Tag Archives: Megan

How Can This Be The Reality Of So Many People?

By Megan Blair (Bishop’s)

A home in the village of Kaomba

A home in the village of Kaomba

I set foot in a foreign village and I am greeted with nothing but smiles. The villagers come up to me, shake my hand and welcome me into their community as they direct me to where we can sit and chat. They then disappear into their homes for a moment to get me a chair or a small bench to sit on, the reason being that we often hold our discussions outside. They motion me to sit as they, themselves, take a seat on the hard dusty ground. I thank them for the kind gesture, displace the chair and join them in the sand, explaining to them that I would much prefer being seated with them.

This mentality, that I should be given a chair or a stool to sit on, whilst they sit on the ground, is hard to comprehend. What have I done to deserve such special treatment? I realize that I am a guest in their homes but is this really necessary? I must say that I have felt very uncomfortable when put in such situations. I get the sense that they see me as being superior to them, possibly because I am “Asungu” (white). Maybe this isn’t the case, maybe it’s just part of their culture, but as we have seen thus far, our skin color often plays a role in how the local people treat us here in Malawi. To be quite honest, all I want is for them to see me as just another being, without associating me to certain things because I am of light skin.

The motive behind my visits to the different villages that make up the Chilanga region of Kasungu, is to get a better sense of what it is to live in Malawi as well as to better understand their living conditions. The kind of relationship that I wish to develop when discussing with the local people is one of equality, trust and mutual understanding/learning. I wish to establish relationships in which stories and ideas can be shared. For a relationship like that to be successful, I believe that it is important for them to not see me as a threat. I want them to know and realize that I am there to share (knowledge) and discuss with them. I am there to learn and understand rather than to impose my ideas and beliefs and in order to do so, it is important for them to see me as just another human being.

The hospitality they display is beyond anything I have ever experienced before. They welcome us with warm hearts and open arms, hence where Malawi gets the name “the warm heart of Africa”. They give us their time and are willing to share their stories and their lives with us, not questioning the motives behind us asking such personal questions. They kindly accept to show me their homes when I ask. I admire how much of a proud people they are.

After having visited several villages during my stay here in Malawi, I find myself being able to better assess the level of poverty of each village. There are times where I walk into a community and instantly know that the people living there are less fortunate than individuals from other villages. Just by observing how they are clothed, how dirty they are, if they are barefoot and by looking at the children and assessing the severity of their swollen bellies, as a result of malnutrition. Furthermore, in less wealthy villages, the homes are often made of a mixture of soil and water that has hardened rather than being made of brick. They are often quite small and do not have windows or doors, just a cloth covering the entrance. The rooms inside the homes are usually nearly empty and the people barely have any possessions.

The first home I ever visited was in Chimbwangandu, a small village in the Chilanga region of Kasungu (in my opinion, one of the poorest villages of Chilanga). There were six people in that family, both parents and their four children. The home was quite small. The walls, as well as the foundation, were made of a mixture of soil and water that had been packed down and hardened and the roof was made of straw. The door was non-existent, just a hole on the front side of the building where a door would normally be located. I had to duck my head when walking into the house. There were two rooms, the first was an entryway, used for a number of purposes such as greeting and hosting guests. It only took me four steps to reach the opposite end of the room. In the far right corner were a few pots that I assume were used for cooking, bathing and collecting water. There was a doorway in the far left corner of the room, once again, no door. I entered the second room, the space was even smaller than the first. It was dark and rather cold. The only belongings in the room were a single bed, a bag of clothes and a small pot-like dish next to the bed that could be used to light a small fire for when the nights got cold. The mattress on the bed was quite thin, forget about support and comfort and the bed was covered with only a single blanket, no pillows. The hardest thing to take in was when the mother told me that she, the father and her youngest child shared the single bed while her three other children slept on the cold hard floor, by the entrance, in the first room.

There are no words that can describe the thoughts that were running through my head as the mom kindly showed me her home. No words to describe what I was feeling. How could someone live like this? How can this be the reality of so many people? Had I never asked to see her home, I would have never been able to imagine the severity of the poverty here in Malawi, not to mention, understand, on any level, what it’s like to live in such degrading living conditions. Even so, I will never be able to fully grasp the kind of life that these individuals live every day.

It Matters

By Megan Blair (Bishop’s)

Pangono pangono

Pangono pangono

The first time I ever travelled to a developing country to do humanitarian work, I was told not to expect to change the lives of millions of people. It is important to keep that in mind when doing this type of work due to the fact that it is often a long and difficult process that requires a grand amount of time, patience and dedication. Thinking back on what this individual had told me, I am reminded of a story I had once heard that has stuck with me over the years…

The story features an old man and how every morning at low tide he would walk the sandy beaches of his hometown. One by one he would throw in the starfish that had washed up on the shore overnight. One morning, another man happened to be walking those same beaches around the same time. He watched curiously as the older man picked up the starfish one by one and threw them back into the ocean. This went on for a few minutes. Moments later, the man walked up to the older gentleman and asked “Sir, what are you doing, if I may ask?” “Why I am throwing the washed up starfish back into the ocean. If they remain on the beach they will dry up and die”, he answered. The younger man stared at him with a confused look then responded “You do realize that there are hundreds of thousands of starfish along this beach, right? You won’t be able to save them all.” There was a moment of silence and the older gentleman replied “Yes, I am aware. But it matters to that starfish.”

Now, you may be wondering the relevance of this story and how it ties into my time and work in Malawi. Well, it’s easy to lose focus when conducting humanitarian work, in a context of extreme poverty. It’s easy to get discouraged and it is quite common to start questioning your work, as well as the results of the work that you are conducting. We often forget to take a step back and remind ourselves of the bigger picture. Furthermore, we have a tendency to expect immediate results because as Westerners, most of us are used to instant gratification. In the case of humanitarian work, results are gradual and often cannot be perceived in early stages.

There are times on this trip that I have struggled with this. In my case, I will not see the effects of my work until further down the road. The reason for this is that I am creating a pamphlet that will provide a detailed description of the different projects of the campus as well as allow potential donors to get a complete picture of the different project needs. In the long run, this document will help raise awareness of Praxis Malawi, more specifically the Campus Approach, and how all the different projects are crucial to the campus, as well as how they will benefit the people of the Chilanga region. If I am able to properly portray the importance of the different projects, the hope is that people will see the importance of donating to the organization.

In the moments I feel discouraged, I think back on that story and remind myself that, I may not be able to change the lives of millions of people, but to the few people whose lives I can have a positive impact on, it matters to them. On another note, even if the results of my work are not easily perceived at first, small things such as making someone smile because you took the time to sit and chat, and show an interest in their lives, is extremely rewarding. We meet so many people along the way that it is so important to take the time to appreciate those moments, as small as they may be.

Silence Speaks Louder Than Words

By Megan Blair (Bishop’s)

Early morning in the common room

Early morning in the common room

It’s 7:00 am. I have been up for an hour and a half now already, unable to sleep. Even though I would rather be curled up in my sleeping bag right now, it’s nice to have the common room to myself. Sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and enjoy the peacefulness and tranquillity of an empty space. Waiting for internet to miraculously work, I decided to read some of my peers’ blogs. Reading through the blog posts, I found myself tearing up and to be quite honest, I’m not sure as to why that is. I’m not sad, I am not missing home, yet something about reading through everyone’s posts sparked some emotion.

It’s a privilege to have the opportunity to read through someone’s personal writings and see how they perceive certain things as well as how certain events have shaped them. Even the smallest event that would seem like nothing to someone can spark something big within someone else. Something that seems so unimportant, something so minor, something so insignificant can have such a major impact on another individual.

When I was finished reading the blogs ,there was this one in particular that stuck with me. It was about a moment of silence between a Praxis Malawi member and a Malawian. This moment of silence was brought on by a question asked. As the Praxis Malawi group member waited for a response, he was struggling to hold back from asking more questions, trying to get a response. After some time, the Malawian had collected his thoughts and gave a well thought out response.

I must say I have definitely felt this way on a number of occasions here in Malawi. But why is that so? Why do we feel the need to fill these silences? I sat on this question for a few minutes and came to the following conclusion: we live such busy and fast-paced lives; constantly surrounded by noise. As a result of this, we have a tendency to feel the need to fill silence. We have difficulties walking alongside someone without speaking. We are unable to remain in the presence of another individual without sharing a few words, even when we have nothing to say.

Being in Malawi has taught me to listen to silence and appreciate it. What we don’t realize is that words don’t have to be shared in order to feel, hear, and understand something or someone. Sometimes the greatest conversations are had through silence and if you listen carefully, you’ll realize that silence can sometimes speak louder than words.

Introducing the 2014 Group: Bishop’s University

Emily Parker

Emily Parker

Hello everyone! My name is Emily Parker and I am currently enrolled in the Elementary Education program at Bishop’s University. I just finished my second year in the program. I am someone that cannot stay in one place. I love to travel, meet new people and be active! My favourite sports are rugby and soccer, as well as skiing in the winter time. Some of my other hobbies include: cooking and baking; consequently I love reading as many different kinds of vegetarian, vegan and raw cookbooks as possible; seeing how I am a vegetarian! I have a big family composed of my mother, older brother, step-dad, two step-sisters and one step-brother (I am the youngest). You could say I’m one lucky girl!

My expectations in Malawi are not to have any too specifically, because I hope to take the entire experience day by day and live it to the fullest! However, I look forward to developing the Grade 2 curriculum with the 3 other education girls. We already got the chance to work together a little bit and it went very well; we fed off each other’s ideas wonderfully. That is why I am so eager to continue on this project with them in Malawi. I also look forward to developing my secondary research focus which is to create and incorporate a realistic nutrition component into our curriculum based on their local farming resources. All in all, I want this experience to be all about learning and sharing knowledge not only with the others on the trip, but with the locals of the area. Let’s be honest; I’M EXCITED!

 

Xiaoting Sun

Xiaoting Sun

Hey, everybody. My name is Xiaoting Sun. I am a 23 year old international student of Bishop’s University. I am from south of China—Guilin, which is a very famous tourist site in China. This is my second year in Canada and my major is economics. This summer I also teach some students Chinese. I am kind of an outgoing girl. I love traveling as through travel we can see a lot of things which we cannot imagine, and learn something which we cannot find in the textbook. You will have a fresh look to this world and also the people who is beside you. I like watching movie and after watching I like talking about the plot with my friends. I like dancing, work-out, shopping with friends, and beautiful clothes like all the girls like.

The focus of my research is about understand how a micro-loan project can help the local people change their economic situation and improve their quality of life. Moreover, what kind of financial help they really need. I am just excited and nervous about it as after tomorrow our fantastic adventure will begin!!! Hoping the people and animals like us.

 

Megan Blair

Megan Blair

My name is Megan Blair and I will be going into my second year at Bishop’s University in International Studies. I am someone who is relatively outgoing and I enjoy being around people just as much as I enjoy my alone time. I am a very active person and sports have always been an important part of my life. My favorite sports consist of soccer and snowboarding. I have a passion and a desire to travel. I have not been all over the world but traveling the world is definitely on my to-do list. I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel to Haiti four times (on humanitarian trips) since the earthquake in 2010. That is where I discovered my passion for helping others and contributing to something bigger than myself. One of my favourite parts of going to Haiti is meeting the people and getting the chance to talk to them. I really enjoy making a difference in people’s lives and I feel like Praxis Malawi will offer me so much more than a simple Humanitarian trip. People have told me that you can’t go to a country expecting to change the lives of millions of people. But what I have learnt is that to the few people whose lives I may have touched, it matters to them.

Praxis Malawi will help me to grow as a person and as a student. It will be challenging and I expect it will change me in so many ways. I hope to embrace this amazing opportunity to learn from others – those traveling with the group and the people we will meet in Malawi. I am hoping that this opportunity as well as the chance to interact with people from such diversified backgrounds will open my eyes to different programs of study that may be of interest to me. As well, I am hoping to discover a little more about myself. I am hoping this trip will allow me to see my own full potential and what I can accomplish.

 

Clare Radford

Clare Radford

My name is Clare Radford and I am currently enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts in Educational Studies at Bishop’s. I am in the program for Primary/ Elementary. I am from Ottawa Ontario and come from a big family of six. I am the second oldest out of four kids. I have an older sister, a younger brother and a little sister and my mother and father. My family means everything to me. They have been an amazing support system helping me achieve my dreams and I owe them an infinite amount of thanks.

I love meeting new people and being active. I have played hockey for most of my life along with many other sports and activities such as kickboxing, karate, rugby, swimming and water skiing.

My expectations in Malawi are simple. I hope to take every day and make the most of it. I am very excited about becoming as involved as possible in the program that has been planned for those of us on this project. As well, I look forward to being a student of the Malawian people and learning from the land itself. I am sure that this journey will also lead me to learn a great deal about myself as a Canadian and of course as just a person too.  I look forward to developing the Grade 2 curriculum with the other educations students. Recently, we worked together to develop some of our ideas for the Grade Two curriculum. This experience was very productive and positive.  I am also really looking forward in developing my secondary research focus of gaining a better understanding of how the educators of the Malawian schools as well as members of the surrounding communities may use the sports field that will be built on our campus. I am sure that this journey will be a real adventure of learning and I am very grateful that I will have this opportunity to visit Malawi with the Praxis Malawi program.

 

Ryan Moyer

Ryan Moyer

I’m a full-time sociologist (in training), writer and reader as well as a part-time runner, painter, poet, basketball player, music producer and boxer. I enjoy informed conversation. My favorite colour is forest green. I have a spectacularly weird family, a lot of stories that would make my mother faint and a keen eye for adventure. I was creatively named Ryan Moyer by my parents in 1989. “Ryan” was the thirteenth most popular baby name that year and apparently means “little prince” or “young royalty”. Considering neither of these descriptors are viable, I wonder why this name was chosen for me to scribble on my rent cheques?

Juliet begs the question of “What’s in a name?” as her intellect, heart and reason (no doubt fueled by a rush of rebellion and teenage hormones) come into conflict with her families traditonal knowledge and hatred for another family. If you don’t dabble in classic theater, I’m sure many of you may have seen the 1996 version of “Romeo and Juliet” (probably for the sex appeal alone, as it is featuring the equaly beautiful Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes) where Shakespeare’s answer to the question can be summed up with a romantic “not much”. Conversely in “Anne of Green Gables” the protagonist states that a rose wouldn’t smell as nice if it was called “skunk-cabbage” and, continuing their streak of stealing material, “The Simpsons” claimed a rose wouldn’t smell as sweet if it was called a “Stenchblossom”.

Both of these answers hold a certain amount of truth and prove valuable lessons, not the least of which being that great artists steal. Shakespeares answer of course asserts that all things akin are that way regardless of categorization, stratification or, of course, name. The second is that regardless of this likeness, language and social stratification do wield power, but, only if you don’t take the time to stop and smell the roses. Are you curious enough? I’m trying.

Umberto Eco wrote an essay aptly titled “A Rose by Any Other Name” in which he describes the dangers of translating literature from one language to another, most noteably that there can be misconceptions and misrepresentations that occur during this translation. These misrepresentations can occur in the translation of culture as well. Formerly colonized subjects (Malawi gained independance in 1964) are homogonized and, as Franz Fanon writes, “over-determined from without”. With that, I am no longer willing to accept this type of informational artifice, hense this trip to Malawi.

What does the name “Africa” represent in my mind, and more so, what does the categorization of Africa as a “developing” continent mean? Most of my knowledge on Africa, prior to the preparation for this venture and some cursory analysis’ for papers, has been provided through Western film and broadcasting corporations. Moving images of death, guns, disease and, as the 1995 film “Congo” so terribly portrayed, deadly animals. The continent seemed so uncivilized and dangerous, with no explanation as to why it was in such despair and poverty. Why am I repeatedly being told such a superficial story?

So, to conclude, I depart in order to tell my own.