Finally, I’m getting the chance to write up my visit to Malawi. I have been on a self-imposed blogging ban until I finished my unit 1 assignment for SQH. I handed it in on Monday, a couple of days early which must be a first. It was basically in three parts; a contextualised discussion of education in Scotland, a self-reflection and a rationale for your learning plan. The actual essay was 4,000 words but with all the appendixes you also had to write it came to 14,000 words so it has taken up quite a bit of my spare time!
The same day I handed in my essay I became acting depute head in my school. Our depute has gone on secondment to an acting head position and I have taken over her position. I am very excited, and anxious, about this and looking forward to the challenge and the chance to prove myself. I am keeping all of my remit from the principal teacher role as well as taking on supporting for learning, ICT co-ordinator and mentoring our probationer.
One of my new jobs will be to establish the link we are making with a new school in Malawi which came about as a result of my trip there in October.
This was going to be quite a different trip for me this time as I was no longer at Castlefield and officially part of the link and I was going with another teacher from the school, whereas I have always been at this school and staying in the village by myself before. I was slightly apprehensive about going with someone else but it turned out very well.
I had arranged the same driver that I had had before and it was lovely to have him waiting to meet us, full of stories of what had been going on. We were three hours late unfortunately after a delay in Nairobi which meant it was probably going to be dark and late when we got to the viallge. We still had to go into Lilongwe as well to sort out money, stamps and water. Billy had had to queue for quite a while to get petrol, there had been a chronic shortage for a while which was really affecting life in the towns.
We did not get to the village until about 6.30pm and I felt terrible because the children had waited all afternoon for us but of course most had gone home by the time we got there. A few stalwarts had waited and a few more came running down as we arrived and they were all shouting “Caro Caro”. The first thing they said when I got out of the car was “jogging, jogging” so I was trying to tell them it would have to wait until tomorrow! At the same time though they were crowding around me and a few children were pressing nuts and biscuits into my hands that they had been keeping for me which was so generous when they have so little and they must have thought I would be hungry after all of the travelling!
We were staying with the head teacher this time so that there was room for both us and it was pretty much straight to bed after being fed. He has a son who stays with his parents in town and two lovely daughters of about 4 and 6.
As usual I was woken by the rooster at 4.30am but for the only time out of this trip I actually managed to get back to sleep until 7am! I could hear kids waiting outside (it was Saturday) and just went straight out to them, it was lovely to see them all especially the three I had stayed with previously. There were football and netball matches at another school today and the children would not leave until I did and stayed with me the whole way, fighting over who was going to be right beside me! They kept wanting to run so despite the fact I had the wrong shoes on, a skirt, a wrap and a shoulder bag I couldn’t resist and we ran all of the downhills and some of the flats!
There were four games altogether and although it was good fun it was a long day and super hot. It was actually dark by the time we were halfway back and a lot of the older boys that I knew from before had joined us by this time and again we were running quite a lot. They were singing songs and chanting as we ran and just so happy. A lot of the older boys have now left school and are married and some have children. I did manage to meet a few who have gone onto secondary school but it is very hard when there are exams to pass, in English, and you have to pay for them and for secondary school. A few of the boys were telling me they wanted to go back to school and/or come back to Scotland with me.
Right away, and for the rest of the trip, I thought that there seemed to be a slightly higher standard of living in the village. Most children seemed to have shoes (although in varying states of use), bags for their books, slightly better clothes and I only saw a couple of distended stomachs which previously a lot of children had. Lots more families seemed to have bikes too and there is even one person who has a pick up truck – although no petrol for it! Action Aid have also worked with the school to provide aid for 2 more teacher’s houses which are nearly constructed. For 8 classes there are now 9 teachers at Gwengwe of which 7 are fully qualified and 2 are probationers. This is a massive improvement from 2 and 3 years ago.
On Sunday we went round to see the teacher’s houses that were being built and then to Christopher, the depute head’s house for breakfast. He was saying that if they were in Scotland his son Tony would be in the nurture group that Castlefield Primary has! He certainly is wild!
Church was only 2 hours today including my obligatory speech to the congregation, getting used to these now! I did some visiting with Joseph, the HT in the afternoon. I went to see my mother which was lovely and Chiambi came to sit beside me and didn’t leave my side again! Also went visiting Patrick whom I knew well as a pupil but is now married with a little girl. I think I counted about 50 people all in the one room to see me hold a variety of babies!
The men’s life (or boys) doesn’t really seem to change that much when they get married and have children as Patrick, and others, spent most of their time with me while I was there but I feel for their young wives whose lives are now fully mapped out for them!
Went running with the children today. I did not have Lameck yet for company so we just went up and down the village but I think there were about 60 children with me. I went running with them every day even though I had a cold for a few days and just about lost my voice as I just could not let htem down. I also played chases with them every day and got the balloons and bubbles and balls out as well as colouring pencils, crayons and paper. Even the older boys were loving doing that and were trying very hard to practice out their english with me.
It was quite a different experience in school this time. I had to keep reminding myself that I should not be here with the same agenda as I had been before – this was not supposed to be about school improvement but about improving the link. Therefore it was more about establishingt relationships between the staff and developing the curricular planning for working together. On the Monday we just went through each class starting at St 1 to see the progression and I knew the teachers would want us to see them teaching. Most classes were sitting in groups, even St 1 outside under the tree. St 2 were in the church, St 3 and 4 in their own classes but on the floor and the rest had desks to share.
Elidh and I spent some time tidying up that cupboard again after school!!! Couldn’t do enough to finish it one day but it was a bit depressing to be having to do it again! With new teachers there from the last time I was there though I really wanted to do it again so we could show them what was there and encourage them to use it.
On the Tuesday we went up to Fumba Primary with Joseph so that I could establish a link with them for Clydemuir Primary. I had already asked Joseph to see if they were interested so I knew it was going to happen. I had been up there a few times before to work with them which was helpful that we were not starting totally from scratch but I do not find their staff as easy and outgoing as Gwengwe. Hopefully this will come with time. They were delighted with the things the children had made that I brought, I just hope they use them and we went round to visit every class. They have one outdoor classroom but it has a temporary structure and is really quite cosy!
I was thinking that we would just try to establish the link ourselves but logistically in such a rural location it is just not going to be possible so we are going to establish it through Link Community Development.
We spent the rest of the week at Gwengwe, although I would have liked to go up to Fumba again. This was partly because two PEA’s (primary education advisors) turned up one day to inspect the classes which meant we could not go elsewhere but we also could not really do much with any of the classes. They got a good report though and we got to discuss some issues with them over lunch.
Over the few days though we did manage to do paired reading in a few batches with the whole school which was great as usual and it was good that the new teachers got to see things like this in action. We also did a question and answer session with St4 and 5 and then St 6, 7 and 8. I was absolutely blown away with some of their questions but am struggling to remember them now – wish I had written some of them down!
I was taken up to see Caroline, my namesake one day after school with Mme Gwengwe and this was the biggest shock I got. Despite the fact she was over 2 she still looked like a baby and very skinny and sick looking. I was told she was unable to hear and has been been very sick. The HT thinks she may be HIV positive. I found that quite upsetting but it gave them such a boost just that I had taken some clothes over for her.
There were four young new teachers there who obviously enjoy hanging out together after school and so we got invited to their houses in the late afternoon quite a lot which was great for building relationships with them.
On Thursday evening Lameck arrived and it was lovely to see him again. He was so excited too! He is back studying engineering again after some time out to work and save money for the next year of his studies.
Friday was our last day in the school and as usual they did a farewell ceremony for us with lots of dancing, singing, speeches (including ones from us again) and poems. This was as well as the races with medals that I have done every year. We managed to have some meetings with the staff over the last couple of days about the resources there were and those we had brought as well as doing some curriculum planning which has been made much easier with the great resources Link have been developing.
It was great Lameck being there after school on Thursday and Friday and during Saturday as the children and older boys could talk to me much more with someone they knew to translate. Nearly every waking minute the whole visit was spent either with the children or visiting teachers and others in the village with children following on and that is just the way I wanted it as I really just wanted to spend lots of time with the kids!
On our last day we walked into Mayani with Lameck and had a wander round and bought a few bits and pieces. As usual you always meet lots of people you know including this time Patrick who decided to come back with us with his bike piled high with maize. I felt so bad that he was walking with us pushing this instead of cycling, at least on the flats, that I pushed it the whole 5 miles with him. That certainly gave me a lot of exercise but was fun too even though it was burning hot!
I had given Patrick a couple of bits of clothes for his baby and Patrick some photos of us together from previous years so he brought me a fruit that I had never seen before and told me I would have to bash it off the ground to open it – unfortunately when I got it home I still couldn’t open it even bashing it from a height off the ground!
I let the kids, particularly the older ones, play about with my camera for the afternoon and they had a ball striking up poses and doing gymnastics moves! This kept them occupied as unfortunately Billy was supposed to come at 4 but didn’t get there till 6.45pm as he had had to queue all day for petrol. We were getting quite panicked as there was absolutely nothing we could have done if he had not turned up and we had no phone signal at all.
Most of the kids waited until Billy arrived so that made it really late for them and yet again I was feeling terrible about this. Lameck spend ages translating their questions for me which were mostly about aeroplanes and certainly exhausted all of my knowledge about them. They were also very insistent that I came back again and kept visiting them… and didn’t just go to Fumba Primary now!
As it was dark when Billy arrived I found it slightly less upsetting than usual as I could not see the children as well and I guess as we were so relieved he had been able to get there. I never usually hug anyone as it is not really the done thing there but I felt I knew them well enough now to hug the HT and his wife and Patrick and Chiambi which then meant all the other kids were crowding round for a hug too!
Lameck was coming with us again to get back to Lilongwe so it was nice to have extra time with him. He left the airport before our crisis started though! About 10 of us got kicked of the flight from Lilongwe to Nairobi to let VIP’s on and so after a few hours of hanging about during the night we got taken off to a hotel for about 3 hours sleep and breakfast! Back to the airport and on the next flight out which was due to take off about 1pm and I think left about 3pm due to more VIP’s arriving and getting their flights first. Ages then to hang about in Nairobi, although we did get in the lounge – not the really posh one though and ended up on overnight KLM to Amsterdam instead of Kenya Airways and we got put in the bit nicer bit with extra leg room which was great. Thought I would still be able to make school on time on Monday morning but 15 mins or so after leaving Amsterdam we got told we were landing again due to a funny smell on the aeroplane! So we ended up getting back to Glasgow about 11am and I was in work in the afternoon – although not up to much!
I felt really quite upset when we got back to Glasgow at the stark differences between the two countries. One of the books I bought in Nairobi airport was Aid and other Dirty Business and it was just what I was looking for to find out what happens with Aid and what we can do to ensure best use of Aid and resources for the people who need it but that is for a different post