29 April 2019 – This is an imported page from an old blog I kept during my travels to Malawi in 2013. At some point I will re-format it and make it look pretty with the original pictures! Stay tuned 🙂 – Kit
Knights of the square table! Will you heed the call!? It doth not take a brave man (or woman) to step up and take the challenge. Passion, determination and open-mindedness are your strengths. But who of you will see it through?
It was 30 minutes past the planned start of our Partnership conference, but only 2 of a possible 30 delegates had arrived. But there was no panic, as people were probably running on African time. Our experiences so far has taught us that things don’t exactly run to time. Problems with transport (e.g. unable to find fuel, or breaking down) is very common, and the slower pace of life sees people not yet switching to Western time (where everything is regimented to the second).
By just after 9am the conference had begun. Titled “Chikondi Chilimanja” (loving friendship is in our hands) meant to reflect the links being made across international borders. Attendance peaked at 38 people, including several members of the team from the UK. Some were head-teachers or deputies from surrounding schools but others did take an effort to come here, given the transport issues that you have probably already read about. Funding from the Partnership (originating from the British Council) allowed people to travel and stay a night, if need be.
Two of the participants were Davie Kanduna and Horace Mlongoti, who both gave their experience of their trips to the UK, and how beneficial they felt the experience was. A representative from the British Council, Gift () gave the logistics of the Partnership and stressed that it was not about money or trips aboard; and Nick (now nicknamed “abambo Nick”) clearly painted what the Partnership was all about:
We are not a full charity or NGO, we are a group of individuals with professions. We do not engage in activities such as helping to build schools, infrastructure or major projects (that is the job for the Oxfam’s and Christian Aid’s). It is all about trying to build connections and using people’s different and diverse expertise and knowledge to enhance the experiences of those engaged in the link. This is mainly, but not exclusively, schools. Yes, professionals in the UK may have a lot of high-level skills and ideas to give, but on the other hand it is to be enriched and placed in context by learning from those on the Dedza side. It is certainly not about short-term aid, but long-term collaboration.
Francis Mpakati, who will be journeying to the UK this time around, also gave his hopes and visions that had been discussed with other members of the partnership; such as hoping that Primary and Secondary school colleagues and work more closely together and support each other.
The middle part of the conference was set aside for the sharing of teaching and learning techniques. I was up first to show a technique called “Jigsaw”. This allows all students in a group or classroom to participate by engaging each other, first as ‘expert groups’ and then disbanding and reforming as ‘teaching groups’. It can be used with any topic or subject (for this example I used “deforestation”, 5 expert groups, each with a topic such as “What do trees do for the Earth?” and “Why is cutting down too many trees a bad thing?”). I promise to upload the methodology soon (at which point I will change this line to a link to the resource). I have to say I was nervous. Teaching students now for me is second nature, but my heart always races when I do it for adults! Fortunately everyone seemed to be engaged and genuinely felt that it was something useful.
Other members of the partnership chipped in with their fantastic ideas, such as Julie getting everyone to do the “Okey Cokey!” (in response to some Malawian songs that can be used with some little ones). Amy and Tracy demonstrated a number of mini activities, such as the “walking sentence”, where you perform an action each time the sentence you are learning has punctuation. But my favourite was Kung-Fu Maths! This involved doing wild actions with your arms, forming the shape of a mathematical symbol (with a loud kung-fu exhaled expression, of course!). There was some brain gym with Kevin and some drama techniques (such as “Stop vs Go”) with Joc. It invoked a lot of laughs from the group!
Throughout the day there were plenty of interruptions from mobile phones. Whereas this would be taboo in the UK (phones during meetings must be on silent, and those who would wish to call would know in advance that you would not want to be disturbed), it seemed to be both normal and acceptable. Often a phone would go off and that person would rise and leave the room, during the middle of something happening. I haven’t asked why this is the case; perhaps I did not want to come across rude (or even judgmental). But whatever the reason, it is another demonstration of the difference in culture. If the participants have taken much effort and pains to come to conference, then these calls must be important!
The remaining couple of hours for the conference were for logistical businesses. This also marked the start of the half-term holiday break for most of the azungu, including myself! We were all packed up and ready to go for our 1pm ride, which will take us to our overnight accommodation. We waited, the conference ended (and people left), we waited… And then, bang on African time (over 2 and a half hours late!) our bus had arrived. Time for us to finally be tourists.