“This is what Anne was working on and this is what Anne is working on”

26 07 2007

I’ve realized that I haven’t spoken much about what I’m actually doing in Malawi, so here goes…

If you have been following this blog, you would have read a post called “So this is what Anne is working on and this is what Anne should be working on…” That situation has now changed to “this is what Anne was working on and this is what Anne is working on.” I came to the realization that my happiness is directly proportional to myself and to borrow the words of the wise “Be the change that you want to see” (Gandi) which speaks volumes on the changes to my work.

After learning a lot about the field work from my counterpart, Llewellyn, I was able to spend a week in the office about a month ago to learn about TLC’s operations in the “bigger picture” realm. Remembering what my job description should be, I did some digging to confirm the purpose of why I was to focus on these activities. Lo and behold, I found the information that I was looking for and immediately went to work on my impact plan.

In a nutshell, my impact plan looks like this:

  1. Provide feedback directly from the field on the monitoring and evaluating tools that the EWB LTOV created before her contract expired. By working in the field with the monitoring and evaluating tools, I’m able to translate the lessons learnt in the field to the office. This way, the organization knows how successful their projects are and have information readily available. What’s important is gathering knowledge to know the direction of the organization as a whole and what type of impact it is having on their beneficiaries.

2. Provide feedback and strategies on loan repayment based on my field experiences on the Chia Lagoon Project, specifically focusing on treadle pump loan repayment. Loan repayment is important because, well, imagine you lent $100 to 10 of your acquaintances with the expectation of them paying you back in about 1 year’s time. At the end of the year and you only received about $4.26 in return from a total of 10 farmers. Exactly. My role here is to document some of the best practices to help increase the 4% repayment rate. What’s important to note is that TLC uses a revolving fund where the funds paid back are invested into the farmers again by providing more inputs (fertilizers, treadle pumps, seeds, etc.) If the loan repayment rate is low, it hinders the sustainability and the goodness of the revolving funds.

I would say that the work has been going quite smoothly. I’ve gathered data and information from the field coordinators working directly with treadle pumps and irrigation activities and I have also gathered information from farmers (let me tell you more about that in the next post!) I believe that I have the necessary information to write valid recommendations on both of the points above.

Anyway, the reason why I’m only focusing on two main areas is because 4 months is a very short time period for a volunteer to have significant impact. I realize that not all my ideas will be adopted by the organization, but hopefully, I’ll be able to have some impact on the organization’s capacity, which will help them monitor and evaluate their projects properly and efficiently and also help them recover some funds to help make the revolving funds sustainable.

I’ve just described the actions that I’ll take to have impact. In reality though, EWB focuses on building organization capacity which I’m currently doing by building key relationships within TLC. In these relationships, I hope to emphasize the importance of certain habits that will develop into long term benefits for TLC.

I’ve included pictures for your viewing pleasure. These snaps were taken from a recent TLC Field Coordinators training where all the Field Coodinators arrived in Lilongwe (about 50). At this meeting, I created the Monitoring and evaluating presentation and helped facilitate the loan repayment workshop. I have never attended an orientation meeting with such passionate ideas being thrown out there. I have never seen loan recovery issues being debated with such heated passion.



Credit Recovery Workshop

There was also 10 minutes spent at one point in time explaining the “Righty Tighty, Lefty Loosie” at the motorcycle maintenance workshop.

Lefty LoosieMudstoves


Tree Nursery

ps- your questions and comments are always welcomed 🙂


Walking a Mile in Anne’s Shoes

26 07 2007

Well, we’ve all heard of the saying…”Don’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes”. My shoes may be a little uncomfortable due to their small size, but I do encourage you to walk a mile in my shoes..figuratively.


TLC works in irrigation during the winter or dry season in Malawi. Under irrigation, TLC deals with stream diversion and treadle pumps. Below is a description of field visits to both sites.

Field work – Treadle Pumps *Please use your imagination, my batteries were flat!*
After eating a breakfast of either rice, bread, sweet potatoes, or cassava and tea, I get dressed and wait for Llewellyn. Puuuutttputtttttttttttt. That’s the sound of his motorcycle when he arrives. We greet each other and I hop onto the back of his bike, ready to roll into the village (or villages) of the day. This one particular day, we visited about 5 treadle pump members, each in different clubs. The main purpose was to 1. encourage farmers to start paying their loans and 2. allow me to survey these farmers and ask questions about loan repayment so I can get a full comprehension of the obstacles to overcome.

The first farmer we visited – Krispin – Llewellyn and I are riding to this village only to find the Krispin in the dimba (garden) we ride through the bush on this narrow dirt path that’s bumpy and full of rocks. We ride for about 5km through the bush, but oh no! There’s a patch of buffalo beans that are growing on the sides of the roads! *side note: buffalo beans are not pleasant. They make you itch and itch and itch and the only way to stop itching is to scratch the hairs of these beans out from under your skin *wince in pain** Luckily, the wind was favouring us and was blowing the buffalo beans away from our path *breathe sigh of relief*

The road gets too steep downhill for the motorcycle so Llewellyn and I dismount and walk for about 100m until we reach the bank of a river. I look across the river with no clear understanding of how the farmers get across it… I mean, as a structural engineering student, shouldn’t there be a bridge or something? Or something is right.

We take off our shoes, socks and roll up our pants and walk across this river..except, we couldn’t walk directly across. We walked up stream for a while and then onto the river bank where the paprika plantation and treadle pump was located. Barefoot (hookworms anyone?), we survey the paprika field but the owner was kulibe (not there!)

Slightly disappointed, we walk back through a different path that required hiking through the paprika, tomato and bean garden with sharp point reeds (yes reeds! Schisotomasis anyone?) poking at my legs and we cross the river. Lo and behold, Krispin was waiting for us on the other side. I ask questions that Llewellyn translates and I get a pretty good response from him. We’re all satisfied and Llewellyn and I ride off into the afternoon heat to visit a handful of treadle pump farmers.

At the end of the day, I have gathered enough information to start making recommendations to help increase the loan recovery rate. I’m pretty sure too that the farmers now are at least aware of the loans and of the seriousness of the loans. It’s still pretty frustrating though when farmers are looking for free issues – something that they’ve been trained to look towards (ie. The government provides free treadle pumps and some other NGO’s as well)


River Diversion

I feel pretty terrible for my camera batteries having gone flat so I have included pictures of a stream diversion project (I also have video for when I come back home!)


After spending a night at Nkhotakota working on inputting and analyzing data for the conservation agriculture project, I took a ride to go to Lilongwe with one of the TLC staff members. Lo and behold, I ended up visiting a 11 hectare, 68 farmer in the club field where they used river diversion to irrigate their lands. Let me say that it was an impressive site. 11 hectares tilled all by hand is nothing short of unbelieveable.

In the big white SUV (yes, very typical of the development worker), there were 2 men from ASNAPP in Zambia, 2 staff from TLC, a Member of Parliament and of course, yours truly. It was interesting to have the MP come for the field visit too, I mean, the women were singing and dancing and the MP sings and dances too. Apparently, out of all of us in the vehicle, we all knew at least one other person in EWB. Either Malawi is very small or EWB is becoming pretty well known in the development sector.

River DiversionAnyway, I hiked for 3 km along the canal which they dug on the mountainside by hand and almost slipped and fell into the abyss (or steep bush) more than a handful of times. But at the end, it was well worth the risk.

 River Diversion DamYay! We arrived!

Through Anne’s Eyes

26 07 2007

Through Anne’s Eyes

Through my eyes, although a little small and squinty at times, I’m not comfortable to say that I’ve seen Malawi. However, I am comfortable to say that I have captured certain snapshots through my lens of Malawi through my experiences in Lilongwe and in Gulugufe Village and the Mwansambo region. So through my eyes, here’s what I’ve seen:


  • Bicycles are the new pick up trucks. I have seen strapped to a bicycle: Queen size solid wood bed frame; Wife, baby and toddler riding the back of the bicycle while the Husband is riding it; a full sized goat riding the handle bars; 100kgs of maize and/or peanuts; 7 foot timber planks strapped across, taking people out; 20 chickens strapped by their legs upside down onto the handle bars with about 20 more on the back; and last but not least, my luggage, me, and my backpack wedged onto the back of  a bicycle with the cyclist turning around every 5 km to let me know how heavy I am.
  • Need a hand…or a head? Things I have seen carried on someone’s head: Basket of chickens; bale of second hand clothes; huge bundle of grass (about 3ft diameter and 7 ft long); bundles of firewood (I’m not talking about twigs, they’re tree trunks); 30L pail of water; bar of soap
  • The women must be descendants of Wonder Woman. I swear, I don’t know how these women do it, but they manage to do it and it surprises me every time. They have a baby strapped to their backs (by baby, I mean child ranging from new born to 4 years) while pumping water from the borehole and then carrying a (insert item here) on their heads with a child on their back.
  • KarateCHOPPPP! I’ve noticed a certain fondness for Asian Martial Arts movies.
  • China has arrived. I learnt that about 40 years ago, China was invited to help develop Malawi by the then President and so came the rice, cabbage, turnips, clothing, but no chopsticks.

Mental Health Check up

10 07 2007

I believe that EWB has one of the best support networks out there with people who truly and genuinely care about personal and professional development. Saying that, at the midterm of this placement, all the EWB Junior fellows and the long term overseas volunteers attended a retreat for a couple days on the beautiful Senga Bay shore.

Senga Bay

Despite having the beautiful Lake Malawi a stone’s throw away, we were able to concentrate on the work at hand. I mean, where else would you find a group of twenty-something year olds gathered around a table on the lakeshore and engage in discussions ranging from Urban vs. Rural Livelihoods, NGO Collaboration, Exit Stratgies, and providing valuable feedback to each other about, well, each other. Also, where else would you find a group of 20 something year olds who would learn about Organizational Development and Strategic thinking?


I walked into the retreat with a certain mindset that felt like no matter how hard I try, no one would truly understand what I’m going through. However, I away from the retreat realizing that I’m not alone, that the challenges I face are shared by many others as well, with each person being able to think through the problems and develop an Impact Pact.


I’m excited about the future of this placement, about the future of the EWB Malawi family. Most of all, I’m excited about the future of Malawi.

Looking into the Future

The Global Implications of a Tree Hugger

10 07 2007

Trees are massive

After two weeks of no internet access, no newspapers, no information influx, it’s hard to keep up with the news from the world. However, since I’ve been in town, I’ve remembered something along the lines of a Live Earth Concert/awareness campaign that has had huge global implications in my eyes.

 Malawi is a small landlocked country with a giant lake covering about half of the country’s size. However, despite having so much water readily available to her people, Malawi is still vulnerable to certain global implications, one of which is the fluctuating weather patterns. On any normal day in Calgary at home, I wouldn’t have noticed the 1 or 2 degree increase in the last 10 years, but in Malawi, when the main livelihoods here are mainly dependant on the weather patterns causing drought, decreasing the crop resistance to disease amongst many other variables, it’s quite a different story.

 The good news though, is that environmentalism and environmental sustainability (as much as I hate to use buzz words) is not a new concept here. I have found that instead of focusing on the recycling part of the R­3, that the communities here are instead focused on the reducing part (which I believe to be much more sustainable than the counterpart).

Anyway, I just wanted to say that the project funding for the Chia Lagoon Project has been extended by the Norwegian Embassy with a slight change in the mandate. The change in mandate stipulates that the project should focus more on the environmental sustainability of the Chia Lagoon area. Interesting how this funding pulled through 3 days after the massive global drive for Mother Earth’s survival (but after a much longer and slower burning desire for environmentalism from a grass roots level).

The Story of Magadelena

10 07 2007

I shall not start this story with “Once upon a time” as this is not a fabled fairy tale where the Princess is saved or lives happily ever after in a Kingdom, although idealistically, I wished it was so. Instead, this is the story of Magadalena, born on June 23rd in the village of Gulugufe in Mwansambo in Malawi. Magadalena was actually born when I wasn’t present in the village, as I was in Lilongwe, spending some significant time in the office.


Magadalena and Annie

Magadalena comes crying into the world after her 23 year old mother made a 5km trek to the Mwansambo hospital – all the while in labour. There were actually two that were born that night but tragically, Magadalena’s sister passed away at a few days of age. How tragic, but it shows that the infant mortality rate is quite high (in this village alone of 10 households, 5 households have had the misfortune of infant mortality).


Magadalena I see, and as you can see too has the bright potential of any baby, maybe one day, she will become President of this country, Ambassador, business woman, teacher, police woman…The world is her limit, and how can it not be? She has the full support and love of her family, of this entire village who is all looking out for her well being and her survival (Grandmother today walked for 14km roundtrip to get her some medicine for her cough). With this support from her family, from her community, she is sure to find potential in any of her actions.

Magadalena however, is vulnerable, although she’s still too young to understand so. She’s vulnerable to sickness, she’s vulnerable to access (or lack of) to education, to appropriate technology, she’s vulnerable to the thoughts and actions of the people reading this blog. But within this vulnerability, how much can she control her vulnerabilities and how much can we control it?

I’m going to leave the ending for you to decide the outcome. Maybe Magadalena won’t be so vulnerable after all but how can someone sitting in front of the computer reading this blog halfway across the world begin to mitigate these vulnerabilities that Magadalena has? I think by providing a voice for Magadalena through supporting the organizations that lobby for Magadalena, by lobbying the government to increase foreign aid and to spend it responsibly, by joining an organization that works towards Magadalena’s cause, by providing financial support for these organizations, but most importantly, by empowering Magadalena by empowering ourselves to truly understand the many complexities that may affect her life.

This is the story of Magadalena. How the story ends is up to you to decide.