Dream big dreams

On our last day, we had one last tour of Lilongwe; we visited one more orphanage, the memorials for Malawi’s first president, and a nature preserve. Our farewell dinner, however was the highlight of my day.

Delicious, traditional Malawian food was served on torch-lit tables underneath a crystal-clear, starry sky. We were entertained by dancers, who taught us traditional dances, and a band that put their own African twist on familar songs. When I was asked to join the band, only one of my songs came to mind: Dream Big Dreams.

This whole trip has been about dreaming big. For some of us, this trip was a life-long dream realized. Mr. Tony Kline, our Ball State instructor, trudged through many obstacles to coordinate this trip in such a short amount of time. But taking students to work with an orphanage in a developing counrty was a dream of his, and he saw it through.

The children at Mtendere Village now have the capabilities of following their dreams. Because of the donors and volunteers that make Mtendere possible, these children are given the possibility of escaping extreme poverty. Children like Tonnex, my 12-year-old tutoring partner dreams to be an ambassador so that he can help the people of Malawi. The opportunities given to him by Mtendere Village make it possible.

For me, this experience has caused me to dream even bigger. With this background, I am now thinking about how I can further help the children in Mtendere as well as children in similar situations around the world. Without this trip, I surely would not have thought about traveling with a purpose, or volunteering in this capacity.

Farewell Malawi. Thank you for the lessons you have taught me.

Bream Big Dreams


The warm heart of Africa

Bike Taxi

Malawi is called the warm heart of Africa, named from the friendly and peaceful citizens. We experienced this firsthand when we rode our bike taxis and visited Njobvu Cultural Village.

When I first heard that we would have the opportunity to take a bike taxi, I expected I would be riding in a rickshaw bulled by a bicycle. What we did get though, was an adventure I can only begin to describe. We rode on the back of the bicycles on uneven roads and paths that wove through the bush. Our drivers pedalled past onlooking villagers, waving children, animals, and villages.

When we arrived at Njobvu Cultural Village, we learned how the Peace Corps helped to establish this village to aid in communication between the Malawian people and government and help people learn about the culture in Malawi. After a short tour of the facilities, where one can stay overnight for about $5, they put on a show to teach us about how they live. We listened to a band play music from some guitars and a makeshift drumset, and we watched as people danced to the music. We learned the workings of a marraige proposal and were given a demonstration of grinding corn. We were shocked by a fire eater and informed about the use of witchcraft. We played ball with some children, while others sat on our laps.

This village was so hospitable; I do not question why Malawi is called “the warm heart of Africa.” They also made me look at develping countries in a different way. It is easy to come to a developing country and make suggestions that would make things better. But, we have to remember that our values and background experiences are different. Malawians may not want to live the way that we do. They embrace their rich cultural background, and we should appreciate that. Volunteer trips are not meant to change the way other people live, but rather, help in the ways they feel are most needed. And along the way, we get a chance to learn more about the lifestyles of one another.

Safari at Mvuu Camp


I had to take a day off from blogging so we could safari at Mvuu (hippo) Camp. This realized one goal from a few people’s bucket lists. when we arrived, we crossed the river by boat to breathtaking accomodations. Baobab trees towered over our chalets, which were constantly surrounded by monkeys, warthogs, and several different species of birds. The front of our chalet was only 60 feet away from the water where the hippos reside during the day. At night, the hippos come out and make their grunting noises. We are walked by armed guards after dark.

The land safari itself was an amazing experience despite the cold rain. We saw impalas, sables, zebras, hyenas, warthogs, and monkeys. We never did find the eluding black rhino. At dusk, we started our night safari; I was surprised by the amount of animals we saw. We stopped for the giant porcupines rustling along the ground, but the feeding hippos is what we were really after.

We ate breakfast in the morning with the monkeys. Literally, the monkeys jumped on our table and stole a piece of toast! Then, our morning safari was on the water. There we saw more birds, herds of hippos sleeping, and a giant crocodile. We got really close to take a picture and it didn’t move. Then, it suddenly opened its mouth and lunged under the boat. The experience of a lifetime!

Goodbye Mtendere

Coloring Eggs

Today we had to say goodbye to our friends at Mtendere Village. But we wanted to do so in a big way.

We started off by attending the orphanage’s church service, which was held in the cafeteria. The church service included readings from the bible, singing, and a sermon. Today’s lesson was about how the words we speak can hurt others. This was a very good lesson for children of any age in any culture.

Following the church service, we prepared for our farewell activity: an egg hunt. Even though this type of activity is generally associated with Easter, the children enjoy it anytime. The children each came up to the main house that overlooks the orphanage to color their eggs with markers. Some of the designs drawn revealed the feelings of the children. One person’s egg depicted a Malawian flag and an American flag. It shows how the children view US citizens as partners, rather than outsiders.

After we hid the eggs all over the complex, the children came running in to find the eggs. Each child was allowed to find two eggs. Then, they came inside the cafeteria for a soda and a stick of sugar cane to finish off their snack.

What a treat for the children! Their daily diet usually only consists of nsima (a cornmeal porridge) and a relish made from greens. Eggs, soda, and sugar cane are a very special treat. This activity was a treat for us visitors as well. Providing such a special memory for the children is such a delight.

When our activity ended, it was finally time to say goodbye. It is amazing how quickly one can get attached. In just the past few days, we met over 100 children. You wouldn’t think such feelings could come from spending a short amount of time with so many kids. With promises to write, we gave our last hugs and piggy-back rides and waved goodbye.

Refining lenses

Ellen Tutoring

Just as we go to an opthomologist to improve our vision, the experiences we have can give us a clearer picture of the world around us. Teaching in Africa has given us challenges that we would be less likely to face while teaching in the United States; these challenges refine our educator lenses and make us better teachers.

After assessing each student’s reading ability with comprehension, the Ball State team worked together to develop a tutoring plan. We noticed that we all had similar issues. The students tend to be able to decode words very well and speak fluently. They have difficulty, however, comprehending what they have read.

When I first assessed Tonnex, the 12-year-old student with whom I am working, his highest instructional level was at a second grade reading level. The others and I thought this seemed very low considering the other work he has done. As it turns out, Tonnex was having trouble comprehending the story because he had little schema about the topic. One story, for instance, was about the first snow fall, another story was all about a walk through the woods in Autumn. No wonder the story was difficult to comprehend! He had never seen snow or leaves changing color. When I asked what the people in the story might do with the snow, he answered that he would collect it for drinking water. When I asked what other animals we might see in the forest, he suggested an elephant. To solve this problem, we searched for stories without a cultural bias. Sure enough, when Tonnex read about a soccer game and airplanes, he found himself comprehending at a 5th grade reading level.

After determining the students reading levels, we worked out a tutoring plan. We decided that it would benefit all students to make predictions and look for who, what where, when, and why while reading. We team taught our lessons then worked with the children individually. Everything went well despite the challenges we faced.

In the United States, we take many things for granted. In Malawi, we have to work with limited resources. With limited paper and no copy machine, we had to find new ways to show the graphic organizer. Without an extensive library, it was difficult to find a book that fit our needs exactly. In a country where students are taught in classes of 120, we had to figure out how to motivate the students to participate. We learned to use student translators when the language barrier became a problem. And, we even found ways to work around the cultural differences when most of the books assume the students grew up in a Western culture.

The challenges that we face during this immersive program make us refine our teacher lenses. We have to view and approach everything in a new light. These challenges sharpen our skills and promote better teaching.

Jessica and Ruth Teaching

Hail to the chief

Chief's Song

As a tradition, Mtendere Village holds a large ceremony to welcome new visitors to Mtendere. (This was described in a previous post: “Our first visit to Mtendere”) Everyone at Mtendere takes a part in the dancing, singing, and dramatic interpretations of this ceremony. When a new group needed to be welcomed on Friday, I was honored to be asked to play the role of the chief of Mtendere Village.

The chiefs costume has skirt and hat made from animal skins, the Malawian flag as a shirt, a drinking gourd for honey, and white corn flour spread on the arms and face. During the ceremony, I was introduced as the chief of Malawi and triumphantly walked in as I gave the people of Mtendere a reassuring smile. after being seated on an animal skin, the guide lead the children in with a song to bring gifts to the chief. As each child gave their gift, I accepted and they danced in a circle around me.

After accepting the gifts, I joined the guide in a song. The guide played an instrument called the karimba, which has tuned metal pieces and a resonating gourd. The intrument is played by plucking the metal pieces with the thumbs. While the guide played the karimba, I played a shaker and sang.

The chief also plays another role during the welcoming ceremony. When a snake, representing HIV/AIDS, bites people, the chief is one person who is bit. This is to show that if you are not careful, HIV/AIDS can strike anyone, even the chief.

In preparing for and participating in the welcoming ceremony, I learned so much about the culture in Malawi. It was an honor to participate; I will never forget this experience.

Mending minds, bodies, and hearts

Book Donation
We had the opportunity to visit several schools today to donate books. What an experience! Earlier in the week, we sorted through a mountain (with very little exaggeration) of textbooks and storybooks.  While Mtendere does not have the need or capacity for many of the higher-level books, they found schools that are.

Our first visit was to the primary school the children at Mtendere attend.  The 1500 students there treated us like rock stars; it was a total Beatles moment.  When we arrived, they ran from the school building cheering.  When we left, they chased the bus for nearly a half mile.

The schools were better than what I expected from articles we read before coming.  There are 1500 students at the school with only 42 qualified or unqualified teachers.  The lack of materials was the worst aspect of the school.  There are not nearly enough books to even share, the chalkboards are worn and hard to read, the children did not have desks, and there was a complete absence of electronic teaching materials.

The other 3 schools we visited were secondary schools.  When we loaded the trailer with books, we noticed many algebra and algebra II books.  We thought for sure that these would be too difficult.  But, when we visited one school, we visited a 130 person class full of students solving equations that I cannot.  It teaches a lesson that we should not judge a book by its cover.  This school was in disrepair, but the students were still learning very difficult material.

My favorite thing about this part of the day was seeing the students’, teachers’, and headmasters’ faces when we donated the books.  In the United States we have committees that meet for a year to decide which textbooks to buy.  The people at these schools were greatful for any books that we could give them.  I am sure they will be in good use.

Dr. Demi
We stopped for lunch at a random spot on the side of the road. There was a large, shaded rock nearby where we could eat our lunch. As we started into our lunches, we noticed some small children in a nearby village and invited them to share our lunches. While timid at first, the children realized that we only wanted to help, and they sat down to eat with us.

After we ate, Erin, our AFC trip leader, noticed a laceration on the back of a small girl’s ear. It looked as if she were attacked by an animal. Thankfully, Demi, one of the members of our group, is currently finishing her residency as a doctor and was willing to treat this child. It was a very moving lunch. To think that we stopped at a random time at a random place on the side of the road, and were able to bring so much good.

Shoulder Ride
You could say that I touched the hearts of the children at Mtedere villiage, but I like to think of this as a two-way street. While Mtendere tries to provide the most loving environment it can, there are just too many children to give enough attention. That is one reason why volunter groups are so important to the orphanage. I was able to play with the children for only a half hour after delivering books today, but it was a fantastic 30 minutes. I was spinning children, playing games, giving piggy-back and shoulder rides. This type of attention is so important to the children’s development, and it mends my heart as well.

I am so thankful that Ball State offers this type of immersive learning experience. Today was a great example of how we can help others while learning. Just look at the faces of the people in the pictures of this post; from their eyes, you can see how we have helped. I am confident that I have learned far more from this trip than if I had taken EDDRDG 430 and EDEL 450 on campus. Our experiences within the course content gives us real-world, multicultural applications. This is possibly the best learning experience of my life.