By Shayla Baumeler (Mount Allison)
The warm heart has truly exceeded my expectations. All of my preconceptions of the country have either been confirmed or denied in the most positive way possible. When we arrived at Makupo village, the children greeted us on the street and ran alongside our bus until we parked in front of the building which we would be calling home for the next five weeks. The villagers gathered around our bus as we all offloaded. The children danced and the local women sang in Chichewa, the vernacular language of Malawi. The locals acknowledged us one by one with the phrase “Muli Bwanji,” meaning “how are you”. I attempted to respond in their language, but inevitably struggled. Even so, I was graciously accepted. At the risk of sounding cliché, it was an unforgettable experience.
Within the past few days, I have seen immense progress in every capacity. Our Praxis Malawi team began as a number of individuals, but now resembles a family. Our research projects have developed in a similar manner; we originated with personal goals, but we are now working as a cohesive unit, using collaboration as a method to maximize impact. An important factor of the Praxis Malawi initiative is the use of co-learners. These are individuals in Makupo Village and the surrounding communities that are interested in one of the realms that are being pursued, and wish to contribute to the development of that component. This premise emphasizes the importance of a reciprocal relationship, with ‘teaching’ and ‘learning’ occurring between all participating parties.
Yesterday, we had the opportunity to gather with our designated co-learners. Dale and I met with Grace and Lonjezo, both of which are Makupo villagers, and commenced our research on the condition of local health. We spent hours discussing a variety of prominent local health needs including Malaria, Diarrhea, Coughing, Parasites and Malnutrition, just to name a few. Near the end of our conversation, we touched on a few sensitive topics, the last of which was rape. We were told that rape of women is suspected to be a very common occurrence in this region, yet it is rarely reported. A recent case, reported on the radio, consisted of a six-month-old baby girl being raped by an older relative of her family. In any context, this kind of action is unacceptable, but I found myself extremely alarmed by the news of this six-month-old girl. This was not out of ignorance; instead, it was because of my observations of the Malawian people. I respect the nature of the relationships that I have witnessed while on the ground. There is genuine devotion to family and siblings. There is immense support between neighbors and community members. There is hospitality beyond belief. There are many qualities of the local Malawian society, which I truly admire, but this story, among others, has emphasized the need for modifications of the current system.
With this in mind, I think that my time in Malawi will prove to not only enhance the development of the Chilanga region, but also my own knowledge and hopefully the communities that I return to in Canada. The concept of a co-learner has never been so clear. Malawians have much to learn from Canadians, but the opposite may be even truer. No one person is ever perfect and the same goes for countries, regions and communities. Whether we care to admit it or not, we all have something to learn from one another and there is always room for growth.