As we explore all the different schools that are within Kasungu, I am slowly learning all about how their schools and curriculum work. Although the schools do have to follow the same syllabus, the teachers teaching methods are all different. At each school I am learning new teaching methods and learning how teachers deal with over 100 students in one class. I am amazed at how one teacher can control and teach so many students.
Today I decided I wanted to help the women cook us dinner. They made sure I washed my hands really well before touching anything. When I got there they were cutting green beans. The women put me right to work as if I knew what I was doing. But I honestly had no clue. I started pealing the ends of the beans in a way I had never seen before, they would take the strings off of the bean from each end. I was not very good even though it was a pretty simple task. After I was finished my task, I was handed a big knife, not one I had ever used before. I had to cut the beans into small pieces, I had carefully watched the women cut the beans before me and they made it look so easy. The second I tried to cut the beans I was struggling, it was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be. I was scared I was going to cut myself and even though there was a cutting board next to me I was scared to ask if I could use it. Once I was done with the green beans I watched the ladies at work, they had three pots boiling over the fire. I am assuming the women are used to touching all these hot plates but I was shocked at how they would grab the pots off the fire with no reaction. My next task was to cut the tomatoes, which sounds like an easy task…I guess not for me. The tomatoes were a bit squishy; as I cut the tomatoes juice went everywhere. I was cutting in the dark so I could not see what each piece looked like or even if I was cutting them properly. I was hoping they turned out OK. I hope to help the women cook more often and maybe learn a few more cooking skills.
Themba had organized a bon fire for us. The women and children of the village were going to perform some traditional dances and songs for us. Women came with babies wrapped on their backs and the children were not even disturbed by their moms dancing and swinging them around. We all shared a lot of laughs and tried to learn their amazing dancing skills.
We visited our final school today which was Chankanga school in Kasungu. I was surprised to hear that the school had over 3000 students and over 500 in standard 1 (grade 1) alone. I got to sit in on an amazing standard 1 class. The teacher was so nice to us and taught half of her lesson on Chechewa and half in English. She even apologized for not doing the whole thing in English so we could understand it. The teacher took local resources and had the children do subtraction. The teacher really enjoyed our presence; she even wanted us to try and teach a lesson. We figured that we will come back with a lesson planned and see if our ideas work.
Religion is a big part of the culture in Malawi, whether in be the church they go to or the bible knowledge that they learn in school. We were fortunate enough to get to go to the Presbyterian Church. We all got dressed in our nicest clothes and walked to the church. As we walked in the wonderful voices of different choirs were singing. We walked right in and sat behind the students that we had seen a few days before from the school for the blind. Different groups took turns singing before the mass started. The mass was in Chichewa and although I did not understand what they were saying I sat there taking in everything. The singing was beautiful, their voices echoed throughout the church. The pastor welcomed us at the beginning of the ceremony. A bunch of baptisms were talking place today, so there were many screaming children. Although a baptism is a ceremony that I can see in North America it was a great experience to see all the baptisms taking place here. The pastor invited us in front of the whole church, so everyone could see us and welcome us. None of us were expecting it, I think my heart jumped for a second. Everyone was looking at us, we were sitting in a spot where not everyone could see us. When we got up in the front of the church we saw the whole church and we were not expecting it to be so big. The pastor had us speak in Chichewa and I think we all blanked on what to say but we all went one by one and said “Muli Bwanji.” I was so nervous being up there in front of so many people. The ceremony was really long but the singing was amazing and each choir had their own touch. One of the choirs was the children from the school for the blind; they were dressed in bright green and pink gowns. I was really happy that I got a chance to experience the mass.
Later that day we walked to where the new school is going to be built. When we were walking to leave the village I heard someone scream to me “Louisa, where are you going?” It was Vitu, a young girl from the village who knows my name. I responded back “we are going for a walk, we will be back soon.” I thought that it was so cute how Vitu called my name. The new school was around a 20 minute walk from Makupo. The walk was not to bad but it was really hot. After only a couple minutes of walking I felt a pinch on my hip, I thought to myself who would pinch my hip? I turned around and to my surprise it was Vitu and her friend Eunice, they had followed us. The girls were curious to see where we were going.
Today we are going to walk to villages around the area where the new school is going to be built. We are going to ask questions regarding the new school and how they feel about it.
First villagers: We talked to an old man but other villagers were listening. He said that the new school is “most welcome” however the land that the school is going to be built, is land that people do their agriculture on. He was very concerned about what he was going to do if his land was taken away but he also didn’t want to speak for everyone.
Second villagers:The second person we talked to was a man, he was clearly wealthy because he had a big house and invited us in. He was really passionate about us building a new school. He explained how he feels that the education system has gone down and a new school will bring change and new ideas. The teachers need to know their students and need to be guided.
Third villagers: In our third visit we talked to a group of women. I was really interested in seeing if the perspectives of women would differ from the men. They were also really open to a new school because the school where their children go is really far. If the new school is built closer to them, the women will not have to worry about the busy road the children have to cross in order to go to school. The women had a lot of good feedback and we had great conversations with these women.
Fourth villagers:The last person we talked to was a woman, she was also excited about the idea of a new school but also had concerns about the possibility of land that she might have to give up.
All of the people we talked to all agreed that education is super important and the school will be beneficial to their communities, however their land is also really important to them. I am realizing that as much as education is important to the people in Malawi agriculture and their land is even more important. Even though we only interviewed four different villagers, each one had their own perspective.
Before starting this journey I did not expect to be eating well. I was expecting food that is native to this country but I was open the trying these new foods. I was surprised at how much I like the food I have been eating. A lot of the food is food I have never eaten before. We have donuts, a type of rice or just peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast. Lunch and dinner are very similar rice, beans and some greens, eggs with tomato sauce, chicken, goat, beef and occasional pasta. My favorite is this warm coleslaw that the women make. I was never a fan of coleslaw however, this coleslaw is so good. I am really enjoying eating all these new foods.
Every morning I wake up to the roosters crowing and I think how can I be in Africa. I am finally here and exploring a country I have only read about or seen on TV. This is an experience of learning and each day I am learning so many new things I had never even thought I would discover.
I think culture shock hit me for the first time today as we did a tour of the neighboring villages. As we were walking I was really excited to explore the other villages and see how they differ from Makupo. As we passed the villages the children ran to see us, they were covered with dirt. The children seem excited to see these new people, who are they? What are they doing here? I saw the sadness in the eyes of the children and their stares hit me at the heart. All I wanted to do was cry, my eyes filled with tears, my body felt sad. It melted my heart seeing all these children, they look happy to see us but deep inside they were sad. After this feeling I was scared not knowing how my emotions were going to react to the rest of the trip; not knowing how this culture I was living in and learning about was going to hit me. I was scared of the unknown.
We continued our tour of the surrounding area by visiting the secondary school, elementary school and the school for the blind. As we toured all the schools, I could hear the faint sound of singing. When we got to the school for the blind we were graciously invited in to the classroom to watch the students while they sang. It was such a memorable moment to watch these students sing. The passion in the voices of the students was unbelievable; they put so much power into their voices. Some students even made their own noises, which made the song their own. This was an experience I was so fortunate to see.
Each day we get welcomed by the women of the village “Mwadzuka Bwanji” (how did you sleep) and we have learned to respond with “Nwadzuka Bwino, kaya inu?.” (I slept well, and you?) Always after speaking one should say “Zikomo” which means thank you. I am slowly learning the language of Chichewa however, it is difficult and I do make mistakes. The women just laugh and the sounds of them laughing is an indescribable sound.
Today was a hot day and was the day we were going to walk into the town of Kasungu. The sun was beating hard on us even though it was early in the morning. It took around and hour and a half. I was thinking how hard this walk was, even though it was a straight walk, it was all-open, there was no shade so the sun beat straight down on us. I couldn’t imagine doing this walk twice or even three times a week. I am starting to realize that their life is not about cars or transportation but a lot about walking. Although I knew that most people walked everywhere, once you live it, it is a different experience.
Once we got to town, we carefully followed our leaders in order to not get lost. We explored the market and the leaders took us through the maze of the market, taking us through little pathways and through the different elements of the market. Without our leaders we would have never found our way through the different sections. I really enjoyed going to the market and can’t wait to go back to buy some fabric for Chichangis (skirts) and to make bags.
Today we climbed Mount Kasungu. We were going to walk there, which is around 12 km however, we decided not to which was a good decision. We hopped on the bus at 9 am. I was really excited to start the climb. As we got closer the knot in my stomach got bigger and so did the mountain. We got out of the bus and started the climb. Only minutes after we started my breath got heavier and I felt the first drip of sweat on my forehead. The climb was a lot more difficult that I thought it was going to be. My body was aching after only a few knee bends and pulling on sticks with my arms; my body was so out of shape. I wasn’t the only one; everyone was struggling and we took breaks every so often. All the villagers who came with us, basically ran up the mountain; they made it seem so easy. We were all so out of breath and sweat was pouring off of us. The villagers just watched us; at times they were probably laughing at how much we were struggling. We finally reached the top and I could not believe it. The view was something I had never seen before and I knew I would have to cherish it because I will not see anything like it again. Climbing down was a lot easier at first, but then it got steeper. As it got steeper, I felt my legs giving out and I thought I was going to collapse at any moment. The heat was getting to my head and with every step my head was pounding; I just wanted to get to the bottom. I was really thirsty but I was out of water, my mind was spinning, I needed this climb to be over. We had finally made it to the bottom and all of us collapsed on the ground. The pounding in my head got worse as I sat but local children were so fascinated by all of us “Azungu” (white person). As the children approached my mind wandered and I felt better.
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.