Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Year In Review

While 2014 was one of the hardest, most challenging, and testing years of my adult life 2015 has been one of the most affirming, fulfilling, and best years.

It's insane to me that this time last year Matt and I were weighing our choice to stay in Malawi or to return to the states to look for work, effectively ending our service early. As I look back at this year and I read entries from my journal, 2015 has been absolutely amazing and intensely rewarding. I am overjoyed we decided to weather the storm and come out the other side.

2015 was a year with lots of ups and of course some dips. 2015 was a year of identifying and affirming the direction of my career and really, truly believing that we can change the world. When I joined Peace Corps I did not come in with the notion that I would change the world or even a community. I hoped I would gain some valuable professional experience, have some amazing adventures, and leave positive ripples everywhere I stepped. Now, I deeply believe that with positive, intentional work we can change the world with small actions that continue to ripple into others.

Focusing on female empowerment work in a culture that does not traditionally value women has obvious challenges but it also has not so obvious rewards. This year I had the chance to really see young women think critically about their culture and world view and begin to identify ways they want to change it. Not only are they planning how to change their communities but they are actively doing such! (Check out my Gender Equality series for details!)

I could not be happier with this year and it has given me the fire I was hoping for to continue the type of work I've really gotten into here. When someone asks me what I want to do with my life or career my answer is “I want to end the exploitation of women and children”. I leave it broad because I feel that there are so many layers to this goal and ultimately if I orient my personal and professional goals towards this vision I am doing what my heart and gut tells me. 2015 only confirmed my desire to do this!

I've seen that small intentional actions really can make change. I'm not saying that Malawi is going to undergo some major gender equality revolution or that I “saved a community” (PC savior complex can be a dangerous thing) but I am saying that there about 10 girls that will do their best to make sure that family, friends, colleagues are aware of human and woman rights, and that is not how we started 2015.

Happy New Year Everyone!! and hope you are feeling awesome about ending 2015 and invigorated for 2016!!!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Water Issues in Malawi

I wrote a post post for the SEED Workshop Blog. SEED stands for Sustainable Environmental Education for Development. SEED is a unique opportunity for young motivated Malawians from all over the country to attend a week long environmental education workshop in Liwonde National Park. To learn more about the SEED Workshop and the Environmental issues Malawians face head over to their blog

“When I was young there was enough water, but now the rain is not falling as it was in past years.” My friend and active community member Jameson is speaking about the water issues in our area. In this area of Northern Malawi the rains last year started late and ended early. The image below illustrates how the rain patterns have been changing; there isn't only just less rain falling every year. 

Jameson lives partway up a mountain, where boreholes cannot be drilled due to the bedrock or the extreme depth to water. Just a few months ago, the Red Cross was trying to place a borehole in Jameson's village. They drilled to 51m in several places before they decided that one could not be placed that far up the mountain side. He and his family have to walk about 1 km to draw water from a shallow well, which is often broken. When the well is broken they have to collect what little water seeps out of a spring adjacent to the well which is often cloudy and full of debris.

In past years there also used to be a perennial steam that flowed down the mountain and joined the river 1 km (0.6 miles) away. In the past Jameson's family used to farm along this stream growing vegetables long into the dry season. Today, this stream is just a trickle during dry season and in the past 20 years has carved a 2 m (6 ft) ravine that doesn't support any farming. Jameson knows that these changes have occurred due to the increased population in the area causing the forest and mountain side to be over-harvested and burned from year to year.
When Jameson was a boy this stream flowed all year providing a source of water closer to his home for agricultural purposes. 20 years later the heavy rains have eroded away 2 meters worth of soil from the stream bed.
Jameson, and many others from his village now have to travel 1 km to the main river to grow food during the dry season, but both this year and last that river is going dry in places. The crops are still growing since the water table is so high but there may become a time when even those will fail.

Jameson and his family. He is a small-scale farmer dependant on the rain to grow enough food for his family for a year.  With the changes in the area, he must travel about 1 kilometer to the flood plain in order to grow food in the dry season.
Jameson and his community have been active in trying to counteract these changes by encouraging people not to burn the forest undergrowth and by starting tree nurseries. In an effort to mitigate these changes even more Jameson was open to creating a permagarden at his house. A permagarden is a small heavily amended garden that stores water in the soil lessening the need of bringing in water specifically for the garden. Waste water from bathing, washing clothes, and washing dishes should provide enough water through the dry season.

At the SEED Workshop participants learn how to manage water in a sustainable way in order to grow more food year round closer to the home.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Role Model: Gender Equality (Part 4)

This is part 4 of a 4 part series (16 Days to end Gender Based Violence Against Women
Read Part 1Part 2, and Part 3

In August I was able to send Kattie and Tupo to camp GLOW where they were trained in how to start their own girls group in their village. They came back energized and with a training manual of their own. Similar to the topics we had covered in previous girls groups they had 10 new lessons to share with girls. Exactly what they were looking for!

Girls Group 
I watched one of their first lessons. Let me tell you...nothing made me prouder than watching these young women lead their peers. They were confident in the material and both had found their own facilitation style. It would have been so easy for them to follow my example and try to imitate the way I lead sessions but they were confident enough in themselves to lead in a way that fit their own personalities!

Tupo was asking plenty of probing and open ended questions and Kattie went around to each small group to make sure they understood assignments.

They rocked it!! and the best part was like I wasn't even there!

It is so important for girls in Malawi to have role models. It's one thing for a person from the United States to come in and say:

Kattie Leading
It's something entirely different for them to see this role model in themselves! We can only change something if we identify it as something that needs changing.

When I start these conversations about changing violence against women it is not met with “Yeah! Violence against women is wrong!” It's met with “Violence against women is the way things are and our culture says it's how we learn and how we improve our lives”.

When a Malawian, with the same cultural understanding as her peers, starts the conversation about changing violence against women it is met with “I would love that, but how?”

And she can respond with 
“Well, let me tell you how I started.”

Read Part 1Part 2, and Part 3

Monday, December 7, 2015

Leadership: Gender Equality (Part 3)

This is part 3 of a 4 part series (16 Days to end Gender Based Violence Against Women
Read Part 1Part 2, and Part 4

These two ladies continually surprise me.
Tupo and Kattie 

When I first met Tupokiwe (Toopokeeway) she was seemingly shy and had very conservative views of a woman's role in Malawi. She had a habit of rolling her eyes when I would say something like “if a girl wants, she should be allowed to wear trousers without being seen as a prostitute”. Now she's teaching girls the very same lesson! She is able to look at her traditions and customs with a critical lens and determine for herself what pieces she finds important to keep and what pieces should change.

On the other hand when I met Kattie she was outspoken and seemed hopeful that a world of equal rights for women was just around the corner. She's from a city and already knew that wearing trousers didn't make you a loose woman, it just meant you didn't want to wear skirts all the time. From the beginning I could look to her when I wanted a varied opinion from the girls. I would ask “Is it okay to hit a woman”. Most girls would answer “yes” and have very few exceptions. Kattie would say “Well, our culture says it's okay but I want that to change”. Like all the girls I've worked with she has also had a shift in perspective, hers was less drastic than others. At the end of the first girls group her take away was “I really can do what boys can do but more girls really need to know that as well. We're all told what we cannot do, not what we CAN DO.”

Both of these girls are intelligent, passionate leaders. They have different strengths and personalities and they have learned to work together even in the midst of their differences.

I started working with both of them about a year ago and after their interest and dedication to the program I asked them, and a few other graduates, to join me as mentors to co-facilitate lessons for future groups. They rose to the challenge and took their role so seriously. We had workshops for facilitation skills and leadership and during sessions with me they would practice these skills and help me with translations as difficult topics arose.

Based on their commitment I sent them to Camp GLOW to learn more about teaching topics of gender equality to their peers.

In the next post I'll fill you in on their progress and work.
Spoiler: They've rocked it!!  

Read Part 1Part 2, and Part 4

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Independence: Gender Equality (Part 2)

Read part 1 herePart 3 and Part 4

Malumbo Kalua Age 21 Form 4 
Here is Malumbo. She is a talented seamstress who has taken it on herself to train girls at school to make their own reusable menstrual pads. She is also teaching it with an income generating component so if they want to make and sell pads on their own they know where to start. Oh, and one more thing. She is writing me a business proposal so that on the school holidays she can have her own business. For about $5-10 she can have the start-up money she needs to get her own reusable pad business going!

Breaking the chains of financial dependency is a huge step to being independent. In Malawi it can be difficult for anyone to find a successful path that allows an individual to rely on themselves or employment for self sufficiency. For women it can be even more challenging. I have heard too many stories from women who feel they have no other option than to take money from another person, most times a well-to-do man or uncle. As you can imagine, this puts them in a vulnerable position. When it comes time for “repayment” many women feel they owe their benefactor some service. A service that can seem as innocent as cooking and cleaning to something as demeaning as sexual favors.
Teaching Form 1 girls how to make reusable menstrual pads. 

It can be so easy for a girl child who wants to pay for school fees to be taken advantage of.

I love that Malumbo wants to teach this skill to other girls. She doesn't see it as competition. She sees it as a way to empower more girls and to give everyone a better chance at life and to feel like a person.

She is one of my Sheroes. She will be a huge agent of change for this country!

Read part 1 herePart 3 and Part 4

Monday, November 30, 2015

Gender Equality (Part 1)

This is part 1 of a 4 part series (16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence Campaign)
Read Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4

We've given you a lot of updates about what we're doing at site...specifically me, Tara, but it's getting to a time where we can proudly highlight what the community is doing for themselves!

I am sooo incredibly proud to say that a handful of the girls I have worked with and trained have started to find their own niche and lead each other! There is no greater success in the Peace Corps business than becoming completely unnecessary!

Over the next two weeks I want to highlight them as a 4 part series in support of the “16 Days to End Gender Based Violence Against Women”. You can learn more about the campaign here

This is the first time Peace Corps Malawi is participating in this international campaign. So be ready to see a few posts from me highlighting my SheroesOfMalawi!! 

Before we get into the amazing work that the girls are doing I want to take a moment to give some statistics to frame why the work they are doing and a campaign like this is so incredibly important in Malawi.

Child labour (%) + 2002-2012*, , total
Child marriage (%) 2002-2012*, married by 15
Child marriage (%) 2002-2012*, married by 18
Adolescents currently married/ in union (%) 2002-2012* , male
Adolescents currently married/ in union (%) 2002-2012* , female
Births by age 18 (%) 2008-2012*
Adolescent birth rate 2006-2010*
Justification of wife-beating among adolescents (%) 2002-2012*, male
Justification of wife-beating among adolescents (%) 2002-2012*, female

The following are some of the setbacks / reversals Malawi has experienced from 2008:
1. Reduced number of women in Parliament from 22 percent in 2009 elections to 16.7 percent in 2014.
2. Reduced number of women Ministers from 28.1 percent in 2013 to 15 percent in 2014.
3. Between the IHS of 2004/5 and 2010/11, poverty levels for female headed households in rural areas increased by 3 percentage points, while those for male headed households remained static.
4. The HIV prevalence gap between men and women doubled from 3 percent in 2004 to 6 percent in the 2010 Malawi Demographic Health Survey.
5. The Penal Code Amendment law of 2011introduced a new provision to criminalise lesbian behavior, in addition to an already existing provision penalising men who have sex with men.

Numbers don't tell a whole story.  But they do help start the discussion.  I don't want to spend too much time on the "What".  We've done the "What".  We've done the "So What".  Now we're at the "Now What" part of our time in Malawi.  So the next 3 parts of the series will focus on WHAT the girls are NOW doing.  

If you want more info on gender stats in Malawi checkout the JICA: Malawi Gender Profile:

Read Part 2Part 3, and Part 4

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Abuse By Tulupi Gondwe

This is one of the poems written during our Create Your Voice Camp in March.  

Tulupi on top of Lunjika Mountain

-Tulupi Gondwe

What is abuse?

Mama Africa
Papa Africa

what is this crying am I hearing?
the cries of the children,
the cries of our women,
is this abuse?

Is this still happening in our communities?

Papa Africa,
every morning instead of going to work
you go to drink beer
and when you come back
you beat your wives.

what is this crying am I hearing?

Mama Africa,
what is this cries of our children am I hearing?
you want them to be educated
but instead of them going to school
you send them to go and sell mandazi in the market

Mama Africa,
Papa Africa,
this is abuse!

if you want our land to be in peace you stop this abuse!

lets stop abuse!!

*Mandazi--is a local sweet, fried bread.  Almost like a doughnut.