A walk in another’s shoes


It is sometimes easy to tell others how to face their challenges when we do not have to ourselves. In a class leading up to this trip, we discussed ways to improve the education system in Malawi. Now that we are here, we see that these problems are not so easily fixed. Sometimes we have to take a walk in another’s shoes to truly experience the challenge.

Today, I did not walk in the shoes of a citizen of Malawi, but I did see a hospital that sent shivers down my spine. I only saw this hospital from an outsider’s perspective; I can only imagine what it would be like to walk in the shoes of a patient.

When we first arrived at the hospital, I felt very akward. There was a large crowd of people waiting for medical care (we did not take any pictures of the hospital out of respect for the people).The entire country of Malawi only has about 40 doctors, giving a 1:42,000 doctor to person ratio. One person commented, “In the United States, this building would be condemned in an instant.” This very small hospital had 1 doctor/administrator, and maybe 5 nurses on staff. The run down building contained only around 25 cots; I did not see any of the modern medical equiptment we take for granted. The patients visitors wait outside and also act as nurses. The family is responsible for the food, sheets, and clothing of the patient. How can the most basic health care be provided in a country that lacks doctors, medical tools, and an infrastructure? I do not have the answer, but after visiting the hospital today, I recognize the need.


Educating Mtendere or educating me?

Teaching House MothersTuesday was our second day at Mtendere Village, an orphanage in Malawi. We have been looking forward to this day because we finally had a chance to interact with everyone at Mtendere and meet our students who we would tutor.

We started the day with our two hour service time block. While the rest of the group started organizing the books from the library, the Ball State people had a chance to teach. The four stations to teach were preschool, one-on-one time with a house mother, a special needs student, and the rest of the house mothers. We plan to rotate between these places throughout the week.

I worked with our instructor, Mr. Kline, in teaching the house mothers’ class. After observing the grammar class, we had the opoprtunity to teach math. Bringing a social atmosphere into a traditional environment to teach math factorization really made a difference in morale.

After sorting the donations and a quick lunch break, I was finally able to meet my tutoring partner, Tonex. Tonnex wants to be an ambassador to help the people of Malawi. He wants to ensure everyone has jobs, food, and water. What a great 12-year-old kid! Dream big dreams, Tonnex!

After an hour of tutoring, the whole orphanage got together for an activity: learning Chichewa, their native language. We split up into groups, leaving 2 visitors for every group of students. They were to teach us as much Chichewa as they could before we had to perform in front of the entire group. Let’s just say, I could have done better.

In reflecting on today, I wonder who is being taught. Am I teaching the people of Mtendere Village, or are they teaching me? Both.

While I was in the classroom with the house mothers, I practiced critiquing other teachers. Our suggestions will improve the way they teach. At the same time, I gained valuable experience about what it will be like to teach a student from a foreign country. I worked my way through the cultural and language barriers to teach a great lesson.

When tutoring Tonnex, he obviously gains skills in reading, but I also learn from him. He taught me that no matter what your situation in life, you can always dream big. He wants to be an ambassador for the most selfless reasons. This is a child, who just 3 years ago, was left alone in a developing country. I can dream big as well. His situation is an example of how one’s dream can create opportunities for others.

My last lesson of the day was learning Chichewa. It was so hard for me to even memorize just a few phrases. This gives me insight to how ESL students must feel in schools in the United States. I really want to learn chichewa, I work hard at it, and I have great teachers. Even so, I am having great difficulty learning.

These are just a few examples of what I am learning on this trip. I am given insights that help me become a better educator and even a better person.

Our first visit to Mtendere

I apologize for the lack of pictures in this and the previous post. With no internet connection, I am playing catch up with the blog. The pictures can take up to 5 minutes to load, and with the slow internet connection, I just don’t have the time.

Monday was our first visit to Mtendere (pronounced ten-deer-ee) Village, the real reason we came. When we first arrived the children were not ready for us yet, so we toured the Vitameal plant on site. Vitameal is the product of an organization (I believe it is Feed the Children). When finished, Vitameal is a nutrient supplemented corn powder. With an output of 4000 to 6000 2kg bags each day, Vitameal feeds many children. When passed out, people, mostly children from what I am told, come from miles away. They turn in a government food voucher, passed out by the village chief, in exchange for the food. Each bag of Vitameal gives 15 adult servings or 30 child servings; it no doubt keeps several from starving.

When the children were finally ready, we walked into the orphanage to the sound of the children singing a song welcoming us to Mtendere. We then watched a program of singing, dancing, and a wood block military type of exercise dance. Their program also told a story about Malawian culture. The story told of the HIV/AIDS problem. “AIDS can strike anyone at anytime; we must not be careless.”

After the children’s program, we were told we had time to mingle. The children immediately took to us and showed us around. We toured thier houses, which include dorm-like rooms. We saw the multipurpose room, garden, storage rooms, futbol field, everything at Mtendere. These children are so proud to call Mtendere thier home. In contrast to the fishing village from the night earlier, the children at Mtendere are so polite. They do ask for things, but understand that it must go through their house mothers. For instance, one child gave me a beautiful picture, painted on an old binder divider. He said, “If I have paper, I can draw you more pictures.” I cannot wait to hand over our donations.

I also look forward to getting to know the children better. We shared some of our favorite things and names of people we care about, but I also wonder about their hopes and dreams for the future. At Mtendere, the children can really look to a future.

Back to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, these children have all the physiological needs: food, water, health care. They can also feel secure, safe from the harms of weather or outside world. Mtendere even gives children a place where they feel belonged and loved. While there are only about 5 house mothers for the 132 children, this affection is not the same as we would expect in our homes. By meeting all these needs, the children can feel self-respect, and enjoy their individuality. They can experience a purpose and meaning to life, and have the potential for self-actualization.

Tony and Kids

Markets, Villages, and Lake Malawi

Village ChildrenIt is difficult to describe very much about this new world to someone who has not been here. I feel that I could spend the rest of my life talking about what I have seen in the past 3 days. I will try my best to give a clear picture of Malawi in brief.

Day 2 (Sunday) started with a van ride to Lake Malawi. We made a few stops and saw many interesting things along the way. Our first two stops were at a gas station and grocery store. The gas station was similar to what you might find in the United States, but the grocery store was not. The grocery is similar to a small general store. Some of our purchases included chocolates, cookies, etc. The street vendors also gave us a taste of the woodcarvig market.

Next, we pulled to the side of the road and paid two children to do a traditional dance to ward off evil spirits. Their costumes covered their face and looked somewhat scary. During this dance, they yelled and waved sticks and a machete. We stayed inside the van for this experience.

Our next stop was at a local village. Our driver, Isaac, is a fantastic tour guide. He stopped at the side of the road and asked permission to tour their village. We learned that each small village is compromised of one’s extended family. This visit almost seemed like a Connor Prarie experience. I was free to walk around the village and ask any questions I had. Up to this point, this gave the best view of how families live.

The woodcarving market basically gave us a chance to shop and support the local economy. It is amazing to see what can be carved from wood. I want to make sure I do not give away too much information about this stop; it would ruin a few gifts.

We finally make it to our hotel on Lake Malawi, which was a surprise paradise. With beutiful views, wild baboons, and exotic accomodations, this truly seemed like paradise. Our view, the sun setting behind a mountain, which looks over the lake, is something that could be seen on the travel channel. The greatest experience, however, was just outside the gates of paradise, where singing could be heard.

We were invited to experience a Malawian wedding celebration in a nearby fishing village. The people, especially, children, immediately surrounded us. Many were begging for sweets, money, bracelets, anything we had. Others still, just seemed excited for our visit. We danced and played with the children. Most people love to get their picture taken and see themselves on camera. This place gave us a real taste of a Malawi village.

I think about the type of learning experience I would be getting from the regular EDEL 450 and EDRDG 430 in Muncie, and it is incomparable. I am learning so much about how other people live and how to interact with other cultures. This experience is greater than any multicultural education class a college could offer.

A far as education is concerned, it is no wonder why Malawi has the challenges it does. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs shows us that people need to meet physiological needs, security needs, and loving needs before they can find deeper meaning in anything. In a country with limited food, water, and security, the system of education is failing. On top of that, famine, HIV/AIDS, and malaria cause many to lose their families and a place to feel loved. With all this going on, how could anyone possibly experience the deeper meaning of anything?

Our First Night

Our first night at the Korean Lodge Hotel in Malawi was very nice. Aside from the mosquito nets and the need to fumigate the room, the hotel is very similar to one in the USA. We had our welcome dinner at a very nice italian restaurant called Mama Mia. This gave us a chance to learn more about everyone else and kick off our experience.

Our first BSU class in Malawi was also held yesterday. What a setting! We sat at a poolside an outdoor restaurant sipping on our glass bottled Coca-Cola. This is hard to think about when considering the people just on the other side of the hotel wall. During this time, we all spoke about our first impressions and the importance to pause on judgement.

Today, we are heading to Lake Malawi, where I have been told we can enjoy the beautiful sights but not swim. We do not have internet access at the lake, so this will be the last post until then. If anyone has any questions about what we see or do, feel free to ask in a comment. I will try to answer the best I can.

First Class Mosquito Nets

We are in Malawi!!!

We are checked in at the hotel and we are getting ready to go to dinner.  We just arrived in Malawi and even the ride in the van from the airport is making an impact.  On the side of the road, you see lots of people.  Many are selling things (the rats on a stick is a big winner), and others are carrying supplies, many women carrying loads on their head.  The most disheartening thing is to see the small children in groups with no adult in sight.  Malawi is so different from the world we are used to; it is unreal to see people living in this way.  Another thing I noticed is a lack of commercial advertisement.  We will occasionally cross a billboard, but the content is a message from the government.  I am sure we will gain more insight about the lifestyles and culture during our stay.

On a side note, the wifi at the hotel is not very reliable, but I can keep up with posts from the hotel computer lounge as long as we have power.  This will, however, make it very difficult to send pictures, but I am working on it.

The Last Post from the United States

We are now in Washington DC after our shortest of the three flights. Here in DC, we met up with the others going to Malawi. It is so exciting to meet new people from all different backgrounds.

The picture with this post is our Ball State group ready to go.