Some guy: Reflections

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With less than a month left in my Malawian experience, I am currently sitting in an empty office. With most of my colleagues gone for the day, I figure there’s no better time to write a blog post (since I haven’t done one in what.. a month?) and reflect on what I’ve done to this point. In my last post I mentioned travelling to Liwonde, so let’s start with that.

A while back, my companions and I travelled to Liwonde Safari Camp (approximately a 4 hour drive south of Lilongwe). It is a universal fact that when you go to Africa, a safari is mandatory; to say I enjoyed the weekend would be an understatement. From stunning sunsets to meeting fellow Canadians to the presence of alcohol, this experience proved to be the perfect remedy for my over-cluttered mind. The camp had several super cool observation decks, and some amazing looking trees. There were elephants, gazelles, hippos, and crocodiles. One can not describe the peacefulness that accompanies standing on an observation deck in dead silence listening to elephants roaming around below at night. It really was an amazing experience that I will never forget.

It wasn’t until after Liwonde that I really began to feel close with my host family. Being the very sarcastic person I am, it took a while for my family to begin understanding my sense of humour. Now that my jokes are followed by laughs rather than strange looks or silence, I really do feel at ease. I have been told by several 9 year olds that I am “bad at football”, and I am constantly beaten by my 6 year old neighbour in Bawo (a very addicting strategy game). The feeling of coming home and having 4 kids running at you for hugs / wrestling will never get old. At this point in the summer, I have begun thinking about how I could possibly say goodbye to these kids, and let me tell you it will not be easy.

It’s amazing how quickly one can feel at home. In 21 days, I will have to say goodbye to Kasungu. I will have to say goodbye to my coworkers, and to the wonderful people who have so effortlessly accepted me into their family. They have not only given me food and a place to stay, but they have given my a place to call home for the past 3 months. I cannot begin to thank them enough, and I thank God for providing such an amazing family for me to spend my time with here in Malawi.

As I sit here reflecting, I look back on the three months that I’ve had here in Malawi. At the start of the summer, I had a set reasons/insights on why I wanted to go on this journey, and what I wanted to accomplish. Here are some reflections:

  • I wanted to enjoy my work. With this being my first experience with anything related to international development, I was very skeptical about what I would get out of this experience. I can say with confidence that I absolutely love the work that I’ve been doing this summer. While the work may be frustrating or slow at times, there is a real sense of accomplishment in the little victories that come with doing work. While progress is often not seen until further down the road, knowing that the work you’ve done can and will be sustained is an awesome feeling. I will be doing an all-encompassing blog post on the work that I’ve done this summer closer to the end of my placement.
  • I wanted to be a part of a community. When I first travelled to Kasungu, the first person I met was Winkford Kadakwinda. This man had a huge smile on his face, and greeted me with a huge hug (even though I had no clue who he was at the time). I could not understand how so much joy could be bundled up in such a small man. I was later told that this man was my host father, and that I would be staying with him and his family for the next 3 months. One thing that was really important to me coming into this summer was keeping in touch with my religious values, and being able a part of some religious community. I was pretty happy to find out that my family was religious, and that I would be able to attend church services with them on a weekly basis (weekly bible studies were just a bonus). But outside of a religious context, the sense of community was also felt. The area that I live in is very much communal, with 4 houses sharing one major property. This results in the families being very intertwined, acting as one large family. There was no better feeling than coming home from a long day of work or spending a weekend with laughing faces and just being in a very positive environment.
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My host dad Winkford and myself.
  • I wanted to transition to the Malawi lifestyle well. This has been the first time that I have really travelled, and I was really worried about the culture shock that I was going to face coming to a brand new country that I had no knowledge about (probably should’ve done so more research before coming here to be honest). But I can say with all honesty that it was not difficult for me to adapt to my temporary lifestyle. I feel so at ease in this country. It can probably be contributed to how friendly the people are, and the fact that I have not once felt in danger; or it can be contributed to the fact that I had 4 other amazing individuals going through the exact same thing that I was. Either way, I am now a Malawian (jk Canadian forever).
  • I wanted to see some sort of personal/professional growth. Identifying personal growth is important in setting goals, and realizing one’s potential. This is something that I think will take longer to evaluate, and will be seen in the long term. In the short term, I have tried my best to make the most of the opportunity. For now I can just look at who I am as a person and be content with what I’ve done here in Malawi.
  • I wanted to love this experience. As mentioned above, I wasn’t sure how I would transition to the new lifestyle or how long it would take. I jumped into the deep-end with my eyes closed. As I sit here with a cup of coffee feeling relaxed, I can say with EXTREME confidence that I have thoroughly enjoyed this experience. Living in Malawi has been like nothing that I have ever experienced. I have stepped outside of my comfort zone, and have loved every minute of it. The everyday joy that I have lived my everyday life with while here in Malawi has been a different feeling. I look forward to going to work, and I look forward to seeing my host family at the end of the day. I am truly happy, and I hope that more opportunities like this arise in my life.

DC, signing off!

 

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Some guy: some reflection on religion, and MPR!

Religion is viewed very differently in different parts of the world. It determines the lifestyle in which we live our lives, and the set of values we model ourselves after. In a place like Canada, religious diversity is very evident. With approximately 23.9% of Canadians being atheists, religion is something that has become more and more rare to see in Canadian households. Now comparing this to a country like Malawi, the situation could not be more different. Atheism is virtually non-existent in Malawi, with roughly 85% of its population being christians, and 14% being muslim. While this religion dynamic can be related to the difference in development and wealth between these two countries, it is interesting to see another country’s everyday perception on religion. I’ve noticed several things here in Malawi that you would just not see in Canada. First, is the topic of religion within a household setting. I’ve had several conversations with my host father centred around religion, with very little progress being shown. Malawians are so set in their religious ways that the idea of Atheism is one that they do not want to hear, and is often considered to be crazy. Second, is the presence of Christianity in subtle everyday life. From shops being named “God is Good Hardware” and “Praise the Lord Bakery”, to minibuses fashioning stickers saying “This car is protected by the blood of Jesus”, there is no lack of representation of religion in their daily lives. Coming from a religious background, it has really been interesting to see the impacts that religion has on Malawian culture, and how this differs from Canada.

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I would now like to transition back to what has been happening in my placement. I am currently roughly two months into this journey, with time moving at an absolutely insane speed. Last week I was fortunate enough to travel with the WASH Cats crew to Cape Maclear for our mid-placement retreat. To say that Cape Maclear was beautiful would be a massive understatement. From sunsets to hammocks to beautiful beaches, Cape Maclear had everything I could possibly ask for to help unwind a bit and to reflect on my experiences I’ve had up to this point. It was the perfect setting for the entire team to come together collectively to share what we’ve learned to this point and to draw on other’s experiences and give feedback. Those past few days provided some inspiration, learning, and more than a few laughs. My favourite event at MPR was the JF Olympics. While my team got absolutely decimated in the rap battle (courtesy of Steph and Thom), I like to think we held our own when it came to lip-sync battles (thanks Aaron) and the nsima-eating contest. Thanks to Devon for organizing a great evening of laughs, alcohol, and general companionship.

Looking where I am at this point, time really has blown by. I really feel like I’ve only been here for a few weeks, even though my calendar tells me otherwise. Some very exciting experiences are coming up in the next few weeks, and I have no doubt that they will just speed time up even more. Next week Friday we are travelling to Liwonde National Park, which is apparently the best safari experience here in Malawi. A bit later in August, we are travelling to Mount Mulanje, where we will be investing in a two-day hike. I’ve learned so much up to this point, and I truly look forward to what the rest of the summer has in store for me. If I do not get killed by a lion or die hiking the mountain,  I hope to share lots of pictures and my experiences with you!

-DC, signing off!

Some guy has been here for a month.

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So I have officially been in Africa for over a month, and I have come to the realization that time indeed does fly. It honestly feels like I’ve been here for maybe two weeks, nevermind an entire month. As my placement continues to progress, I continue to meet new people and learn more about this amazing place I get to call home for the next two and a half months.The beauty of this country continues to amaze me. From all the beautiful trees to the amazing landscapes, it really is something to see. Since I’ve been here there has been nothing but clear skies, and it has been extremely hot. This is apparently the middle of their winter season, and it usually gets to about 30 degrees Celsius. My host family is a true Malawian family, being born and raised here and having never left the country. They were very surprised when I told them that we get down to around minus-30 or minus-40 in our winters back home. This fact has actually escalated to the point that whenever it gets somewhat cold here at night (around 5 or 10 degrees) and I put on a sweater, my host mother would say “Don! You’re not cold, you’re Canadian!”

As time goes by, I continue to learn more and more about the Malawian culture. First thing I’d like to talk about is nsima. Nsima is widely known as the staple food for many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, and is made from maize flour mixed with water. This is cooked in a pot, and then cut into portions and eaten with another complimenting food. There is a universal way of eating nsima, and it is safe to say that it is an acquired skill. First, you take a piece of nsima from your blob, and roll it into a ball with your hand (this process gets nsima all over your hand, and if you don’t wash it off in a timely manner it turns rock hard). Still holding the ball, you then pick up a portion of complimenting food, and eat it. Nsima is very bland, and generally requires the taste of another food to give it any taste whatsoever. A meal with my host family would look like this:

  • Nsima (or rice)
  • A complimenting food (beans, cabbage, other vegetables)
  • Usually some form of meat
  • Bananas (for dessert)

Adapting to the change in food was a process for me, but I can now say with confidence that I prefer nsima for my meals here in Malawi. I have even started helping my family prepare dinner. At this moment they don’t trust me with too much (they’re just avoiding burning the house down), but I have been making nsima with their charcoal stove. Basically what you do is you boil water, and add this maize flour as you go. By the end of it, the mixture is incredibly flipping thick. I have begun to incorporate making nsima into my weekly workout routines, as I am often sweating after the process (jk, I am in perfect shape).

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Now, let’s shift away from food and my incredible physique for a while. There are a few things that I have noticed about Malawi that irritate me slightly. One of these things is the stares. I have come to the conclusion that I am the only white person in the entire Kasungu district, and with this fact comes a lot of eyes. Walking to work I get looked at by everyone I pass; not in a way that causes me to fear for my safety, but stared at nonetheless. While I do understand that it is rare to see a white person in a city not called Lilongwe in Malawi, it is something that causes a slight uncomfortability. There are people (say on my walk to work for instance) that are beginning to know me by name and recognize me, so that is a sign of progress. The next thing is the traffic infrastructure, or lack there of. Malawi has no street lamps, and very little traffic lights/stop signs: basically every interaction between vehicles is in the hands of the drivers’ discretion. In a country where walking is a major mode of transportation, traffic can be quite frightening. When cars are zooming by going 70 km/hr on a road weaving through lines of people, accidents become somewhat frequent (more frequent than Canada). Last week when I was in Lilongwe, we took a taxi to our friends’ house for dinner. On the way we got stuck in a traffic jam for around 20 minutes, not really knowing why. Before we knew it, we got to a four-way intersection, with backed up traffic coming from each direction. This intersection was an enormous mess, with people going through the intersection at their own discretion. It reminded me of the game “Unblock Me”, where you have to move other wooden blocks to get one singular block through an opening. Bottom line is the transportation systems here are very liberal.

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The last thing I’d like to talk about is my work. A lot of the work I have been doing to this point has involved meetings. From DEC (District Executive Committee) meetings to DCT (District Coordination Team) meetings, I have been able to meet many interesting people, and I’ve been able to build an understanding of how different NGOs work and coordinate with one another within Kasungu. The project I am working on demands an understanding of these systems, and how different stakeholders interact with one another. A lot of the work depends with meeting with others, which depends heavily on their schedules. People are busy all the time, and to get anything done you really need to pursue what you need. Coming into this placement, I was constantly told “be prepared to not do as much as you’d like to.” Being the very ambitious person I am, I took that advice and blew it off; I’d be able to do anything, wouldn’t I? But that definitely is not the case. The work being done here by many of these NGOs are focused on short-term but innovative projects that allow them to monitor and evaluate the effect of these projects on the community. By finding what works effectively within these different sectors (water, hygiene, education, etc.), they are then able to scale-up or mobilize these projects to different districts. On a grand scale the impacts of the projects are often very low in terms of significance, because they often deal with complex problems. Seeing the work being done by these NGOs has been helping me understand how many different factors contribute to poverty, and how insignificant my work is in the grand scheme of things. I’m just a little minnow in the ocean of International Development. But all I can do is keep swimming, and hope for the best (dang that is poetic).

Here is a picture of my super cool host brother to wrap things up.

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-DC, signing off!

 

 

 

Some guy is settling in nicely.

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Now that I am completely settled in with my host family in Kasungu where I will be staying for the next 3 months, I figured it was about time to do another blog post. As I sit here on my bed on a beautiful Saturday morning, it can be quite tough to recollect all that has happened over the past while; but I will try my best.

After I arrived in Kasungu, my coach Macmillan took me to the Regional District Water Office where I will be spending my weekdays all summer. The first person I met was my host father Winkford Kalawinda, who is the Human Resources Manager at the office and one of the most friendly men you will meet in your entire life.  A man not much taller than 5 and a half feet, he immediately greeted me with a large smile and a huge hug. I’ll be honest and say that I was a bit surprised at how open he was at first, enthusiastically hugging some random 21 year old white kid he had just met. I also met the District Water Officer Charles Mwenda (the man I will be working the most closely with this summer), and several of the Water Monitoring Assistants. From there we went to the DC office, where we met some of the more formal government representatives. “This is my son from Canada!” became a very common phrase used by my host father Winkford, as we met more and more people. He immediately took pride in me choosing to stay with him, and I have to say I felt very comfortable with him from the very start. Later that afternoon, he took me home to meet the rest of his family. I could tell right away that Winford’s family was on the wealthy side of things, having a wall surrounding their beautiful house. Here is a picture:

house

I met his wife Estella, his daughter Kaylana (14 years old), his son Hamilton (21 years old), and his nephew Bright (8 years old). They are all very respectful and kind people, and I have no doubt that these 3 months are going to be an awesome experience living with them. 

Let’s talk a little bit about the work I will be doing. After becoming more acquainted with the office and the systems in which they work, I was very excited to get started on the project that I am working on this summer. Let’s start at the beginning. The organization that I am working for this summer, WASH Catalysts, has this program called the Tingathe Fellowship program. This program allows District Water Offices in Malawi to apply to the program with an innovative idea, and in turn WASH provides them with a thought partnership on how to leverage the available resources to be able to implement and sustain this innovative idea. So to break it down, the Kasungu district applied to be a part of the Tingathe Fellowship program with an idea, and they were admitted. By joining the Fellowship program, WASH has deployed me to work with the water office for the summer, hopefully helping them to reach their goal by the time they leave. The idea that the Kasungu District Water Office had was centred on the facilitation of a management shift of the area mechanics (the people who provide maintenance to boreholes) in a given district from a local NGO, to the local Area Development Committee, or ADC for short. At the moment the management of these area mechanics is operated by InterAide, who is an NGO focused on improving the systems within the water and sanitation sectors here in Malawi. Let me at this point describe what the management of the area mechanics entails. The area mechanics are individual hires that live across the district of Kasungu. They are hired and paid per job that they do, and are managed individually by InterAide. The management includes regular follow-ups, performance monitoring, and the follow-up of their relationships with the community. InterAide also manages the local spare parts shops, which are the main vendors for the area mechanics when certain parts are needed in different maintenance situations. The evaluation of the spare parts shops includes the review of their products in-stock, and the general management of the stores. I realize this is a lot of information, but just a little bit more to go. With all of this happening, there are health representatives currently in the district that collect water point data. This data can include the functionality rate of boreholes in different districts, and data on how quickly boreholes get fixed. With all of this information that I threw at you in mind, it is now our job to shift these management practices to the Area Development Committees. The ADCs are local committees made up of community leaders that focus on different developmental issues in their communities. By shifting the management to them, it will allow the data collected to be presented in a more transparent light, and allow the general public to have access to it. With InterAide as management, it is quite difficult for them to distribute all of the data to everyone; if the data is controlled by the local ADC, there are more points of contact between the ADCs and the general public, almost like decentralization if you will. Okay, the rant is over.

Now let’s get back to my family. One thing that really surprised me a bit about Malawi as a whole was how religious of a country it is. Approximately 98% of the country practices religion, with 68% being Christianity. When a learned that my host mother was Catholic and my host father was Presbyterian, I was happy. This would allow me to have access to religious communities similar to my church family at home. Since I’ve only been here a week, I’ve only been able to experience my host mother’s Catholic church to this point, and man was it ever an experience. Going into the church service, I expected it to maybe be 2 to 2 and a half hours max. But little did I know that it was Sabbath, and that I was very mistaken. There was one instance in the service when everyone began forming a line starting at the front. Absentmindedly, I decided to join the line thinking we were taking bread, or some kind of communion. When I got to the front, I see the offering box. In a new state of panic, I quickly fumble my wallet, proceeding to drop it on the floor, pick it up again, and drop it again. I eventually got an offering out, and was able to rid of the embarrassing situation. The first half of the service seemed quite routine in terms of Catholic services. From collecting offerings to taking the bread to singing songs to alternating from standing to kneeling, it followed what I expected to get out of the experience. But once the entire church made their way outside and began walking through the streets of Kasungu praising God and singing songs of worship, I was very surprised. We’d walk for about two blocks, and then stop and kneel and pray. This sequence occurred about three or four times before we were done. The walking and worshipping took about another two hours, but I really enjoyed the entire experience.

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If i can take anything out of my first week in Kasungu, it’s to be patient. It will take time to get things started in my work, and it will take time to open up to my host family and really feel like a part of it. But at this point and time, I’m settling in very nicely and things look very promising.

-DC, signing off.

Some guy’s arrival in Malawi.

I realize it has been a total of 9 days since my last blog post and that I have been promising a new one for the past few days, so here it is folks! Last Monday, 4 comrades and I embarked on an extravagant journey to the land of Africa (I sound like a safari guide)! After approximately 18 hours of exhausting flying and restless conversations, we arrived in Malawi, the place in which my Junior Fellowship will be located. Waiting for us outside the airport were Gen and Mac, two members of our WASH Catalysts team that is situated in Lilongwe. After introducing ourselves and connecting a face to a voice, we began to travel to the safehouse in which we stayed for the next week. The first thing that I noticed was how green everything is. Everywhere you look there are trees growing, and the natural vegetation is astounding; it really is such a beautiful country. In addition to that, the streets are so alive. Having a personal car is a rare thing in Malawi, with public transportation, walking, and bicycles being the main mode of transportation. In one ear someone will be trying to sell you some vegetables, and in the other a car driver will be telling you to get closer to the edge of the road. It really adds to the overall positive vibe of a city when so many different sources of noise and music contribute to it.

I just realized that I never really gave an overview of what WASH Catalysts does as an organization, OOPS! WASH stands for Water Sanitation and Hygiene (creative acronym) and their aim is to convert the water infrastructure and systems that are currently being used in Malawi from working in a project capacity to a service delivery model. This service delivery model includes the effective allocation of available resources from government and NGOs (non-government organizations), the decentralization, operationalization, and sustainability  of regional water offices, and the required capacity for area mechanics to repair water sources when needed (sorry for the use of huge words). They have been in Malawi for a good number of years now (I don’t know the exact number off the top of my head, upwards of 10?), and have been striving to make these shifts in infrastructure sustainable so that water can be available to more people, for longer periods of time. Too many NGOs from different areas of the world come over to Sub-Saharan Africa and help build a borehole or a well; but once that borehole or well is no longer functional, they are already gone. But, creating these sustainable water sources isn’t something that can be solved overnight. There are so many complex systems that these root problems are embedded in that make everything so much harder for an NGO to sustain the change that they want to make. It really is a huge investment of time and finances if they really want to make that change, and that’s why I admire everything that WASH has been able to do so much: they’ve committed their time and resources to a cause, and have created those connections with other NGOs (like InterAide, WaterAid, etc.) to make some sort of impact in a sustainable way. Okay, that’s my rant on what WASH does as an organization, I will talk more about my placement details later on in the blog post.

Over the past week, we have been completing our in-country training, which allows us to develop a better understanding of the work will be doing and the context and culture in which we will be doing it in. We met the rest of the team, such as Sydney (who is the program director), Aaron and Joy (two long-term fellows who will be placed in Malawi for a year). We still have yet to meet Kristina, who is the program director of WASH Coordination (the other side of the WASH double-headed dragon). I can say with some confidence that they are all above-average people with above-average personalities. Just kidding, they are all absolutely amazing individuals and I am beyond excited to be joining their team.

Now is the point in the blogpost where I mention the bad news. For some strange reason that eludes all of us, all of the JFs (including myself) have already come down with some form of sickness. IN THE VERY FIRST WEEK. I can honestly say that I knew that I was going to get sick and I was ready to accept that fact, but for it to happen so fast really caught me off guard. From raging diarrhea to headaches and stomach aches, I think it’s safe to say that between all five of us we experienced every symptom ever (it may have only felt that way). To be fair my sickness wasn’t at the intensity of some other peoples’ (three out of five of us visited a hospital), but coming down with a sickness in a foreign country when you’ve only been there for a week and you don’t quite know what you’re doing is not a fun situation to be in. We were told that this is some sort of JF record (all five people being sick within such a short amount of time of arriving at our placement). I really think we should be given some kind of award. But in all honesty, the support that we all received from the WASH crew made the entire situation much more survivable and comforting. While some of us thought we had Malaria and were going to die, it all ended up being alright and we’re getting through it together. We actually postponed first day of travel by a day due to the overall sickness being felt (thank you so much for being so understanding of everything Gen). It really does help having a team of people around us that understand where we are coming from and what we are coming into to help us react to any uncomfortable situations that may come up.

So, now let’s move on to the travelling part of the program and to where I am now. After ICT, half of the group travelled to Blantyre (which is a good distance to the south of Lilongwe), and the rest of us travelled to Salima (a town on Lake Malawi). Salima is a beautiful but very hot town where Stephannie will be staying and working. One thing to mention about the town of Salima is that there are no car taxis, just bicycle taxis. This contraption consists of a standard bicycle, with a padded seat on the back where the customer sits while the “taxi driver” takes you where you want to go. We used this service after sunset (6 pm), which is an experience in itself. Driving through pitch black not quite knowing where you’re going really teaches you to put faith in the person operating the bicycle. After staying one night in Salima, Mac and myself travelled back to Lilongwe, and then onto Kasungu. I’m not sure if I mentioned it anywhere before, but Kasungu is the town and district in which the majority of my placement will be working in. To travel from town to town in Malawi people use “minibuses”, which are essentially cargo vans with multiple rows of seats. If you’re travelling from one town to another, you pay the driver a standard fee and you take a seat in the bus. Throughout the drive, the bus is constantly filling up and emptying with people as we get to their desired location. I think at one point I counted 24 people in our minibus to Kasungu (keep in mind that this minibus is the size of a cargo van). I really wanted to take a picture, but it couldn’t really be done in an undercover way. Let’s just conclude and say that minibuses are unbelievably vibrant. After I arrived in Kasungu, Mac and I checked into our hotel, and I decided to take a bit of a nap. After I woke up the sun was setting, so we decided to visit a local bar where I could meet one of the water officers I would be working with this summer. After a bit of conversation and the downing of a Coke, the bartender handed me another one. Since I didn’t order one, it was only natural for me to say no. It was then that he told me that a man across the bar insisted that I have another. I was kind of confused at first as to why another man would buy me a drink, but Mac informed me that in this culture if someone likes having your presence in an environment, it is a custom to offer them a drink. It’s safe to say that I was sort of caught of guard, but the friendliness in which these men in the bar communicated with one another and the positive environment that I felt there really made me feel at home; even though I was on the other side of the world. If this first week in Malawi has taught me anything, it’s that there are beautiful people (inside and out) in areas that you might least expect them. I expected to come to this foreign country feeling very timid, and scared of communicating with others and building new relationships. It has actually been the exact opposite. Everyone that I have met and talked to has been unbelievably kind and supportive, and it has really opened my eyes to how beautiful of a country Malawi is. Personally, there are some areas that I still need to adjust to (the food, etc.), but I really want to thank the entire WASH team for making this transition to a new country and to our placements such a positive and enriching experience.

-DC, signing off!

 

Some guy at pre-dep.

With pre-departure training coming to an end, I thought that I’d share a few things that I’ve taken away from this week. After saying goodbye to my parents last Sunday afternoon, I flew to Toronto where I stayed for a week for an intensive training opportunity with the other Junior Fellows and Engineers without Borders Canada. I met all of these people last January at National Conference in Hamilton, but at that point I really didn’t know how or if I would connect with these 20 other people. Monday through Friday consisted of several workshops and skill-building sessions that helped me shift into the mindset needed to be successful in my placement with WASH Catalysts in Malawi. From talking about our dreams and goals to gaining a better insight on the context we will be working in and African history, this week really encompassed everything needed to have a successful summer. One workshop that I really found useful was a workshop about Compassionate Listening. We were put in pairs where we were then given the question: “What are you passionate about?” We then took turns telling each other vividly what are passions and dreams were, while the other person actively and compassionately listened. Going into the workshop I thought that it was going to be great to be able to talk about my goals, allowing me to create a more aligned state of mind going forward. But the funny thing is I feel like I got more out of the listening part. Being able to listen and experience this other person passionately talk about their dreams and what they want to do with their life was an absolutely astonishing experience. The term we used was listen for the sake of listening, not listening to reply. This workshop really helped me understand how to listen on a deeper level, and how to build those personal and productive relationships that we all need to endure the hardships of our respectful placements. This was just one of many sessions that happened throughout the week that were extraordinarily organized and diversely built.

Now I’ll speak more towards how unbelievably incredible these people are that are accompanying me on this journey. Mentioned previously I met these people in mid-January, and I wasn’t quite sure if I would be able to build quality relationships with them. But getting to know every person individually over this past week was such a great experience for me, and I love every one of them for who they are and what they bring to the table in terms of friendship.  Everyone is so supportive and wonderful and seeing them apply their concentrated effort and time towards reaching their dreams and goals really inspires me on an individualistic level. Usually in many situations there are several people within a group that one just doesn’t connect with on a mental and emotional level, but I can say with complete honesty that that is not the case with this group. If you guys are reading this, you guys are unbelievably incredible people and I am beyond blessed to be able to go on this journey with you. I am super pumped to see everyone grow on a personal level, and do amazing things in your placements. I truly thank God everyday that an amazing support group like this is a resource that I have access to, especially since this opportunity is a huge first in my life. You are all such amazing and inspiring people, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to grow with.

Here are a list of other Junior Fellow’s blogs and their placement location. If I don’t have your blog listed on here, please let me know and I will add it!

Jonathan Larochelle (Engineers of Tomorrow, Toronto):

http://www.jonathanlarochelle.wordpress.com (en Francais)

Alycia Leonard (VOTO Mobile, Ghana):

http://www.ghanalycia.wordpress.com

Kyela de Weerdt (Lishabora Hydroponics, Kenya):

http://www.kyeladeweerdt.wordpress.com

Chloe Halpenny (WASH Catalysts, Malawi):

http://www.ajfexperience.wordpress.com

Veronique Campbell (Mobile Business Clinic, Ghana):

http://www.ghanaexperienceblog.wordpress.com

Stephannie Veenbaas (WASH Catalysts, Malawi):

http://www.bohemianramblingblog.wordpress.com

Thomas Gallet (WASH Catalysts, Malawi):

http://www.storiesfromacanadian.wordpress.com

Kacey McFee (WASH Catalysts, Malawi):

http://www.kaceyewbjuniorfellowship.wordpress.com

  • DC, signing off!

 

Some guy is getting excited.

Well, this is it! In just over a week, I will be travelling to Toronto and then Africa to work with WASH Catalysts this summer! With exams being finished (thank you GOD!), the shift from the academic mindset to an adventurous mindset has proven to be a delayed process. The past few days I have been in a delayed mental state, having received the news that my grandmother passed away. That woman was one of the strongest and most perseverant women I have ever known in my life. She lost her husband and two of her sons before I was born, but she never showed a moment of weakness. She always put on a brave face, and raised some unbelievable kids. When I look at my mother, I see so much of my grandmother in her. While this is definitely a tough moment for my family, we all know that she is in a better place.  A mix of sorrow, excitement, and motivation is what I’m feeling right now. At a time in which we are celebrating my grandmother’s life, I need to continue to prepare for this once in a lifetime trip.

I have not even began to physically pack, but I do feel like I am beginning to be more mentally prepared for this 3 month excursion away from home. While the thought of being in an isolated environment frightens me, it is opportunities like these that allow us to grow as individuals, and truly understand what we are capable of. This is a huge moment in my personal development, and I hope that I will be able to contribute successfully to what WASH is hoping to accomplish. Oh yeah, I just realized that I haven’t given a breakdown of what I will really be doing with WASH Catalysts…. Oops.

As mentioned previously, I will be working with WASH Catalysts and their district water distribution offices in Malawi, Africa. I will be living in the town of Kasungu, which according to Google has a population of approximately 60,000 people. The region is known for having some quality vegetables, which is HUGE for my planned nutrition 🙂 While the first month of my placement will be focusing on getting integrated in the culture and developing a foundational understanding of the situation and the work I will be doing, I hope to get a lot done with WASH this summer 🙂

  • DC Signing off! (Still doesn’t sound right)

My First post!!!

Okay, so I thought I would make my first post. I am currently in the process of grinding through this semester, trying to get to May (May 8th to be specific) as soon as possible!!!! I met some amazing people at the EWB conference in Hamilton, and I can’t wait to develop those relationships and get to know them better at pre-departure training in Toronto! Having other people going through the same experience at the same time that I am is a great support system and I’m sure I’ll take advantage of it. I really can’t wait for my JF placement in Malawi with WASH Catalysts. It was actually the main venture that I wanted, and I am BEYOND EXCITED to be working with them for four months. As a kid whose furthest venture was to Cancun (an inclusive resort), this is really a voyage into uncharted waters for me. While there are things about this opportunity that scare the crap out of me, personal and spiritual growth is something that I have been striving for in the past few years. I got baptized not long ago, and I find myself going out of my comfort zone way more often. I’ve always been a picky eater, and that’s gonna have to change. Yesterday, my beautiful mother made some spinach soup that I wouldn’t have touched in ten years! But it was unbelievable. Who knew that a leaf in a hot broth could be that good?

Between school, and getting logistics in order for my trip, My days have been jam packed. I still need to find time to do some research on Malawi, and get more accustomed and comfortable with the cultures and languages practiced there. I really have no clue how to pack for a four month voyage like this one. I’m sure that will be an adventure in itself. Well, I’m gonna sign off for now. I’d like to come up with some kind of cool codename to finish my posts with, or a punny catchphrase. But since this isn’t an anonymous blog and nothing rhymes with ‘Donovan’, that might have to wait for now.

Thanks for checking out my blog! I plan on keeping this somewhat updated with all of my amazing experiences in my trip!

DC signing off! (I swear it’ll catch on)