The Experimental Farm is coming together a lot faster then I was expecting. The women arrive each day at 9am and work strenuously until noon before the sun gets too hot. I am constantly amazed at the hard work that these women engage in on a daily basis. Creating a compost pit and building a garden has been an exhilarating adventure. While I teach the women about composting and experimental farming, they teach me of the diverse ways of gardening here in Malawi. For example, because of the heat from the sun, gardeners cover their garden beds with hay so that the water is not evaporated and the garden remains moist. Also, the women have used trees as poles and tall grass to make a fence to protect it from animals. I have noticed that Malawians are very creative and innovate people; they make use of as many resources as possible. My co-learner said that we needed to purchase a hoe for the garden so that we could construct the garden beds and dig up the ground. When I was given the hoe it was just the metal part with no handle attached. Malawians search for a piece of wood to make their own handle and custom design their tools to their needs.
I am learning new techniques and skills each day that the women return to the garden, and in return I am showing them some interesting and diverse ways of experimental farming. For instance, I gathered the women around me as I took 4 toothpicks and poked the side of an avocado seed and then suspended it over a cup filled with water. The women were amazed at what I was doing, and I informed them that this is a different way of planting an avocado tree. Let’s just hope that it grows! We are also experimenting with growing tomatoes upside down. Yes, you’ve read correctly… upside down. We have placed 4 tomato plants each in a separate bucket and cut a hole at the bottom of the bucket. The rationality is that it prevents bugs from eating the plants and that no sticks are needed to support them. I think just about everyone thinks we’re a little crazy, but we are experimenting and I hope that we achieve some success.
As 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.
Just like animals, all other living things need water and care for their survival. Since I started working on the garden project, it looks like people in the community are excited as they come and help out. I was very impressed on how young people came in to help and sow the seeds. Not only did young men come but they also offered to water the garden so that it can be sustainable since it is near the borehole (well).
Then, twelve beds were made and we sowed ten different veggies that includes: Greens such as Mustard, Rape, Chinese cabbage, and a local one called “Bonogwe.” In addition, Tomatoes were decided to be in two beds so that they can have enough to harvest and also because they take up much space, Red Onions also took two different beds since people use it often. Cabbage, Pumpkin and Bush beans were also sowed. I then thought of introducing Carrots just because I was told that no one in Makupo has ever tried to plant them. In addition, not many people eat carrots as they are scarce. It was such an amazing experience since people who were volunteering were first giving ideas on how big we want the beds to be and in what direction the beds should face. However, I was surprised to see how they reached a conclusion after such a short discussion since everyone in the group had their own ideas that were different from each other. I then had a chance of introducing the “Foundation for Farming” techniques that involve mulching all the crops as the mulch will eventually decompose and form manure and thus improve soil structure.
Pumpkins after 6 days
After the sowing was done, I was impressed to see four guys willing to go and cut grass to put on top of the beds as mulch. Therefore, all the beds were mulched as seen in the picture and finally we watered the seeds. At that point, everyone in the community was curious about how the seeds would come out. We eventually waited patiently and all the seeds took three to four days to germinate. The crops finally came up and they all look healthy just because of the care and effort that was put by the people in the community. When I look at how fast the garden has been constructed, I think of the words that I was told by ‘Alinafe,’ one of the young men that was helping out. He said “Umodzi muli mphavu” which means ‘There is Power in Unity.’
I feel like it hasn’t taken much time for me to get started with the project since being introduced to my co- learner who is such an amazing person to work with. I couldn’t wait any longer after having a short discussion with the co- learner about the Demonstration Garden project.
As a matter of fact, we couldn’t wait any longer to get started with the project since the co- learner and some people in the community thought that it was such a good idea to start a garden close to the well, also known as the “Borehole”. Then, the meeting with the Chief of Makupo was arranged. The Chief was very pleased with the proposal of the project and approved it. He then went on to show us where we can actually put the garden which is just right next to the water source (Borehole). As we were deciding how big the garden should be, a few young people in the community came in and said that they were willing to help in building the fence that would surround it.
I had a lot of fun since the guys we were working with brought in some jokes and this made the construction of the fence more fun. As we were constructing the fence, we were sharing ideas on what techniques to use in order to make the garden sustainable. As a result, we decided to use different techniques and I was very happy to share all the techniques I know for making gardens including the ones I obtained from “The Foundations for Farming.” As seen in the picture, we decided to make use of the locally available resources to make the fence. It took us approximately 2 days to complete the fence.
It is such an amazing project since I am learning different skills that include communication, management and Leadership skills.
It was such a wonderful afternoon. After a long flight and 2 hour drive, some community people and all the students came outside to greet me as I arrived in the village. I was really happy to see that the people in the community are very welcoming and they showed me around. Even though I have been to Malawi before and speak their language (Chichewa), people in the community were very willing and ready to teach me some extra Chichewa words. Subsequently, as they were trying to teach me some words in Chichewa, they were very surprised to find out that I speak quite a bit of their language. However, I even learned some new words from them.
Since I arrived one week later, I felt that I had to catch up with the rest of the group. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to find out that the same evening that I arrived, the community girls were going to entertain everyone with the cultural dance called “Vimbuza.” This was helpful to me since everyone joined the girls in dancing and singing. It was such a fun evening and this made me “feel at home” as I was first told upon my arrival by the Chief of Makupo.
On the next day, I didn’t wait to get used to the new place. Rather, I thought of getting started with my project so that I could catch up with the rest of the group especially since I came one week later. So, I took a look at the soil as someone was showing me around and discovered that it is clay-sand soil. I started to think of what would be the best vegetables to grow in the “Demonstration Garden” I was going to create as my research project. I was taken to Kasungu town in the afternoon where I was shown different places and shops where some seeds and some tools for the garden could be purchased.
Considering how the first two days were and how amazing the people were as well, I couldn’t wait to get started with the project.