Category Archives: Research

M’panda Dimba (Our Garden)

By Jessica Fobert (Bishop’s)

our gardenThe Experimental Farm is coming together a lot faster then I was expecting. The women arrive each day at 9am and work strenuously until noon before the sun gets too hot. I am constantly amazed at the hard work that these women engage in on a daily basis. Creating a compost pit and building a garden has been an exhilarating adventure. While I teach the women about composting and experimental farming, they teach me of the diverse ways of gardening here in Malawi. For example, because of the heat from the sun, gardeners cover their garden beds with hay so that the water is not evaporated and the garden remains moist. Also, the women have used trees as poles and tall grass to make a fence to protect it from animals. I have noticed that Malawians are very creative and innovate people; they make use of as many resources as possible. My co-learner said that we needed to purchase a hoe for the garden so that we could construct the garden beds and dig up the ground. When I was given the hoe it was just the metal part with no handle attached. Malawians search for a piece of wood to make their own handle and custom design their tools to their needs.

I am learning new techniques and skills each day that the women return to the garden, and in return I am showing them some interesting and diverse ways of experimental farming. For instance, I gathered the women around me as I took 4 toothpicks and poked the side of an avocado seed and then suspended it over a cup filled with water. The women were amazed at what I was doing, and I informed them that this is a different way of planting an avocado tree. Let’s just hope that it grows! We are also experimenting with growing tomatoes upside down. Yes, you’ve read correctly… upside down. We have placed 4 tomato plants each in a separate bucket and cut a hole at the bottom of the bucket. The rationality is that it prevents bugs from eating the plants and that no sticks are needed to support them. I think just about everyone thinks we’re a little crazy, but we are experimenting and I hope that we achieve some success.

Progress and Process

By Natchasiri (Froy) Kunaporn (Bishop’s)

Froy 4Two weeks have passed and the wall is still empty. At noon the wall is hit by the huge African sun and is blasting legit heat waves, it hurts my eyes to even stare. It’s even bigger now with the lime on. When I was painting the top part of the wall, my legs were shaking, one hand with the tray and one with the brush. It was only 5 meters high, but having a phobia for heights, I would say it’s quite an achievement getting myself to even go near that ladder.

The design is nearly ready, with a plot twist at the end when we found out that the wall is not as symmetrical as we thought it would was. The contractor shamed the paint we got, and the roughness of the wall literally devours my pencil when I try to sketch. I realized I couldn’t draw the grids alone, so two of my colleagues and a couple of little Malawian boys were helping me hold the strings and eyeing the straightness; it was fun and rainbows until I realized that the bottom part is also not straight. So I slowly crawl back into my thinking hat to think of a better way to map the design, and probably map my whole plan.

While sitting on the porch of the community center, looking out as the little helpers are playing jump rope with the strings. I would describe the site as rocky, rough, uneven, and full of construction bits and shards. They boys had no shoes on, and every time they land on the ground from jumping there is a huge THUD, THUD, THUD. My initial reaction would be ‘Stop you fools! You’ll all hurt yourself!’ But a part of me was so amazed by the constant laughter and that none of them were bothered by my horrified expression, I just watched. Nothing happened. My background music continued to be laughter’s of Malawian kiddies. As I gazed off at the sunset I realize I need to grow tougher skin, not just on my toes, but everywhere. I must overcome that stupid ladder, but also my mind has to be tougher and more critical.

If I have to describe my approach to art, I would say that I am very stubborn and that I get attached to ideas that lead me being not very open to critics. I take many things to heart and find it hard to believe that there is a ‘better way’. What I need to work on is being very open minded about ideas of others, even the people who are not familiar in my area. I remember having a very strong dislike for abstract art and realizing later that my work has some degree of ‘abstract’ in it.

My obsession with symbols plays a big part in my lack of critical thinking. I get attached to putting symbols in my work without making it come out naturally between my research. It slows me down most of the time. I find that I work the fastest when I see and hear things from other people, not when I try digging in my brain to find something that is not there. During the period of this course, we put a lot of emphasis on the importance of dialogue. Being engaged in deeper conversations will assist our journey in experiential learning. Being ‘searchers’ instead of ‘planners’ will eventually produce a richer result.

On the Topics of Wisdom and Patience

By Marten Sealy (Bishop’s)

marten 3This 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.

 

  1. The lackadaisical pace here is deceiving. The Malawians I’ve met tend to speak slowly and take frequent breaks, which frustrated me at first. Punctuality is a foreign concept here, and after they arrive, you still count on people to predict how long a job will take. Now, let’s put that into perspective…we’ve been here eleven days and a lot has been accomplished, jobs are done eventually. As much as I like using deadlines as a motivator, they cause stress, and I dislike stress. I am learning to embrace this culture that paces itself.
  2. North American athletes are spoiled. We’re three games into a six villages tournament, and the first two matches didn’t have lines on the pitch. The ‘pitch’ is dirt, with slightly crooked goal posts, and only half of the players wear shoes. There’s two (dangerous) stumps that still have to removed, and there’s no netting or backstop to keep the ball from flying in the deep grass (home to snakes and thorns). An entire village often shares a single ball, which costs an average week’s wage, and only lasts two to three months. Despite everything, the footballers here are easily on par with strong players from Canada. I can still wow them with my juggling tricks, but probably because I’ve had the opportunity to get touches on the ball alone. That privacy doesn’t come easily here. When a ball comes out, it is usually swarmed very quickly.
  3. At the football pitch yesterday, some young girls were selling ‘ ndas’ (Malawian bannock). I admired their entrepreneurial spirit, and attempted to purchase something to eat. I presented my 1000 Kwachas note (just over two dollars). The poor little girl frowned, and I realized that they were unable to make change for the 1000 Kwachas. When you order a beer in Chilanga, it’s upwards of 500 Kwachas, a Coca Cola is at least 160 Kwachas. I had to find someone that could break my one, one thousand note in half, and then someone else to split a five hundred note further. Finally I was able to do business with the girls, who are only asking 20 Kwachas for two pieces. Pennies.
  4. When passing by rural villages, people stop and stare. Babies often cry and hug their mothers. Children with more confidence might swarm you, and/or chant. ‘Asungu Asungu!’, which is basically a slur for white people or foreigners in general. It can feel like you are some sort of alien visiting a sheltered planet.
  5. It has become a fundamental objective of mine to share genuine interactions with the villagers. This is not as simple as learning local customs and talking about football. These topics are safe and comfortable, but meaningful conversations require a departure into the unknown. Have you ever really connected with someone who’s lived in a mud hut all their life? I don’t mean to discourage; it’s very possible. The dusty soil is perfect for scratching our illustrations. In Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, he identified an inaptitude of many well-intentioned volunteer aid workers to truly trust and have confidence in the abilities of the oppressed. He writes: ‘to consider oneself the proprietor of revolutionary wisdom – which must then be given to (or imposed upon the people) – is to retain the old ways’. I’m doing my best.

Friere, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. NY, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Seeing the Whole Forest Not Just the Trees

By Katie-Alana Schouten (Trinity)

Seeing the wholeSomething 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?

Yes.

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?

Yes.

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.

Has the Sun Risen?

By Kate Newhouse (Bishop’s)

Has the sun risenWe have been working with the Malawi unit some more, selecting subjects that we can turn into lesson plans. Kirsten and I selected a lesson that had to do with the Malawian national anthem and their national flag. Here is when we learned from our co-learners the meaning and controversies about their flag, which we found really interesting.

There is a debate about which flag should be used; the old flag, or the new one. Both flags have the same 3 stripes. Black on the top, red in the middle and green on the bottom. The colors represent the same things too. Black represents the dark times that Malawi has been through. Red represents the blood that was shed and green represents their agriculture and land. The only difference between the two flags is the sun. In the old flag the sun is red and “half risen” to represent that Malawi is slowly rising, but on the new one there is a white sun in the middle of the flag to represent that Malawi has risen.

I think the debate was whether or not Malawi has risen. Obviously this is a controversial issue. Depending who you are and where you are from changes your stance on this.

I think patriotism is an interesting subject here in Malawi. In North America we are very patriotic and are proud of where we come from. Here some people are still proud for many reasons of where they come from, but some are not so proud and feel as though Africa is still set in the past. I think both flags represent where Africa is. To me Africa is still rising as they still have a long way to go until they are out of the severe conditions they are in, but saying that, they have also improved quite a bit since that flag was made.