Tuesday, July 8, 2008

words misunderstood

This has been something that has been on my mind for sometime now. Flashy words. Words that sound very beautiful, sound correct but are used so often I think their meaning gets lost.
I've got a list going. When i feel its complete I will share it. But some of the words that would be included would be empowerment, support, capacity, ownership, sustainability..... etc!

I think I touched on ownership in my last blog when it comes to ownership of ideas. But I had a wonderful talk with a man who is from malawi, studying in the UK and was doing research at WESM for 6 weeks. And we were talking about participatory. A point he brought up was that these new approaches were simply cover-ups of past mistakes and they sound better. He was actually usuing some PRA (Participatory Rural Approach)activities in his research and said that we can call is participatory but at the end of the day I have set the agenda. He was doing research on if eco/san technology actually effects water quality. He said, I am going in there looking for certain information and im not just going to ask whats important to the villagers because they will start talking of their goats, and thats not what I need to hear about. But I still use PRA. So participatory is participatory?

I started to think of these 'words misunderstood' when I started to hear people at my work use them in ways different from how I feel they should be talked about. One day i was sitting helping a co-worker write a project proposal and there were things in it that I knew he did not understand the importance of or had little intention of doing. Such as monitoring and evaluation, involvement of various stakeholders, communicating with other NGO's, etc.
But I understood why he was doing it. These flash words are words he knows needs to go into a project proposal to get funding because it is what donors want to hear. So people working in NGO's want to keep their jobs and in order to do this they need to be able to dance to the tune of donors and they need to know how to incorporate these flash words into their day to day language.

And a partner is suppose to support and build the capacity of WESM... I am finding myself asking if they understand what it means to support someone and build their capacity. (and yes i am also questioning if I even understand it! I think I do... but maybe thats the problem! :p)

I think there is room for people to teach the meanings of some of these words. To help people feel these words in their hearts. Not just hear them coming from the other side of the table.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

about half way in & malawi is not poor

So I sitting in Salima just coming from our retreat where all of the EWB volunteers within Malawi got together for 3 pretty jam-packed, intense days of workshops and conversation!! :) For myself this retreat came at a wonderful time because I was needed the engery that it gave me. I was getting a little frustrated with some difficulties I was running into in my work placement. But I'm motivated to get bcak and hit the ground runnnig. I feel I've got a pretty solid plan of action for when I get back.

So I have many a-ha moments here. I am learning alot and taking alot of things in. So sometimes I feel as though my brain is on super overload and I cant process everything that Im taking in. So I have been doing a pretty decent job of every week sitting down and writing out my personal notes & observations. So I will be able to go back and share those when I return to Canada. Ideally I would like to write out most of my so-called A-ha moments for everyone to read. But I actually dont have the time to do that. I am someone who is highly analytical and can talk, write and explain in great length and detail... definatly a factor in how much time it would take me to write everything out. In theory it would be nice though!!

I thought it might be interesting to throw it back to anyone who is reading!! So Im going to share this story..
For the most part I find myself talking to alot more men then women. For the most part men are more educated then women as a result more men can speak English then women. So I would like to connect with more women. But I do find it difficult because I cant speak to many of the women espically ones in the market, besides basic chichewa phrases to gets be through! I also find when women can speak English they tend to shy away from me... I dont kno if shy is the right word. To be honest I havent quite put my finger on what it is but there is a barrier between me and Malawian women... I sense not so wonderful vibes from time to time. So this story is about a time when I definatly was getting some not grat vibes!!

I went to the chairmans office and there were 5 ladies there.. 4 being pretty friendly, greeting me & shaking my hand. But this other that would have no part in it. So in my head... if I get honest with myself.. I was definatly thinking ok this lady is kind of a bitch. So as time went on there was a gentleman who came and he was asking me questions about who i was, where I was from, what I was doing here, etc. The general questions. He proceeded to tell me if I knew Malawi was one of the poorest countries in Africa. Which I said I had heard... this was when this lady who I had sort of labeled a bitch started to challenge this man about why Malawi was poor. Her argument was that Malawi was not poor, that in fact Malawi is rich.

Some of her points were grabbed my attention and I really came to be quite intrigued by this lady! So is Malalwi poor... or is Malawi poor in comparsion to another country? Who is Malawi poor in comparison to?
What is poverty? If poverty is not being able to provide one's basis needs... Then is the subsistence farmer in the village that can feed himself, maintain his health through traditional medicines and herbs, but he lives in a grass thatched house instead of a house with a tin roof. Can we say he is poor?

When we talk about poverty.. what are we talking about? Are we talking about it in a materialistic way?

( I heard something a great thought at the retreat this weekend... around what we hear in Canada. "Oh people live on under $2 or under $1 a day in Africa. But here $2 a day is actually quite alot of money. So someone in the village its a lot. But not in our terms. So if someone decides they are going to be a farmer their whole life. Do they really need more then $2 a day. Why do you need to go to the university and learn to speak English if you are never going to leave your community who speaks Chichewa?!)

So back to the girl.... she was saying people here feel bad and ashamed about their way of life because they are told they are poor. They are one of the poorest countries in the world. They should have a tin roof because that means devolpment... and a transistion towards the 'better life' But in this quest to become developed people are turning their backs on their roots, where they come from and what has bee their way of life for thousands of years.

So I get this feeling sometimes that people have broken spirits. I question how much of people's identity are we taking away from them we are pushing his certain type of development on them? And what are the implications of that loss of identity?
When we talk or development whos development is it really? I realize this can mean many things... is it the rich keep getting rich and the poor keep getting poorer. That can be one way of looking at it. But I was thinking about these developmental ideas.... whose are they? Do the belong to the people of Malawi or do they belong to the west and the west are trying to get the people of Malawi to take ownership of those ideas? So lets not push the technology because we've learned to a certain degree that doesn't work.. but lets push the ideas and the technologies will follow.

At the end of the day I don't really have any answers and/or solid opinions. But it was a different way of thinking that struck me and got me to think. So I wanted to share it!

Have a good day!!

Saturday, June 14, 2008


just found a new email from May 25!

things are good for me.... i was sick for the past 5 days! I thought i had malaria... but thankfully that day has not come yet! i went to the hospital yesterday which was an experience in itself! so today I am feeling better.... I am leaving muzuzu today to go back to where I live which is dwangwa. I had to come here to go to the bank. so the trip took roughly 5 hrs. And 4 of those hrs were spent in the back of a pick up truck. ppl just stand on the road... and these truck or mini buses will pick you up. so it was quite fun & lots of cultural discovery!!! hahaha!!! by the time we were getting to muzuzu there was 2 100kg bags of maize (the staple food of malawi), 2 50kg bags of maize, 2 50kg bags of charcoal and about 15 of us in the truck! so i was sitting on the side on the truck and sometimes I thought I was going to die... but it definatly added to the overall fun of it!!!! :)
Next week i will get more into my work... I think I will be focusing on ecological sanitation latrines. which are pretty much latrines where there are two holes... you use one and then fill it. when it is filled you cover it and use the second.... by the time the 2nd one is full the first one should be composted and you are harest it and use it as fertilizer. and then re-use the 1st hole while the second one composted. So quickly that is what that is. its good because it reduses people usuing the washroom in the open. its more sanitary. It saves the trees because you dont need to build a new latrine after it is full... you can re-use. The slap to cover the hole is made from cement not trees. And it helps farmers get more income by not having to buy fertilizer... and supplying fertilizer to those who couldnt afforded it the first place anyways! So thats an over view of what im hoping to focus on!
i plan to develop a monitoring and evaluation system for the project so we can determine how well it is actually work. If the goal is to have latrines so ppl can be healthier... my question is are ppl actually healthier. and how is this project playing a part is people being healthier. If there are water points being installed.. and the water is clean are people taking the appropriate steps to ensure the water stays clean between the time they draw the water and the time they use it.
But malawi is beautilful. there is a beautiful lake! beautiful mountains. beautiful people. The people never stop amazing me!!! they are so creative and innovative. They have mastered the art of making something from what we would consider 'nothing'. I took some videos that are very neat! for example i met this boy to made this car out of simply wire, two little tires and a sugar cane stick. and the boy could simply stand and push it and control which direction it went. I cant explain it and do it justice. But people here are amazing! and so loving and hard working!
(fun side note - i saw my first crocodile yesterday... it was in the river where i live. but it was only a baby. so i was kind of dissapointed it was only a baby. but as I was driving the muzuzu the truck had to slow down because there was a crocodile crosing the road. This one was bigger, so i was more excited... When i get excited, I get very excited and the locals who are around laugh at me. in fact they are always laughing at me. but i am always happy that they are laughing!)muzungu is my name here too! it means white person. So if I am driving on a bike taxi or walking I always have people screaming this at me.It hasent come to irritating me yet!!! :p we'll see what happens!
hope all is well! :)

New news about value village

For those who know me really well know that I love shopping at value village. There are two main reasons. First being that I think its good to re-use clothes. Its better for the environment! You can find good things there that would otherwise just go to the garbage... (or go to africa as I am learning first hand... but I will get to that!) The second main reason why I like value village is because I am a poor candadian student who needs to be a cheap-ass!!!! :)

so...... the new news about value village... im not so happy about them anymore!! almost all the clothes i have bought since I am been in Malawi has come from there. when they and places like sally ann have too much clothes they ship it across on boats to africa and sell it by the pound. so theres all kinds of stuff from value village. interesting how interconnected we are eh?!
There are also stuff coming from other european countries and Australia etc. Plus on top of all of that clothes.. there is all the clothes that is all the clothing aid that is just given freely!
but the reason i dont really like it is because it really does totally undermine any chance of a developing country to start a sustainable textile industry. there are lots of taylors... but they cant do very well cause there is some much clothes already made being shipped in.
I never knew.thought about this before I was at pre-departure training in Toronto. We had a question and answer session with George Roter, Co-headman of EWB! This issue got raised there... To come just ashort few days afterwards and see it for myself was pretty interesting!

I can honestly say I could have left Canada with one outfit and dressed for 4 months looking like I had brought everything from Canada!

Just some food for thought! hope it feeds some of someones hunger for knowledge!!
much love everyone!!

Copy and pasting

so for right now i am just copying some emails i had written to my family! since i dont get a chance to access internet i know my blog is really hurting! and I am sorry for that!
I will try to be better! but i cant promise much!
so this one was sent the first week i got here... before i even got to Dwangwa. A bit outdated but some of you might like to read it anyways!

so first thing i like is there are geikos climbing on the walls and i find them cute!!! haha! just had to put that in there! :)but i got here yesterday after like 38hrs of travel. i spent a week in toronto doing some pretty intense training and i just had yesterday, today and half of tomorrow of in country training.So air canada sucks a screwed up my flights. So instead flying flying to london, nairobi, kenya & then lilongwe, malawi. I had to go to frankfort first then to london. But first I had to miss my flight in frankfort because air canada didnt even book the flight for me. So im not a fan of air canada!! not that i was a huge huge fan anyways!
so today i went to the market. pretty crazy! im like an underground celebrety it seems. people like to stare and follow the white girl. espicially kids! really strange feeling... but i guess i will get used to it. And everyone is sooo nice! everywants to help you and get you to go on their bus! Well actually there are always some bad apples... and i have a story already. most people are kind, but some not so much like the one that tried to rob my today. I was at the 'bus station' Which consists of a millon ppl and 1000 buses... and everyone trying to get on one to go some where. and the buses arent really buses they are more like 15 passanger buses that they cram as many ppl as possible into. so i was talking to 2 guys ( i was with 2 girls as well) and we were asking how to catch a certain bus... when another guy came over. next thing i know i felt something on my side and this 3rd guy got his hands in my bags trying to steal my wallet which he does get his hands on only to have me run after him & my wallet scream and get it back as he tried to pass it on to someone else!!! lesson learned: my canadain wallet doesnt exsist anymore... now i need a malawi one. Neveer take all of my IDs with me. If I loose money... not a big deal. I loose IDs. big deal!
another interesting thing that came from today.. was how HOT it is in the day... nights are pretty cool. but noon is pretty blistering. and i was drinking sooo much water. When I thought about the fact that i was only twalking around and needing soo much water. For more ppl life is pretty hard and consists of alot ofhard manuel labour. And for the majority of them they dont have access to clean drinking water. Just some food for thought that hurt my heart when i thought about it.
For some logistical news... i will be living in dwangwa, malawi. which is about 200km north of the capital, Liliongwe. i dont have living arragements yet... i will set them upo when i get there. but i will be working with WESM(wildlife and environment society of malawi) I will be potentially working in two sectors. id say mostly based around water and sanitation. Although im probably going to incorporate some monitoring & evaluation cause im very interested in that.. and Im not sure how much of it organizations are really evaulating how well there projects are doing. so if they start they will be able to better see gaps & places to improve!
so the two things i will be working on are hygiene promotion and IGA(income generating activities) This are other things rural farmers, who farm mainly to eat, can do to create more income for themselves & have a better chance of getting ahead or supporting themselves when there is no food.
once i get there & access my organization im going to decide where i want to work & focus my energy! if you are like me.. you might be asking how this fits into a wildlife & environment organization!!malawi is over populated and there is ALOT of stress on the land. so the idea is that if people can be supported, ie. have irrigation systems to make sure their crops will grop, or they can have other ways of making money. they will be less likly to over-fish or hunt animals for food! So in a nut shell that is what I will be doing. I will probably write more on my blog as time goes on about my work experiences & just general day to day experiences!!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

little video

just a little video of some JFs!! I am learning how to use my video camera & put things on this!!

these are some off the cuff questions we be thinking about as we leave for africa!

much love!

Friday, May 2, 2008

I love blogging

blogging is a little strange. dont really know what to write... dont really have a particular direction. I will try for those of you out there who want to know what I am doing!!Right now Im into day two in Toronto. Pretty good stuff! The house has its own beautiful dynamic going on... with 22 people starting a pretty intense chapter of life, who barely know each other crammed into one house with lots of character, how could there not be a beautiful dynamic!I had alot of mixed emotions coming into this.. excited, anxious, insecure, motivated, hopeful. I didnt feel prepared enough to be going to Malawi in a week from getting here. But it is very comforting to know that I am not alone!!! Still feeling a tad surreal, but in fact very real.
Im grateful to have this oppurtunity to be a part of Engineers Without Borders in this way! Thanks to everyone who has been a part of helping to get me here!!
Im not sure what people would like me to blog about... so if you have any questions or things you would like to know more about, please feel free to post and ask away. Or send me off an email! I understand that not everything will interest everybody... From the different people that will be reading this I know that there will definatly be different points of interest for those different people! so..... let me know what you wanna know and I will tackle it the best I can.So I will be living Dwangwa, a village on the east coast of Malawi right on the lake. And I will be working with the Wildlife & Environment Society of Malawi in the water/sanitation sector. Also income generation will be something I will be working on, which I just found out!! I do not know exactly what my job will look like, and I won't know until I get there. (after the 25-30 hour travel from Toronto) So when I have more specifics I will be sure to pass them along!
For now thats about it... because I am exhausted and do really need 7 solid hours of sleep to get me through tomorrow!!
much love!