As promised, here are the rest of the stories that Mr. Mkweza, one of my co-workers in Malawi, told us on one of our trips in and out of camp.
The Smart Hare and the Lizard:
There was once a chief that had a big lizard that was terrorizing his town. So, he tried and tried to kill it, but he failed because it kept hiding behind the tree. So, the king invited a lot of people, anyone who would come and kill that lizard, he would give him a very good wife - he said " I have a very beautiful daughter and the one who kills the lizard will marry my daughter, and will be the son-in-law of the chief". So, people would come and try to kill the lizard but they were failing, because the lizard would just go around the tree, behind the tree. So, the hare thought itself wise and took a rope, tied it to the leg of a goat, and another rope, tied it to the leg of a dog, and pulled them over to the tree where the lizard was hiding. So, he put them near the tree, and he took the grass, and the hare gave it to the dog, and the dog doesn't eat the grass, so he was beating it to make it eat the grass. And he took meat, and gave it to the goat, gave it fresh meat, and the goat doesn't eat meat, so the hare was beating it so it would eat the meat. So the lizard saw that, oh this man is insane - he is doing the opposite, he is not taking the grass and giving it to the goat and the meat to the dog. So, he said, "No, no, don't do that, just give the grass to the goat, and the meat to the dog". But the hare pretends that he does not understand and was serious and was yelling at the goat and dog "You - you eat this one!", right under the tree. So, the lizard was very furious "Aa-aa, no let me come and help you - I say, take this grass and give it to the goat". So, the hare, was just behind the lizard watching the demonstration of giving the grass to the goat and giving the meat to the dog, and then he killed the lizard! So, the hare succeeded at killing the lizard because of his intelligence.
How the Tortoise Got Kicked Out of Heaven:
The birds were all invited to a feast in heaven, and the tortoise wanted to go as well, but he did not have wings. So, he asked the birds if each one of them would give him a feather so he could fashion himself some wings and join them. They agreed and each plucked out a feather and gave it to him. The tortoise wove himself some wings and joined the birds on their flight up to heaven and sat at the feast table with them. Then, he asked them if he could be given a new name, because tortoises cannot fly, and he now had a part of each of them on him, so he wanted to be called ‘All-Of-You’. The birds agreed to this, because he did have a piece of all of them in his wings. Then, the angel brought out the first course, and as he was leaving after setting the food on the table, the tortoise asked him who the food was for. The angel answered, “For all of you, of course!’, so the tortoise, now named ‘All-Of-You’ claimed it and ate most of it, leaving only scraps for the birds to finish. Another angel brought out the second course, and again, the tortoise asked who it was for. Again, the angel said ‘For all of you!’, and the tortoise claimed and ate it, leaving scraps for the birds. The birds grew frustrated with this treatment and decided to take back their feathers, so each came and plucked their feather out of the tortoise’s wings. The tortoise, worried now that he couldn’t fly back to his home, asked them if they would please go to his wife and tell her to put all of their mattresses and blankets in the yard so he could jump down from heaven and onto them. They said they would, and flew home. The birds stopped by the tortoise’s house and told the wife that there was a big war coming, and that to protect herself and her house, she should put all the sharp objects around the yard, so that the house would be protected. She hurriedly did this, and the tortoise, looking down from heaven, saw his wife scurrying around the yard and was pleased, knowing that he would soon be able to go home. When she finished spreading the items around the yard, the tortoise jumped from heaven, but instead of landing on a soft pillow, he crashed into axes and knives, which broke him into many pieces. His wife came running out of the house and saw her husband spread about the yard in tiny shards, so she quickly picked them all up and ran to the witch doctor. The witch doctor had a potion to put the tortoise back together again, but it could not make the scars disappear. So that is how the tortoise was kicked out of heaven, and how he got all of the markings on his shell.
Mr. Mkweza's Unending (& Favourite) Story:
He says "I could tell this one all the way back to the office and then start again tomorrow and continue all the way back to camp without finishing!"
Once upon a time, there was a village. The villagers there grew maize and other crops. Before harvest time, the locusts came and ate everything, so there was a lot of hunger in the village. People thought and said "So this year let us not do the same - we should cultivate and harvest earlier, before the locusts come, because if they come they will eat everything and there will be nothing to eat. So that second year they were very clever, they made the granaries, stores, and before it was completely dry season, they harvested it and put it in the granary and covered everything so they were safe. So the locusts came adn tehy found that all the gardens are harvested and everything was cleared. So they had nothing to eat so they went in the trees and wre just eating some leaves but they tried to find maize but there was no maize at all. Then they landed on one granary - they are like clouds - a lot of them - you know, millions of them - and one locust saw a tiny hole in the granary, and it went through that tiny hole, and it found a grain of maize in a cob of maize in the granary. So, it took that grain of maize and crawled through that same tiny hole and came out and showed the others - "See, I have gotten my maize!" "Ahh - let me go!" - so another locust crawled through the tiny hole, picked up a grain of maize, and came out again. Another locust go through, and another and another and another - I can say that up to tomorrow - because there are millions of locusts and and each is taking only one grain of maize and there are many cobs of maize in the granary, just imagine - so to finish one cob of maize, a lot of locusts are going through and picking up one grain of maize, so it can't end! So people say "Oh - I am tired of hearing you - another locust, and another locust, and another locust" - "Yes, as I say, it is millions of locusts and millions of grains of maze". So to finish the story - another locust crawled through a tiny hole, picked up a grain of maize, and crawled out again, and another locust crawled through a tiny hole, picked up a grain of maize, and crawled out again, and another locust crawled through a tiny hole, picked up a grain of maize, and crawled out again, and... You can't finish! Even if I start again tomorrow, I will not even finish half of the locusts!
A neat component available at the University of Waterloo is the Global Experience Certificate. In order to receive this, a student submits a proposal, takes 2 consecutive modern language courses and 1 global studies course, volunteers for a minimum of 20 hours in a cross-cultural setting, and then completes an international experience of a minimum of 6 weeks in duration. I chose to complete this, as I had a built-in international experience and many global studies courses within the requirements of the International Development program. I also chose to take French as an elective, and volunteered at the Welcome Home Refugee Housing Community in Kitchener last summer, helping to organize a camping trip for refugees newly resettled to Canada.
When I returned from Malawi, the GEC coordinator asked me if I would write a short blurb and provide her with pictures to create a one page publication that the GEC office can use to promote their certificate, and I thought I'd share it here with you.
As there were, unfortunately, no pictures or videos taken of my capstone presentation, I thought I would share some of my slides and script for those of you who were hoping to hear it.
Hello! My name is Katiana and I will be giving you a snapshot of some of the potholes I encountered while on placement, and share methods that allowed me to remove, resolve, or work around them. For the last eight months, I was living and working in Lilongwe, Malawi, in Dzaleka Refugee Camp with the Jesuit Refugee Service of Malawi. And, like most life events, and the placement experiences of my fellow cohort members, my time away was riddled with good, bad, inspiring, strange, and blah moments.
Let’s frame this in the story of my experiences driving while on placement. Lilongwe is a sprawling city, and having a personal life is greatly aided by a car, as it gets dark at 6 pm, after which it is no longer safe to be outside unless in a vehicle, and taxis are rather expensive and can be unreliable. So, a couple of months into placement, I bought a car – my first! And yes, it did make life easier… when it was working. But, I was driving it during the rainy season, I lived on a particularly horrible dirt road, and the car I bought does not have much clearance. So I became very well acquainted with the potholes that I needed to dodge, slow to a crawl to survive, and, yes, sometimes bottomed out in. Not to mention the many goats, chickens, people, bicycles, and other drivers that I needed to pay attention to. Working in a development agency happened to have a lot of parallels to this journey, and as I learned to adapt my driving style and skills to Malawian roads, I also learned how to navigate the complexities of working in an environment of culture clashes, delicate hierarchies, and a workload-staff imbalance.
Dzaleka Refugee Camp is a permanent camp, meaning that buildings are generally mud brick, and residents have often lived there for 10 to 15 years. Most residents are from DRC, Rwanda, Burundi, Eritrea, or Somalia. The Jesuit Refugee Service works to provide education, at all levels, to the residents of camp, and to Malawians from the nearby villages. Programs range from preschool, primary, and secondary school, to college credits, vocational training, and include a few income-generating projects. The staff of JRS are dedicated individuals who really live out the JRS motto of accompanying, advocating for refugees and displaced people, and serving them, and I was honoured to be able to join them for eight months.
My original role at JRS was to work with the continuing education program to create a new sustainable agriculture course and work with the students in the community garden. A secondary task was to work with the Umoja Crafts group, an income-generating project for vulnerable women. But remember my analogy of potholes, and the undeterminable depth of the one below will give you an idea of where I am headed.
A month into my placement, the head of the JRS office decided that volunteer hours could be better used in a different sector of their work, and I was reassigned. My new task was to facilitate the creation of a special needs education program in the primary school – not of any environmental focus which is what INDEV aims for, and nothing that I have training in.
I started with two teachers who were trained in hearing and visual impairments, but had no knowledge in the realm of general special needs. They had additional responsibilities and were only able to dedicate part of their weeks to the Special Needs Education Program. We had an empty classroom and very few resources with which to outfit it. There were twenty children that we evaluated individually and chose to include in the class, and this group had extremely diverse special needs - some of them were cerebral palsy, after-effects of polio, physical disabilities, hearing impairments, learning difficulties, and Down Syndrome. I had no specialist training, and as recent transplant, no connections in Lilongwe. We were off to a slow start, and I felt overwhelmed, and simultaneously found that I had too much to do, and nothing I could do.
After wallowing in despair like a good literary heroine, I pulled myself up by my, well I was going to say bootstraps, but considering the rare times I actually wore shoes they were flipflops…
I reframed the experience, and realized that there are a lot more things that I CAN do than that I can’t. I have been privileged in the education and critical thinking skills I have been equipped with, and my international contacts are a great resource. Even broken and missing parts can’t keep my car from continuing to, somehow, chug along and make it to the destination.
And that is my aim today. To show the future students, and to share with you, ways that you can surmount obstacles… or even, if I dare say it – circumvent them. There are ways to get stuff done that require a shift in attitude, an altered perspective, and a realization that our ‘outsider’ realities allow us to propose changes that people embedded in the organization and culture may not see as options.
First of all, I added the Umoja Crafts group back into my mandate, as they had no internal leadership or management that could sufficiently run the organization. They had never been taught the skills to learn how to stand on their own. Part of JRS Malawi's new directives included adding more income-generating activities, and the Umoja Crafts group was the prototype, helping them to grow and learn how to succeed without outside assistance was a huge and needed step.
I spent a lot of time doing research on special needs and teaching to specific needs, and passed that knowledge on to the teachers placed in the classroom. I also approached contacts overseas and in the country to get additional information and resources to outfit the classroom. Classes commenced, and with some continued guidance from me and specialists that I was able to connect with, the program began to breath.
I left the Umoja Crafts group a few weeks ago, with a functioning democratic leadership system, a confident leadership team, and clearly outlined steps that we worked together to write that will ensure their continued future development and success.
The SNE Program was also running smoothly – with regular attendance from children, progress in their learning goals, and teachers who feel more confident in their abilities and who are better able to do their jobs with the supplies that are now present in the classroom. One example of this is when some of the children learned how to use building blocks – a surprisingly difficult task for them to grasp, and so rewarding when they began to build more than simple towers.
Placement was a drawn-out process of learning how to properly fill potholes, and the strategies that I developed are ones that will help me to succeed in future jobs, and I hope, that you will also be able to apply. How I made the most of placement – both at work and in my personal life: ask questions all the time, and expect to learn from those around you. Read others’ experiences and take in their knowledge – I read many blogs and journal articles and books to learn how to best make the changes that needed to happen. Don’t take for granted your ability to research and think critically – these are skills that a lot of people I encountered were not able to develop or use to their best advantage. Reach out for help – develop a support network, ask previous students and field-specific professionals for their advice! Show respect, but also speak up – learn that tenuous balance. If you don’t have work to do – take on co-workers overload, make up jobs (in the sense that, you may see needs where the organization doesn’t perceive them), vocalize your skills and ask how you can put them to use, and when you are given a task to do, assume you can do it – again, research and critical thinking skills take us farther than you might expect. And honour and celebrate the human element of your experience, and that of those around you.
Yesterday was a huge day for the INDEVOURS of 2014. We each presented a ten minute capstone presentation on our placement experiences to a panel of judges who are development practitioners, and an audience of professors, fellow students, and members of the public. It was fascinating to hear eight months of my friends' lives distilled into ten minutes of what they learned, how they changed, and observations of the cultures we lived in. Thank you to all the INDEVOURS for being honest, baring your hearts and personal experiences to an audience, and for supporting each other during the long day. At the end, a people's choice award and a judge's choice award were presented to two of us: Liam's pondering of the 'white men do it best' attitude and question about whether or not to compromise won the people's choice award, and my 'Potholes of Placement' and advice for future INDEVOURS resulted in me receiving the judge's choice award (totally shocked and amazed, folks - there were amazing presentations all around, and I definitely did not think I had a chance). We had St. Paul's University College rings presented to us in a small ceremony led by the core team of staff who have headed our program, and then had a wonderful celebratory dinner with those UW staff and the INDEVOURS 2015 who are beginning their spring term prior to going out on placement. It was a great way to round out four years of hard work, relationship building, and personal discovery. And with that final flourish, we have passed the baton on to a new cohort of INDEVOURS to continue to improve the program, become development practitioners through a mix of theoretical and practical application, and to create change in this world of ours.
This ending also brings about a new beginning - I am a graduate, a newly minted development professional, and I have two and a half months before my next adventure kicks into high gear! So, welcome to the redesigned blog, which will be following me into this era. Life is good, and I will be sure to keep you all updated on the exciting happenings that occur as I begin to prepare to move to Malawi to teach at ABC Christian Academy. But for now... I'm coming home.
I thought I’d share what typical work days looked like for me. On Mondays, we work in the office in Lilongwe for the whole day (7:30am – 4:30pm), and on Fridays we do the same, though we leave at 1pm. On Tuesdays through Thursdays, we work in the office for an hour, and then pile into the Land Cruiser and head out to camp. It takes between forty-five minutes and an hour to reach Dzaleka, and the transport time is spent working on computers, conducting meetings with other staff in the vehicle, and chatting. When we arrive in camp, I generally head over to the Special Needs classroom and check in with the teachers and students. On some days, I spend an hour or two observing and helping out in the class, but on most days I have errands to run or other meetings to attend – for instance, with the Umoja Crafts group. Around noon, we go to lunch at one of our routine restaurants – either Shabani’s Rafiki Restaurant, or a new restaurant opened by a group of vulnerable women with support from JRS. After lunch, we walk through the market and pick up any vegetables or other items that we might need, and then head back to the office. My afternoons are frequently spent working on the computer, completing research, writing reports for the classroom, and emailing with contacts for the special needs class. At 3:45pm, everyone piles back into the Land Cruiser and we drive back into the city to arrive for the end of the work day and head home at 4:30pm. Evenings often involve working on papers for school assignments, trying to cook dinner in between power or water cuts, and hanging out with friends. However, because days in Malawi start so early, a late bedtime is around 9:30 or 10pm!
As I mentioned in a previous post, my brother Kris came for a visit in my last week. And he brought along two big suitcases packed to the brim with learning activities and toys for the special needs education program. Thank you so much to the friends and family who donated the money to purchase them!
Unfortunately, he also happened to come to visit during the two week Easter holiday for school children, so I do not have any pictures to share of the toys being used. (But I am hoping to get some in the near future from my friends still working in Dzaleka.)
Well, we managed to squish one of the suitcases and a bunch of loose toys under the benches and in unused seats in the Land Cruiser and brought it all in to camp on Thursday, and then unpacked it all onto one of the tables. The supplies were bought after consultation with special needs teachers in Canada, and some were bought with future students in mind who have greater disabilities than the currently enrolled students.
So that you get an idea of what the classroom is now equipped with, I am going to list the activities and some of the potential uses for them (working from top left in the picture above, across each row).
Wooden stack and count shape puzzle - 4 shapes with 4 pieces each in 4 different colours - each shape has a different number of anchoring pegs (1,2,3,4), so children can practice counting, sorting by shape, by colour, and work on their dexterity as well.
Rubber frog bean bags - virtually indestructible, these are a set of six and each is a different colour. They can be used for focussing distracted children, playing catch or other activities that require each child to have an individual marker object.
Wooden puzzle clock - each hour has a different shape and colour, so children can work on telling time, identifying matching colours, shapes, and number order.
Fastener box - various layers of fabric with different buckles, zippers, latches, and buttons to work on dexterity and develop their skills for self-care.
World icon shape matching pieces - mini puzzles that will help children learn to identify different animals, objects in nature, and other universal symbols.
Wooden lacing boards - various shapes with universal symbols (i.e. octagon stop sign) with laces to weave around the outlines and practice dexterity.
Purple texture matching ball set - ten balls with five different textures to work on senses.
Plastic locktagon building set - a more complex toy to work on creativity and dexterity.
Number bean bags - written numbers and numerals to practice recognition, reading and ordering of numbers.
Wooden activity boards - fasteners and latches to improve self-care skills and dexterity.
Weighted squishy stress balls - fidget activities to assist children with learning difficulties in maintaining focus during lessons.
Textured therapy balls - fidget activities, also good for working on sensory processing.
Rubber turtle bean bags - virtually indestructible, these are a set of six and each is a different colour. They can be used for focussing distracted children, playing catch or other activities that require each child to have an individual marker object.
Wooden beads lacing set - dexterity, identifying, and sorting activity.
Wooden mandala puzzle activity - precision and dexterity, shape identification.
Theraputty - a thick putty similar to plasticine, for sensory play.
Squidgie balls - ribbed flexible plastic, great for playing catch with children who don't have a wide range of movement in their hands.
Wooden puzzles - colours, alphabet, numbers, and sign language alphabet to work on spacial recognition and learning to identify those sets of information.
Wooden hammer and peg set - to work to improve hand-eye coordination.
Band in a box - for sensory processing and learning about rhythm.
Wooden shape sorter - spacial recognition and identification of shapes.
Shapes bean bags - to work on colours, shapes, and reading.
Alphabet and number building blocks in a rolling storage cart - development of dexterity, number and letter identification.
Wooden building blocks with screw fasteners - developing dexterity, creativity, and an understanding of basic construction.
Wooden nesting and stacking animal tower - learning to identify different kinds of animals and working on spacial identification and ordering by size.
Fidget Twidget Therapy Tracker - a concentration tool that works on sensory processing and focus.
Wooden building blocks - handy for sorting by shape, colour, size, and developing dexterity and creativity.
I then spent the morning talking through each of the activities with the two teachers, and giving examples of potential methods to use them when teaching the class. One of my co-workers is also trained in therapeutic play, and I am hoping that she will be able to spend some time working with the teachers in the future, to make sure that the donations reach their full potential for assisting in teaching these students.
The two teachers of the Special Needs Education Program were absolutely astounded. Their jaws dropped and their comments were "We are the richest resource classroom in all of Malawi", "No one else in Malawi has access to any of these teaching tools", and "Thank you so much to everyone in Canada! You must tell them thank you and God bless them!".
Welcome! My name is Katiana and I am a development professional pursuing my dream to live out Isaiah 1:17 to the best of my abilities. I am passionate about teaching and working with vulnerable families and children to improve their lives sustainably.
This blog is composed of my personal opinions, which do not necessarily reflect the opinion or views of institutions or organizations that I may be or have been affiliated with.