On this Friday, we were invited to visit the market in the nearest town, Kasungu. We started the five kilometers walk thinking that it wouldn’t be that bad. Even though it wasn’t the hardest thing, it did take us over an hour to arrive at our destination. It was funny to see our guides slowing down their pace to fit ours. During this long walk, I spoke with one of our co-learners, Francis. I asked questions about pretty much everything (if you know me you can easily see Francis bombarded with questions). At some point he started inquiring about Canada. Trying to answer his questions, I realized that I could only offer superficial answers since I needed to generalize to keep my answers simple and because I realized that my knowledge about Canada is somewhat lacking.
Arriving at our destination, we explored the market which sells a lot of food produce, fabric, second hand clothing and much more. It was really interesting to see how the market was organized and what kind of items were on sale. While contemplating the walk back, I must admit that most of us were dreading it. Luckily we learned that our caravan was waiting for us at a nearby restaurant. It really made me think about how walking is not really our main transportation mode. We do walk everyday but the most of us don’t walk on long distances and that for the ones who do, it is more of a choice rather than a necessity.
On the following day, there was a second physical activity in store for us. We climbed Mount Kasungu. The ascension was hard, sweaty and breath taking. The mountain was quite steep and the altitude change could really be felt. Even the best of us had some difficulty going up. It took over an hour and a half to finally reach the top. The view was incredible, we could see for miles away in all directions. There was a moment of euphoria, of pride for having succeeded and reached the summit. There were butterflies chasing after each other, a nice breeze and a warm sun. After a while, we needed to contemplate the descent. Some were excited by it and some were fearful. To be honest, I’m not sure what I was feeling. I was scared of the difficulty but excited to try. It turned out to be less cardio but harder on the muscles. I enjoyed it, concentrated on the rocks and the rhythm. The angle of the mountain would go from forty five degrees to at least sixty degrees. It was a really nice experience that I will remember for the rest of my life. It might seem exaggerated to some, but for someone like me who doesn’t go out and hike this was an achievement which I am proud of and that no one can take away from me.
We started this first complete day in our new village, Makupo which we were invited to think as a second home. We met various families that shaped this welcoming community. We discovered the different occupations that can be found within a village such as farming tobacco, corn and ground nuts (peanuts) and more.
We also explored the surrounding villages. We learned that villages are based on family ties and that when villages become too big there is a section of the family branch will move further away and create a new village. We also learned about the governance system that is used to manage the villages.
We were also lucky to get the chance to visit three different schools; Chillanga Secondary School, Chilanga Primary School and Chilanga Primary School for the Visually Impaired.
We found out the even though the primary schools are funded by the government, with the goal of increasing attendance, the high schools are considered private since the students who attend are expected to pay tuition. Also, only a little portion of the population is selected to attend high school. You see, students must complete a standard examination at the end of their last year of primary school which will determine whether they graduate from primary school and upon their success on the exam different high schools will chose students to attend their facility.
The visit to the Chilanga Primary School helped me understand the reality of education in Malawi. Since the government has decided to offer primary education for free, the attendance rates have increased. The teacher to student ratio is anywhere from one teacher for seventy to a hundred students. Also, with the school being so packed with children, it has created a shortage of space for classrooms thus forcing teachers to instruct outside.
Finally, as we made our way to the Chilanga primary School for the Visually Impaired, I could hear a soft melody in the air. As we got closer, the song became stronger and stronger. We finally made our way to the school, I felt drawn in by the music. We were invited to attend the after school choir. We discovered a large group of children singing with all they had. I don’t believe that I was ready for what I witnessed. To witness all of these children who have to face so much challenge being blissfully transported by the power of song was really touching.
Over the next few days, we will continue exploring the surrounding area and the education system.
From landing in Malawi, to going through the unwelcoming customs and even while riding the caravan to get to Makupo village, the whole experience seemed unreal. I couldn’t quite grasp the reality of being a part of this exceptional project. It only hit me once we entered the village and I saw the faces of the children and woman waiting for us and singing a welcoming song. A whole delegation followed the caravan increasing in size as we entered deeper into the village. An overwhelming feeling of gratitude washed over me, to see so many people so happy to see our group was exceedingly heart warming.
At this point, my enthusiasm lifted up. It was also at this time when I realized there was no use trying to work on the curriculum; we still had too much to learn about the life of this community before being able to design a curriculum with them. With this in mind, Rebecca and I went to explore the village. We were soon escorted by a local named Fraser. He guided us through the village, introducing us to various members of the community and showing us various buildings such as the chicken coop and the tobacco drying and storage house.
An enjoyable moment that took place was when we met Enus. We had seen him at the original greeting but he had seemed somewhat shy and consequently was mostly forgotten by the crowd. I was happy to get a second chance to engage with him. He had an attention-grabbing story to share. He used to be in the police force until he had a stroke which left him in a wheelchair. My knowledge about villages being so little, at first I was concerned of what his life in the village might be like since he couldn’t access every building and is unable to contribute to the village activities. But I soon realized that that is not how the villages functions. As a matter of fact, his knowledge from the police force was put to good use. They designated him as the head of security that protects the village from other villages which might be interested in their wealth. He also talked about his new house that was built especially for him with a ramp access. I particularly enjoyed this meeting since I could see and feel the pleasure that he felt in reaction to my interest in conversing with him, even though to do so I needed Fraser’s assistance to translate.
This pretty much sums up my first day in Africa, with much more adventures to come.
I was born in rural Nova Scotia and love being Canadian, but having moved with my parents and two older sisters to a suburb of Portland, Oregon at the age of five, I also consider myself a true Oregonian. After high school I spent a year traveling with a friend around North America in a van, exploring National Parks and visiting friends and family. I then moved to Montreal, Quebec to attend McGill University. I received my first degree from McGill in 2007 with a major in Environment and Development and a minor in English Theatre. In 2009 I married my husband, Darren Reynolds in San Francisco. We now enjoy an active life in our vibrant downtown apartment with our cat. We spend our free time reading, camping, skiing, playing volleyball and picnicking in the park. Now that I am well into my second degree at McGill I find we’re busier than ever. I am beyond excited that in one year I will graduate with a degree in Kindergarten & Elementary Education and will be able to teach the following fall. I truly enjoy working with children and cannot wait to meet the diverse group of students whom I will be responsible for inspiring to love learning.
Praxis Malawi presents an incredible opportunity for me to work with peers and professors from Quebec and Malawi to develop a grade one curriculum for an alternative school being built in the Chillanga region of Kasunga. This project allows me to participate in the creation of a curriculum that incorporates local knowledge and resources into the framework of the Quebec Education Program. I am thrilled to have the chance to apply my environment & development background and my emerging understanding of education. Through collaborative efforts, I hope to identify what is most relevant to students in the local community. As a concurrent initiative is being planned to build a garden for the school, I will focus on finding ways of integrating it into the curriculum. Exploring local farming and food practices will be particularly important.
I foresee this being an incredibly challenging, yet rewarding experience. With just over a month to learn curriculum development and understand the community’s expectations and hopes for this new school, I am mentally preparing for some intense collaboration and field research. Such an extensive and evolving project requires the involvement of many knowledgeable individuals from Quebec and Malawi, both in person and online – we encourage input! I am honoured to be part of this project and am excited to witness how it progresses. I’m sure I will also have copious pictures to share of us in the town and on our travels throughout the region. Lions and travels and learning – oh my!
I am Louisa Niedermann. I am originally from the States but grew up in Montreal. I just finished my second year in Education at McGill University. I love traveling and learning about different cultures and the way others live. It has been a lifelong dream of mine to travel to Africa and I feel so grateful to have this opportunity to go to Malawi, learn, give what I can and receive in ways I can only imagine.
For my time in Malawi I am looking into the relevance of play in young children. For very young children, play is their work–how they learn to take turns, follow directions and pay attention. It is often the relief and release of physical activity that allows children to return to tasks at hand with greater ability to make the most of what is presented. Whether it be at recess, after school or during classes, I will look at if play is recognized as an important value in the learning process of young children in Malawi, and if not, how to begin to introduce the importance of play by teaching playground games and physical activities for the in-between times of academic learning and work to be done at home.
I was going to do something corny like start this piece by saying I’m a twenty one year old female that likes sad movies, romantic dinners, long walks on the beach, and puppies, and was then going to turn it around and be like “Nahhh, I’m just messing with you”. This is what I wanted to do but couldn’t think of enough corny things that I didn’t actually like. So here’s the truth, I really do like all those things, except of course the walks on the beach. I could never understand how people could tolerate the presence of sand in their shoes. I hate sand. As for the rest, I love all movies, I love going out for dinner and let’s be honest, who doesn’t love puppies? I’m a big movie fan, I especially enjoy musicals. Maybe once I warm up to everybody on the trip there might be the occasional performance of me bursting out into song and dance. Also, fair warning to all the other participants, if I say something weird, it was most likely a movie reference that I took a chance at you knowing and/or appreciating.
I’m a quiet person on the most part and it takes me time to warm up to people. I’m better in a one on one situation where it’s more give and take than in a large group discussion where everyone has something to say. I’m a listener in conversations and will only impose myself in larger group discussions if I feel the conversation will benefit greatly from my contribution. I’m more interested in what others have to say to be honest and am completely content with watching, listening, and thinking. I already know what I’m thinking, but I want to know what’s going on in everyone else’s mind. This interest in knowing what others are thinking stems from my fascination with perception. It is what got me to study psychology in CEGEP, which got me interested in child development, and then what got me thinking about education. My only reservation about being this way is the fear that people think I chose not to contribute because I either don’t care or am not intelligent enough to participate. I have a fear of being seen as unintelligent, which is actually the basis of my worries for this experience. Another way of looking at it is my hesitation for this trip stems from my worries of not succeeding by having nothing useful to contribute to the group. Though I have some fears of the educational aspect of the trip I’m not worried about the living conditions. On the most part I can adapt quite easily to my environment and/or situation. It’s this aspect of myself actually that allows me to get along well with most people.
For my individual research topic I will be looking at Natural Sciences since it is my primary educational focus at McGill University within the B.Ed kindergarten/elementary program. This topic choice worries me some since I have no idea what to expect, though this must be true for the other participants and their choices as well. I have no idea what sorts of materials they will have available or what scientific principles will be useful in their culture. What worries me also is the class sizes and finding activities for all students to be engaged in considering the lack of materials. In all I’m nervous about not being prepared for the trip but am looking forward to the challenge ahead and most of all the amazing experiences that come with living and experiencing a culture first hand.