It’s been a while since I’ve written, thanks to a crazy busy schedule. I think some people have an impression that Peace Corps is like a two-year vacation, but I’ve been working just as much here as I ever did in the States! Here’s a little rundown of what I’ve been up to since July. Once you read it, make sure you click on the link to my newest photo album at the bottom of this post. And, look at the last few posts below that, just to make sure you haven’t missed anything – like the video of my mushroom group getting ready to plant mushrooms!
July – After a fantastic July 4th party at the U.S. Ambassador’s house, I headed back to my village and started working with a women’s group that wanted to grow mushrooms for extra income. We applied for a micro-loan from the local tourist lodge, Ntchisi Forest Lodge, and got busy finding materials to build the mushroom-growing house. I also did a training with a beekeeping group, teaching them to make candles out of beeswax. They were amazed at how easy it was to make candles, which they can sell, and now they’ll have a way to use their beeswax to generate income, instead of just throwing it away. I found myself back in Lilongwe (the capitol) in mid-July for a state luncheon with the Malawian president. Our Peace Corps country director had met with the president earlier this year, and arranged a state luncheon for all the volunteers, to thank us for the work Peace Corps has done in the country since 1963. After the event, I helped our country director write up a report and press release. Turns out my journalism skills are coming in handy! I also got approval to write a monthly column for my hometown newspaper, The Caswell Messenger. Each column looks at an aspect of life here in Malawi, helping to fulfill one of Peace Corps’ main goals – teaching Americans about other countries.
August – The first week in August, I went to visit the Heifer International dairy cow project in Mchinji, in western Malawi. I was really impressed and wrote about that visit in a previous blog post. Then, headed home and hosted a birthday party for one of my fellow volunteers. It was fun to have some people over to visit, and they were also able to visit the mushroom house and tour my garden, to get ideas for their sites. The next week, I took a tour of Mwera Mkaka with the Irish ambassador to Malawi. Mwera Mkaka is a milk processing group that’s about nine miles from my village. It was inspiring to see how the participants in the group have improved their lives in just the nine years or so that the group has been operating. I made some contacts there that I hope will help me with livestock projects in my area. In late August, I went to Camp Sky, an educational camp for secondary school (high school) students. I taught broadcast journalism, which proved to be a popular class with the campers. Turns out, even in Malawi where TV is a rare luxury, everyone wants to be on TV or the radio! After Camp Sky, I travelled to Karonga, in northern Malawi, for the Women2Women Camp, which helps to empower secondary school girls. I taught public speaking and listening skills, and helped with other classes on topics such as sex education, entrepreneurship and women’s rights. I was pleased and impressed with what these girls were learning, and thrilled with their enthusiasm. Women in Malawi are generally treated as second-class citizens, with their husbands and other male family members making all their decisions for them, and controlling their actions. I think the girls that attended this camp will be better able to stand up for themselves and be strong, independent women, because now they have the knowledge that they can succeed on their own. I’ve never been a champion of women’s rights, but this camp certainly made me realize how important those rights are, and how important it is to empower women who may not have a voice.
September – The first part of September was spent working with the mushroom group and a tree nursery project with the tourist lodge. Then, I went to Dedza, in central Malawi, for a two-week Peace Corps training, with all the volunteers who arrived in Malawi when I did. It was great to be with them again, and we learned about a lot of different topics, including income generating activities (such as soap-making and jam-making), HIV/AIDS education, and tree grafting.
October – I travelled south to Liwonde National Park for game count, a two-day adventure of counting wildlife in the park. The first day, I hiked 16 kilometers across the park with another volunteer and two scouts. The second day, we sat in a “hide” to see animals coming to a watering hole. We saw a lot of different types of antelope, as well as a few elephants, hippos, warthogs and water buffalo. But, we didn’t see nearly as many as we’d like – thanks a lot poachers! After game count, I travelled further south to Mulanje to visit a fellow volunteer, Amy, and the guy who was the first volunteer at my site, John Fort. I had a great visit, with beautiful views of Mt. Mulanje, the third-highest peak in Africa. John and I went swimming in some natural pools near the base of the mountain, which was amazing, and I got to see how well Amy speaks Chichewa is integrated in her community. She’s a great inspiration for me! Finally, at the end of October, I headed HOME to America. My brother got married November 6th, so I went for the wedding. While I was there, I visited the third, fourth and fifth grade classes at Stoney Creek Elementary School in my hometown and spoke to a couple classes at North Carolina State University. And, I should give a big shout-out to Ms. Johnson’s fourth grade class at Everetts Elementary School in Roanoke Rapids, NC. They’re my World Wise Schools class (it’s a program through Peace Corps). I visited them and had a great time talking with them about Malawi. The students gave me a wonderful book with all their pictures and personal stories, and I’ll look forward to keeping up with them for the next year.
That’s pretty much all that’s happened the last few months. Sorry it’s taken so long to update you. As you can tell, I’ve been busy! Now, I’m back in Malawi and ready to get going on some more projects, so I’ll have lots more to tell you in the future. Thanks for your interest in what’s going on here in Malawi, and thanks for all your support!
Malawi photo album for August - November