After traveling for over 24 hours, with less than 5 hours of sleep, we arrived to much fanfare in the village of Makupo. The children were cheering on the street and the adults were singing a song welcoming us to the village. In some ways it was as I expected and yet I was still overwhelmed by the excitement and inviting nature of the locals. I also should have been prepared for the greetings in Chichewa, but for some reason that also caught me off guard. I had not prepared in advance for exchanging the common greetings, but the villagers were very patient and encouraging of our attempts. This continues to be the case. They continue to exchange greetings at all times of the day and nicely direct the greeting to each of us individually. This allows us to practice many times a day. It’s starting to come a bit more naturally, but I still pause, stumble and mix up my responses. People tend to offer up the correct words in Chichewa very fast, but we have so many opportunities to try that I am never overly offended or frustrated – it has only been two and a half days after all.
Yesterday, we spent the day touring the village and surrounding area, including the three schools that are nearby. During the walk the guides were very informative and willing to answer any and all questions about the local agriculture, traditions, governance, and history. They also ask us questions about Canada in return, but I have a hard time finding a balance between sharing information and not contributing to the divide between us. I think they often just cannot comprehend many aspect of North American lifestyle, just like we cannot grasp the full details of life in places we have never been. One of the gentleman said that he thought that it just snowed year round in Canada and a young woman was surprised that the corn that we eat back home was not grown in our own farm. The latter conversation occurred when Corinne and I were invited to learn how to take kernels off of a corncob. It was surprisingly difficult and she was very concerned about us hurting our thumbs. She shared the trick to protect our thumbs and even she admitted that they struggled with some of the tighter kernels. The biggest admittance was the amount of work it takes for them to make the corn flour, between the planting, harvesting, shucking, dekerneling and taking it to the mill. She told us that they work together in the village to help each other get it all done. The children as young as five years old can help out after sitting and learning from their mothers over the years. The whole challenge of this process made me feel bad about eating the nsima (cornmeal grits), but I do realize that it is their most common food and they enjoy sharing with us. I have had the same concerns about eating the meat and the vegetables that are less commonly grown in the area. I’m sure my comfort with this will go in and out and talking with the other students will help me work through it.
I am very much enjoying this immersion experience and find that I keep having more and more questions and “a-ha!” moments. The responses and observations are thought-provoking for me personally and I’m also keeping track of the information that I think will be useful for the curriculum development. We have one more day of relaxation and then we’ll be jumping into the curriculum work. I’m hoping we find that everyone’s incredible generosity continues to aid us in this work. I’ll report back after our first few days into the project – Monday we visit the site where the new school will be built!
After an amazingly informative and collaborative Curriculum Building Workshop, we are ready to set off for Malawi. Those of us who will be working on curriculum development spent the weekend getting to know each other and the intent of our project in Africa. I definitely felt less anxious after the weekend because there is one less unknown to face in the days ahead. The Stonebanks’ were incredible hosts and there was a perfect blend of relaxed bonding time and time spent discussing and exploring the curriculum work.
Imagining what could be
Back home, it took a bit of effort to get everything packed just right, but I am truly getting excited now that my bags are ready and sitting by the door. We meet early tomorrow morning at the Montreal airport and after 24 hours of travel we will arrive in Malawi. WOW!
I was born in rural Nova Scotia and love being Canadian, but having moved with my parents and two older sisters to a suburb of Portland, Oregon at the age of five, I also consider myself a true Oregonian. After high school I spent a year traveling with a friend around North America in a van, exploring National Parks and visiting friends and family. I then moved to Montreal, Quebec to attend McGill University. I received my first degree from McGill in 2007 with a major in Environment and Development and a minor in English Theatre. In 2009 I married my husband, Darren Reynolds in San Francisco. We now enjoy an active life in our vibrant downtown apartment with our cat. We spend our free time reading, camping, skiing, playing volleyball and picnicking in the park. Now that I am well into my second degree at McGill I find we’re busier than ever. I am beyond excited that in one year I will graduate with a degree in Kindergarten & Elementary Education and will be able to teach the following fall. I truly enjoy working with children and cannot wait to meet the diverse group of students whom I will be responsible for inspiring to love learning.
Praxis Malawi presents an incredible opportunity for me to work with peers and professors from Quebec and Malawi to develop a grade one curriculum for an alternative school being built in the Chillanga region of Kasunga. This project allows me to participate in the creation of a curriculum that incorporates local knowledge and resources into the framework of the Quebec Education Program. I am thrilled to have the chance to apply my environment & development background and my emerging understanding of education. Through collaborative efforts, I hope to identify what is most relevant to students in the local community. As a concurrent initiative is being planned to build a garden for the school, I will focus on finding ways of integrating it into the curriculum. Exploring local farming and food practices will be particularly important.
I foresee this being an incredibly challenging, yet rewarding experience. With just over a month to learn curriculum development and understand the community’s expectations and hopes for this new school, I am mentally preparing for some intense collaboration and field research. Such an extensive and evolving project requires the involvement of many knowledgeable individuals from Quebec and Malawi, both in person and online – we encourage input! I am honoured to be part of this project and am excited to witness how it progresses. I’m sure I will also have copious pictures to share of us in the town and on our travels throughout the region. Lions and travels and learning – oh my!
I am Louisa Niedermann. I am originally from the States but grew up in Montreal. I just finished my second year in Education at McGill University. I love traveling and learning about different cultures and the way others live. It has been a lifelong dream of mine to travel to Africa and I feel so grateful to have this opportunity to go to Malawi, learn, give what I can and receive in ways I can only imagine.
For my time in Malawi I am looking into the relevance of play in young children. For very young children, play is their work–how they learn to take turns, follow directions and pay attention. It is often the relief and release of physical activity that allows children to return to tasks at hand with greater ability to make the most of what is presented. Whether it be at recess, after school or during classes, I will look at if play is recognized as an important value in the learning process of young children in Malawi, and if not, how to begin to introduce the importance of play by teaching playground games and physical activities for the in-between times of academic learning and work to be done at home.
I was going to do something corny like start this piece by saying I’m a twenty one year old female that likes sad movies, romantic dinners, long walks on the beach, and puppies, and was then going to turn it around and be like “Nahhh, I’m just messing with you”. This is what I wanted to do but couldn’t think of enough corny things that I didn’t actually like. So here’s the truth, I really do like all those things, except of course the walks on the beach. I could never understand how people could tolerate the presence of sand in their shoes. I hate sand. As for the rest, I love all movies, I love going out for dinner and let’s be honest, who doesn’t love puppies? I’m a big movie fan, I especially enjoy musicals. Maybe once I warm up to everybody on the trip there might be the occasional performance of me bursting out into song and dance. Also, fair warning to all the other participants, if I say something weird, it was most likely a movie reference that I took a chance at you knowing and/or appreciating.
I’m a quiet person on the most part and it takes me time to warm up to people. I’m better in a one on one situation where it’s more give and take than in a large group discussion where everyone has something to say. I’m a listener in conversations and will only impose myself in larger group discussions if I feel the conversation will benefit greatly from my contribution. I’m more interested in what others have to say to be honest and am completely content with watching, listening, and thinking. I already know what I’m thinking, but I want to know what’s going on in everyone else’s mind. This interest in knowing what others are thinking stems from my fascination with perception. It is what got me to study psychology in CEGEP, which got me interested in child development, and then what got me thinking about education. My only reservation about being this way is the fear that people think I chose not to contribute because I either don’t care or am not intelligent enough to participate. I have a fear of being seen as unintelligent, which is actually the basis of my worries for this experience. Another way of looking at it is my hesitation for this trip stems from my worries of not succeeding by having nothing useful to contribute to the group. Though I have some fears of the educational aspect of the trip I’m not worried about the living conditions. On the most part I can adapt quite easily to my environment and/or situation. It’s this aspect of myself actually that allows me to get along well with most people.
For my individual research topic I will be looking at Natural Sciences since it is my primary educational focus at McGill University within the B.Ed kindergarten/elementary program. This topic choice worries me some since I have no idea what to expect, though this must be true for the other participants and their choices as well. I have no idea what sorts of materials they will have available or what scientific principles will be useful in their culture. What worries me also is the class sizes and finding activities for all students to be engaged in considering the lack of materials. In all I’m nervous about not being prepared for the trip but am looking forward to the challenge ahead and most of all the amazing experiences that come with living and experiencing a culture first hand.