Tag Archives: Kimberly

Livingstonia: History Matters

By Kimberly Gregory (McGill)

A view from the top

A view from the top

Leaving Makupo to go to Livingstonia was strange because I felt like I was entering a different world. As we were on the bus driving there, we started seeing streetlights, stop signs, and buildings. These were all things that I had not seen in a while. It made me realize how remote Makupo village really is. Despite this, the poverty in Livingstonia was still as prominent. On our way there, many of us needed to use the washroom, and therefore, we stopped at someone’s home. These people lived in little huts made of straw and mud. Their bathroom was a big hole deep within the ground. When you looked into it, you saw millions of larvae at the bottom. My selfish self was so disgusted by this, that I preferred going to the bathroom behind the bush. I was navel-gazing because I was only thinking about myself in this situation. However, now that I reflect upon this experience, I realize that this is a daily reality for the people who live there. I didn’t even want to use the bathroom there once and yet they must do so every day. How can life be so unfair? Also, in order to make their shower and bathroom a little bit more private, it was surrounded by straw. Nonetheless, you could see through the straw so it begs the question, what is the point? I guess they do what they can with the resources that they have. It must be difficult to live when you are lacking even the most basic of needs: shelter. I cannot imagine how they use these facilities during the rainy season.

When we finally arrived at the Lukwe Lodge in Livingstonia, I had many mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was amazed by the view we had on the landscape; it was absolutely breathtaking. In front of us, there were these enormous curved shaped mountains. These mountains were covered with big beautiful trees. They looked like pine trees – it was reminiscent of Canada. It was truly one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever scene. As I was sitting on a swing overlooking this scenery an intense feeling of curiosity was aroused inside of me. I wondered: What is in there? What creatures live in those mountains that seemed so far away? What would it be like if I was walking through that forest? What details would I notice? I wondered all these things as I was watching the sunset. The sky had layers of purple, orange and pink. It was surreal. I would show you all a picture but no picture could truly capture the beauty that was in front of me.

The reason I stated that I had mixed feelings is because as much as I was amazed by this landscape, I also had an immense feeling of guilt. I was sitting on a swing, with a nice cold drink, overlooking this fantastic view and my biggest decision of the day was whether I would eat a sirloin steak or T-bone for supper. All of this, when only a few kilometers away, I knew that people were struggling with real issues like having proper shelter, famine, AIDS and the list goes on (Caplan, 2008). The Lukwe Lodge was incredible. I know that I appreciated my experience there even more because of what I had seen in these past few weeks. Nonetheless, the incalculable feeling of guilt stayed with me all throughout my stay in Livingstonia.

The next day we walked to the town of Livingstonia. This gave us the opportunity to get an even better view of the landscape as well as, see how developed the town was compared to other areas in Livingstonia. It took us about 1 hour to climb uphill to where the town was located. Once we arrived at the top of the mountain we saw a University, a museum, a church, among the structures that were there. They were all very beautiful. It made me question: How was all of this built? Who carried all of the bricks up this relatively steep hill? The answer was obvious but it took me a while to realize what it was. My colleague had picked up a pamphlet that was advertising the attractions to visit when arriving to the town. As I was reading it and discussing with him, it dawned upon me that the place we were visiting was built by slaves. However, nowhere in this pamphlet did they mention the harsh reality of slave labor. Why else would people carry tons and tons of bricks to the top of this hill? As I questioned this, I also imagined the amount of violence that must have been involved in this inhumane process. I felt nauseated by this thought.

Furthermore, in this pamphlet, the Scottish missionaries had claimed to have “contributed greatly to the development of Livingstonia” which is true. However, it made me question whether or not they were complicit in the oppression that took place towards the African people at this time. I questioned this because to this day, we see the repercussions that cultural imperialism has had on the African people. Meanwhile, many countries have benefited and developed enormously because of this kind of tyrannical behavior towards them.

As I searched for answers, I realized that what was missing in this picture was the truth. The true history of this town was buried. As Gerald Caplan had stated, “history matters”. I think that this is especially true when considering this situation. It is easy to be ignorant, especially when the truth is not explicit. However, people need to know these realities in order to better understand the subsequent evolution of Africa. Too many people have filled the lives of the African people with sufferance and coercion and this has helped to place them in the catastrophic situation that they are in today. History must be uncovered in order to fully grasp the realities of our world.

Caplan, G. (2008). The betrayal of Africa. Toronto: Berkeley.

Skin Colour: Defining or Not?

By Kimberly Gregory (McGill)

Visiting schools in Malawi

Visiting schools in Malawi

Today I woke up very early to the sound of roosters, goats, and barking dogs, which is something that has essentially become a normality. The first time I woke up to this, I thought it was one of those alarm clocks that makes weird animal noises. Now, the noises just make me feel at home. I had a lot of energy this morning, so I decided that I would go outside and work out a little bit. One of the Malawian children was looking at me while I was working out. I was unsure how to ask him to join along so instead I smiled awkwardly. Afterwards, a few more children came along and they started imitating me. My individual workout turned into a gymnastics lesson as more and more children started joining me. I showed them how to do cartwheels and handstands. Seeing them laughing and enjoying themselves brought me so much joy. It was a wonderful way to start the day.

After this, we all went to visit some schools. The first one was an elementary school. As our bus pulled into the school’s driveway the children started running after it. There must have been over 700 students outside, waiting impatiently for us to get off the bus. To be honest, it was quite intimidating. I wanted to say hello to all of them but there were too many. I started giving them high fives but there were too many hands. Instead, I high fived as many children as I could. It was similar to what a pop star would do at a concert when their fans are reaching out, hoping to have some sort of physical contact with this person who in their eyes they consider to be so special. A deep feeling of confusion invaded me as this was going on. I questioned, “all this because of my skin colour?” In Canada, it is very multicultural thus, differences in nationalities is not something that infatuates people. In Malawi, there are not a lot of white people, therefore they are truly amazed when they see a white person. Nonetheless, it makes me uncomfortable to think that I am being treated this way because of something as superficial as skin colour. Perhaps this is just because in Canada we are taught that skin colour doesn’t define you and by this, I do not mean to say that discrimination does not exist. Discrimination does exist in Canada, even though most people don’t like to admit it.

On another note, the visits to the schools were a little bit deceiving for the education students. Many of the teachers did not seem to agree with our ideas for constructing the grade 2 curriculum. They said that many components were missing in the grade 1 curriculum, which is essentially the foundation for the grade 2 curriculum. It was quite discouraging. Perhaps, we did not explain our project properly and it was simply a misunderstanding. Nonetheless, we felt as though many of them didn’t want the help that we were willing to provide. They kept saying, over and over again, “we need some desks” as if they just wanted us to give them money. I guess this is just because when white people usually visit schools, they simply give them money and leave. However, the Praxis Malawi mission is not to give people desks. Desks can be useful in the short term however, after a period of time they become very used and/or broken and they need to be replaced. Praxis Malawi wants to create long-term benefits. For instance, by teaching people how to make desks.

Nonetheless, the visits to these schools were very educational and I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to visit them. I learned a lot about the Malawian education system. For example, I learned that elementary students usually start school at 6 years of age. I also learned that the community is in charge of supplying the porridge for the students to eat. Unfortunately, it happens quite often that they do not supply it, therefore students do not eat all day until they go back home for supper. I was really astonished and saddened by this fact. It is essential for students to eat in order for them to be able to concentrate and learn. I think that before we spend more time working on the curriculum we need to ensure that the students at the school that we are constructing are going to have porridge supplied to them everyday without exceptions.

A few more interesting facts about the Malawian education system: boys and girls have separate classes at the elementary level. A standard is a grade. There are approximately 80 students per class. In Canada, the classes are much smaller and they generally do not have more than 30 students per class. Moreover, at the schools we visited there were often equal amounts of male teachers as women teachers. Despite this fact, it is apparent that it is a very patriarchal society. During the meetings with the school staff, the men were the only ones talking. If a woman did try to talk, she was most likely interrupted by a man. I must admit that when something like this occurred, I was boiling inside as it is not something that I’m used to seeing in Canada. Furthermore, many schools have uniforms, however they are not reinforced so if a child cannot afford to buy a uniform he or she can go to school without it.

All in all, I was pleased to have visited these schools as they have given me insight that will surely help me in developing a curriculum that is appropriate for the Malawian people. It was really interesting to see how the Malawian education system differs from our education system in Canada. I continue to realize how fortunate I am to live in such a wealthy part of the world. Meeting the children at these schools and seeing the environment in which they learn has definitely given me even more motivation to create a curriculum that will better the lives of the Malawian people.

Climbing Mount Kasungu: Challenging but Worth It

By Kimberly Gregory

A view from above

A view from above

On Sunday we climbed Mount Kasungu. This was a very challenging experience. I usually consider myself as being someone who is pretty in shape therefore I figured that it would be a fairly easy activity however, I was wrong. We started by walking approximately 5km to get to Mount Kasungu. As we were walking towards it, I was thinking to myself “wow, that mountain is looking bigger and bigger every minute”. I was panicking a little bit but I thought to myself, “if everyone else can do it, so can I”. Once we arrived in front of Mount Kasungu we got introduced to our theme song for the trip, “Personality”. We danced and laughed; this surely calmed me down, temporarily at least. Then we started climbing.

The first 10 minutes were not so bad but then it started getting steeper and steeper.  After about 20 minutes of intense climbing, I needed to sit down to take a break. I felt dizzy and out of breath. I was very thankful that I was with a very caring group of people who were more than willing to take breaks once in a while and who were also very encouraging. To be honest, I think that this is what kept me going because it would be a lie to say that there wasn’t a few times when I thought, “maybe I should just go back down”.

This activity was not only challenging physically but also mentally. Every step I took, I watched where I put my feet to make sure that I was not stepping on any bugs or even worse, poisonous spiders or snakes. I would also take a few seconds to choose which rock I would step on and to determine whether or not it was stable enough to support my weight. I came extremely close to slipping and falling down many times. The only thing that saved me was being able to grasp on to the sturdy branches around me, as I was about to hit the ground. For these reasons, I would say that it was as much a physical workout as a mental one. (I thought that the way back down from the mountain would be easier however, it was also quite challenging. Luckily, one of the Malawian people held my hand for the steeper parts, which prevented me from falling.)

The view from the top of the mountain was absolutely breath taking. It made all the hard work worth it. I was happy that we had the opportunity to stay up there and enjoy the view for about a half an hour. We took many pictures, shared snacks, screamed and danced. All in all, it was a lot of fun. I even got the opportunity to see a family of monkeys. They were absolutely adorable and even though I have seen monkeys in real life before, it never seizes to amaze me to see them in their natural habitat.

I felt very accomplished when I finally arrived at the bottom of the mountain. Now, as we walk past Mount Kusungu everyday, I tell myself with pride, “I climbed that mountain”.

Why You Need to Experience Something in Order to Fully Understand It

By Kimberly Gregory (McGill University)

On our way

On our way

I arrived in Malawi yesterday. We traveled over 24 hours to get here but the group of students and teachers that are part of the Praxis Malawi team this year are so friendly and interesting to talk to that it went by very quickly. I have traveled a lot in the past but this was my first time experiencing a culture that was so drastically different from my own. I had read a lot about the Malawian culture before coming here, however experiencing it first hand was completely different. For instance, I had read that the people in Malawi were very kind nonetheless; I think that this is an understatement or that it is simply that you cannot fully understand the extent of their kindness until you experience it. When we first arrived in the village of Makupo, all the members of the community were there to greet us. They had the biggest and most genuine smiles on their faces. They were clapping and singing. Also, every time we would introduce ourselves to someone they would give us big hugs as though we had known them for a very long time. It was truly heart warming. Over the past few days, I have gotten to know the members of the community even better and it has given me an even deeper desire to help them in any way that I can. Getting to know the people from Makupo better, also gave me the chance to better understand their needs, which is vital in order to develop a curriculum that is appropriate to them.

On Saturday, the day after we arrived, we walked to the town and people kept screaming “azungu“ to us. We had just completed a Chichewa lesson (the language spoken here) with Themba and I did not recognize the word “azungu“ as one of the words that we had learned. Thus, I asked one of the people from Makupo what it meant and he replied, “white people”. I was a little disturbed by this, however what disturbed me the most was that when we were walking along the road, people were acting like we were celebrities. The Malawian people were running up to us and waving at us with such excitement and fascination. Part of their culture is to wave at people when they pass by but this was different. I felt troubled inside of me because I knew that I had not done anything to deserve this kind of attention. Also, in our society people who are minorities are usually the oppressed thus, it was weird for me to come into a new culture as a minority and have so much power and influence.

When we finally arrived back at the hostel that night, I took my first bath and by bath I mean a bucket of water. When Grace handed me the bucket of water I thought to myself, “how am I going to be able to wash my whole body with so little water”. At that time, I had not realized how selfish this thought was. I was complaining about what I now consider to be, a sufficient amount of water to wash with, while “80% of Africans have no access to running water” (Caplan, p. 43, 2008).  I grabbed my headlamp since it was dark outside and made my way to the bathroom. I inspected the bathroom for critters and then started contemplating which method I would use to wash myself in order to make sure I did not run out of water. I concluded that head to toe would probably be the best option. I struggled a little bit. I got massive amounts of shampoo in my eyes because I never wanted to keep them closed for an extended period of time in case an unwanted friend would decide to join me (i.e., snakes, spiders, mosquitoes, cockroaches etc.). To my surprise, when I was finished my shower I not only had quite a bit of water left over but I also felt clean.

This experience made me realize how fortunate we are in Canada to have an abundant amount of clean water. Looking back, it devastates me to think about the number of times I wasted large quantities of water without putting any thought into it. We take for granted this resource that we have which in the end, is essential to life. It is one thing to read about the lack of water in many parts of the world, but experiencing it is the best way to fully grasp the extent of the problem. I wish that more people from Canada could experience it because I think it would be the best way to raise awareness.

 

 

 

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.