How does Malawi’s past affect our present identity?
This was the title of our first unit that we completed today. The unit theme was “Malawi” and focused on past/present, and identity as our concepts. We found this was a great way to be introduced to our co-learners. We were able to ask them questions about Malawi and they had some great ideas of lessons and subjects we should add.
We had an Education Boot camp back in April and we chose the final two units for the grade 2 curriculum that were started on last year’s Praxis Malawi trip. We decided the two units should be water and discussing how important water is and then finish the grade 2 year with a unit called Malawi.
We thought Malawi would be a great way to end the year as some of the activities would be based on prior knowledge from previous units that year. The final project would allow students to answer the question of: “What does being a Malawian mean to you?” Students would then be able to answer this in a multitude of different ways.
I am enjoying working with everyone here and I am really using what we have learned at Bishop’s in real life situations. Getting to use Lynn Erikson’s curriculum building model for creating units using themes and concepts and then trying to put them into practice here in Malawi is exciting! What a unique experience.
We arrived back in Makupo today after a luxurious three days in Zambia at Zikomo Lodge and Safari. It was a beautiful stay; full of adventure on safari tours, laughter during evenings all together, and relaxation by the pool and in our suites. The safaris themselves were more than anything what made it worth our time. Seeing so many animals in their natural habitat while here in Africa was something I had not previously thought of as important, but it was absolutely exhilarating (the laughter-fit we all shared together on our dusk safari didn’t hurt either).
I have to admit, though, that I found it difficult at times to allow myself to feel content in Zambia. Even right upon arrival I felt myself very uneasy. We were greeted by the full staff of the lodge with cold drinks and moist hand towels, the owner insisting on her staff bringing our bags for us over to our rooms. It was incredibly jarring to suddenly be the epitome of a tourist, treated so very lavishly, completely separated from most all ‘real life’ either in Zambia or in Malawi. I have been trying to make sure I never allow myself to feel that way otherwise while here in Sub-Saharan Africa, wanting to (as much as is possible) understand the way that most people live their daily lives. Nonetheless, I pushed myself to enjoy the pause from my work and life in the community. I must note, however, that through that experience I was able to reflect upon the fact that we are not living as most people do even while in Makupo: we have a nice big space to work and eat in, cozy beds with bug nets to sleep in at night, meals cooked for us, laundry done for us, water brought to us, and more. These perks are not things that most people even in Makupo experience in their lives (and Makupo is a wealthier village than most, thanks to the money that comes in through Praxis Malawi). The truth is I will not be experiencing first-hand what it’s like to not have white-privilege while on this journey.
Overall, Zambia turned out to be an immensely introspective time; away from Makupo I was able to continue my planning for the play, and just generally contemplate and discuss my progress here. While I certainly went through culture shock upon arrival – going right away into disintegration phase (Stonebanks, 2013) – I feel that my emotional reaction turned out to be a facilitator in allowing me to rid myself of hidden oversights by bringing them to the surface.
It feels nice to be back in Makupo; it really has become a home away from home. As per usual, we were greeted by at least a dozen excited children. For the next several hours I played with them. As a teacher-in-training whenever I spend time with any children here in Malawi it occurs to me how difficult it is to communicate with them without a common language. Even simple things like, “gentler” are nearly impossible to convey to them (I got quite a few very intense high-fives today). Of course, to counter this, it is also incredible how easy it is to get by without much speech in other instances.
The debate between English and Chichewa is quite complex here, generally. English is the official language of the country, as it was colonized by Britain; however, the majority of the people in the villages speak very little English themselves. This is also in consideration amongst us in the Education team, as we want the children to get as much as they can in their learning, though there is a balance at play. If the children do not understand English well, or are not taught by an expert, they will struggle both in English Language Arts and in the other subjects that are taught in their second language. To counter this, the children should be provided with the opportunity to learn English well if it is seen as important in keeping up with the development of the rest of the world. It’s quite the debate, and a difficult issue to consider as we continue to work on curriculum. As it is right now, we have left it up to the discretion of the teacher. Hopefully more light will be shed on this issue in future years through other Praxis Malawi members.
For now, I am off to another busy day of work. We have Standard Two education units to complete, and I have a play to script. Tionana bwino.
Stonebanks, C. D. (2013). Cultural competence, culture shock and the praxis of experiential learning. In Lyle, E. & Knowles, G. (Ed.). Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide: Pedagogical Enactment for Socially Just Education. Nova Scotia: Backalong Books.
We have now been in Africa for over three weeks. So much has happened and I have found it hard to stay on top of everything because of the stream of emotions that are constantly pouring out of everyone. We were extremely fortunate to have a meeting where we sat down with all of the Chiefs from the surrounding villages. There were 31 chiefs in total. This means that there are 31 villages that will hopefully be involved in the workings of the campus. Here we discussed our projects that are happening within Praxis Malawi and how we as students from Canada will be putting everything we have into creating a site where everyone will be included and able to benefit from; whether it is the school, health clinic, experimental farming, chicken co-op or the sports field. The main conversation was about the importance of us working together in order to be successful. The Chiefs were very open and willing to discuss their feelings towards the projects as well as the contributions they are willing to give to help with the building of the campus. As the meeting was coming to an end, we set a meeting for every Monday at one o’clock. At this time, the members of the community can come and chat with us and ask any questions they may have about the campus. As we were walking back to Makupo village, the conversations were strong and hopeful with regards to the attendance for the following meeting.
After a very successful meeting, our education group has gotten together over the last couple of days. We have created an outline of how we will be dividing the units. We have gotten to know our co-learners, Francis and Maxwell. They have both been extremely helpful with the organization of the units. We have done our best to make sure that they will work with the different seasons in Malawi. So far we have almost completed five unit outlines. Although we are making great progress on the curriculum development, we have run into a few difficulties. I find myself up at night thinking about how we are supposed to come up with a curriculum for a school where we have seen that even though there was a Standard One curriculum developed, it was not possible to put it into action yet. After talking to the other members of Praxis Malawi I am slowly starting to recognize the importance of our work here, whether we see it or not. It all comes down to the bigger picture of making sure that the communities get involved in the project and helping them understand what the future has to offer, like this curriculum.
When we pulled up to the house we now call home in Makupo village, we were greeted by all the members of the community who were waiting outside of the hostel singing and clapping with the biggest smiles on their faces. It was a strange feeling as everyone hugged us and asked our names. I’m still not quite sure what the emotion was but it was definitely overwhelming. This feeling stuck with me for the rest of the night but when I woke up to the sound of the women’s voices in the kitchen, singing and laughing, I couldn’t help but smile. I have never been an early riser but the sound of their voices made me excited for the adventures the day would bring. I now spend most of my mornings journaling and creating a checklist of what needs to be accomplished that day. As I hear others starting to wander into the common room, I leave the warmth of my sleeping bag to join them all for breakfast and coffee and start the day.
Today, Themba, one of the co-learners, gave us a language lesson. I am still having some difficulties with the pronunciation. In regards to this, all the kids find it hilarious when I speak with them in Chichewa, but they are the best motivation as I want to be able to communicate with them.
When we visited the campus, it was nothing like I had expected; it was better. The land has been untouched except for two buildings: the Standard One (Grade 1) classroom and the teacher’s house, both a work in progress. When I first walked into the classroom, even with the unfinished floor, I started to imagine all the ways the classroom could be set up. As we walked back from the campus, a wave of excitement poured out of me and I couldn’t wait to start working on the Standard Two curriculum.
Over the past few days, I have gotten to know the members of the community. Getting to know the village members of Makupo has given me a better understanding of their needs and hopes for the future of Praxis Malawi. This is helpful to us in developing curriculum for the Standard Two classroom as we are better able to understand the importance of subjects and skills that can help lead to a healthy and successful life style.
The second grade curriculum was in full swing today! It was the first time the four of us (2 Education students from McGill: Lia & Kimberley, 2 Education students from Bishop’s: Clare & I… Go Gaiters Go!!!) actually sat down together since our curriculum “Bootcamp” at Bishop’s with Melanie and Dr. Stonebanks the weekend before our departure. Here in Malawi, we have the opportunity to work with two men from the village. This not only allows us to assure our ideas and activities are culturally relevant, but also that we keep the people here involved in the entire process. One of the Malawian’s we are working with very closely is named Francis and the other is Maxwell. Francis was also a part of the development of the grade 1 curriculum last May 2013. As for Maxwell, he recently graduated from teacher’s college. Between the six of us, in one day, we managed to get close to two full Units done, excluding the process of editing. The first hour or so of work was the toughest. We were all trying to figure out the best way to go about the whole process, but eventually ideas started to bounce off each other more naturally and the ball eventually started to roll much more smoothly.We had already worked to together back home, like I mentioned earlier, however I still really enjoyed the process as well as being surrounded by the people and children that can benefit from our work directly.
In a week hopefully, we will be emerged even deeper in the environment by working directly in the soon to be finished Grade 1 classroom building, which was unfortunately supposed to have been finished on time for the students to have started school September 2013, though neither the classroom nor the teacher house were entirely constructed. Therefore, the aim is to have students coming to our school at least for Grade 1 if not even Grade 2, all depending on our work and the construction by Fall September 2014. In the meantime, we will continue our efforts to create the finest and culturally significant Grade 2 curriculum using local resources. In addition, we are working hard at integrating the locally defined problem areas of existing schools, being: creativity, entrepreneurship and critical thinking which we will keep in mind during the entire process of curriculum development. Lastly and most importantly, as our ultimate goal, we will work to better the future of the children!