Tag Archives: Lia

Who’s Supposed to be the Hero?

By Lia Grant (McGill)

June 23rd, 2014

One balloon can bring a smile but as soon as it pops the fun is over

One balloon can bring a smile but as soon as it pops the fun is over

There are so many people here in Malawi in need of help. In particular, I feel myself drawn to helping the children, as they can do very little to help themselves. And there are so many children in need: those who seem most malnourished; those with injuries; those whose teeth are already rotted away; those that cry frequently due to issues of abandonment; and the list goes on.

Most recently, looking at a smaller problem, I have noticed that one of the boys I have been working with in the play has been wearing a pair of shoes that are way past what most Canadians would call “garbage”. They are too small for him – his big toes are protruding out of the front of the shoes – and the sides are completely open. I have seen him trying to fix them, though they are sure to break open again every time within mere moments of mending. After observing this, at the end of a play meeting, as Maxwell and I walked back home to Makupo with the setting sun, not able to get this from my mind, I asked Max how much it would cost to get this boy a new pair of shoes. The answer is approximately 5000 Kwacha (around 10 dollars). More than anything, I want to get him a new pair; I can’t help but picture the look on his face as I pull out a nice new well-fitting set of sneakers from my bag. However, I am also aware that there are many children with no shoes at all, let alone other more serious problems.

The hardest moments for me here over the last four and a half weeks have without a doubt been observing hardships of individuals and realizing that I am not able to help them all – at least not enough. I personally cannot treat Malaria for the duration of every child’s life, I can’t adopt every child who seems neglected, I am not even certified to heal infected wounds, and I can’t buy shoes or toothbrushes for every child. It’s been very difficult for me to face the fact that this is bigger than myself. For every individual child you try to help, there are countless who also need the same aid. Moreover, some help today doesn’t mean help in the long run. Yes, by all means, hold the child who is crying and needs comfort, but understand that you are actually doing very little.

Vast changes need to be made – changes that will help everyone. Even Praxis Malawi is not going to be able to help everyone. It is, however, working towards real and positive change for the people in the Chilanga community, which is a step in the right direction. We are working towards getting the community very actively involved in their own development – through education, health initiatives, and more. People in Malawi, and all over the world, need to feel empowered. They need to be able to help their own children.

Through discussions with Dr. Stonebanks, Ryan, Suzanna, other members of our group, and through readings, I’m even realizing how much I disagree with many foundations (which I will not name here) as well as the nature of the Western “AID” system in general, which claim to be saving countless lives throughout Africa and in other impoverished countries. They like to play the part of the heroes, coming in and helping the oppressed, and specifically children. However, after all the oppression that has gone on, mainly due to colonization, what people really need is not more heroes to save the day but the opportunity to find their own voices, their own strength. (Not to mention the fact that a lot of the money that is funneled into foundations, as well as “AID” in general, does not actually go to the people in need.)

This is not to say we should not try to help on a personal level – not at all – bring a smile to a child’s face if you can. But also realize that people need help, though not in the traditional sense of give and receive. They need the sidekick that supports them enough to see their own strength, not the hero that takes all the glory.

Zambia’s Nice, but Home is Nicer

By Lia Grant (McGill)

June 20th, 2014

Two of the many reasons I love Makupo

Two of the many reasons I love Makupo

We arrived back in Makupo today after a luxurious three days in Zambia at Zikomo Lodge and Safari. It was a beautiful stay; full of adventure on safari tours, laughter during evenings all together, and relaxation by the pool and in our suites. The safaris themselves were more than anything what made it worth our time. Seeing so many animals in their natural habitat while here in Africa was something I had not previously thought of as important, but it was absolutely exhilarating (the laughter-fit we all shared together on our dusk safari didn’t hurt either).

I have to admit, though, that I found it difficult at times to allow myself to feel content in Zambia. Even right upon arrival I felt myself very uneasy. We were greeted by the full staff of the lodge with cold drinks and moist hand towels, the owner insisting on her staff bringing our bags for us over to our rooms. It was incredibly jarring to suddenly be the epitome of a tourist, treated so very lavishly, completely separated from most all ‘real life’ either in Zambia or in Malawi. I have been trying to make sure I never allow myself to feel that way otherwise while here in Sub-Saharan Africa, wanting to (as much as is possible) understand the way that most people live their daily lives. Nonetheless, I pushed myself to enjoy the pause from my work and life in the community. I must note, however, that through that experience I was able to reflect upon the fact that we are not living as most people do even while in Makupo: we have a nice big space to work and eat in, cozy beds with bug nets to sleep in at night, meals cooked for us, laundry done for us, water brought to us, and more. These perks are not things that most people even in Makupo experience in their lives (and Makupo is a wealthier village than most, thanks to the money that comes in through Praxis Malawi). The truth is I will not be experiencing first-hand what it’s like to not have white-privilege while on this journey.

Overall, Zambia turned out to be an immensely introspective time; away from Makupo I was able to continue my planning for the play, and just generally contemplate and discuss my progress here. While I certainly went through culture shock upon arrival – going right away into disintegration phase (Stonebanks, 2013) – I feel that my emotional reaction turned out to be a facilitator in allowing me to rid myself of hidden oversights by bringing them to the surface.

It feels nice to be back in Makupo; it really has become a home away from home. As per usual, we were greeted by at least a dozen excited children. For the next several hours I played with them. As a teacher-in-training whenever I spend time with any children here in Malawi it occurs to me how difficult it is to communicate with them without a common language. Even simple things like, “gentler” are nearly impossible to convey to them (I got quite a few very intense high-fives today). Of course, to counter this, it is also incredible how easy it is to get by without much speech in other instances.

The debate between English and Chichewa is quite complex here, generally. English is the official language of the country, as it was colonized by Britain; however, the majority of the people in the villages speak very little English themselves. This is also in consideration amongst us in the Education team, as we want the children to get as much as they can in their learning, though there is a balance at play. If the children do not understand English well, or are not taught by an expert, they will struggle both in English Language Arts and in the other subjects that are taught in their second language. To counter this, the children should be provided with the opportunity to learn English well if it is seen as important in keeping up with the development of the rest of the world. It’s quite the debate, and a difficult issue to consider as we continue to work on curriculum. As it is right now, we have left it up to the discretion of the teacher. Hopefully more light will be shed on this issue in future years through other Praxis Malawi members.

For now, I am off to another busy day of work. We have Standard Two education units to complete, and I have a play to script. Tionana bwino.


Stonebanks, C. D. (2013). Cultural competence, culture shock and the praxis of experiential learning. In Lyle, E. & Knowles, G. (Ed.). Bridging the Theory-Practice Divide: Pedagogical Enactment for Socially Just Education. Nova Scotia: Backalong Books.


Reflective Night

By Lia Grant (McGill)

Human knot - we are in this together

Human knot – we are in this together

June 16th, 2014

As I sit here on this quiet night (11:50 pm – quite late for Malawian time), only a few of us remain awake. Aaron is sitting on the sofa in the “living room area” reading (though rapidly falling asleep), as I sit at the dinning room table determined to keep going. Clare and Megan are awake giggling and packing in their room for our quickly approaching departure tomorrow morning for Zambia.

I have been thinking of what I would like to write about for over a week now. Things, however, have been extremely busy and the blog writing became a priority put on the back burner until I could make use of an efficiently-working computer and gain the confidence that everything was going well and steady with my primary and secondary focuses while here.

Despite the fact that we have just returned from Livingstonia only a mere 30 hours ago, as I stated earlier, we leave for Zambia within hours as well. Fortunately, today has been an extremely productive day. The other Education ladies, Kim, Emily, Clare, and I, as well as Max and Francis, have managed to fully complete three full units out of our eleven, while nine of those eleven have been well drafted. Moreover, I had my second meeting with the children in the village beside the Praxis Malawi Campus today. Above all, these visits are what I have been thinking of most in the last few days.

I have to say, prior to leaving for Malawi, and even while here, I have held onto some fear in regards to the play that I hope to put on before our departure. It being in many ways my solo project, I am certainly feeling the pressure to perform and succeed. Like all things though, I believe that a balance of deep care along with recognition that flawlessness is not needed is key. Shortly after a good talk about my plans and worries with Dr. Stonebanks, I got both Max and Francis on board with the play. Within very little time we put together a group of children aged 10 to 14 to take part, and met for the first time this past Thursday.

Thursday and today – both being days before heading away to very different endeavors away from Makupo – have been very successful meetings, full of learning and reflective opportunities. I am thrilled with how the pieces of this puzzle seem to be fitting together and happening organically. One example of this came on Thursday as we walked to the campus to meet the children; I asked Francis to tell me a Malawian tale as we went – one that carried with it the message that ‘working together is fundamental’ (Francis has previously explained to me that almost all Malawian tales had morals). After a few minutes of contemplation, Francis began to tell me a Malawian tale that suited this particular message flawlessly. All of a sudden, a foundation was laid for our story.

I have enjoyed so much the time I have spent already with these children. Of course, I wish I were better able to communicate with each of them as most only speak Chichewa. Thankfully I have two wonderful co-learners and translators in Max and Francis, and despite the language barrier we were able to get to know each other a little bit, share some laughs, explore some characters together, and sing some songs.

Since Thursday’s play meeting, two other conversations from that same afternoon have also been on my mind. For one, Max asked me the question: “what will be the motivation for the children in doing the play?” I was quite taken aback by this question, to be honest. I asked him, “Like what?” He smiled and said, “Well… I don’t know…” I then reminded him that one thing I’d made sure to do was ask each child if they were truly interested in taking part, ensuring that their motivation was solely intrinsic. He expressed, however, that several parents had asked what kind of benefit or compensation their children would be getting. Being a totally different culture, where extracurricular opportunities such a play are not common (and where outsiders often just come in to give monetary aid), I suppose this question should not have shocked me. Regardless, I must remember to forge ahead and have faith that those who are truly interested will stay the course in this creative learning experience. This conversation and occurrence in general only reminds me that more opportunities need to be given to young Malawians – and hopefully the school that we are in the process of building and developing will be able to lead this motion.

The second thing that has been on my mind often in the last few days is a young boy in the village by the campus who I thought looked badly injured. I encountered him Thursday after our play meeting with Max. He was limping (at first I thought he had sprained or broken some part of his foot or ankle), but what in reality he has is a flesh wound on the back of his ankle which he sustained from falling off a bicycle two months ago. Before my departing for the day, the boy’s mother approached me and asked if I could please help him. Without a doubt I wanted to reply that yes I could. Unfortunately, all I could do was take a look at the open gash (which is not bandaged and looks badly infected), ask about the care that was already given, and bring the information back to our team working on Health. Upon returning to Makupo and discussing with the team, however, I realized that there is actually very little that any of us can do – even the nurses, as they are not certified to practice nursing here in Malawi. I am still feeling a deep sense of guilt, feeling responsible and wanting to do something for this boy. Through the help of Dr. Stonebanks, I have been able to remember that in fact it is the mother’s responsibility to bring her son back to the hospital or clinic – and we can’t assume she’s powerless. It is more likely than not that what she was seeking was money. After all, why is it that the white girl would know how to help her son? What qualifies me? Within this, there is a lot to think about. We all here want to help the people of Malawi, but we also want to empower them to help themselves. Many people seem to just associate white people with money, and though I want to help, this is not what I want to continue to perpetuate in my actions. Of course, despite all of this knowledge, I cannot help but worry for the boy. It is very difficult to step back.

Though there are so very many other things going on here that I could write pages and pages about, it seems about time I go to bed and prepare myself for the long drive in the day ahead. While there are many complex issues for us to try to sift through, so much good is going on here and I am learning all the time through the help of the Malawians and my peers. I feel I have made strong connections with people even over these short 17 or so days. I feel myself growing as a person, and I see changes in motion. What more could be desired? I am the last one awake – 1:16 am. Silence and calm all around. Goodnight.

Visiting Schools: Another Look at Making Learning Accessible and Relevant to All Students

By Lia Grant (McGill University)

June 2nd, 2014

Classroom visit

Classroom visit

Today was a very eye-opening day. We visited two schools: a primary school which was separated into boys-only and girls-only sections, and a secondary school. As a future educator, I had a great desire to actually visit a classroom to observe the teaching and learning that was going on. Unfortunately, this was not really an option; especially as us all coming to the schools caused so much excitement for the students. We did, however, have the chance to speak with the headmaster of each school, along with many of the teachers. While a number of the educators seemed very interested in the project, an equal portion of them seemed hesitant to the change we were discussing. Despite this, we did receive a great deal of useful input and important ideas that we hope to implement in the schools on the Praxis Malawi campus.

More specifically, when we were at the girls’ school, we had a conversation with the headmaster and several of the teachers about what problems they noticed in their school, and what things they would like to see implemented in the new curriculum that we are developing for the new school in the campus. One thing that interested me immensely that came out of this conversation is that one of the teachers asked me, “What are your ideas in regards to students who drop out of school?” I responded in return with my own question: “Do you notice more girls or more boys dropping out in your school?” All the teachers unanimously responded to me that it was primarily young girls, and that the reason for dropping out was often due to pregnancy (either in or out of “wedlock”). The questions that I asked in turn were, “Are these young girls/women allowed to continue school while they are pregnant?” and “Can they continue once they have delivered their baby?” What one teacher explained to me was that girls who become pregnant without getting married are shunned from the community, and are too embarrassed to attend school until after they give birth.

Curriculum conversation

Curriculum conversation

With this in mind, I think that implementing a school/classroom in the Praxis Malawi campus for young girls and women who had to drop out of secondary or even primary school would be imperative. Moreover, if the school welcomed girls who are pregnant, it would possibly even help in taking the stigma away from these women, showing the people that they have nothing to be ashamed of and still have the right to their education and their life.

I left the school visits with so many questions to think over, and so many ideas. I am really looking forward to getting started in the next few days on the curriculum and possibly on the continued planning for the schools on the campus in general.

Makupo is the Pulse to the Warm Heart of Africa that is Malawi

By Lia Grant (McGill University)

May 31st – June 1st, 2014

A warm welcome

A warm welcome

With the end of a month and the beginning of a new one, an epic journey begins. It is presently June 1st – 5:03 am. I have been awake for maybe an hour. I stumbled awake at the realization of the practicality of my dream about something Malawi-related. I lay in bed for the next fourty-five minutes, unsure whether to simply get out of bed or keep trying to sleep, knowing we are hiking up Kasungu Mountain today. Finally, as Rita, my roommate, woke herself, I was able to get out of bed. I whispered to her as she came back in the room after her short excursion outside, explaining that I was awake but that I was afraid of lifting my net to retrieve my head-lamp, imagining that there were spiders crawling all over my net. In fact, I actually have yet to see one of these infamously large spiders in Rita and my room at all, though others have been finding them crawling about their own bedrooms, only mildly concerned (the girls, not the spiders – who I am sure are concerned).

Here I am now, in the common-room, no longer afraid of my irrational fear thanks to being able to verbalize it to someone else. Several members of the Malawian community are up as well – they are conversing outside, getting ready for the day ahead. The rooster is up, and as the hour keeps creeping forward, I’m sure others will start to appear from their bedrooms as well. We have all been going to sleep and getting up quite early – following the cycle of the sun. In this quiet darkness, with our third day in Malawi about to begin, it seems a perfect time to reflect upon the days that have passed already.

After our immensely long flight – during which time I agonized over trying to sleep – we arrived in Lilongwe. We collected our baggage and with only a short delay headed off towards the village of Makupo by bus, our home away from home for the next month. The ride from Lilongwe to Makupo was only about an hour and a half. There was so much to see as we drove along the road, but after only a few minutes I began to doze off. Along with several others from our group, I slept almost the entire way to Makupo. Glad that I’d gotten a little shut-eye, I awoke when I heard we were finally nearing our destination. Still drowsy, an immense number of women, men and children awaited us outside. We were greeted by so many welcoming faces, cheering and song, even as we still sat in the bus, coming to a full-stop. Overwhelmed due to our long voyage, both lethargic and tired, I felt myself ready to start crying. Thankfully, I told myself to hold my tears and simply give myself to moments ahead.

We greeted each member of the community one by one, speaking in a combination of English and Chichewa. (I was very happy that I had taken the time to practice my Chichewa greeting at the airport before we even left.) After several minutes, we all entered our new home, Canadians and Malawians together. Chief Makupo welcomed us on behalf of the village, and in turn Dr. Stonebanks said a few words as well. The rest of the day was spent getting to know the village a little. In particular, many of the girls and I got to know the children. The very young ones held our hands, and we walked from path to path, looking upon the beauty before us. We played with the children for the next several hours, the time passing by in a blur, our exhaustion nowhere to be found. Around 6:00 pm the sun was almost set and it became dark – time for us to get inside and unpack, and time for the children to return home to their mothers and fathers. As I stood outside saying goodnight to a small group of children that remained, and said to them, “see you tomorrow!” they taught me a new beautiful phrase in Chichewa, “Tionana mawa!”.

The “dzuwa” is up now. 6:00 am. Time for another day.