This week has been a very hectic one at JRS. They run a tertiary education program called Jesuit Commons: Higher Education at the Margins, in partnership with a network of Jesuit Universities, which provides refugees with a three-year diploma in a field tailored to the camp situation. Here in Malawi, the two streams are Business or Education. It is currently a pilot project, and the first year of graduates have just completed their studies. So... it called for a big celebration! There were delegates from all over who came to celebrate with the graduates at their ceremony - from the program heads from the various JC-HEM schools, to professors who taught their online courses, to representatives of the granting universities, Government of Malawi and UNHCR representatives, Wiley Publishing (they provided the books), and from Microsoft (they provided the technology for the centres).
Most delegates arrived on Thursday and spent the day on a tour of the JRS offices in Lilongwe, compound in the camp, and the camp itself. They were greeted by Burundian drummers, local performing artists such as Tresor, a slam poet, and were also given the opportunity to shop for Umoja Crafts.
On Friday, we had a formal graduation ceremony at the neighbouring Malawian teacher training centre, and the cohort wore their caps and gowns and were treated to a special luncheon following a long ceremony of speeches and the presentation of their diplomas.
I have gotten to know a few of the graduating cohort in the few weeks that I have been here, and I am so impressed by their accomplishments - these are rigorous courses and completing them in a third (sometimes ninth!) language is extremely difficult.
Congratulations to the first graduates of the JC-HEM program at Dzaleka Refugee Camp!
This is the place that I call home for the next 8 months. I know that my family has been wondering what everything looks like, and the easiest way to share these pictures with them is via this blog, so here goes!
Lilongwe is divided into Areas (always makes me think of the Districts in Hunger Games), which are then subdivided into Sectors, and each house receives a number (not necessarily a street name though). So, I live in Area 47, Sector 2, Plot 326. I work in Sector 3, and my housemates Brittany and Alisha work in Sector 4. Walking to work, although it only involves walking down my street, crossing onto a second, and then taking the second left, takes 25 to 30 minutes, so it is pretty spread out.
By the way - the sun comes up around 5:30 am and it is warm out by 6:00 am, and then the sun sets by 6:00 pm, so days seem to speed by!
Anyhow - welcome to the fenced-in world of Plot 326!
This is one aspect of my mandate at the Jesuit Refugee Service of Malawi. Umoja wa Wanawake Crafts is a group of women who are refugees from DRC, Burundi, and Rwanda, who have formed a union of women that produces traditional woven baskets and paper bead products. Currently, there are over 50 women participating, and they meet at the JRS Women's Centre every Monday and Wednesday to work on their crafts together and chat. Not only is Umoja Crafts a way for the women to help support their families, it also provides them with a community of women with similar experiences that they can share life with. It is an amazing group of women and the crafts are absolutely gorgeous!
The crafts are very labour-intensive and the ladies put a lot of work into making sure that they are creating quality items. The paper bead products, for example, are strips of magazines and posters that are cut into long, narrow triangles, rolled around a nail, and the end is glued down. Then, the beads are sorted by colour and size, strung onto nylon line and dipped in varnish to make them more durable. After a week of drying time, they are unstrung and restrung in various patterns. The weaving involves collecting the fibres of a succulent called sisal, making long tails of it, and sewing around it as they shape it into the form of the object they are making. The colours on the woven items come from the food sacks that are given out by the UNHCR and Red Cross - these are taken apart, sorted by colour, and used as thread.
The difficulty with the craft group is that their products do not sell within the camp, and it has therefore been the role of various JRS staff and volunteers to attend sales and source shops to sell the crafts within Lilongwe and other regions of Malawi. They are becoming known in the Lilongwe area, and there is even an American fair trade shop, Dsenyo, which has begun to carry some of the Umoja products.
Last year, Gina, the INDEVOUR who worked with JRS, created a beautiful website featuring Umoja Crafts - please take a few minutes to learn more about the women I am privileged to work with over the next eight months here.
I am extremely excited about getting to work with these lovely ladies and hope that we will be able to work the cooperative into a more self-sustaining organization.
As my family and friends well know, I am usually quite upset by spiders (ugh... shivers just thinking about them), and one of the biggest worries I had about living here was the possibility of sharing my living space with some giant African spiders.
Luckily, I have yet to see a spider bigger than a daddy long-legs, and all the ones I have seen have been outside! Though, Jo did inform me that the poisonous spiders here are the 'tall' ones like daddy long-legs, and the 'flat' ones are safe - always good to know!
However, there are some creatures that have decided that they would like to share the house with me and my housemates - beyond Artemis the cat!
Visitor Type 1: Ants
The property is infested with them, but they are rather small. They do seem to think that living inside would be nice, and our hosts, Jo & Jo, have wonderfully lined the back of the baseboards with anti-ant powder. This did result in a couple of confusing days where I thought that the one corner of my room was the location of a giant ant suicide pact, however, now that the poison has been explained, I understand their appearance and subsequent sudden death!
Visitor Type 2: Mosquitos
The windows do not have screens, so we need to be vigilant about closing windows and doors when the sun goes down, as they otherwise infiltrate and spend the night either feasting on my blood or buzzing about my head in a most annoyingly noisy fashion. I have been waking up recently with some big red bug bites, and am unsure of the culprit - it could be mosquito bites or it may be that some ants have survived the perilous entry into my room and have set up house in my bed.
Visitor Type 3: Cockroaches
These pesky bugs are super fast and good at hiding, so you only tend to see them when you enter a room and turn the light on... I may start closing my eyes for a few seconds when I do this, as ignorance is bliss! However, the ones I have seen have all been rather small and not in my bedroom, so I have yet to be extremely grossed out by them.
Murphy's Law Update: I promptly went into my room and caught a 4" cockroach attempting to make it's home in my backpack. Thankfully, my housemate Alisha thought ahead and bought 'Doom!' - a fantastic bug-killing spray - so my room has been rescued!
Visitor Type 4: Geckos
This visitor we receive as a welcomed roommate! These cute little guys eat the bugs and scurry around the walls chasing each other and their dinners. Yesterday, I discovered that a teeny 2" one is living behind one of the kitchen cupboards, so I am cheering him on in the hopes that he can catch those roaches!
Visitor Type 5: The Rooster
Ugh - I am plotting his death. Thankfully, he is a borrowed rooster that is here only until the chickens have enough fertilized eggs to provide the compound with a full flock. I can't wait for him to go home, and take great delight in the fact that the little girls (children of the guard and house-lady) chase him in circles around the garden and house! He loves to show off and crows every 60 seconds to 5 minutes, with a few hours break when it is dark out. His presence does mean that it is virtually impossible to oversleep and end up late for work, as he starts up shortly after 5 am. He also tends to crow at Artemis, the cat, and I am still trying to determine whether it is because he is chasing Artemis, or because Artemis is chasing him (my preferred option!).
Now, ideally, the visitors I'd love to welcome into this house would be human ones, so if you've got any interest in seeing Malawi, let me know! **cough, cough - Mom & Dad**
My goodness! What a week! I'm going to give you a short rundown of how it went, and will hopefully be able to share some more about my work later on this week.
Sunday: Left Stuttgart, flew to London where I stood in the customs line for over 3 hours before finally reaching my connecting flight's terminal, and then in the evening, got on a flight to Johannesburg, South Africa.
Monday: Landed in Jo'burg and, as told by the airline staff, exited customs and went to get my suitcase to recheck it for the connecting flight with a new airline... but they had checked it through after all, so went to check in again and was told the flight had been overbooked by 12 people and I'd have to sleep in a hotel in Jo'burg. Thankfully, I had a friendly staff person assist me and then got to spend the next 20 hours in a lovely hotel waiting for the next flight.
Tuesday: Made it onto the once-again overbooked flight to Lilongwe, and landed in Malawi just after noon, where I was picked up by WUSC staff, proceeded to the Garden Court Lodge to drop off my bags, and then caught up with the other 5 volunteers (one is Anna - a fellow INDEVOUR) just in time for a city tour via mini-bus.
Wednesday: Had a morning of orientation at the WUSC offices, and lunch with some settled WUSC volunteers who gave us some thankfully received advice. In the afternoon, we were all introduced to our organizations, and got to talk over the job descriptions once again.
Thursday: First day of work! And, it was a camp day, so I arrived at the offices just in time to check my emails and then hop in the back of the Land Rover to head 1 hour north of Lilongwe towards Dowa, to spend the day on various tours of the JRS projects within the Dzaleka Refugee Camp.
Friday: JRS had a staff team-building day at Lake Malawi, so within four days of arriving in-country, I was able to see and enjoy the beauty of the lake! It was about a 2 hour drive from Lilongwe and was a great way to get to know the staff and have fun at the same time: there was swimming, yummy braii (BBQ - many types of meat including fresh fish bought from local fisherman as they brought their catch in), soccer games, and more! I saw cormorants diving for fish, and shortly after we set up the BBQ, a monkey came running from behind the rocks and stole our onions!
Saturday: The new WUSC volunteers who are based out of Lilongwe, Alisha, Brittany, Mylan, and I went into town on the mini-bus and did some much-needed groceries and essentials shopping, and then visited the Lilongwe Wildlife Center, a rehabilitation sanctuary, in the afternoon, followed by a dinner with some of the more settled WUSC volunteers and their friends.
Sunday: We had a relaxing morning trying to figure out internet and then went for lunch to a beautiful restaurant and plant nursery with Nikolaus, a Malawian friend from the dinner on Saturday. We walked back to our Lodge and played some Euchre until our taxi driver came to move us into our new house for the time we are here! We finally got to meet Jo & Jo, the couple who live in the house, and had a lovely evening moving in, making dinner together, and chatting. They also have a cute little cat named Artemis who is super cuddly and decided last night that the best place for him to sleep was on my pillow and/or head.
So that is what I've all experienced in the past week! It's been pretty busy, and I am expecting that to continue, as the JRS offices are humming with activity and the projects I am going to be assisting with seem to need a lot of work!
Today I arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, my home for the next eight months. It is arid, warm, beautiful, covered in red dust, and has trees without leaves but with many beautiful purple, red, and vibrant pink flowers covering the bare branches. The Malawian people are so friendly and the driving is much like home though on the wrong side (I was a bit worried it would be similar to Ethiopian driving which was an experience in defying death). I had a city tour with the other volunteers this afternoon after my flight arrived, and have now ridden a mini-bus twice (personal space is a long-lost dream). I am so excited to finally have made it
An image of the continent on which I have the great privilege to live. I found this poem online and searched until I found the author. These beautiful words were written by Trishula Patel.
Well, I took the past month off blogging because of exams and final papers and then a few weeks of vacation and stressed out packing. Now, I am sitting in Pearson International Airport in Toronto, waiting for my flight to board and take me off to Stuttgart (via London) to visit my grandparents for 4 days. Then I will continue on (on the weekend), flying from Stuttgart to London, London to Johannesburg (South Africa), and Johannesburg to the final destination: Lilongwe, Malawi!
I had a wonderful few weeks of rest - spent some time at the new family cottage, visited a friend's cottage, hung out with my new sister-cousin Caro, and was surprised yesterday with a going away party! I think pictures do a better job than words for this part, so enjoy!
I've had a few people ask if I plan on continuing with the blog while gone - ABSOLUTELY! I think it will the easiest way to communicate my experiences to a wider audience. So... please read along and leave comments!
And now, I will leave you with a video of the song that has played relentlessly in my head for the past 2 weeks, which my mumsy and I both love to watch and listen to.
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.