to stand in the ‘teacher’ role throughout my various jobs growing up while at the same time, I believe there is no cap on learning or what you can achieve in a lifetime, it’s limitless. I have a huge respect for my fellow human beings and the environment we inhabit, and with that I enjoy learning about and appreciating other cultures and ways of life around me.
While in Malawi, there is so much I could hope to accomplish alongside my colleagues, collaborators, and co-learners. My goals are to take monumental steps in empowering women through sport as a step toward the greater goal of alleviating human suffering through dialogic and collaborative education. Trying to remain as realistic as possible, my goals are simple, and anything above and beyond is icing on the cake, so to speak. Also, building around the idea of sustainability, I’m interested to find out what the local people think about collecting rainwater for garden use, and potentially collaborating on some sort of rain harvesting system.
One of my greatest hopes is that I will learn just as much from the people as they can learn from me; whether it’s about culture, customs, or education, there will be exchanges. Having a passion for education, I look forward to learning about and collaborating on curriculum with my co-learners as well.
So long for now!
Mélissa Chapdelaine Poirier
Hi! My name is Mélissa Chapdelaine Poirier and I’m heading into my second year in a French Major. My home town is Les Cèdres, in Québec. Going to Bishop’s University is a real opportunity for me, as it has provided me with services to improve my academic records, to find a job and to get experience in volunteering. When I heard about Transformative Praxis: Malawi, I was excited about this new opportunity to possibly make a small change in the world. As it was one of my resolutions this year, I decided to pursue this opportunity. Although I have experience volunteering in the past, going to Malawi is the greatest challenge that I’ve ever had. But hey, it’s a good idea to learn a new culture and a new environment in the world. I actually love to learn about new cultures and new languages. In life, my passions are in arts: music, painting, writing, photography and drawing. Also, I like languages; I’m actually studying French, English and Spanish, as I like travelling. I have travelled to Ontario, Quebec and United States. My goal during my time in Malawi is to make a small change with English as a second language. As a person who grew up with a second language, I know how difficult it is to remember the grammar rules and vocabulary after the lessons. I am excited and enjoying the moments before the real challenge starts!
Sunny Man Chu Lau
Hi all, I’m Sunny Man Chu Lau, associate professor in the School of Education at Bishop’s University. Second language education is my research area and my teaching profile. In particular, I’m interested in critical pedagogy that promotes critical literacy learning and dynamic plurilingualism and multiliteracies that resist the monolingual bias. I was born and raised in Hong Kong when it was still a British colony at the time. Having experienced the colonial education, I felt deeply for the need to design curricula and adopt pedagogies that reflect, embrace and mobilize the local cultural and linguistic resources for learning that is meaningful and purposeful for the local. What attracts me to the TPM project is the heightened awareness of the importance to work WITH the local people, respecting their own defined needs as well as the strengths and resources they have. I look forward to the opportunity to exchange with the local teachers about language and literacy teaching practices in the two different contexts.
We just had the first online seminar on Sunday and I was surprisingly happy to find that most TPM participants seemed to know each other very well already and I did feel like being welcomed into a close family full of cheeky fun and laughter. Look forward to getting to know you all as well as the project more!
To those who will read this, My name is Tim O’Connell and I am a 28-year-old resident of Montreal, born and raised in the West Island. I am a recent graduate from McGill University’s Elementary Education program. Before entering McGill, I graduated from Concordia’s JMSB program and worked in sales, before realizing that business was not my forte.
Ever since hearing about Transformative Praxis: Malawi in my ELA class taught by Professor Bennett some two years ago, I was hooked. I have always wanted to do something along the lines of traveling to an underdeveloped country and work with the locals; however, no other organization or trip option really grabbed my attention like Transformative Praxis: Malawi. I wasn’t interested in traveling to an exotic country, help build a house in a few weeks, snap some pictures with the local kids and party for the rest of the trip. I wanted something meaningful that was more than just a quick stay somewhere foreign. TPM offered all that I was looking for; an opportunity to travel to a beautiful country and work and learn alongside the locals in a collaborative environment. Additionally, to have the possibility to implement change and continuously work towards that change far beyond the trip’s duration. I look forward to bonding with the people of Malawi, the dedicated professors and fellow peers that will be participating in this amazing adventure.
While in Malawi, I would like to implement a rugby program that will aim to teach the students the basic skills required to play the game. The focus will be around physical activity, teamwork, and fun. Rugby is an amazing sport that can be enjoyed by anyone at any age or ability and I hope to pass on my passion of the game to the locals of Malawi.
I was texting a friend a few months ago and I just went through my text history to find the conversation for you.
“I have a theory that any major social injustice could be fixed in three generations.”
He replied, “Dying to hear this theory!”
“It’s simple… First generation acknowledges there is a problem, second generation starts the fight, and the third generation accepts the change completely.”
His response, “Fascinating. My generation carried on the fight, your generation is opening us up to the humanistic realities. But there has to be a variable and overlap in the theory which will account for some generations planting the seeds of change?”
I thought about it for a moment and simply replied, “The Gems”.
I realize now that I was being a little naive in thinking once a Gem starts the fight it simply continues to be fought for three generations until the White Hats win. Three generations, that’s it. I know that to live the changes I am imagining in my head it will probably take longer than three generations for Malawi. However, today I want to talk about The Three Gems in Transformative Praxis: Malawi.
The first Gem in Jenny. Jenny is a local Malawian, the TPM Director on the ground, and our Mama Bwana (Boss in Chichewa). Jenny is one of the most kind hearted and strongest woman I have ever met. She is the local Gem who sees that Malawi Education needs a change and is more than willing to spend her time and energy working for the change. Jenny is strong enough to stand up to a group of village chiefs and sweet enough to dig into her own pocket when the project is in need. Without Jenny on the ground I wonder if the project would successfully move forward.
The newest Gem in TPM is Dr. Fintan Sheeran. Fintan is the caring man who threw himself in whole heartedly after learning about Transformative Praxis: Malawi. The health initiative that Fintan is starting from our campus is going to change the Chilanga Region. Not only is he spreading awareness of local health issues, but he is working with a group of Malawian volunteers who will be his little gems and start the change. Fintan is a shimmering Gem but he is turning others into Gems as well.
The final Gem is a combination of five people who have given so much: The Stonebanks. The strongest Gem in this group is Dr. C. Darius Stonebanks who started Praxis Malawi and is the reason it continues. He is the kindest man I know and I have caught myself wondering many times and even asked him on a few occasions, “how can he always be so good?” His Gem stays strong because the most generous Gem, Melanie, supports her husband more than anyone I have ever met. Christopher, Melanie, and their children have all given more to this project than everyone else combined. When issues arrive it is the Stonebanks who always sacrifice whatever is necessary to see the project succeed.
It is the Gems in the world that plant the seeds for change, but only the brightest Gems continue to fight the good fight. And it is the Gems in my life who encourage me to be a Gem one day.