Tag Archives: villages

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.

Whether We See it or Not

By Clare Radford (Bishop’s)

A work in progress

A work in progress

We have now been in Africa for over three weeks. So much has happened and I have found it hard to stay on top of everything because of the stream of emotions that are constantly pouring out of everyone. We were extremely fortunate to have a meeting where we sat down with all of the Chiefs from the surrounding villages. There were 31 chiefs in total. This means that there are 31 villages that will hopefully be involved in the workings of the campus. Here we discussed our projects that are happening within Praxis Malawi and how we as students from Canada will be putting everything we have into creating a site where everyone will be included and able to benefit from; whether it is the school, health clinic, experimental farming, chicken co-op or the sports field. The main conversation was about the importance of us working together in order to be successful. The Chiefs were very open and willing to discuss their feelings towards the projects as well as the contributions they are willing to give to help with the building of the campus. As the meeting was coming to an end, we set a meeting for every Monday at one o’clock. At this time, the members of the community can come and chat with us and ask any questions they may have about the campus. As we were walking back to Makupo village, the conversations were strong and hopeful with regards to the attendance for the following meeting.

After a very successful meeting, our education group has gotten together over the last couple of days. We have created an outline of how we will be dividing the units. We have gotten to know our co-learners, Francis and Maxwell. They have both been extremely helpful with the organization of the units. We have done our best to make sure that they will work with the different seasons in Malawi. So far we have almost completed five unit outlines. Although we are making great progress on the curriculum development, we have run into a few difficulties. I find myself up at night thinking about how we are supposed to come up with a curriculum for a school where we have seen that even though there was a Standard One curriculum developed, it was not possible to put it into action yet.  After talking to the other members of Praxis Malawi I am slowly starting to recognize the importance of our work here, whether we see it or not. It all comes down to the bigger picture of making sure that the communities get involved in the project  and helping them understand what the future has to offer, like this curriculum.

A Closer Look at Two Different Worlds

By Shayla Baumeler (Mount Allison)

Sniff sniff - I smell a comparison

Sniff sniff – I smell a comparison

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to live someone else’s life? I don’t think we can ever fully grasp what others are going through on a day-to-day basis, but gaining insight into other peoples lives is, without a doubt, a humbling experience.

We recently had the opportunity to visit another village, Bwanali, within the Chilanga region. Although our resident village of Makupo is vastly different from our Canadian homes and has already provided me with a fresh perspective, it is an extremely privileged community within the area and the Malawian context.  The aim of our visit to Bwanali was to better understand the local standard of living.

We walked along the main road, with bicycles and cars whizzing past us in all directions. The hot sun pounded on my back, the heat penetrating through to my core. The journey began with a fifteen-minute walk along the main road before veering left onto a narrow unpaved pathway. We passed by small homes as the local children ran about. When we arrived at our destination, we were motioned to enter through an opening in a tall “fence” of woven grass. The resident family welcomed us with open arms as though they had known us a lifetime. We walked past two small structures on either side of us before reaching the pigpen. There were three or four stalls beside one another, each containing around a dozen pigs. Their meal had just been given to them and they stumbled over one another fighting for every bite, in anything but a graceful manner.

a-maize-ing visit

a-maize-ing visit

We soon noticed a large pile of dried maize resting on the ground. The local women, whose home we had been graciously invited into, picked up a corncob and began to demonstrate their practice. Each kernel is to be shed from the cob using nothing but your bare hands. The maize is then taken to the mill and used in many of the local dishes. We all asked if we could help them and they kindly accepted with a slight chuckle. I was passed a cob and hesitantly began to apply pressure to the end. I suddenly felt something give way and my first little bunch of kernels spewed all over the bamboo mat on which we were sitting. After a short amount of time, our host brought out a metal pot filled with a liquid substance called thobwa. The drink itself is made of maize and was described by a few members of our group as resembling crunched up corn chips in drink form. They make this drink by hand using their homegrown crops, as an alternative to expensive store bought drinks. It was far from a familiar taste, but was an experience nonetheless. After our taste test, we continued removing the kernels of corn from the cob. The friction between my thumb and the cob of corn produced a burning sensation that led to the formation of a blister. My hands and fingers began to fatigue after a short twenty minutes, while the locals often withstand hours on end of this type of vigorous work.

When I have opportunities to observe other lifestyles in action, I can’t help but compare them to my own. In many ways, I don’t think this comparison is fair. Cultural context is drastically different and the two contain few parallels, if any. Nonetheless, I find this involuntary comparison occurring.

Our lives in Canada, as well as the wider Western world, are often strictly centered around scheduling and time. On the contrary, in Malawi, in large part due to the manual nature of the labour performed, timing is much less constraining and punctuality less emphasized. I walked to this community instead of driving, as I would have at home. When I arrived I saw pigs as a locally grown source of food. At home, I would buy my food from the grocery store or in a restaurant and rarely consider the source of this food. The local people here work hard shucking corn and fetching pails of water from the well, whereas we pass the time watching television or consumed with our Iphones.  Our hosts graciously accepted us into their home without hesitation, despite the fact that we were mere strangers. I couldn’t help but think that my hospitality would not even compare to their warm demeanor. It is not to say that one way of living is better than the other, it is only to say that they are vastly different.

So, as much as we wonder what others go through on a daily basis, I do not think we will ever fully understand. I will say, however, that experiences like this get us one step closer.


June 3rd: It Takes a Village

By Naomi Crisp

Today was the first day of project development which I was unbelievably excited for. We again walked to the land where the school will be built but this time interviewed 4 villagers around the area. The first man was an older farmer who couldn’t get past the point of what will happen to the land, this of course was a natural concern for him but one the chief can easily answer. Even though this was a worry for the farmer, he was still for the school to be built which was encouraging. The second man was the founder of a village and was quite wealthy in comparison to those around him. He had a lot to say about education and how it needs to change. This was a common theme alongside the welcoming of such a project. He believed in going back to the old system and the importance of English in the curriculum was stressed; this was something we needed to consider when building the curriculum. The next interview consisted of a group of women in the village. They were great fun laughing and dekerneling corn while speaking of the important aspects of education. They were a lot of help and invited us back any time, along with giving us a massive amount of peanuts. The final interview was a woman in another village closer to home. She had very similar views to the other women and expressed the need for a school closer to her for the children, again very welcoming of the new school.

After lunch we went to the Chilanga Secondary School to look at our work space, where we will be creating the Standard 1 curriculum! It was a nice big classroom with electricity and I think we are going to work really well there! We started organizing our week and it filled up very quickly. Even though I understand the reasons behind our advance work, I didn’t expect it to be a week long endeavor… maybe I am just too antsy to get cracking on the curriculum. I went to talk to Dr. Stonebanks, Arshad and Barbara about the day later in the evening. I feel it is important to change my environment and talk to different people as culture shock is rising amongst the group. I remind myself, these are awesome people who are struggling just like I am and their intensions are good.

The air is getting cooler at night now and sleeping should become easier, so I will go now so I can get up with the rooster and once again start my day with an email to Mel and a visit to LEARN.

Day 6,7 and 8: Exploring Surrounding Villages

By Louisa Niedermann

Day 6:

Interviewing the women

Interviewing the women

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.

Day 7:

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.

 Day 8:

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.