Tag Archives: Kirsten

Back At It Again

By Kirsten Dobler

Comfort in a sunset

Comfort in a sunset

I’ve been attempting to catch and ponder my thoughts and feelings over the last two days. There are many ways to feel when you return to a place like Chilanga, Malawi.

I feel comfort in the familiarity of my surroundings: the faces and names that stuck in my mind, the children that call me Kiri (kee-ree) or Kristina, the groups of children that follow us to the football (soccer) pitch or follow and join us as we walk down the roads.

I feel unease when asking myself what I can contribute to the lives of those who live here. Even asking that question — am I so filled with the idea of being a ‘white savior’ that I must enact my knowledge onto the people I encounter? What does it mean to help people who aren’t asking, but expecting (in a sense) for us to help? It’s a double-edged sword because we are told by western society that we need to help and it is imprinted into colonial history for them to expect it. Have we ever given countries that we label Third World the opportunity to discover and develop on their own? Sure the ‘colonial powers’ aren’t ruling anymore, but their legacy is strong. Who cares if people act the same as us or work the same as us? If everyone is healthy and respected should that not be enough? Is it sensible for us to believe that we know what’s best?

I am filled with hope that all of my questions can be reached through communication and dialogue. If we’re going to succeed, we need to allow our community to mutually prosper. Of course we are going to help in all the ways that are of means, but we need to learn first. Our community must be sustainable in our relationships, practices, and goals.

I am frustrated at the people who have become a part of the project that chose to abandon the hard work they put in. Everyone cares about the project in Malawi, but what happens when they return to the West? Is it out of sight out of mind? I deeply worry that it sets an example for our community here. When people come and create things without local investment the projects are lost. One of the successes from the past year is the chicken coop. I believe that it’s because of the positive relationship that Amber has with the Women’s Group. If we can create relationships and autonomy then we can become sustainable.

In the next five weeks we will be looking towards many things we have on campus.

In the eleven months I was away from Malawi in the past year it was not always easy to envision myself back here. It was often difficult to think about my contribution on the ground. When you are absorbed into the fast paced reality of your life at home it’s difficult to think externally. As of this moment I am hoping and striving to create the relationships needed to mutually grow in knowledge and passion for the success of this, of our, TPM community.

In Memory of Toni

By Kirsten Dobler (Bishop’s)

Flooding the field when Muongo scored

Flooding the field when Muongo scored

June 11, 2015

Shortly before I left to come to Malawi we lost Toni Marciniak. I have tried to describe who Toni was to me in many ways but each way seems too short. Toni was a brilliant football (soccer) coach, hollering at us from the sidelines to get on our bikes, ensuring us of our abilities on the sidelines, and encouraging us in times of doubt. Rage was more than just a soccer team that played on the weekends. We travelled together, we warmed up in sync, and we played with a connection that I have not experienced on a football team since. Our success, even though we were so young at the time, had a large part in the ways that Toni, and Erros, coached us. As a player that definitely developed after the first season I can completely attest to the unconditional support that Toni gave me, and my love of the game. Toni’s presence in my life stretched past the field; as a father to three awesome people (sometimes I even thought that Chase had some Toni aspects) and a counselor at school that I know would always be available for a chat, but he came the most alive on the football pitch. It was here that we shared some amazing wins and some very, very tough losses. At the end of the day Rage is a part of my life that I will always look back on and smile, many parts in thanks to Toni.

I have been in Malawi for two weeks now and I have been thinking about Toni a lot this week. At the beginning of the week Marten began a week of football matches, so I have been watching a lot of football. Each day I think a little while longer about Toni and about football. As I stood on the sidelines today I began to think about football and the ways that it brings together communities. It is especially visible in Kasungu, the area that we are in, because each team brings with them their community. Men young and old line the sidelines with their arms folded as they watch the U20 players fight for village pride. Children are dancing on the sidelines waiting for a goal to be scored so they can run onto the field and celebrate. A sense of community that I have witnessed in no other location has come to life in a way that celebrates whole communities. I know that in Canada this is something that we might feel more when we are watching hockey, but I can’t help but imagine Toni standing on the sidelines here, watching the lads.

I have come to the realization of the importance of football in the world. Football is a language that translates into all languages. The objectives and the rules are universal, while the spirit is infectious. Sports are so critical in communities and they create bonds between members and the community. Every night our Campus field comes to life as people crowd the sidelines. Every night I smile when I think of how excited and proud Toni would be for me being here and to know that football is such an important element. On the very last game that we played as Rage, Toni gathered us together and asked us if we knew what carpe diem meant. Of course we were fifteen, so we didn’t know, and I remember how pinnacle it was for me. This was the closest that we came to provincials and as we circled around Toni and he expressed to us (in a very Robin Williams circa Dead Poets Society) that this was an opportunity for us to live in the moment. I have never played as hard as I did in that game. I remember so clearly so much of the game, most particularly when Julie scored the first goal and it was the first glimpse of our future as a team. Of course we all know of the tears that were shed at the end of that game, but carpe diem stayed.

There are many moments when I am running for student government at Bishop’s or deciding which European country that I am going to visit while au pairing in Italy that I think carpe diem. I am very sad that I was not able to come home to give Hills, Kate and Jord big hugs, but I know that the rest of the community was there. However I know that Toni would be proud and probably would love to hear about the influence of football, even in small villages of Malawi, Africa. I have recently began thanking my parents for raising me with the confidence to go all the places that I have gone, but I have many other people that I should also be thanking. Toni shared with us so much of himself, leaving everything that he shared with us to live on, both on and off the football pitch. Toni shaped us football girls with his leadership, his passion, and his belief in all of us. For that I am forever grateful. RIP Toni.

Things That You Can Live Without, But You Still Miss

By Kirsten Dobler (Bishop’s)

missJune 11, 2015

Over the past week and a half I have been thinking about the things that I took for granted at home. I’ve compiled a list with the help of some others to express a couple things that I would be able to live without, but still pop into my mind every once in a while.


  1. Porcelain: I recently had a little bout of food poisoning (don’t worry mum, I am very okay now) and there were many hours that I wished to feel the smooth cool of a familiar toilet as I lived through cement and a plastic seat. An honor mention to this is flushing. This flushing is in opposition to the general abyss that is our compost toilet.
  2. Tap Water: The drinking water is definitely sufficient, but I have actually dreamt about drinking tap water and never feeling satisfied. There’s something about sticking my head under the faucet that gives me fond memories.
  3. Clean feet: No matter how hard I try there is always red dirt on my feet. Even when I’m wearing socks. I have even given up on dumping out my shoes too often.
  4. Couches: I have this thing where I just love couches. We have a lot of common space, and we totally do not need a couch, but the inner potato in me would love to lounge and make lesson plans. I have discovered that if you push some of our table chairs together you can get a couch like feel, while napping under the table. This is not favorable when people want to be productive at the table.
  5. Useful Junk: It’s so often that we are told ‘one man’s junk is another man’s treasure’, but there isn’t even scraps that are up for grabs. Materials aren’t always in abundance so it gives our term ‘resourceful’ a different meaning.
  6. Google: We have it so lucky. I now understand why people bought encyclopedias.
  7. Blissful Ignorance: This one travels with anyone who has been exposed to any sort of difficult knowledge. Once naïve thoughts are so easily crushed as we face the challenges of self-expansion and worldly understanding. Every day we are challenged with many new things, and ultimately we will grow and prosper.

To Plan and to Search

By Kirsten Dobler (Bishop’s)

The sun sets early at the hostel

The sun sets early at the hostel

June 10, 2015

I have had a realization that has led me into many hours of contemplation. I am going to attempt to deconstruct it in this blog post. After many years of blissful ignorance I entered a course and the reality that I am living in a way that has taken away the soft glow that I once believed there to be around the world. Not that I don’t see this in the Western world, because I know it’s there. It’s just that there it is easier to see things as an outsider. This glow that I saw (metaphorically, obviously) occurred because of the goodness in the world. It was a strong glow in which I felt was due to the kindness and compassion of the world. It was people doing the right thing for the right reason. People so often believe that these little lights are enough in life, but not in the world of planners and searchers.

In a recent reading that we read, we learned about planners and searchers. I am going to attempt to break it down. A planner is someone that is told or is shown that a certain location needs light. Planners raise money to get lightbulbs and send the lightbulbs to the locations where they think that they lightbulbs should be. They believe that by providing and sending over the lightbulbs they have contributed enough and all of the happy feelings should be theirs. All of these lightbulbs are sent over in good heart and with good intentions, but when it comes to it, these people are not actually sharing light, they are sharing lightbulbs. Searchers move in ways that allow their light to be shared. A searcher goes beyond sending the lightbulb to the location they bring the light to the location. Searchers go on-site and they move. They work with the locals on the ground to get information and create a charge. With this charge that they have created with the community they become able to make the lights work. Rather than just supplying the light, they have acted as a catalyst and have brought the means to make light.

Okay, now back to the soft glow that I used to believe encompassed the earth. With all of the NGO’s and projects designed to help communities, our society believes that there are lights in the places that we’ve given lightbulbs. Unfortunately, in many, if not all, communities that need light, only have lightbulbs. There are so, so many lightbulbs, but there are few people that are willing to go and to make the changes necessary to get the lightbulbs to work.

I once believed that kindness gave the world a soft glow. With our actions we created ways in which you could soften a heart of stone, or take the green out of a greedy man’s eyes. Maybe many, many years ago this was the case, but as I come to know and learn more about our shared space on earth I am beginning to doubt the possibility of an everlasting glow. Unfortunately, I have no solution or even a hint of one. I know that the work I am doing may help some people, but I don’t know that this will be enough. There is a quote I often think about that goes, ‘Everybody has a little piece of them that wants to save the world. It’s okay if that world is your own.’ If I don’t do everything in my power to save this earth, I don’t know that my own world would be saved either. Now it’s time to get moving.

The Start of the Start

By Kirsten Dobler (Bishop’s)

They love cameras

They love cameras

June 9, 2015

We taught our first real lesson today! Alex and I designed a math lesson from the grade two curriculums that others before us had developed and it went really well. I was really happy to be working with Alex because she hasn’t really worked with curriculum before and it was really fun to watch things click in her mind. One of the things that I really like is when people get it. It’s happy because they’re happy and it is a nice reflection of the work that I am able to do. Although our lesson plan was designed for grade two students, we made it work with students aged 10-14. We had about 20 students by the end and we quickly discovered that these students are very smart. It seems kind of ridiculous and rude that we wouldn’t assume this, but we were more practicing the lessons from the curriculum that was developed. The students that we were working with were very engaged and got everything that we spoke about. At the end of the day we did the Macarena, which they love, and then they sang a song for us. The song was really nice because they used our names, but then they started to sing in English and I got a little bit uncomfortable. The song was saying that they were happy that we came and that they will remember us when and if we return. It was really quite sad because I began to reflect on how many people have come and gone from villages just like this. These children knew the song like the back of their hand and I wish that we were not such a novelty to them.

We talk a lot about glamourizing minorities in social justice education and I always try to keep this from happening in my mind and actions, but I have never thought that I would be glamourized. We come to third world countries and we are showered with love and happiness from children and it’s so easy to forget that we are soon going to leave these children until one day when the next group comes in. One of our main goals in this project is to avoid the Madonna complex where we come in and act as saviors, but I never critically thought about how we are thought of by the local people that we are working with. We know how we want to be viewed, but it can be really difficult to change the minds of the people that are around us and how they view us. As we attempt to act as catalysts in our new environment we are not always looked at as such. There are even some times when I’m with the children and they are all looking at me, waiting for me to do something like I’m a jester. It comes down to always having to act as a role model and to hold yourself as a person that acts as a leader; which is something that we have to practice as teachers in the real world. So, I guess that once you are a teacher you always have to act like a teacher.