I have been told by my family that I need to begin featuring more of my work on the blog, as it seems as if all I do is go on vacations! Well, I'd love to have been giving more updates on work, but it has been moving slowly, and didn't really merit a blog post.
However, this past week was the first ever special needs class held in Dzaleka, and we have officially kicked off our program! So that is super exciting and, as much as I'd love to share pictures with you of the children in class, I need to get permission from their parents and JRS prior to being allowed to post them publicly.
We started out with nothing. An idea for a special needs class that seemed to be needed, a list of potential participants who are currently enrolled in the special needs Respite Care program that JRS runs, and two teachers at the JRS schools who have been trained in education for children with hearing and visual impairments but currently are engaged in teaching other classes within the primary and secondary schools.
The teachers, some Respite Care workers, and myself did home visits with the children who were potential students, and spoke with their parents about their abilities. Some of the children have multiple disabilities and others were simply at a disadvantage and missed out on school. We have about 5 children with hearing and speech impairments, 4 with visual impairments, and 6 who have learning or multiple disabilities.
We were given a classroom to use, and my supervisor and I ordered some furniture to be made for it. A few weeks ago, we went to a local shopping centre and bought some classroom supplies and toys. I stocked up the closet, arranged with a co-worker to get some pictures and the alphabet painted on the walls, and did a ton of research on non-verbal communication.
The class is going to be an extremely fascinating experiment, as the children, if they speak, speak Swahili, Kirundi, or Kinyaruanda, or another language - whereas the teachers are Malawian and speak Chichewa and English. So not only do we have the non-verbal barrier with about half the class, we also are speaking in completely different languages most of the time! One of the items that I did a lot of research on was PECS, a picture exchange communication system, and I spent a week collecting images, printing and cutting them out, and laminating them for the class. Hopefully, the ability to choose images to represent activities and emotions will make classroom communication a bit easier.
Another exciting development is that the funding for an additional teacher has been found, so one of the special needs teachers will be relieved of his duties and our class will be able to expand from one day a week to the full week!
I think that the paintings will be completed later on this week, and the rest of the furniture will arrive, and then I can show you pictures of the fully kitted-out classroom.
The first day of class was small - only three children managed to come out. The teachers worked with their parents to create Individualized Education Plans, and I got out the blocks and let them at it. I wanted to see whether they would understand the potential creativity inherent in the blocks. The children built towers - one of them sorted her blocks by colour within the tower, but even when I built a house and other shapes, they simply took them apart to add to their towers. It was very interesting. Then the teacher joined us and we did some more intense learning activities with the blocks - sorting by colour and sorting by size. One of the children caught on very quickly and helped the other two to find their blocks, but the other two took a long time to grasp the concept. We also got out some pencil crayons and paper and let them colour. Two of them mimicked my left-hand writing (oops!) and they all enjoyed creating their masterpieces. The teachers and I wrote their names out on the paper and drew simple shapes for them to try to copy. Again, they were at very disparate levels, and one of the little girls spent most of her time drawing Rs and the shapes we drew for her, while the other two mainly ignored our attempts to get them to copy a shape.
There are plenty of needs in the classroom still - the basics are there, but there is so much more that we could implement to further improve the ability of the children. I am searching for Braille supplies, as we would like to teach the children with visual impairments how to read and write Braille, but need the styluses, frames, and paper. We have some mobility issues to deal with, and are looking for funding for wheelchairs and tricycles for those children. We are also hoping to get the children with visual and hearing impairments to a medical centre to determine what we can do to improve their learning capabilities with hearing aids and glasses, but need to find funding and a specialist in order to do this.
So that's your update on the special needs class! The teachers and I will be running our second class on Wednesday, and are hoping to have a few more attendees.
Wow! What a birthday weekend! I don't know if it will ever be topped, as this one was just so much fun!
It started on Friday, my actual birthday, with some cards from my grandparents, parents, and aunt - such lovely reminders of home and loved ones! Thank you so much for those - I actually rationed them out over the weekend so that each time I got a little family-sick (I don't do homesick, just missing the people!), I opened one up!
I left work a little early to purchase the car featured in the last post - first car purchase of my life, and I managed to have it completed on my birthday - that's skill, folks! Then I used the oh-so-convenient ability to drive to the grocery store and purchase mounds of food so that I could pick up my housemates, Brittany and Alisha, and begin our cooking extravaganza! They worked on pizza toppings and I made dough for 7 pizzas, and a tray of caramel squares. Eventually, friends started to arrive for the dinner, and we had a blast eating and chatting (in the dark, because, of course, the power cut happened 1/2 way through the 4th pizza cooking!). Jen, my coworker and friend, made an amazing chocolate cake with Nutella frosting and cookies crumbled into it, and I was ambushed with a very loud, multiple-keyed Happy Birthday! Such a fun evening! Thank you to everyone who came out - Jo & Jo, Mylan, Ellie, Colette, Duane, Farid, and the Kande crew.
We then all piled into various vehicles, with the group of 7 heading off to Kande in a big van that we borrowed. We drove off into the night on a 4 hour adventure on bad roads, arriving at Kande Beach at midnight, with a rowdy van full of friends! We enjoyed the night sky and went swimming, and some of us actually went to bed and got some rest!
It was a stormy weekend, which made for amazing photos of wind, waves, and clouds, and when the sun did come out, we took full advantage and headed into the water for hours! We also ate cake for breakfast... 'cause that's how we roll on birthday weekends!
We spent most of Saturday on the beach or in the waves - it is such a beautiful place! The sand is a lot more fine than at Cape MacLear, and it is not nearly as built up, so the waterfront is very clean.
In the evening, we took over the beach-side bar, Ian pulled out his DJ equipment, and we danced the night away... with a few foosball competitions and swimming breaks thrown in in between songs!
Sunday morning there was a serious storm, so we stayed in bed until it cleared up and the thunder disappeared (it was scarily loud... couldn't see the lightning, so I never had any idea when the next crash was coming - and got laughed at for jumping out of my skin every few minutes!). But, when the storm was over, the sun came out and the green of the plants was magnified... such a beautiful view from the dorm! We spent the morning and early afternoon hanging out on the beach and in the gardens.
We eventually all bundled into the van and headed back to Lilongwe - once again, a very rowdy crowd! The drive was rather more exciting on the way home, because most of it was in daylight, and that meant that we encountered more people and animals on the road. Thank you Gino for the very safe chauffeuring for such a long haul!
So that was the weekend! And of course, I can't forget to thank all the friends and family who sent me facebook messages and emails to wish me a happy birthday! I love you all!
Hi dear blog readers! Sorry for the relative silence this past week! My laptop charging cable died and the phone app for my blog posts was not working well. I now have a new charger and am off to the races with writing some catch-up posts to give you all updates on my work and the oh-so-exciting birthday weekend that my friends made happen for me! Until then, here is a blog post I stumbled across and thought was full of valuable advice and also is fitting to share, as I just turned 23!
23 Priceless Habits That Will Make You Your Greatest Self
Today I am sharing a few verses. I love this interpretation of them!
Romans 12:1-2 (The Message)
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
Well, that was certainly an eventful weekend! We crammed a ton of activities in, and the natural fallout of trying to move at a fast pace in slow-paced Malawi was rather humorous!
First thing for the weekend was to get to Blantyre for the night. Our friends Jen & Adnaan were driving to Blantyre and offered us a ride, so we spent a hilarious 5ish hours in the car with them, reaching our hostel in Blantyre at around 10:30 pm.
We joined the other girls, reaching a group total of eight: Brittany, Alisha, Mylan, Anna, Roxanne, Sam, Felicity, and I, and joined some Malawian friends to hang out for the night. We had a lot of fun… accidentally stayed out until 4:30 am, which made the idea of leaving for Zomba at 7:30 am very unappealing! Though, we did enjoy the view of the sun rising over Blantyre from the hostel patio!
Fallout Effect #1: We were dead to the world and didn’t get up until after 7:30.
Alisha went to the clinic to make sure she didn’t have malaria, and once she had her negative tests back, we all met for breakfast and then headed over to the minibus stop to bargain for a ride.
Fallout Effect #3: Our previously bargained-for minibus was no longer available because we were so late.
Eh – we still found a minibus and enjoyed our bumpy ride to Zomba, arriving around lunch time and getting to experience fantastic homemade pasta at our hostel, the Casa Rossa. The owners gave us the number of a guide who took us part way up the plateau and then led us on a beautiful hike through a tropical and pine forest (how strange is that!?!) to a waterfall pool where some of us went swimming (clearly, I am always in the water if it is around, so I am part of that ‘some’).
Fallout Effect #3: Because we were later getting to Zomba than planned, we weren’t able to complete the hike to the top of the plateau on Saturday, which meant that our planned leaving time on Sunday needed to be pushed back.
We came back to the hostel and ate another meal of amazing homemade pasta, and chatted until late. We were all a little worried about our safety, as for some reason, Malawians burn the brush and are working on clearing the mountainside right now, and the fire had gotten out of control and was very close to our hostel. Feeling like we were taking our lives in our hands going to sleep there, we quizzed the owners about safety and they informed us that they had a fire break around the property, guards keeping watch who would lead an evacuation if needed, and a fire truck on the mountain. They also told us that the fire was actually moving north away from us, so we felt comfortable enough to go to sleep.
Sunday morning we got going a little bit later than we meant to, and headed up the mountain and climbed for 2 hours up to the peak, enjoyed the gorgeous view for twenty minutes, and then turned around and headed back down – stopping numerous times along the way to enjoy lungozi (yellow raspberries) that only grow on Zomba mountain (they can grow the canes in the village, but they won’t bear fruit!).
We shopped at the tourist stands for some carvings and then headed back to Casa Rossa for one final meal of pasta before hopping on a minibus to Lilongwe.
Fallout Effect #4: Our late start in the morning and the longer hike meant that instead of leaving on the noon bus, we left on the 2 pm bus.
You’d think that would be the end of the story… but nope, it isn’t! The minibus was fine at first – moving along pretty quickly, three people to a row. After about 2 hours, we started to stop at nearly every village, squeezing more and more people into the bus, until there were four people to each row and a few standing in between the rows! One of my seat neighbours (I was in the back row) ended up climbing out the window at his stop because that was the easiest way out, and his replacement came in through the window as well! The seat we were on had broken and been repaired, so we were sitting on a crooked non-cushioned bench of two planks that were separated by a few inches (super comfy for four hours of bumpy roads haha)! At around 7 pm, 5 hours into our journey, we reached Ntcheu (pronunciation: N-chay-o) and everyone got off the bus… including the driver and conductor. We sat and waited, figuring the bus would eventually fill again and we’d move on.
Suddenly, a bunch of guys came over, told us we were going in a taxi, and grabbed our bags. We followed them, hollering and trying to figure out if we had all of our stuff, not sure what was going on. They stuffed everything into the trunk of a compact car, and told us to get in. Through all the commotion we managed to figure out that it wasn’t a taxi, and was rather a private car and the couple in front were the owners. As we drove away, the man explained that he and his wife had overheard the driver and conductor discussing stealing from us and then abandoning us, and had bargained with them to rescue us and give us a ride the rest of the way to Lilongwe.
Fallout Effect #5: Not speaking Chichewa and leaving too late put us in a really dangerous situation that we had no idea we were in!
We were so grateful to these Good Samaritans, but were rather squished – 4 of us in the back seat of a compact car! About 20 minutes down the road, the engine overheated and we had to pull over at a police checkpoint and sit on the side of the road for an hour, waiting for the engine to cool down. I, meanwhile, was facebooking and texting so that if anything bad happened, friends and family would know where we had last been seen! So thankful that we have such an amazing group of friends here – once my facebook post went up, six of our friends here in Malawi either texted or called us to make sure we were alright! Once we got back on the road, we drove at 60 km/hr all the way back to Lilongwe, stopping a few times so the driver could bargain for groceries from sleeping roadside vegetable sellers, and arriving at home at 11:30 pm, over 9 hours after we began our journey.
Fallout Effect #6: We are super exhausted from the long trip, and all of our hips and legs are killing us from the combination of climbing a mountain and then sitting in uncomfortable spaces for the majority of the day!
The redeeming factors of the trip: Blantyre was fun, our friend group had a blast together, Zomba was gorgeous and worth every second of discomfort, the pasta was terrific, the berries were so yummy, our friends here in Malawi are super sweet, we got home safe and sound with all of our stuff, and the overwhelming majority of Malawians are super friendly, helpful, and kind. Still in love with this place and hoping to never leave! ;)
I think that if we are to really take the call of the Gospel seriously, we must be involved in caring for the vulnerable in some way or another. Of course, for many people this does not look like moving to a different country or adoption or working for a non-profit. People in need of love are everywhere! They are in our neighborhoods, at our work places, on your street corners.
Read the rest of the interview with Katie Davis here, and learn more about her life and Amazima Ministries. I had to giggle at the last question of the interview, as it seems like it was written for me! (Though I didn't think of her life as glamorous or easy - I have been around enough mothers of multiple children to know better than that! But, it is a good reminder that the person I need to be imitating is heavenly, not human.)
What words would you share with another twenty-two year-old woman with a bee in her bonnet to imitate what you’ve done?
She is wise beyond her years and her views on adoption and providing for vulnerable children are a return to community-based child care - a shift that I see happening more and more in the international adoption advocacy community. As much as adoption and international adoption are beautiful rescues, sometimes they are contributing to corruption and tearing families apart. Ethics in the adoption world seem a little gray these days, and the people who doggedly pursue the truth before removing a child from their home country and possibly also their family are heroes in my eyes.
I went through a really tough year before this placement year, and came out of it feeling scarred and unwilling to open up. But, I know that when I do approach experiences and relationships without reserve I benefit so much more – even if it results in further breaking of my heart.
One of the biggest lessons I have learned over the past few years is that all humans have a huge capacity to give and receive love, and that we are all very good at also causing pain to each other… but, that on the whole, choosing to risk the pain results in greater personal growth and a much more vibrant life.
So, I walked into this placement feeling emotionally numb and drained, and made a conscious choice to live out of a place of love. And it has been amazing – sure, there are hard days, and I am already mourning the coming close of one period of time (my two lovely housemates, Alisha and Brittany, are leaving at the end of the month) – but I am so excited about the continuation of this period of my life. And no, I am not completely healed of my previously broken heart, but as I live love and build the fantastic friendships I have found here, I am finding that my day to day is becoming a lot easier. I feel alive again and it is fabulous!
As much as it seemed easier to close myself off and turn into a hermit to protect my heart and try to heal – I didn't, and I didn’t grow either. I believe that humans are built for relationship – it is so obvious in the incidences of babies passing away when they are neglected and not given love – and I have learned that even grown-ups need that to have a satisfying life. I mean, I knew that, technically, this was true, but as an introvert in the middle of a difficult time, I felt like choosing to limit my human interaction was a better choice. Well. No more – I am officially an advocate of loving even with a broken heart.
Another lesson I have learned this year, through bloggers I follow and sermons I’ve listened to, is that God loves to break my heart – because when I break for the things He breaks for, I become more malleable and open to where He is leading. And that is something I am definitely a fan of.
When I become discouraged and want to pull away and return to my hermit-hole, I remember the wonderful and resilient people I am meeting in the refugee camp, who have been through so much and yet, welcome me with open arms and share their stories and experiences with me. I remember the fellow bloggers who share their hearts on the internet and impact my life. I remember my valiant family members and close friends who continue to pick themselves up (with God’s help) after emotionally and physically destructive experiences, and live life to the fullest in spite of their troubles. I remember the orphans that have been rescued from cribs where they were given barely enough food and comfort to survive, and how they flourish in their families and learn to love and be loved. When I think about the resilience of the human heart that is shown through these people, I throw caution to the wind and jump in with both feet.
On this journey that is blasting my expectations away, and rewriting my perceptions of the world, I am enjoying the roller coaster ride instead of trying to wrest control back into my hands – because when I am in control, I miss out on so many opportunities for growth and love.
So, dear blog readers, know that I love you and am so grateful to have you reading along!
I have a worship song running through my head today - "How great is the love the Father, has poured out on us - that we should be called the children of God".
I am so blessed to not only have a Heavenly Father watching over me, but also an amazing Godly man as a dad here on earth. And it pains me so much to meet children and read of children who don't have a family and don't get to experience the beautiful unconditional love that parents give. So, today I am sharing a few blog posts and videos of modern day heroes in my eyes, and praying that somewhere today, someone will step out of the comfort of their life and ask God if He will open their eyes to the pain of the orphan and show them how they can help. Personally, I can't wait to be eligible to adopt, and hope to continue supporting adoptive families and orphan care organizations until that time.
In all honesty - I read Katie Davis' story and got a little bit mad at God that she was living my dream life and I was still stuck in school - but His plan is working out wonderfully, so I am over it! ;)
This couple shares their fantastic adoption journey so well - I can't embed this video, so you'll have to click on the link to watch it... but believe me, the passion of this father for his found children is precious to see.
And last, but not least, two posts from some absolutely inspirational women:
Ann Voskamp: A Letter To The North American Church: Because It Is Time
No Greater Joy Mom: made for more
John 14:18 (ESV) "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."
James 1:27 (ESV) "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."
There are over 144 million orphans in our world today. There is so much we can be doing to help them, and today, I call out a challenge to you, to live out the love that was lavished on us by God, and take some time and find a way to make a difference in the life of an orphan. You might be someone who can adopt or foster a child, or maybe you can sponsor one, or support another person's adoption. Find a way - no child should be deprived of love, a family, and secure shelter and food.
Some organizations that you can look into are: Reece's Rainbow, Compassion International, World Vision, International Voice of the Orphan, Amazima Ministries, 147million, Ekisa, and Reunite Uganda.
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.