Tag Archives: Introduction

Introducing the 2014 Group: Bishop’s University

Emily Parker

Emily Parker

Hello everyone! My name is Emily Parker and I am currently enrolled in the Elementary Education program at Bishop’s University. I just finished my second year in the program. I am someone that cannot stay in one place. I love to travel, meet new people and be active! My favourite sports are rugby and soccer, as well as skiing in the winter time. Some of my other hobbies include: cooking and baking; consequently I love reading as many different kinds of vegetarian, vegan and raw cookbooks as possible; seeing how I am a vegetarian! I have a big family composed of my mother, older brother, step-dad, two step-sisters and one step-brother (I am the youngest). You could say I’m one lucky girl!

My expectations in Malawi are not to have any too specifically, because I hope to take the entire experience day by day and live it to the fullest! However, I look forward to developing the Grade 2 curriculum with the 3 other education girls. We already got the chance to work together a little bit and it went very well; we fed off each other’s ideas wonderfully. That is why I am so eager to continue on this project with them in Malawi. I also look forward to developing my secondary research focus which is to create and incorporate a realistic nutrition component into our curriculum based on their local farming resources. All in all, I want this experience to be all about learning and sharing knowledge not only with the others on the trip, but with the locals of the area. Let’s be honest; I’M EXCITED!

 

Xiaoting Sun

Xiaoting Sun

Hey, everybody. My name is Xiaoting Sun. I am a 23 year old international student of Bishop’s University. I am from south of China—Guilin, which is a very famous tourist site in China. This is my second year in Canada and my major is economics. This summer I also teach some students Chinese. I am kind of an outgoing girl. I love traveling as through travel we can see a lot of things which we cannot imagine, and learn something which we cannot find in the textbook. You will have a fresh look to this world and also the people who is beside you. I like watching movie and after watching I like talking about the plot with my friends. I like dancing, work-out, shopping with friends, and beautiful clothes like all the girls like.

The focus of my research is about understand how a micro-loan project can help the local people change their economic situation and improve their quality of life. Moreover, what kind of financial help they really need. I am just excited and nervous about it as after tomorrow our fantastic adventure will begin!!! Hoping the people and animals like us.

 

Megan Blair

Megan Blair

My name is Megan Blair and I will be going into my second year at Bishop’s University in International Studies. I am someone who is relatively outgoing and I enjoy being around people just as much as I enjoy my alone time. I am a very active person and sports have always been an important part of my life. My favorite sports consist of soccer and snowboarding. I have a passion and a desire to travel. I have not been all over the world but traveling the world is definitely on my to-do list. I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel to Haiti four times (on humanitarian trips) since the earthquake in 2010. That is where I discovered my passion for helping others and contributing to something bigger than myself. One of my favourite parts of going to Haiti is meeting the people and getting the chance to talk to them. I really enjoy making a difference in people’s lives and I feel like Praxis Malawi will offer me so much more than a simple Humanitarian trip. People have told me that you can’t go to a country expecting to change the lives of millions of people. But what I have learnt is that to the few people whose lives I may have touched, it matters to them.

Praxis Malawi will help me to grow as a person and as a student. It will be challenging and I expect it will change me in so many ways. I hope to embrace this amazing opportunity to learn from others – those traveling with the group and the people we will meet in Malawi. I am hoping that this opportunity as well as the chance to interact with people from such diversified backgrounds will open my eyes to different programs of study that may be of interest to me. As well, I am hoping to discover a little more about myself. I am hoping this trip will allow me to see my own full potential and what I can accomplish.

 

Clare Radford

Clare Radford

My name is Clare Radford and I am currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts in Educational Studies at Bishop’s. I am in the program for Primary/ Elementary. I am from Ottawa Ontario and come from a big family of six. I am the second oldest out of four kids. I have an older sister, a younger brother and a little sister and my mother and father. My family means everything to me. They have been an amazing support system helping me achieve my dreams and I owe them an infinite amount of thanks.

I love meeting new people and being active. I have played hockey for most of my life along with many other sports and activities such as kickboxing, karate, rugby, swimming and water skiing.

My expectations in Malawi are simple. I hope to take every day and make the most of it. I am very excited about becoming as involved as possible in the program that has been planned for those of us on this project. As well, I look forward to being a student of the Malawian people and learning from the land itself. I am sure that this journey will also lead me to learn a great deal about myself as a Canadian and of course as just a person too.  I look forward to developing the Grade 2 curriculum with the other educations students. Recently, we worked together to develop some of our ideas for the Grade Two curriculum. This experience was very productive and positive.  I am also really looking forward in developing my secondary research focus of gaining a better understanding of how the educators of the Malawian schools as well as members of the surrounding communities may use the sports field that will be built on our campus. I am sure that this journey will be a real adventure of learning and I am very grateful that I will have this opportunity to visit Malawi with the Praxis Malawi program.

 

Ryan Moyer

Ryan Moyer

I’m a full-time sociologist (in training), writer and reader as well as a part-time runner, painter, poet, basketball player, music producer and boxer. I enjoy informed conversation. My favorite colour is forest green. I have a spectacularly weird family, a lot of stories that would make my mother faint and a keen eye for adventure. I was creatively named Ryan Moyer by my parents in 1989. “Ryan” was the thirteenth most popular baby name that year and apparently means “little prince” or “young royalty”. Considering neither of these descriptors are viable, I wonder why this name was chosen for me to scribble on my rent cheques?

Juliet begs the question of “What’s in a name?” as her intellect, heart and reason (no doubt fueled by a rush of rebellion and teenage hormones) come into conflict with her families traditonal knowledge and hatred for another family. If you don’t dabble in classic theater, I’m sure many of you may have seen the 1996 version of “Romeo and Juliet” (probably for the sex appeal alone, as it is featuring the equaly beautiful Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes) where Shakespeare’s answer to the question can be summed up with a romantic “not much”. Conversely in “Anne of Green Gables” the protagonist states that a rose wouldn’t smell as nice if it was called “skunk-cabbage” and, continuing their streak of stealing material, “The Simpsons” claimed a rose wouldn’t smell as sweet if it was called a “Stenchblossom”.

Both of these answers hold a certain amount of truth and prove valuable lessons, not the least of which being that great artists steal. Shakespeares answer of course asserts that all things akin are that way regardless of categorization, stratification or, of course, name. The second is that regardless of this likeness, language and social stratification do wield power, but, only if you don’t take the time to stop and smell the roses. Are you curious enough? I’m trying.

Umberto Eco wrote an essay aptly titled “A Rose by Any Other Name” in which he describes the dangers of translating literature from one language to another, most noteably that there can be misconceptions and misrepresentations that occur during this translation. These misrepresentations can occur in the translation of culture as well. Formerly colonized subjects (Malawi gained independance in 1964) are homogonized and, as Franz Fanon writes, “over-determined from without”. With that, I am no longer willing to accept this type of informational artifice, hense this trip to Malawi.

What does the name “Africa” represent in my mind, and more so, what does the categorization of Africa as a “developing” continent mean? Most of my knowledge on Africa, prior to the preparation for this venture and some cursory analysis’ for papers, has been provided through Western film and broadcasting corporations. Moving images of death, guns, disease and, as the 1995 film “Congo” so terribly portrayed, deadly animals. The continent seemed so uncivilized and dangerous, with no explanation as to why it was in such despair and poverty. Why am I repeatedly being told such a superficial story?

So, to conclude, I depart in order to tell my own.

Introducing the 2014 Group: McGill University

Kimberly Gregory

Kimberly Gregory

My name is Kimberly Gregory and I am 22 years old. I am currently doing my Bachelor in Kindergarten and Elementary Education at McGill University. I have lived on the south shore of Montreal all my life, in a small town called St-Lambert. I come from a family of 5, which includes my mother, father, sister, brother and myself. My family means the world to me. I do not know what I would do without them. They have given me the love, strength and courage that I believe one needs in order to want to embark on a journey like this.

I was a high level gymnast for 13 years. At the age of 15, I was on track for the 2008 Olympics. My early retirement due to an injury, has led me to become a cheerleader for McGill University, which is a sport that I have become very passionate about. Engaging in these sports has taught me that with hard work you can accomplish anything; a quality that I think will helpful during this journey in Malawi.

In 2008, I was fortunate enough to travel to South Africa as well as, Zimbabwe. It was the most memorable voyage of my life. The natural beauty and wildlife that surrounds this part of the world is breathtaking. On the other hand, the extreme poverty that entrenches some of the areas I visited made my voyage very eye opening. I knew that extreme poverty like this existed however, I never realized the scale of the problem before seeing it first hand. Since then, I have always wanted to participate in a humanitarian aid endeavor. Thus, when I heard about Praxis Malawi I jumped on the opportunity right away.

During my journey in Malawi, my main expectation is to learn. I expect to learn from the experience itself, as this will be my first time living and working with people whose way of life is so drastically different from my own. More specifically, I expect there to be a constant exchange of knowledge and ideas between my colleagues, the Malawian people and myself. I believe this exchange will give me a deeper understanding of the Malawian culture. I also expect that this dialogue will bring me new knowledge that I will later be able to use in my own classroom. Lastly, I expect to see life from a new and perhaps clearer lens when I come back from this journey.

 

Lia Grant

Lia Grant

My name is Lia Grant and I am a second-year Education student at McGill University. My experience previous to working towards becoming a teacher was in acting. From the age of 16, I studied Professional Theatre Acting at John Abbott College because I was so deeply in love with the theatre and its possibilities. Those three years of learning were momentous in pushing me to find myself as an individual, as I was always expected to keep trying new things and constantly asked to break down my own barriers. After this time, I decided to venture into teaching because I wanted to work with children; hopefully helping to inspire that same love of learning I was able to find in myself.

With this all in mind, my goals in Malawi are twofold: to work in developing rich curriculum for children in the Malawian community for the school that is in the process of being built; and, to work towards a theatre-based performance-piece with some of the children in the community.

Though it certainly seems at times a terribly daunting journey to be heading upon – not knowing exactly what to expect – I am truly thrilled to be a part of Praxis Malawi this year. I recently came across this quotation by Martin Luther King, Jr.:“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase”. I think that this statement describes how I feel about Praxis Malawi: I don’t yet quite know what to expect of the time ahead, but I know I am on my way to an incredible experience – during which I will surely grow both as a teacher and as a person.

I climbed Mount Kasungu!

By Barbara Hunting

Azalea bush in Makupo Village

Azalea bush in Makupo Village

Why is this exciting?  Well, first let me give you a little bit of background about myself…My professional responsibility as an educator is to be a gardener of life experience; conversation, walking, talking and collaborative learning are significant forms of dialectical learning. I am a proud member of Praxis Malawi, believing that social justice and developing praxis (connecting practice and theory into ‘doing’) are part of knowledge creation.  My teaching in Gender Equity Studies has led me to explore HIV/AIDS Awareness through creating alliances and building social agency in a classroom/community collaboration model of Participatory Action Research (PAR).  In 2011, I became a PhD Candidate at McGill University in the Department of Integrated Studies in Education.  I have been traveling to Malawi as part of the Praxis Malawi team with undergrad students for four years now and the last two years have laid the groundwork for my doctoral studies of encouraging co-construction of a health policy initiative.  I am a visual sociologist/educator who uses the technique of photovoice (picture taking & interpretation) to express personal narratives about everyday life in rural Malawi. Experiential Learning is a valuable stepping stone that encourages students to develop field research skills while examining knowledge transfer within multiple frameworks.

I am not your typical doctoral student. I have come to my education later in life and have combined experiential learning, and bringing two populations of people together (youth and seniors) to dialogue about their health concerns surrounding HIV and AIDS.  I also enjoy working with undergraduate students to encourage them to enter the research field.

I have some significant mentors who have been instrumental in helping me figure out my learning trajectory.  Therefore it is not unusual that I would do the same for the students who travel and research here in Malawi each year.

Now that you know a little more about me…back to the mountain experience. I attempted to climb Mount Kasungu on a previous trip and only made it one third of the way.  The view was magnificent but I was not able to surpass my mental and physical challenges; the altitude is a challenge from a breathing standpoint. So, this year, June 1st, 2013 I and ten students as well as many people from the rural village where we are staying, climbed Mount Kasungu.  There is a plateau where we ate lunch; whole wheat bread, lovely sweet bananas (nothing like them at home in Quebec) and peanut butter. A bit more water and a bit of a rest and up we all went to the final summit where the view was/is fabulous!!  I will leave you there at the summit only to say that it was worth the four hour trek…and yes, I brought up the rear with the Chief of the village.  So Google Mount Kasungu and check out Malawi!

Praxis Malawi: Where it All Began

By Dr. Christopher Darius Stonebanks

“(S)ome may think that to affirm dialogue – the encounter of women and men in the world in order to transform the world – is naively and subjectively idealistic. There is nothing, however, more real or concrete than people in the world and with the world, than humans with other humans”

(Freire, c2005, p. 129)

Praxis Malawi 2010

Praxis Malawi 2010

Praxis Malawi began with that simple student belief – that collaborative efforts between Canadian university students and community members of Malawi would result in mutual learning and positive, tangible outcomes. A simple statement, but one that has proven to be very difficult to enact. Apart from specific philosophical foundations, like a Freirian model, experiential learning itself seems like a simple enough endeavour as well. The recipe reads: Take three parts foreign context, two parts challenging content, one part motivated learner and mix thoroughly. Add words like “emancipation”, “social justice” and “transformative nature of education” to taste. After an extended period in the field, the learner will have developed a rich and new understanding of the context, plus will have discovered cooperative solutions for thought-provoking subject matter. … Unfortunately, after five years of extended stays in the field, the recipe does not always produce cookie cutter results. Each year, we challenge our students to engage in research over a five to six week period that requires them to consider their academic discipline(s) in relation to local needs as indicated by community members. They are required to live in a rural Malawian village, with all too common conditions of no running water or electricity, which is quite typical for Malawi and for many foreign-based experiential learning projects or study abroad options. The residence arrangements have nothing to do with a “living like a native” experience, rather reflect our commitment to stimulate local economies and the overwhelming realities of day to day life in this region. Moreover, I think we are at the point in cross border endeavours where most of us understand the absurdity of the idea that “living like the locals” is in itself a form of tourism. Years ago I remember overhearing an American woman in Mexico asking a tour guide if he knew of an excursion that would allow her to, as she put it, “not do the typical tourist stuff, but to really be with the people, you know?”. The tour guide nodded his head in agreement and promptly told her, “Yes, that’s possible. But it will cost you an extra $50”.  Are there elements of our experiential learning that lends itself to tourist like activities? Absolutely. Still, keep in mind that even academics and activists going to a conference on Marxist theory in Greece (for example), will go see the Acropolis and buy perhaps a Coke. However, In comparison to any kind of tourist endeavour, our experience is messy, it’s a struggle and it’s a long term commitment. It’s certainly a lived experience and not for those who can’t accept that their work is a part of the process, built upon those who have preceded them and those who will follow.

So, how did we get to this point? How did we get here? The truncated story began about six years ago when the Principal of my university invited a group of us to his home to discuss the opportunity for experiential learning in Tanzania. An unfunded endeavour, I was a free agent to inspect the proposed location in Tanzania and come to an uninfluenced conclusion and had the luxury to even compare countries, and I did. A colleague of mine, when he heard I was considering Tanzania, offered to drive me through Tanzania and Malawi, if I agreed to give the location he was working with a fair chance for a possible experiential learning opportunities. Landing in Malawi, we drove up and down this tiny land locked sub-Saharan country and north into southern Tanzania. After about a month and a half, the decision was clear. Although Tanzania’s projects were worthy, Malawi’s needs were clearly greater. Malawi also had many elements to it that would facilitate a five to seven week experiential learning project. Namely, for better or for worse, English was the language of instruction and commerce, and would therefore reduce students’ barriers for carrying out research. And, another important reason, Malawi truly lives up to its reputation as “the warm heart of Africa”.

I am often asked, why Malawi for an experiential learning project? Although my father was born and raised in North Africa, I have no romanticized connections with Africa in any way. The land does not speak to me in a way that it apparently does to others. I was playfully warned by others who had worked on various not-for-profits, volunteer or NGOs that once Africa got under your skin, you always longed to return. I have to admit, my only motivation to commit to Malawi is on a human level. The geography, the weather, all of that is beautiful, but the mystical connection that many talk about is lost on me. It’s the human connection that is the drive of this project and the need is painfully clear. It’s the human connection that, in the end, captures the transformative hopes of both the Canadian students and the local people with which they collaboratively work. Again, it is by no means a recipe like project. It’s messy and, often, it can be emotionally painful. But the students are committed (especially the pre-service teachers) and we have seen some of them, like Kristy, David and Sophie, return to Malawi to continue their work.  I speculate that they don’t return for scenery, rather it’s the relationships that they began that is their ultimate motivator. After all, as Freire states, “There is nothing, however, more real or concrete than people in the world and with the world, than humans with other humans”.

In my next blog post, I will continue with the dangers of romanticizing the study abroad experience.

Musings from Malawi

By Dr. Christopher Darius Stonebanks

Christopher and Cyrus Stonebanks Malawi 2012

Christopher and Cyrus Stonebanks Malawi 2012

It needs to be clearly noted that my first blog post was rejected by the editor of this little part of the LEARN website. The editor said it was too negative and that people who visited the website were not interested in my clever comments about how the Blog forum has become a wasteland of meaningless opinion. No one wanted to read about how the internet was supposed to facilitate voice for the otherwise voiceless, but has instead become yet another medium overwhelmed by the privileged. Reminiscent of Michael Apple’s observations on how the personal narrative, at one time a qualitative method with the expectation of providing a forum to the otherwise marginalized, became more of a “well, enough about you … let me tell you about me”, Blogs have also become a land of what we have already heard. The editor said that my witty observations on why the movie “Julie and Julia” made me nauseous, (not for the Meryl Streep part of the movie, she was magical!), but for the blogging half … blech …

In any case, I was not allowed to write any of those things, and that’s probably a good thing. On the one hand, it’s hard not to constantly be overwhelmed with marginalization when you are in Malawi. As a people, it’s something that the vast majority are completely aware of; their global ranking as one of the poorest countries in the world is a fact obvious to all you meet.  On the other hand, for those of us in education, we are also accustomed to the kinds of professional and institutional marginalization we face by so many who consider what we do to be somehow lesser and not a true profession; something anyone can be an expert at or do with the knowledge of their own experience and that of their children attending schools. Combine these two factors and you have the Malawian teacher who must struggle with his/her own crippling poverty while so many outside of the profession impose standards and structures that, truth be told, have not provided that much hope for its people to escape its moribund situation. Who better then, to seek solutions than those within the same field of study? Who better to help a teacher than another educator? What better place to have that dialogue of change, than within a community of professional pedagogues?

So, I am glad Melanie…I mean “the editor”…didn’t publish my original blog post. Phew! I dodged the bullet of regret!!

I am sure that if you are on the LEARN website you have already started reading the blogs of the exceptional students who have joined us this year. Students participating in Praxis Malawi do so with an open heart and often at great personal expense. As you read through their posts, I know you will appreciate the task they are undertaking while at the same time struggling with all that comes with culture shock. They are really, really a great bunch.

On a closing note, I must mention that our educational efforts in Malawi are supported by an extraordinary group of people outside of the traditional definition of “teachers”. These people are truly our allies in the struggle for a pedagogy of hope (thank you Freire). Without their contributions, this project would never have started or have the promising possibility of completion.  In my next blog posting, I will give a bit of the background story on how Praxis Malawi got started. It’s exciting stuff… probably bound to be a Hollywood blockbuster and there are rumours Julia Childs will be playing me.