Tag Archives: Dale

Energy, Rhythm and Song

By Dale Perks

Let the choir sing

Let the choir sing

On Sunday I attended a Presbyterian Church service, for the second time, along with some students and a co-learner from Makupo village. Some of the differences that I observed in comparison to some of the masses that I’ve participated in Canada included the energy that was felt during this celebration, as well as the amazing harmonies that were heard by the many choirs and villagers of all ages who attended the service. I watched the movements of everyone, as individuals swayed, danced, and clapped to the colourful rhythms and upbeat tempos, which made me want to get up from my seat and dance. The people involved with Praxis Malawi know that I love to dance. However, I refrained from dancing and resorted to a mild tapping of my feet, and swaying my body, as I listened to the songs and sang, as best as I could in Chichewa  some of the songs. As a practicing Catholic, I am used to celebrating mass, which generally lasts an hour long, and to my surprised I couldn’t believe how quickly the time passed, even though the service lasted two hours and was entirely spoken in Chichewa.

Another thing that really struck me was the number of choirs that were present during this service. The choir that was nearest to us was a children’s choir, comprised of mostly children who were blind and a few with albinism, which were accompanied by two musicians, including the choir master who played a key board, and a blind man who played the bass. Many of their songs were performed with a similar structure, with either a soloist, or two singers leading the song, which was then echoed by the rest of the choir and congregation. What really impressed me was how everyone knew the songs by heart and sang with such fervour. There was a sense of active and joyous participation, which is sometimes lacking in the masses that I’ve attended back home. When you weren’t expecting it, the minister would announce the name of yet another choir, which would stand up from a different section of the church, and begin to sing in four part harmony, with everyone else joining in. A total of five choirs were present, including several secondary school choirs, and a choir made up of nuns, who appeared to be of various ages, dressed in white with their hair covered in pure white scarves. They too danced and sang with great enthusiasm, which was truly contagious. I was astonished when I found out that there are sometimes as many as 15 choirs that sing in one service in this particular church. The only time I’ve ever witnessed this amount of choirs singing during one service in Canada was during a very special celebration. Back home, there are many churches that don’t even have a single choir to sing during their masses and often the services or masses are much less energetic, with parishioners typically more passive and less expressive in relation to movement.

The most noticeable difference was related to how the woman and men sit in separate sections of the church. As well, during the collection, individuals of specific villages are called upon to give their donations. The music continues until everyone has dropped off their money in a bucket, and then the announcement is made asking for further donations.

All of the moneys are separated and immediately counted, and the amounts that are given by each village are announced publically to the entire congregation, including the amount that was given by me and the students. This was somewhat intimidating, especially since we had no idea that this was going to take place.

Other than the latter experience, it was really special to hear all of the voices, sung in harmony, and to watch everyone engage with such positive energy and with joyful movement. If only some of this enthusiasm could be transferred to some of our masses back home!


The Realization

By Dale Perks

Busy days

Embracing the moment

We have been here already 3 weeks and I have had the opportunity to listen, observe, engage, and collaborate with various individuals from this village and nearby villages. Sometimes these experiences have left me feeling happy and enriched, as well as sad, discouraged and even overwhelmed.

Previously, I thought that perhaps I would be more immune to culture shock, due to my ‘mature’ age and  my exposure to large amount of suffering from  having practiced 27 years in the field of nursing….but I I realized that I could not have been more wrong! Culture shock is something that is very real and I am not “immune”. During the first weeks I enjoyed the bliss of the honeymoon stage and bathed in all the interesting sounds and sights, and I experienced feelings of awe and joy. Regardless of some of the difficult situations that I was observing, being among the people of this village, especially the children and women, made me feel so renewed and inspired. I also found myself acting in the role of “the nurse”,  as I would be back home, and started caring for those who showed up on my door step in need. There wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t have to pull out my first aid kit, or go into my stash of over-the –counter medicines, or pull out my stethoscope, or listen to someone story about their health issues. The villagers had figured out that I was a “nurse” and suddenly I became the “go to” person” for all kinds of health issues, which ranged from cold symptoms, stomach aches, arthritis, tooth aches, swelling of the eyes, minor cuts and scrapes, blisters, and sprains. Unfortunately, my role here, is not as the acting nurse for the villagers nor the neighboring villages. I think part of my falling into this nurse role was facilitated by my eagerness to relieve suffering of those around me and instinctively providing care for others…something I do so naturally back home and without a thought, and which gives me a sense of making a difference in this world. In reflecting about all of this, and after having some discussions with Dr. Stonebanks and Dr. Sheerin, I realized that I needed to take a step back. Making a difference here is all about putting in place practices that are meaningful to the people and which are sustainable. This kind of approach is in line with Praxis Malawi, which is different to most NGO approaches, and which is an important realization. I will still continue to be “mama Dale” to the students, but as hard as it is for me to step back from the nurse role in the village, I must redirect my energy to the goals of this important project.

Another realization is that I sometimes feel that I am bouncing back and forth between various stages of culture shock, namely disintegration and reintegration, and this can be frustrating at times.  With our last road trip to Zambia,  I experienced an array of emotions. It also triggered many thoughts and comparisons between the people of Makupo, or my ‘home away from home’ and the Zambians working in Zikomo lodge. Fortunately, I am surrounded by some very bright leaders and students, and with sharing of ideas and observations, this helps to anchor me and renew my faith in our work. As an aside, the experience in Zambia was truly amazing, especially seeing all of the wild animals, including zebras, elephants, giraffes, and many others, in such close proximity and within their natural habitats.

On a final note, as a health care professional, being present in a region where there are so many health needs and competing priorities, is rather challenging. However, I try to keep in mind that every human being deserves to be treated with dignity, respect, and equality, and with this in mind I can keep moving forward, regardless of the challenges. I know the road may be rocky and not so straight, but I am not afraid to take the path. Also, working with some exceptional and creative students, along with brilliant and dedicated professors who have a clear vision, has also helped me to move forward.

I look forward to the remaining weeks, whereby our health team and co-learners will be collaborating on several health initiatives, including the distribution of village first aid kits,  providing a workshop to villagers regarding family planning and STI’s (sexually transmitted infections), facilitating the creation of an inter-village health committee, and work related to some education around disabilities and inclusion.

Furthermore, some dialogue has begun about the future health clinic, which will eventually be built within the campus, and will play an important role in providing healthcare and health promotion for villagers in the Chilanga region. I look forward to sharing all of the news about these projects to all of my family and friends back home who are also supporting Praxis Malawi at a distance. Your support is really important to all of us!


The Awakening

By Dale Perks

dale Blog 2 pic


Colourful hues of orange and coral

Dance before my sleepy eyes

Illuminating the skyline of shrubs and trees

As the sun begins to rise

Morning has broken with an orchestration

Of several cocks crowing near by

Mother earth has come to life

With the fluttering of butterflies in the sky

The air is cool and crisp

And the dew on the leaves sparkle in the light

The mist over the distant fields begins to fade

With the sun that is now shining bright

A sense of inner peacefulness

And thankfulness, I repeatedly feel

Along with serenity and oneness

That is subtle, and yet so real

The ambiance promotes self-reflection

And the searching of one’s own soul

As well as the meaning of this journey

And the elements that make it whole

For ‘simplicity’ is at your doorstep

 However, ‘complexity’ resides so near

And together they dance to a tune

That elicits both joy and fear

But brilliant vision and steadfast hope

Are the armours that are leading the way

Which help bring transformation

Along the paths that we travel each day.

My Heart has Been Warmed by the “Warm Heart of Africa”

By Dale Perks

A new experience

A new experience

Singing, dancing, chanting, and clapping….this is how the villagers of Makupo greeted us as we arrived in the village and stepped off the bus. Although we were complete strangers to each other, a certain “magic” was transforming at that very moment, with a feeling as though we’d known each other for a lifetime. As we awkwardly attempted to speak Chichewa, such as “moni” and “muli bwanji” (which is hello; how are you) the villagers reciprocated with warm hand shakes, hugs, and smiles. It’s hard to put these feelings into words, but perhaps it could be humbly described as “heart-warming.”

Despite all of the preparation that occurred before departing on this trip, I do not think one could ever be fully prepared for the cacophony of sights, sounds and emotions that one experiences in such a place. It’s been a struggle for me about deciding on what to write in this blog, as I have had so many enriching experiences already. So, instead of recounting every event, I’ve decided to focus on writing about some of the feelings that I’ve experienced in relation to some of the special moments in hope that it will give others a sense of this amazing project and the incredible journey I am on, thus far.

One of the prominent feelings I have felt so far has been joy, which has been elicited at varying moments, such as when I’ve woken up to the sounds of the women singing as they go about doing their chores; when I’ve watched children playing soccer and interacting with the students; when I’ve gazed at the beautiful sunsets and sunrises in the African sky; when I’ve observed the interesting insects that wander about including the varieties of spiders, praying mantis and colourful butterflies;  and when we participated in a large community meeting with neighboring villages whereby the senior village chief spoke to all the leaders, welcomed us and expressed his enthusiasm and support for the Praxis Malawi project. It brought tears to my eyes to see the expressions on the faces of the men and woman who listened so attentively and expressed a desire to collaborate as a community with all of us in our goal of moving forward with all of the various projects.

Perhaps the strongest feeling that I have experienced so far has been a sense that my heart has been “warmed” by the people of Malawi. For example, during one of the visits to a neighboring school, I was overwhelmed by the reception we received. I must say, being surrounded by hundreds of children all at once, who wanted to hold my hands, touch my white skin and give me hugs, was exceptionally heart-warming. I will particularly cherish the moments when I danced and sang with some of the children from a secondary school. Another exceptional moment was when we climbed Mount Kasungu, which was quite a challenge. As we finally reached the top of the mountain we gathered in celebration by joining hands with some of the villagers that had guided us up the mountain and we did a group “high five”. There was no distinction of color or race….just feelings of unity and warmth. Another special moment that stands out in my mind is when we visited the district hospital in Kasungu. At one point during the village I stopped to say hello to a woman who was bedridden on one of the wards. We held hands and when I asked her how she was feeling, she smiled looking deeply in my eyes and replied with a hopeful expression “ I am trying to be well.”

I have also experienced feelings of uncertainty and fear at various points since we’ve first arrived in Makupo. For example, the first time I encountered  a “sausage bug” in the house I’m staying in, I was a little startled. Luckily Professor Stonebanks came to my rescue, explained how these insects are harmless and he gently scooped it up in his hands and released it the wild. I’ve since become an expert at catching and releasing these critters that seem to make their way into my house in the evening. I also had a close encounter with a six inch worm-like creature (it was actually a millipede) that was hiding behind the wipes that I reached for in the outhouse.  It scared the ‘begeegees’ out of me! I ran out of the outhouse in a panic and went looking for Dr. Stonebanks. Thankfully it turned out to be the harmless type, unlike its distant relative which apparently has fangs and bites. I mustered up the courage to hold it in my hands and then set it free. Most recently, I discovered a spider spinning a web between two posts outside my house. At first it was thought to be a harmless spider despite it’s scary looking legs, but it was later confirmed by the Chief that in fact it was a poisonous spider and had and had to be killed. Another scary moment for me was during one evening, shortly after we arrived in the village, when I was walking from my house to the student lodge in the pitch dark. Unfortunately,I took the wrong path and realized I had no clue where I was. At the very moment I was feeling stressed one of the security guards who figured out that I was going the wrong way escorted me to the lodge.

Finally, I’ve also experienced feelings of intrigue in relation to the many new things I have witnessed and experienced. For example, it was interesting to eat goat and nsima for the first time, as well as bathe (and wash my hair) with a simple bucket of water in an outside bath house. I’ve been intrigued by how the village woman cook over a fire and make the most delicious meals and how they carry water in buckets on their heads without ever spilling a drop, and how bricks are made with water and sand and laid out in the sun to dry.

It’s been an interesting and wonderful experience so far, and I hope to continue to share with all of you some of my experiences, as we move forward with this brilliant project and continue on this very special journey.


Introducing the 2014 Group: Champlain College

Dale Perks

Dale Perks

My name is Dale Perks and I am a nursing teacher at Champlain College, St Lambert, Quebec.

My professional background is in nursing. I am a nurse clinician with an expertise in wound care, having completed the IIWCC with the University of Toronto.

After 27 years in practice, with the last 14 as “nurse in-charge” of the Surgery Clinic at the Montreal General hospital, part of the McGill University Health Center, I recently took a sabbatical to teach nursing at the college level.

I have dreamed of working in a missionary, or doing humanitarian work since the age of 15, but as fate would have it, I met the love of my life at 18, married and had 2 lovely daughters, which put my dream on hold. I learned of this project through my youngest daughter, Amanda, who recently graduated from Education at McGill University. I am glad to be on board and I am happy to be able to fulfill my childhood dream!

Along with various students and other members from Ireland and Canada, I will be working on the health initiative/health clinic for the next 5 weeks.

I look forward to sharing my journey and experiences with all of you, and would like to express my gratitude for everyone’s support and prayers.