Tag Archives: Jae

Just Another Perfect Day

By Jae Oh

Making breakfast mandazi

Making breakfast mandazi

I open my eyes with the sounds of roosters and distant church bells letting me know it is 6 am. I stretch a little inside the warmth of my sleeping bag and take a peek at the daylight coming through a window. ‘Another exciting day is about to start!’ I struggle with the bug net as I get down from my bed and step out though a creaking door. Only some dim sunlight fills in the hostel but that is enough for me to start reminiscing about yesterday in my journal. One of the kitchen ladies brings in hot water bottles for tea or coffee, fresh fruit which are mostly bananas, and hot steaming mandazi, local donuts, for breakfast. The smell of fresh brewed tea and sweet bread wakes people up one by one and soon the breakfast table is bursting with conversations about last night’s dreams or plans for the days to come. A typical morning in Makupo Village begins.

Hard at work

Hard at work

The curriculum development crew, eight passionate Canadian university students with Francis, Thomas, the new teacher at the new school, and a prospective high school teacher, Cynthia, get together from 9 to 4 at our working room in Chilanga High School. There, we gather our brains to build unit plans for a grade one curriculum merging with the Quebec Education Program to suit the culture and needs of the local people. The new school site has been decided and foundations are already set in place encouraging us to catch up. At first, the task in front of us seemed so big and impossible to finish in time; however, once the crew got into the rhythm, the momentum started to build. Two weeks went by like a flash and we are already looking into editing and finalizing what we have accomplished. We separate into smaller groups and work on several units at a time and share ideas and suggestions when problems arise as a big crew. Any ideas and parts I overlook, others will lend helping hands and vice versa; we became the real example of entrepreneurship, creativity, and critical thinking that we aim to portray through the new curriculum.

Mouthwatering nsima and sides dishes

Mouthwatering nsima and sides dishes

After a hard day’s work comes a delicious meal. For lunch or dinner, either rice or nsima is served with various side dishes, such as beans, green mustard leaves, peas, cabbages, eggs, goat or beef meat, and the new addition, soya pieces fried in tomato, onion, and curry base. Some are similar to Korean cuisine, but much greasier, which is understandable considering meat is not a part of the daily food for many locals and they need an alternative source of fat. I helped out in the kitchen a few times, making mandazi or cutting vegetables and the ladies are always glad to have extra hands and stories to share. The only rule is to never touch rice because it has been a problem where people occasionally find rocks breaking their teeth.

De-stressing is another important part of the day to get replenished and energized for the work ahead. After dinner, people gather around the sofa, checking up on each other and sharing light conversations and jokes. Some break away from the group to have a relaxing time on their own, by writing journals and blogs, reading books, or listening to music. Once in a while, we get to reconnect with the outside world through internet and phone calls. Whenever I receive calls or emails from the beloved ones, my heart warms up the way it never did and I appreciate the memories we share. Funny thing is that I’m describing a typical day but for three weeks, not a single day went by the same as other days. Each day has been a special day. One night, we all danced around a bonfire and built closer ties with the Makupo villagers. By a lucky chance, we had a rainy day which is very rare during this dry season. It looked more like mist than rain but the sudden weather change and drop of temperature reminded us that it was, in fact, winter in Africa. When the day comes to an end with the moon rising among millions of starts, another perfect night in Malawi starts with wishes of good night and snuggling back into the sleeping bag, drifting off into adventurous dreams. Usiku Wabwino! Good night!

Worst Trip Ever!

By Jae Oh

Ever blue-green Lake Malawi

Ever blue-green Lake Malawi

What a terrible weekend trip it was! The horror started on Friday morning at 5 am as the whole crew got ready to set off for Monkey Bay, Cape Maclear. Still half asleep, I made a last minute check-up to make sure I didn’t forget anything. We left our home, Makupo Village, as roosters sang for the morning sun to rise. Bumpy road and rising sun shining into my eyes didn’t help with my attempt to catch up on some missing sleep. Excitement and anxiousness didn’t help much either. With eyes wide open, I looked upon the ruddy orange sky which seemed to me, foreshadowing the future of our trip.

In about 2 hours we arrived at Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi. It was a big and much populated city, full of people from different countries all over the world, moving in every direction and creating chaos. It was weird to see so many azungu, foreigners. All of a sudden, culture shock and homesick hit me hard without any warning. So when we stopped at the Lilongwe Mall, we filled up our emptiness by munching down on food that we are familiar with, like savory eggs with toasts and sweet cookie desserts. My creamy yogurt, which I even dreamed about, made it a little better.

Throughout the rest of the drive, I kept on trying to take a nap. Yet, the view over the chain of valleys with small villages sprouting here and there like a scenic painting on a postcard, kept my eyes and attention busy the whole time. If only I lived on top of a mountain and had baobab trees in the backyard for my pet goats and monkeys, I would have no trouble taking a rest. Overly excited and tired, we finally arrived at a lodge named Fat Monkey, and finally ate like fat monkeys too. Even then I couldn’t relax because I had to clean out my entire bag from a leaked shampoo. Plus, our room was five meters away from Lake Malawi and day and night, sound of waves and reflection of the sun on water would coax me to jump in at all times.

The next day, Isaac, Hastings, and Jason, our tour guides, drove their boat, Shanana, over the clear ever blue-green emerald lake water and lead us to an island nearby. There, we snorkeled in refreshingly cool water full of all imaginable colored cichlids along with invisible full-of-joy parasites. When we finally got tired of disturbing the fish, lunch was ready. It was local fish, Chomba and Kampango, so fresh, they never got to touch the ground as they practically went from the lake straight to our plate. Jason kept on barbequing more and I had to eat them all clean down to bones because I wouldn’t let my favorite dish go to waste. I’m pretty sure I gained more than 2 pounds just from gnawing on the fish that lunch.

Battery draining scenary

Battery draining scenery

Even technology wouldn’t cooperate with me to create unforgettable memories. Light shows put on in the sky every sundown, changing from baby blue to yellow-orange to velvety red and finally to pitch black would drain the battery out of my camera. One night, Jason put on a tam-tam show as we sat around a warm bonfire on the sandy beach. Looking around, I couldn’t tell from the sky to water; flickering lamps on night fishing boats over the horizon was the only clue to my guess. The lake waves would keep the beat for the drums and Jason’s voice would wake the bats to dance around us among the stars. This once-in-a-life-time moment couldn’t be captured for my camera had given up a long time ago.

Finally, the event that had been foreshadowing over us the whole time happened on our way back home. Tired from sight-seeing and shopping, we decided to leave before lunch to drive while there was the light of the day. However, as life is, our bus broke down in the middle of nowhere with a bag full of bananas as the only source of food. Napping, reading, and group bonding, we spent 6 hours in the bus waiting for a mechanic to arrive with a rescue bus. Lying on the broken down bus seat looking up at the starry night sky would have been more romantic if there hadn’t been annoying blood-hungry mosquitoes flying around my ears. The worst part is that when the rescue bus arrived to finally bring an end to the dreadful trip, I secretly wished upon the stars that all of this would happen all over again!

Pangono Pangono

By Jae Oh

Standard One Classroom

Standard One Classroom

A new week started and as I was getting used to spiders and frogs jumping on my feet at night, the curriculum development project is finally on the roll, too. The group figured we would need a very detailed advanced work plan to find out about Malawi curriculum and school system. We first started by interviewing local people who live around the new school site about their opinions on the current education system and their perspectives on education. I have to admit I was not expecting to find such an array of opinions. Questioning headmasters and teachers of all the primary schools around the area helped us acquire a clearer idea about Malawi curriculum and possible directions for our project to take.

With helps from Francis, our local co-learner, we were able to interview a wide spectrum of people. Their point of views on education differed from person to person, according to their needs. People at a low economic status, who worry about their day-to-day survival, see education as a chance for their children to finally get out of the vicious cycle of struggling and allow them to live fully. People who are better off seek to fulfill their secondary need such as freedom and moral standards. On the other hand, some couldn’t care less about education for it simply hasn’t touched their daily life yet. I find this is also the case in Canada and everywhere else in the world. Education seems to serve multiple purposes for each community, family and person. I realized that our job is trying our best to embrace all their needs as we weave the new curriculum with the people of Malawi.

The education system of Malawi is surprisingly more or less the same as the one in Canada. The Ministry of Education comes up with a big guiding picture for the schools and teachers to work it into individual weekly and daily lesson plans. Teachers talk to each other and share ideas and lesson plans every morning which greatly benefits not only the teachers but also their students’ transition from one class to another and one standard (grade) to the next. While observing standard one classes, what struck me the most was that the teachers were so comfortable applying different strategies like grouping and still perfectly managed their enormous class of about 70 students. The cultural aspect of respecting elders definitely plays a role, but the teachers also seemed to be well trained. Yet, the limited resources and materials restricted the number of different teaching methods and approaches the teachers could use to reach different types of learners in the lessons.

Kapiri Primary School

Kapiri Primary School

Excited as we are, we still have many questions to be answered and much work to be done. Putting ideas into practice and creating curriculum from scratch with a community whose culture and needs are not fully familiar to us is promising to be a full bag of challenges. However, the end will result in a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, once-in-a-lifetime-memories and tolerance to poisonous insects and heart-stopping creatures. For now, we are getting there pangono pangono (little by little).

Beginning of a New and Old Journey

By Jae Oh

Makupo Village

Heading to Makupo Village

On May 29th, with 9 other enthusiastic and spirited prospective teachers, I arrived at Lilongwe, Malawi. I set my foot on Africa for the fourth time, surrounded by warm welcomes just like the weather. For a few hours, I lived in my old memories as an 11-year-old girl wandering in small alley ways along the Nile River and the pyramids, an 18-year-old safari adventurer sweating on Mountain Kilimanjaro, and a 20 year-old intern teacher working at a local kindergarten near Nairobi, and finally returning back to a 23 year-old myself researching in The Warm Heart of Africa. Everything seemed new and old; I felt like I finally came back home after a long break.

Living up to their reputation, people in Malawi, especially the residents of Makupo Village are not shy to show their warmth of heart. No matter how many people they meet, they would greet each individual person and shake hands one-by-one, with gentle and kind smiles on their faces. This is never an exception even when I was being unintentionally rude by not knowing how to greet them back in Chichewa, the local language. Every time, they would patiently remind me and be happy that I was trying. Each village is like a one big family, where one finds joy in helping another and shame in pushing their responsibility to others.  These friendly, hardworking people are the real jewel I found in Malawi.

As it has been for millions of years, Mother Nature is the source of everything to the people, even the faraway travelers, from tasty meals to nightmares at night. Sand, sky and trees become friends as well as teachers to children and coworkers to adults in the farms. And even though I thought I knew what to expect and felt prepared, I couldn’t fully appreciate all I received. Among all the extra giant, fast and scary looking insects, I got a nightmare about a big flat venomous spider which welcomed me on the first day. Yet, brushing teeth under starry night sky never gets old. Each day, I get more used to the Malawian routine of waking up at 6 am and going to bed at sundown. I have indeed started to appreciate little things in my old and new life.

Soon the group will start working toward the goal of developing curriculum for first grade students. I’m less anxious than before because all the group will be working together, gathering knowledge and skills. My personal focus is developing science curriculum and making comparisons with the Quebec Education Program, Kenya Education Program and Malawi Education Program in hope to benefit not one but all. For now, my goal this week is to get over my nervousness and culture shock so that I will be ready to spend some valuable time for me and the future generation.

Tionana bwino! See you soon!

Introducing the 2013 Group: McGill University Grads

Amy Simpson

Amy Simpson

My name is Amy Simpson. I have recently completed my Bachelor in Elementary Education at McGill University. I moved to Montreal seven years ago from a town called Rawdon. I think that growing up in such a small town, fueled my need to get out and see the rest of the world. My love of learning as well as seeing the best and worst in teachers is what drove me into the educational sector. I was always compelled to find a way to make education and learning as fun as possible. My dream as a teacher is that one day students will look forward with anticipation to go to school and learn.

I have traveled within Canada, either by plane, bus or hitch-hiking and I have made it across this great country numerous times. My travels have also taken me into the United States as well as Australia. Although all these wonderful places have a unique culture of their own with so much to offer, going to Malawi is on a whole new scale. I have never immersed myself within a culture where the language and way of life is so different from my own. At the same time, this is what excites me the most.

As for my expectations, without having ever been in a similar situation it is hard to imagine what to expect. What I do hope to get out of this trip is an exchange of ideas and knowledge. I hope to be able to teach and share what I have learned over the years and to come back with new insights and having learned something new which I will then be able to bring into my own classroom in the future.

I have a variety of focuses in mind for this experience. My first is to have a wonderful time and get to know the people and the culture. Secondly comes the educational aspect, and it is not to demean it’s importance by putting it in second place, but I think that it can not be fulfilled without the first. I will be taking part in the curriculum development project. My primary focus is integrating transdisciplinary education and inquiry based learning into the curriculum. Then as a secondary focus, I will be looking into the different teaching strategies. For reasons of resource availability, student and teacher ratios as well as cultural differences I am sure there will be differences in teaching styles/strategies from what I have seen so far.

And in the words of my father, who taught for over 30 years, which he wrote on the first page of my travel journal, ”The world is yours to discover. To be a good teacher you must have the ”gift”. You have the ”gift” and now you must begin to share this gift. Safe Travels.” And this is what I intend on doing with my time in Malawi.

 

Jae pic

Jae Oh

I am a 23-year-old adventurous student who loves traveling around the world. I also have many interests: baking, doll collecting, planting and teaching. I have always wanted to be a teacher and am pursuing the dream at McGill University. I love many things such as good music and food, a comfortable sofa, fantasy novels and my dear old cat; however, once in a while, I leave my comfort and my beloveds behind to try, see, feel, taste, smell, hear, and learn to make new beloved things. So far I have been to more than 10 countries over 4 continents and from each trip I learned about myself and the world around me. Then I realized another joy of traveling; sharing. Sharing my experiences is not only about passing on my knowledge but I, in return, learn from other opinions and knowledge.

Consequently, as I traveled around the world, I paid close attention each country’s early childhood education system, especially in Canada, South Korea, and Kenya. These experiences helped me broaden my view and learn from their advantages and disadvantages. Using this experience and knowledge, I want to study Malawi’s elementary school curriculum. I will focus especially on the science curriculum, incorporating more readily available or easily accessible teaching materials and various hands-on approaches to the subject. I hope my research doesn’t end only in Malawi but will take me to other places as well where I can help students to see a bigger world through better lenses. I hope, through this blog, I get to share what I gained from this trip along with your help on the way.

 

Corinne Marcoux

Corinne Marcoux

Nice to meet you! This being my first blog entry in the Praxis Malawi adventure, it would be the least in terms of politeness and logic to present myself. With all due respect, I will however try not to do so. The reasons for trying to adopt the “non-bio” approach here are quite simple, and I hope you appreciate them: 1) No matter what I will try to say, it is often said that it’s the writing itself that shows the real personality of an author. So I suggest that we get to know each other throughout the weeks, through our written exchange of ideas and experiences. 2) I am pretty sure that many points I would make here will either be slightly altered or even obsolete after our time in Malawi. At least, I hope I will learn and change.

But whoever says change also says starting point, which can be summarized in something like this: Corinne Marcoux. 22. Student at McGill University and transitioning into becoming a real elementary school teacher next year. Francophone speaking but also English, and hopefully some Chichewa too by the end of this adventure. Born in LaTuque, Quebec and lives in the world. Former gymnast. Passionate of outdoor activities, travel and discoveries. Lifelong learner. Dreamer. It will be interesting to see what I have done when we come back from Malawi; will I be able to add “curriculum development assistant” or something around those lines?

Is it too simplistic to have that my only expectation for the Praxis Malawi project that to learn? I am more than excited to be part of a very dynamic and generous team working on the development of a curriculum for an alternative school. I will always do my very best to coordinate the project’s various areas of work into a coherent product respectful of the local expectations. This means to communicate as much as possible with the team, both inside and outside of Malawi—so please remind me if I ever miss to do so! What I really want is to keep an open mind and learn both from the experience and from Malawi.

Let’s jump into it! And learn from each other.

Zikomo, Corinne