Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Doing The Impossible: Putting This Trip Into Words

        Knowing that today is our last day in Malawi can be explained in a variety of different ways but a simple way to sum up most of all our feelings would be, bittersweet. We all deeply miss our families, friends and the things we use to feel were necessities, like flavor with our food, hot water for our showers and Internet we don’t have to share. This experience has shown us what true necessities are and gave us an opportunity to appreciate how blessed we are in the life to which we are about to return. Many of us dream of coming back to this country, though for others we know it may not be a reality. However, we do know this to be our reality: Each and every one of us on this incredible journey has been impacted both professionally and personally.  Simply put, our lives have many new and powerful perspectives.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Final Farewell

         On our last night together we spent it full-fledged Malawi style, with their culture's home-cooked food, homemade instruments playing in the distance, and communicating our feelings with the dancing, laughter and happiness that this country spreads contagiously. As a class we also got to communicate and reflect on each other as individuals. Sitting in a circle we shared stories, words and positive attributions with the new lifetime friends we have gained. In each new friend we’re able to see why not only we love them but why the kids at Mtendere Village, the people of Malawi and why their future students will love them too.

Our Lion King Moment

On the second day of the safari we were in the jeep by 6am with the morning light peaking through the trees, cool breeze hitting our faces and sleepy eyes peeled for any sight of an elephant or zebra. Hours later with numb bodies, the group's hope was slowly fading on our way back to the lodge. Then, there they finally were, zebras, two of them! Excitement filled our jeep as we went off-roading to get a closer look at the black and white stripped animals in their natural habitat. This off-roading adventure lead to a bit of a problem but with a little teamwork, we were able to fix our flat tire and head back with just enough time to attend the water safari. We were hoping to get a glimpse of the one animal we were determined to still see, elephants. Twenty minutes into our water safari, our tour guide claims he sees an elephant across the lake. We hold our breath as we travel across the hippo-infested water to where this elephant may be. There he pulls the boat up literally feet away from two elephants. We were all satisfied but little did we know, as we strolled down the riverbank a ways we would stumble across a whole breading herd of elephants. Our eyes were wide with amazement as we watched them eat grass, playfully fight and adored over the baby elephants emerging. We recorded and took way too many pictures before heading back to what we thought was the end of the day. Little did we know that Tony had one more surprise in mind, a bike ride to a near by village. It was a sight to see, us all riding bikes with classmates on the backseat, down a dirt road, as laughter and dust filled the air behind us. As we arrived to the village we were again humbled by the conditions and left with something to think about. 

A Walk in Different Shoes

          Throughout our journey so far we have driven by and seen previews of the long lines continually winding around the gas stations. Unable to get fuel, this morning we experienced first hand the crisis as our plans to go on a city tour was rescheduled for a later time this week. Suddenly complaining about 4 dollar gas and 10 minute waits, seemed shameful as Issac our bus driver told us that gas was at 15 dollars per gallon and waiting time was anywhere from 6 hours to several days. Choosing to make the best of our situation, we decided that sitting in our hotel did not sound appealing. Instead we put on our tennis shoes, walked to a local market, and later heard good news that tomorrow we had plenty of gas to head on our two day safari! Today we chose to be flexible and to think on our feet (literally). Overall it was yet another amazing experience that opened our eyes to all the things for which we are thankful.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Our Hearts Will Stay In Mtendere

     Our final day at Mtendere tested the group's emotions.  Saying goodbye to the students proved harder than we thought it would be, especially when we were handed handmade gifts from some of the students we had worked with during our time here.  Many students expressed their sadness in our departure though personal letters stressing that we should not forget them and how thankful they were for having the opportunity to get to know us.

     We decided to make a poster for the people of Mtendere.  We cut out and signed handprints so the students would know how grateful we were to know them and how much they have touched our hearts. Many addresses were exchanged, tears were shed, but most importantly lives were changed.  It was a wonderful experience working with these children.  As we said on our poster...

"Our hearts will stay in Mtendere."

Taking Pride in Teaching

                Our eyes were opened to yet another new experience, especially touching to us as future teachers. We visited the Chivala F.P. School and were welcomed by many eager faces and outstretched arms. Our journey through the school yard and into several classrooms made us aware of the conditions of the school. Walking into the classroom, we were enveloped into a cloud of dust. As we looked around the classroom, we realized there was not much to see; no desks for the children, one chalkboard, and a few tattered handmade posters. These bare classrooms served to teach classes of 100 students or more.
                We ended our morning by meeting with the Chivala teachers to share experience and words of wisdom. Understanding the pride they take in their career with such few resources was inspiration to us all.

Monday, 4 July 2011

Hey Guess What...We're In Africa!

               Sunday was spent taking a vacation inside a vacation. We began our journey to Lake Malawi with a stop at the Woodcarvers Market. There were almost thirty little shops filled with intricate creations such as jewelry, painting, and many different animals.  The vendors spent a lot of time on each individual craft. We enjoyed exploring each shop and helping to support their work. Many of the vendors were very persistent to get us into their shops because they work to support their families and livelihood. After spending mass amounts of Kwatcha (money) we continued our adventure to the lake.
                Lake Malawi was absolutely breathtaking and our cabins provided a balcony with a great view. Many of us had monkeys waiting for us on our porches. Spending the day on the beach was a great getaway after our busy first week. We felt like royalty while being served a three course meal and enjoying the music of a local band. After eating we danced the night away, some of us even joined the band with our newly purchased drums. We ended the night star gazing by the lake and enjoyed relaxing together.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

We Stand for Children

Today was the day that we have been working towards for the past two weeks.  We as a group, students and teachers, worked together to host a professional development day for local Malawian teachers from the surrounding towns and villages.  A total of 32 professional teachers came and we were very eager to hear what we had to say and teach. They requested educational theories, so we taught Vygotsky’s “Zone of Proximal Development” and a related theory, “scaffolding.”  We wanted this day to be less about us teaching, and more about whole group collaboration.
                The day was broken into two sections, a whole group direct instruction and then small group work.  The direct instruction was a general introduction about both of the theories, and the groups were discussion based with a more extensive look at each of the theories and how they can be used in the classroom.  The session ended with a large group sharing about what everyone had learned, we learned just as much as the local teachers did and not just about Vygotsky’s theories. The Malawian teachers were shocked that “even in America” we teachers struggle to provide resources for our students, at times. To close the workshop, we passed out certificates to all the participants.  In Malawian culture having proof of education is a very big deal, the smiles and remarks from the teachers made us realize how important this day was to all of them.   
                After our very successful day of collaboration we attended a wedding for the family of one of the works in Mtendere. We were all very excited to see a wedding of a different culture; however we were all shocked at how welcoming the bridal party was to us. They did not know us at all, and instantly welcomed us to the wedding. The highlights of the event was dancing down to the aisle to the bride and groom to give them our gifts, it is tradition to dance with the gifts and we were excited to be a part of and welcomed into the culture.

A Heart of Giving

                In the past days at Mtendere, we have bonded and created relationships with the people of the village. Though it is only our fifth day, our hearts have been captured by the joy each child brings with a simple smile. We have all been humbled by how they have so little, yet they give so much. Their social-economic status is below us all, yet in some way they find ways to give. Friday was an emotional, moving day as hand crafted gifts were distributed. Gifts made from scrap metal, left over yarn, or anything else they could find. They were so proud of their intricate work, and even more proud to give to us. As we came back together at the end of the day, we all had a new outlook on the gift of giving. To give does not mean your social-economic status is big, it simply means you need to have a big heart.

Mphatso Yako (A Gift For You)

                We began our day visiting a free health clinic funded by the government. We each stepped off the bus with an armload of blankets to donate. Many people were patiently waiting outside on benches and sitting wherever they could. Our tour began in the maternity ward which was a crowded room with fifteen beds filled with mothers and newborns. The women were so grateful to receive just one blanket for their child and even allowed us to hold their precious babies.  Next, we visited the labor and delivery room where the beds were lined with trash bags. Directions and procedures were posted all over the walls. We were surprised to see how little privacy the women at the Malawi Family Planning Program had.
                The clinic also included a quick consultation room with a nurse and a pharmacy. The lines for both were wrapped around the building. Although these people spent most of the day waiting in line they were still so appreciative for the opportunity to receive healthcare. Malawi is known as one of the poorest counties in Africa, so many of us were not sure what to expect to see at the clinic, especially when we only have United States health facilities to compare it with. The clinic seemed to have so little in terms of medical supplies, professionals, and space, but without it these people would not have the money to receive medical attention. Malawians are forced to walk many kilometers whether they are in labor, carrying a children, or very sick to get to the clinic. Each of us realized how much we take for granted.

A Cultural Encounter

Students from last year's Malawi Field Study donated money as a gift for the orphanage, Mtendere staff decided that the money could be used for a pizza party, chickens, or goats. We thought a gift of goats would be most useful, but thought of it more as a pet.  Many villages have goats that can be used for milk and other purposes. We were informed that the goats are not to be used as pets, but for a meal for the children.  The goats were given in the early morning and slaughtered right before lunch. 
            We were invited to watch the slaughter because it has such significance in the culture, some students watched while others chose not to. The men and boys of the village are the only ones who can participate in the slaughter, no matter the age. The men and boys showed such pride in the events, but did not exactly understand why we showed such interest in the events.  They explained to the brave students that attended; that slaughters are not vicious and it is an activity of great pride.  Overall, it was a very humane encounter of which we will not forget.
            It is interesting to realize that when something like meat is so readily available, it is easy to not think how it comes to our plates.  Learning about the cultural significance and importance of the goats within the village made us realize that the goats were more of a meaningful gift than just a pizza party for the students.

Friday, 1 July 2011

A Journey Through A New Lens

      Upon arriving to Africa, we have been submerged in a whirlwind of a new culture. Being aware of what their culture means to them and how we could best respect it was very important to us. In order to take in this new culture and experience it to the fullest we had to make sure to keep an open mind, and put on our multicultural lens. This multicultural lens consists of areas such as gender, linguistics, social economics, gender and race and ethnicity. We will be touching on each of these areas as each day of the blog develops.
      Our second day arriving to the village was filled with many observations to each of our eager eyes. We split into classrooms of kindergarten, preschool and housemothers. As we observed through our education lens our minds were naturally filled with the different approaches to learning taking place. The language barriers required that direct eye contact and communication take place. For the younger children we assessed what level they were at and established routines and activities from there. Though we came with thinking of how to teach them, it slowly unfolded to a learning experience for each of us as well.