Week 12 in Malawi:
Ten days of work remaining. It feels like I’m somewhat stuck in a limbo right now – almost like there’s not point starting project, yet trying to work as hard as I could. It’s a very odd time – as if I worked too hard, the transition may be too difficult – and I need to step back to see how the work will continue without our support in the programs. On the other hand, I want to contribute as much as I could with the last effort. Much of my efforts are actually focused on providing sustainability to my contributions – and planning for the return to Canada, and how we can be a little more involved. This experience has been amazing – it’s interesting to see my skillset applied in novels ways – and also allows me to identify my skillset – as well as my passion to help Ungweru. This attachment that I feel to the organization also makes me confused about what I’m truly interested in – Ungweru or global health in general. However, I guess that in everything you enjoy, there’s always some things that bother you – but that’s not a reason to not accept the passion. You cannot like something in its entirety.
Currently, I’m trying to bring a little closure to the Pigs project that I’m working on. I’ve been working on the policy to be introduced to improve sustainability for the organization. However, there are certain issues that arose that bothered me. For example, it is clear that Ungweru given the lack of resources may not be able to provide Kang’ona (the new pigs project community) with the initial pigs. There has been so much enthusiasm from the community and Ungweru that it’s disheartening to see that this project may not be carried through due to the costs. The community need us to provide cement for the flooring for the pigs (as it’s important for healthy pigs). However, after bringing the builder from the community to another community for observation, it’s said that we may need 5-6 bags of cement (at 3,500 KW or a bit over $20 each). Ungweru cannot contribute 17500 to 21000 KW to this community – so I have no idea what will happen to the community in terms of its future with the project. Next week, we’re also introducing the policy of passing pigs from community to community to improve sustainability. It’s also concerning to see whether the community agrees to the new policy. That will be next Wednesday’s task. It’s so odd that donors direct their funding to the new site’s construction – but VERY LITTLE to the community programs. Ungweru has very little funds that they can allocate based on needs – much of the funds seem set on certain projects that are not involved with the community programs. It’s a little unfortunate that this project cannot be implemented. If any fundraising is done at home, I will make sure that the money is allocated to Ungweru’s community programs.
Speaking of pigs, we went to Dunduzu AIDS support group this week. The main goal of our visit is to deliver a solar panel that we received from the Irish people back in Week 2. By providing them with a solar panel, they can use it to have electricity in their building. Additionally, they can start IGAs related to electricity (i.e. phone charging service). Back to pigs now, this group had four pigs at one point – but three of them (one had 10 piglets inside) died due to an unknown cause. Now, a member is taking care of one of the piglet. In our opinion, one of the things that’s needed to be done is first take a vet to see if the remaining piglet is well enough. If the piglet is well enough, we have to provide them with another piglet to start the breeding process again. The group already built a pig kraal – it would be a waste to stop the program completely. This needs to be brought up to Lucia.
On the other hand, Kim is spearheading the volunteer handbook for new volunteers to understand the culture and know the basic about Mzuzu before coming. This would be so helpful for us if we knew stuff in it beforehand. We even have a section about how to get involved with the programs, which would make the beginning of our experience a lot more productive. However, the overall experience has been great, as the stumbling around at the beginning was a learning experience.
In the HIV Training, it was supposed to be on Tuesday – but only 4 members showed up – T.I.A. So, we had it on Thursday instead – where Al talked to the youth about various things regarding HIV/AIDS such as prevention, prevalence, treatment, and discrimination. The youth listened intently and currently, I’m working on a handout to give to them to remember the material when we leave. Lucia said that the training is complete and they can head out into the community at this point. We’re still wondering if they are because they still seem to be at the learning stages. We’re considering sending them to a HIV Support Group before heading into the villages to facilitate – because they can learn a lot from individuals who are actually HIV positive. They can understand their struggles from a first hand perspective.
We also attended a parents meeting at Temwanani that Natasha and Joanna had set up. It was to provide the parents with a voice on how the CBCC is run – and let them solve their own issues. Their biggest issues seem to be water and food. They have a utilities bill debt of 10000 KW (about 60$) – and they’re looking for well-wishers/Ungweru to pay it off. Unfortunately, Ungweru cannot provide handouts like that – because the debt will just keep coming – and Ungweru cannot keep settling their debt for them as there is just not enough money for that. The committee has decided that each family should contribute 100 KW (less than a dollar) to settle the debt. Regarding food, they wanted us to provide them with maize. Currently, the food is contributed by the community – and the parents pay a fee to help provide food. There seems to be a little corruption as well – the parents are paying 300 KW ($2) per month for their kids – but no money is spent on caregivers’ salary, food, school supplies, and etc. Where is the money going? This was the biggest issue. Without this transparency, we cannot support them in any way. That’s why we’re arranging a meeting to see the financial reports before moving forward. This will be on Tuesday.
Father Ryan left for Zambia on Friday – so we’re left alone in the house for the last week. We had a little debrief session with Fr. Ryan before he left – and a cake was made for us. It really felt like a finale of my time here. Especially because now I’m starting to pack and put aside a suitcase of stuff for donation.
On the weekend, we had to present to a board of directors member about our time here at Ungweru. She was very proud of the work we’ve done – and it made us feel a little better about leaving after placing a footprint here. Also, we went into town to grab some souvenirs. While most souvenirs I’ll get will likely originate from South Africa due to lack of money here, there are still some things from Malawi that I want to get. For example, I got a necklace to wear and remind me of my experience here while I’m in Canada. Hopefully, in the tough times back in Canada, it will remind me of another perspective. We ended our weekend off by having a few drinks with Dom. It was nice to finally get to go out with him.
We’re finally returning home after three and a half months abroad in Africa. I’m writing this as we’re having a layover in Ethiopia – waiting to leave for Italy, then Washington, then finally Toronto, Canada. Yes, it’s quite an extensive flights – 6 airplanes from Cape Town, which is where I arrived from yesterday.
To update on my last day in Cape Town, we went to Muizenberg to embark on our first surfing experience. We arrived via train at about 11pm after stopping by Greenmarket Square to look for curios and souvenirs. The beach was beautiful and definitely a beach for surfers as probably half of the people in the water carried a surfboard. We spent the first two hours or so laying on the beach to fix our horrible t-shirt tan lines. Then, we finally went to the surf school to sign up for some lessons. It was R200 per person (less than $30) for an hour and a half of lessons, surfboard, and wetsuit rentals. We thought it was a pretty good deal - as our instructor was amazing. It took probably thirty minute before we learned how to get up from stomachs to standing on the board on top of a wave. It was ridiculously fun though! All of us thoroughly enjoyed it – and it would be something we’d do again. Afterwards, we ate at a nearby restaurant – went back to our lodge – and then went out for dinner at Theo’s (the best steakhouse in town).
We left Cape Town early the next day – leaving the hostel at 4:30am – and flying out at 6:15am. After flying and stopping at Johannesburg (and receiving our tax return on clothes and other merchandises), we arrived back in Malawi at 12:15pm. Then we were taken to our lodge – Kwasa Kwasa Lodge – where we basically slept the whole day to prepare for our long flight the next day. I did however head into Lilongwe to grab some last minute souvenirs at the local craft market. Souvenirs are quoted here at absurd prices (i.e. 4500 MK – $30, when I got the actual item for 700MK (less than $5) in the end). We also got dinner from the lodge, which was a chicken, veggies and rice type of thing. Typical Malawian meal minus the nsima.
And then here we are. When I woke up, I heard from Natasha that our flight completely changed. Our flight out of Lilongwe changed from 1:30pm to 3:30pm – and that we’re not stopping in Congo anymore. Also, our flight from Washington was bumped to 4:55pm, which means I’ll arrive back home at 6:30pm instead of 4:30pm! It was all a mess so we had to go into town after breakfast (included in the lodge) to print off our new e-tickets. After, we got ready by showering for our last time in the cold showers – and then heading off to the airport! At the airport, I spent ALL of my forex – Malawian Kwachas, extra South African Rands, and even one USD to cover the last bit! All this forex for a single bracelet – the conversion and payment was so confusing for the cashier, and then I left Malawi with not a single Malawi Kwacha – except for a 5MK coin (3 cents) that I found in my bag afterwards.
I’m not looking forward to our next stretch of flights – which include six hours to Italy – a stopover – ten hours to Washington – a stopover (for 9 hours) –then finally a 1.5 hour flight home. I’ll probably be posting this once I reach Washington, where I get Wi-Fi for my stopover.
Sitting here at the airport gives me some time to reflect on everything that I’ve been through in the past three months. If you asked me two years ago if I thought I would spend a semester away in Africa, I would’ve told you that you were crazy. And now, just at the end of everything, sitting here at an airport in Ethiopia, it really makes me realize how crazy this whole experience has been. I’m so proud of myself for surviving through it all and grateful to all the support that I have to endure through this journey. Probably just a couple minutes before I take my last steps on Africa now, there’s this very bittersweet feeling. Africa is no longer this place across the world that I cannot imagine. I have seen its beauty and I will remember it in all its glory – rather than simply the World Vision ads on TV. Yes, there’s poverty, but at the same time, happiness is just as present in this piece of Earth. I’m sure there will be a time that I will be back – so as everyone is walking towards the gate now to board the plane, I want to say Goodbye Africa. Thank you for allowing me to grow as a person. I will not forget this experience. I cannot be happier to have this experience. I do not regret picking Malawi and Ungweru as my ELE destination at all – and I’m glad I had this chance to experience Africa in various ways from Malawi to South Africa. Very different – but amazing in its own rights.
However, we’re going home – and that gives me a whole different kind of happiness as well. I get to be back with family and friends through this winter holiday, which definitely will be far more cherished. I have missed home and Canada. You need time away to realize how amazing home really is too – distance does make the heart grow fonder. So, it’s a goodbye to Africa – and a warm hello to Canada. I’ve even begun to miss the school that accompanies with being home – I’m sure that’s odd as many probably are finishing exams as I write. With regards to this blog, I’ll see what I do – whether I continue or leave. I’ll probably enter an entry regarding my return to Canadian soil and my reverse culture shock (which really shouldn’t be bad – as South Africa has dampened the shock), but after, we’ll see.