Category Archives: Research

Agents for Change

By Jessica Fobert (Bishop’s)

Agents for ChangeAs the second week continues, I find myself more interested in learning as much as I can about Malawian culture and their traditional ways of doing things. I learned that Malawians have a unique handshake when they meet new people, their favourite meal is Nsima, a type of maize flower and water that is usually served with either rice, potatoes and/or pumpkin leaves. We have had lessons on their language of Chechewa and each day I try to learn new phrases that will be useful while working with the people here. It is imperative that we engage in dialogue with the locals in order to fully understand their wants and needs. Especially when working with the After-school program.

Before coming to Malawi, the Transformative Praxis: Malawi group read a chapter by Easterly called Planners versus Searchers. In the chapter, Easterly states that,  “let’s call the advocate of the traditional approach the Planners, while we call the agents for change in the alternative approach the Searchers” (Easterly, 5). The Transformative Praxis: Malawi (TPM) group planned and discussed our objectives for our projects so that when we arrived in Malawi we would be prepared. Before coming to Malawi, I engaged in research based on curriculum development, gardening in Malawi and how to compost efficiently.  Now that we are in Malawi it is time for us to expand on our research and try the alternative approach suggested by Easterly by searching for our answers. “Searchers know if something works only if the people at the bottom can give them feedback” (Easterly, 15).

The second week’s goal was to engage in more dialogue with locals to distinguish what Malawians wanted out of the after-school program, and to inform others about the benefits of composting. I shared with my co-learner some traditional and nutritious crops that I had researched and was planning on trying to grow here. I soon found out after being here that what I had researched had to be adjusted. Because I have started a compost pit, my co-learner suggested that we try and grow vegetables so that we could educate the women that our vegetable scraps can be used as compost.

I am very grateful to have a co-learner by my side so that I am aware of what the communities would like to try and grow at the TPM campus. She has provided me with five women, each from different villages, to work on the garden so that they can return home and tell the other women in their villages about what is taking place here on Campus. I am planning with my co-learner now to travel to each village and inform the women on what we are doing on Campus so that they feel included and a part of the program. Later this week the Education students have arranged to meet with local villages to discuss what the parents would like out of the After-school program. Engaging in dialogue with locals is imperative for change and success so that we accomplish our project goals in Malawi. Tionana (see you later).


Easterly, W (2006) The white man’s burden: why the West’s efforts to aid the rest have done so much ill and so little good. London, England: The Penguin Press.

Our Failure

By Amber Fortin (Mount Allison)

Our FailureUpon finishing the reading of The Betrayal of Africa by Gerald Caplan, I have been furthering my reflection on Africa, its relationships, its triumphs and challenges. After taking courses on Problems in International Development and African Politics I gained critical thinking skills and a clearer understanding of global politics as well as the issues that have been perpetuated by the extensive exploitation of underdeveloped countries. The Betrayal of Africa by Gerald Caplan gives a great summary that explores not only the history, but also the exploitation and the problems the continent of Africa faces.

The amount of interest in Africa has always been evident, but colonialism and the horrific slave trade raised these interests promoting more interference by other countries in the continent. Now, “Africa is deeply divided by a sense of vexing fault lines – French versus English speakers, North versus South, Christian versus Muslim, South Africa versus Nigeria, democrats versus dictators, terribly poor versus poor,” (Caplan, Gerald p.114). These divisions in many cases are caused by outsider interferences as well as the historic preconceived notion that Whites know what is best, which is now a misconception that plagues true African independence. What I mean by true African independence is that even though countries in Africa have become independent after colonialism, the Western world still has its hands in politics, resources, trade, and economic affairs of Africa. Whether through bribery, arming guerilla movements or extremely high loan interests, the influence is still very much present in everyday societies of Africa. Developed countries have interests in many cases, which are disguised as aid, but in reality their reward is far greater than countries in Africa, which they are “aiding”. As long as, “Western countries treat aid as a political tool to advance their own self-interest, and so long as most International Non-Governmental Organizations compete against one another, the prospect of a more rational and less wasteful system remains a pipedream. In the meantime, we criticize Africans for being inefficient,” (Caplan, Gerald p.107).

My heart aches more than ever; I cannot stand the historic and present exploitation that my disgustingly privileged country and its allies inflict on this magnificent continent and its people to this day. Between 5 million and 2.5 million BCE, our ancestors emerged in Ethiopia and eastern Africa, we all came from this continent at one point, yet a serious lack of respect for human rights from our global relatives is evident in every continent and in every country. Even Canada currently has been under pressure from the United Nations for is human rights abuses against the Aboriginal peoples of Canada, some of which do not have clean drinking water or safe housing on reserves. Canada, like other Western countries, favor the rich and ignore many issues which are left to sit and rot. As well there is a tendency to assist those who can give something back, those who are of interest and use. “For years, African and Western leaders have had a cynical little deal – African governments would pretend to reform themselves and the Westerners would pretend to live up to their pledges and help them,” (Caplan, Gerald p.113). USAid and the World Bank are examples mentioned multiple times by Caplan as exploitative organizations. Here in Malawi I have noticed many organizations including USAid, World Vision and in lavish buildings with green shrubbery despite the dry season. Aid often has strings attached, whatever it does for the country in need, which is often unclear, aid always benefits the rich country most. Italy and the United States are among the most selfish offenders of this “tied” aid. Our despicable ancestors and present “developed” countries began and continue to exploit those who cannot afford any food. My favorite quote is as follows from the finale of this novel, which I think really rings with truth and should be taken into consideration when thinking about how to give and respect human rights as well as appreciating what you have.

“We need to help Africa, not out of our selfishness and compassion but as restitution, compensation, an act of justice for the generations of crisis, conflict, exploitation and underdevelopment for which we bear so much responsibility. Many speak without irony of the desire to “give something back”, without realizing the cruel reality of the phase. In fact, that’s exactly what the rich world should do. We give back what we have plundered and looted and stolen. Until we think about the West’s relationship with Africa honestly, until we face up to the real record, until we acknowledge our vast culpability and complicity in the African mess, until then we’ll continue- in our caring and compassionate way –to impose policies that actually make the mess even worse,” (Caplan, Gerald p.127).


Caplan, G. (2008). The betrayal of Africa. Toronto, Ontario: Groundwork Books.

It’s Beginning to Come Together

By Jessica Fobert (Bishop’s)

Compost under groundnuts

Compost under groundnuts

I woke up bright and early this morning to hack away at the moist red soil from last night’s water. My hero Kirsten woke up at 6 am to assist me with digging up the 1 metre deep compost pit. The soil here is not like it is back in Canada. It dries up in the winter seasons and lacks essential nutrients and therefore needs a lot of fertilizer to maintain certain crops. Most of you probably don’t know much about Malawi, but a large number of the population relies on agriculture as a source of income and necessity to life. For that reason, I chose to base my research work around agriculture and to provide a sustainable way of farming for the people of Malawi. My plans are to educate the people in the surrounding villages about the benefits of composting while experimenting with fertilizer versus compost. I hope to inform Malawians about the benefits of composting so that they can learn to live more sustainable.

As Kirsten and I hacked at the moistened soil for 2 hours we finally began to see some progress being made. Chief Makupo came to the Campus around 9 am and walked right to the compost pit. He gave us a hand and what Kirsten and I had accomplished in 2 hours, the Chief had completed in 10 minutes! I was astonished at the hard labour that the Chief performed, but as more helpers arrived I noticed that most Malawians are used to this type of work. It seemed much easier to them than it was for Kirsten and me.

Malawians are hard working people! Even the children are constantly helping out their families by taking care of siblings, collecting water and working in the fields planting and harvesting crops. Being in Malawi has allowed me to appreciate the easy, laid back life that we live in Canada. I’ve never experienced collecting my own fresh water or walking an hour and a half to reach the closest town; however, this is a part of the daily routines for Malawians. Each day that I am in Malawi I am constantly amazed at the skills and the strenuous work that Malawians perform on a daily basis. I can see that the Transformative Praxis: Malawi group is working their hardest by collaborating with locals to provide a more sustainable lifestyle for Malawians.

Canadian Time

By Marten Sealy (Bishop’s)

Canadian TimeCanada seems such a distant place already. I’ve been absent in my role as a “westerner” for a week so far, cocooning, preparing to return home a new person. What happens in the cocoon, mind you, is a very active process.

Living on the new Campus, which is still under construction, is a bizarre sort of stark utopia. The hostel in which we are living is at the heart of the Campus, and during the day it is surrounded by locals whom have been hired as cooks, cleaners, carpenters, painters, security, and more. The employees work hard, but it is not uncommon to find several workers taking a break in the shade between jobs. I’ve found it very rewarding to join them and converse about whatever happens to be on my mind. People tend to have uniquely interesting perspectives which surface as soon as you switch off autopilot, and I’m having no trouble at all achieving that. I think people in any setting strive for genuine human interaction, but colourful ads and screens can distract them. People here don’t get distracted.

My co-learner, a phys-ed teacher and football coach at the local secondary school, loves to discuss the differences between his country and Canada. We share a rich dialogue. I practice honesty and modesty, admitting that our wealth can bring comfort to life, but preaching that full bellies and big TVs aren’t the holy grail that they’re built up to be. If there is a life of ultimate quality, then it contains something far more profound.

As a footballer, I’ve had punctuality drilled into my head as a key element of respect. Multiple coaches have reinforced: If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. You can show a coach that you’re worth their time by being well nourished, rested, dressed, warmed up, and otherwise fully prepared both mentally and physically before they even arrive. The attitudes in Malawi are different. My co-learner and I have begun referring to the two mentalities as “African time” and “Canadian time”. When deciding upon a meeting time we make sure to distinguish which mentality will be used. When my co-learner arrives before me, he might tease, “today I was the Canadian and you were the African”. These are obviously massive generalizations, but I laugh and accept the title with pride.

The reason that 1pm can casually turn into 2 or 3 or 4pm is not just due to a lack of clocks and watches. I walked with my co-learner to visit and deliver a message to six villages yesterday, and it was a great chance to practice my greetings and conversational Chechewa. We stopped to chat with villagers somewhere between 50-100 times along the way. Greetings in Chechewa are very thorough. When you run into a group, you often greet each individual separately, and when a group is meeting with another group, the time taken is multiplied.

Even though we had a lot of ground to cover, there wasn’t the faintest sense that we were in a rush. We’ll get there when we get there. We walked for hours in the hot sun, and my legs became tired, but my mind was still fresh. My thoughts were racing the entire time, but distance covered is not what tires the mind. It is the burden of stress that saps the mind of its energy – I vow to be forever weary of accumulating stress after I return to Canada.

About Looking

By Natchisiri (Froy Choi) Kunaporn (Bishop’s)

About Looking

Plastering the community center wall

Growing up, I see myself as an active listener and a nosey observer. I look up at the clouds and never fail to see some sort of picture. There was a period when I was convinced that I was a cloud expert. In long car rides, as the cloud moves along with us, I can go on forever about what is happening up there. I also love listening and looking for the changes in tone and expression so if charisma is a person, I am her audience.

A lot of unexpected events happened today. Other than exchanging a portrait of the contractor for the use of the ladder through the course of the project to finishing a third of the mural design, the massive wall of the community hall is already being plastered by my newly made friend. I spent nearly the whole day with him, surprisingly the language barrier did not affect my learning, and I observed what he was doing. The owner of the tuck shop helped me translate some sentences which surprisingly are not technical at all, especially when I was learning how to plaster a wall. ‘Iwe Sekerera’ means you are smiling or literally ‘you smile’; I kept saying that to the man plastering the wall when he wasn’t smiling as much, as a gesture to reassure myself to stay out of guilt for not being so much help to him (I was terrible at throwing the cement to the wall). Because I was saying that multiple times to him, it was our own personal greeting style. It reminded me that nourishment was necessary when building relationships, and observing is the way to go.

Sometimes when I spend too much time looking at the wall, it gets bigger, and I have felt very discouraged about my project because of how I want it to have a very high impact. The book I am reading now is called ‘About Looking’ written by John Berger. He is a critic and writes a lot of small chapters on all different kinds of art. A quote from a French book during 1950’s about La Tour when translated is “Painting is a magic interpretation of the most profound thoughts and the most beautiful dream” (112), which sheds a bit of light to my doubts. An idea does not happen in a day, it requires a lot of trust and research and a lot of looking.

However, being creative has a great burden to it. For example, when we suggested that the mosquito nets could be used as a football net, it sounded like a very good idea at first but Dr. Stonebanks told us that when fishermen were using the mosquito nets as fishing nets, the rates for Malaria shot up exponentially.

If I can ever master the art of looking, I am pretty sure I will become a cloud expert when I retire.


Berger, J. (1980). About looking. New York, NY: Pantheon Books