The Transformative Praxis: Malawi group took our first walk into Kasungu town all together yesterday afternoon. It was a beautiful, yet difficult and unsettling experience. I say this because I did not feel like myself on this walk. I felt like there was a large neon sign over my head reading “AZUNGU”, meaning “white person” in Chechewa. We passed through many small villages on our walk into town, and each time we passed, we got yelled at, stared at, or pointed at. At one point villagers came up to us and shook our hands and even hugged some of us.
I felt as if something was wrong with me, or maybe my hair was crazy or my pants were inside out. I continued to search for a reason why these people held such fascination towards the entire group and myself. I then realized that it was none of those things; it was the color of my skin. It really hurt that entire villages would look at me, point at me, and only see a young Caucasian girl. They did not see me for who I was; they did not see me for Vicki.
I later asked one of my co-learners what the villagers intentions were, because it was hard to determine if they were fascinated, disgusted or afraid of us. Deep inside, I think that it was a combination of a lot of those things, and my co-learner explained that it was mostly out of fascination because they do not see “azungu” every day.
I have been taking a lot of time in thinking about why I am here and what “changes” I am going to make and what experiences I am hoping to get out of my five weeks. During this thinking time, I have been reading Dr. Stonebanks’ Cultural Competence, Culture Shock and the Praxis of Experiential Learning in which he notes that our “living requirement” of living near a rural Malawian village is “to momentarily immerse the most privileged (relatively) in our world to the manner in which the vast majority of humanity lives”. I by no means consider myself very privileged, or even close to one of the most privileged in the world. But, using the word “relatively” changes things, because in my small town in Central Massachusetts, I am an average, middle class, Caucasian, female. Nothing special, no more privileged than the rest of my homogenous white town. The majority of the children attend public school, the majority of them graduate high school and the majority of them attend some form of post-secondary education. To put all this into perspective, the majority of children here in Malawi cannot afford a pair of shoes. Compared to the majority of people here, I am rich and very privileged. Now that I am surrounded by people living in such different living situations than my own, and who do not all have the same educational opportunities I had, I am more grateful than ever that I was able to have graduated high school, attend a wonderful university, and come out of it all with no debt or student loans. I can thank my parents for all that, but I never had control over when or where I was born, or how much money I would have access to, or what kind of education I would be able to afford.
I have noticed, more than anything, the weight of being an American university student, because as Dr. Stonebanks states, “Canadian and American university students are amongst the most privileged in the world.” That weight has made me stand out and has given me privilege that I never asked to have. Even having the time, money, education and mere opportunity to come to Malawi is something that a lot of people do not have. I believe that what I have to do now is take advantage of these opportunities that I have been given and make a difference here in Malawi.
Things to be grateful for: education and not missed opportunities
Reference: Stonebanks, C. Darius. (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.
Even though I have only been here for less than a week, there are a lot of things that I have cut down on or realized have been cut down in order to conserve. The first and most important thing that everyone, everywhere, needs to survive is water, H2O. I found that I use infinitely less water here during my daily life than I do in North America. Daily doings that require water in Malawi: bathing, hand washing, dishwashing, laundry, drinking, cooking and more. At home I use it for all the same things but I am not conscious of the amount that I use.
In Malawi, I use about half a bucket (maybe 6L) to bathe. At home, I let the shower run for at least 10 minutes, enough to fill the entire bathtub! It’s absolutely crazy how when something is so plentiful, you take it for granted.
When it comes to food, it is the same concept in North America in that one should not be wasteful. Here, especially on our Campus, there is always a way to use food if there are leftovers. It can be composted, shared with others or it can be given to the dogs. It is always used in some way, never put to waste. It make me furious when people in North America use the excuse of “there are starving children in Africa” to make you finish your plate. Yes! There are children in Africa who are starving, but there are also children (and adults) EVERYWHERE who are starving. How is me finishing my meal going to help them? It’s not.
Light in our world in North America is essential for everyday living, or so we believe. In fact, light is essential for everyday living everywhere. But we have a burning ball of gas many kilometers away, that rises and sets each and everyday without fail. Here we only use electricity when that thing called the sun is no longer in the sky. Without the sun, we cannot see and we cannot work. During the day there is no need to use electricity because the windows in the hostel let in enough sunlight to work by. It is frankly a waste of energy to use electricity when it is not 100% essential. We also use the sun to power the electrical things we need. Talk about efficiency.
In North America we take having a pair of shoes and a change of clothes for granted. Some of the children have shoes, but the majority of them do not. For them, shoes are not an essential part of their lives. Whereas in North America we throw shoes out and buy the latest styles like they are going out of style, children here get along just fine in their bare feet. They also make very good use of their clothing. They don’t throw it out the moment they don’t like it anymore, they wear it until it has so many holes in it that it can no longer be called a shirt, a dress or shorts. Chetinjes are the most amazing article of clothing around here, but I will go into that another time.
Things to be grateful for: socks, toes, durability
A little girl, about eight-years old, walked into The Community Center to participate in our After School program. The very first thing I noticed was the curiosity in her eyes. She didn’t say anything as the children got into two circles. She simply looked on and stood with everyone else. I also noticed a small child, no more than two-years-old, tied to her back wrapped in her chitenje. The young two year old girl had the same look of curiosity in her eyes as her older sister. The older sister sat down next to me as we started a ball-name-game. She untied her sister and placed her down next to her. She continued to pay extremely close attention to her sister and helped her participate in the game. After the program, the little girl retied her sister on her back and crossed the road and out of sight.
She is such a young girl with such a different life than I lived when I was eight years old. I would go straight to daycare after school, have a snack, go home, eat dinner, listen to my dad read me a story, then go to bed. I never had more responsibilities than making sure I ate my lunch or that I got on the right bus home. I cannot imagine the great responsibilities this little girl had, like taking care of her sister as well as herself. I am simply awed by this little girl and I am very glad that she continues to be herself and keep a slightly toothless smile on her face.
Arriving in Malawi was the most magical experience I have ever had. I was wide-eyed at everything the moment I stepped off the plane in Lilongwe (Malawi’s capital); the people, the cars, the lack of trees and all the goats and chickens roaming around. We pulled into The Campus in Chilanga to about twenty women singing and clapping; it was all for US! It was amazing the amount of warmth and bienvenue the entire community showed us. This being my first time in the village, it was all new, but it felt like coming home.
Things to be grateful for: the weather, the food, and the hospitality.
My name is Kirsten Dobler and I am a third year Elementary Education Major with a Minor in Music from Bishop’s University. I’ve become very invovled with the School of Education at Bishop’s and I hope that this project will help me to link my learnings to real life. The value of education is something that is very important to me and I hope that by sharing and learning together we can make the world even just a little bit better.
I come from a small town called Powell River, just about as far West Coast as you can get. I ventured east for the first time in 2011 with a volunteer program called Katimavik and soon after I made my way to Bishop’s and I have called it my home ever since. I’ve recently began au pairing in Italy during my time away from school and I have had the pleasure of traveling around Europe on my weekends off. I hope to continue my worldly adventures and making a postitive impact as I do so.
As I mention before I greatly value education, especially in places that have different ideas and ways that we do. I also understand the importance of respecting the people and land that we will be sharing in Malawi. I hope that we can make meaningful connections with the people of Malawi. I am very excited to meet the challenges that we have ahead.
My name is Natchasiri but everybody calls me Froy or full out Froy Choi! I was raised in a beautiful island au tropicale Phuket, Thailand. I lived there my whole life, so coming to Canada is a very exciting step for me! I have been here for my second year at Bishop’s University studying Fine Arts and I am having the best time of my life! I grew up in a British school with amazing multicultural background friends, so my favorite thing to do is adapt and learn new things! My interest circles around from photography, painting, writing, cinematography, science, astronomy, to cooking! I joined Praxis Malawi so I can experience a whole new culture that I know very little about and along the way make a difference for the new soon to be friends. I know that my contribution will count in the long run.
My father, who works as a plastic surgeon, always stresses to me that I am the citizen of the world, and compassion and selflessness is what we do best as humans. I am blessed with the lifestyle I have, enough to eat, enough to use. Therefore giving back and sharing is the wisest thing someone could do, whether it’s knowledge or dreams. When I look back and compare Canada to Thailand, or perhaps any countries I visit, I see one obvious similarity that there will always be people that are enthusiastic enough to lend a hand. My purpose for this trip is not to only find myself, but mainly to bring life into the community as much I can, and I can’t wait to discover everything and to share! I also can’t wait to meet my team!! See you soon.
My name is Alexandra (Alex) Bernier and I am a second year Mathematics and a first year Education student at Bishop’s University. I was born and raised in the beautiful green state of Vermont in a French-speaking home. I chose Bishop’s for its small size, because it’s not too far from home and I have dual-citizenship. I enjoy playing volleyball, road biking, and playing the ukulele (even though I have not come close to mastering it yet). This summer, after the Praxis Malawi project, I will be returning to summer camp for the fifth year as a counselor. Camp has been a big part of my growth along with being a personal care aid to a young girl with disabilities during my last year of high school. I am enthusiastic, open-minded, and my friends tell me it is easy to approach me when they need to talk about things. I believe good communication is key for a healthy relationship and a healthy life style. Through my own struggles in life, I have found that inner-peace is really important to find clarity and to be happy. Ways I have found help me are by surrounding myself with people that challenge me and are respectful, being active, doing yoga, listening to music, reflecting, and meditating.
My Name is Kate Newhouse. I am a third year Elementary Education Major and Psychology Minor at Bishop’s University. I am from Oakville, Ontario, which is about 8 hours away from Bishop’s. I love to be involved here at Bishop’s and so from first year on I have joined many different clubs and I am now a Dance Club Coordinator, Competitive Dance Team Choreographer and Dancer, Fashion Show Choreographer and Dancer, A part of Big Buddies and a Stage Manager for plays in New Plays and TheatreActiv festivals, I am part of the BU Blog Project as well. I am organized and up for the challenges that this opportunity will surely present.
Howdy, My name is Marten. I was born in Ontario, but I’ve never lived there. I was raised on a trapline on the Alaska Hwy, near Whitehorse, Yukon. I’m not scared of bears, but I don’t know if I’ll ever feel comfortable driving on a freeway. A pivotal point on my timeline was at age 5, when I was introduced to soccer. The next landmark was at age 9, when my siblings were born. Since then, my story has been a combination of the great outdoors, soccer, and trying my darndest to be a real role model for each person I meet, particularly the young ones. These days I’m a player/coach/team manager for the Bishop’s Men’s Soccer Club. Bishop’s is treating me well, but it is by no means a final destination for me. I’m really motivated to indulge in this project in Malawi. I know it’s going to be transformative. Hopefully we can contribute to something more long term as well.
My name is Victoria (Vicki) Miller and I am in my 3rd year at Bishop’s studying Elementary Education and minoring in French. I am originally from Holliston Massachusetts, which is about 45 minutes outside of Boston, so as expected I am a die-hard Bruins, Red Sox and Patriots fan. I spent my junior year of high school studying abroad and living with a family in the Alps of France and was able to travel a bit around Western Europe. It was amazing being immersed and learning so much about another culture and life-style. I speak fluent French and it is a huge part of the reason why I am here at Bishop’s and in the province of Quebec. In my free time I like to read, skate, listen to music and practice karate. I love working with kids and meeting new people. In fact, I am going back to a camp in Central Maine for my third summer after our Malawi trip. I am so excited to meet everyone and go on this amazing adventure together!
Hello everyone, my name is Jessica Fobert and I am a second year Education student at Bishop’s University. I spent two years studying in my hometown at St. Lawrence College in Cornwall, Ontario. I loved the feeling and opportunities that small schools provide, so I chose to come to Bishop’s University. I have a major in Social Studies (history and geography) with a minor in Psychology. If I could choose, I would continue to add more disciplines because I have a passion for learning. That is one reason why I want to teach is because my students will continuously be providing me with new knowledge and secondly, I am passionate about helping others out. My mother comes from El Salvador, a third world country, and she never got the opportunity to get an education. I want to provide learning experiences for those who do not get that chance. As a future educator, I plan to travel and teach, so that I can learn more about other cultures and how other groups of people live. I plan to share my experiences with my future students so that they can learn about and respect the diverse world we live in.
I am very proud to say that I have the privilege of returning to Malawi for a second year. My name is Ryan Moyer and I am attending Concordia University in Montreal to continue my studies in sociology at the graduate level. As last year’s trip was extremely motivating and transformative, I am very excited to return to Malawi and I am looking forward to building on past relationships in order to get things done.
It is really exciting to be returning the year that the new campus is going up, as it seems metaphoric of opportunities for new meaningful change to arise. I am enthusiastically beginning to work in the field with the concept of adult education/life-long learning. University was the most transformational experience of my life thus far, and I would really be honored if I could add any input towards making adult education accessible in Kasungu.