An Educator’s Journey from Massachusetts to Malawi
Nine years ago, in 2007, I set out on a journey from Boston, Massachusetts which brought me all the way to Malawi, Africa in 2016.
This past summer, I traveled to Malawi with Concern Worldwide, an international humanitarian organization, with my student Jillian Igoe. We joined other teachers, students, and Concern staff from New York, Ireland, and Malawi. We had the privilege of traveling to Lilongwe, Mchinji, and Nhakotakota to meet and learn from community members and their Concern staff counterparts about the sustainable development initiatives combating extreme poverty and global climate change which are making a real difference in the livelihoods of individuals, families, and communities. We witnessed the implementation of sustainable agricultural methods, youth development initiatives, women empowerment cooperatives, and health and nutrition programs.
We came to know and fall in love with the “Warm Heart of Africa”, as Malawi is often called, through its kind-hearted, hard-working, and spirited people. These are just a few of their stories:
Lamech, a man in his 20’s, lives in the village of Mpozela in the area of Nhakotakota. Lamech led a group of young men to become Talapia fish farmers who together endured the back breaking process of digging a 16×20 pond with just two shovels and one hoe over the course of 45 days. With the profits they earned from their fish farm, they invested in the construction and operation of a second pond.
In the village of Namkumba in the Lilongwe area, we met Paulina and her friends and family members of the Jakalanda Fish Farm Cooperative who are now providing much needed protein into the diets of over 100 people in their community. We celebrated with the Chimwemwe Club in the village of Mdzinja and the M’bwemba group in the village of Mangulu which are both women-led Village Savings and Loans Programs. The brave and empowered members of these groups are setting examples for future generations of young girls to become financial leaders in their households and their communities. By supporting each other in sisterhood and in business, the women are able to make loans to each other in order to purchase school supplies for their children and invest in the purchase of land for agricultural development.
We interviewed Jennifer Banda, a 26 year-old woman, with three children who was selected as a Leader Mother in the village of Luna in the Mchinji area. As a Leader Mother, she is teaching and modeling valuable nutrition practices which include the six essential food groups and the use of proper sanitation and hygiene techniques which are positively impacting the overall health of her family and community. In addition to this extraordinary accomplishment, Jennifer’s personal growth and confidence is flourishing as she develops her leadership abilities and gains respect from the members of her community.
So you may be wondering how did I find my way to Malawi from Boston after nine years? As I began working on my Master’s thesis at Suffolk University in 2007, I endeavored to challenge myself to undertake primary research into a new and emerging field of inquiry. After having spent many years full of long nights studying and tackling challenging course work in the field of International Relations, I asked myself these questions: What did I want to contribute to the field of Political Science and how could I make my scholarship an enduring and meaningful contribution? It did not take me long to realize that all of my hard work and dedication, all of my passionate inquiry into the many challenges faced by people affected by world events and global issues would not last long if I kept it all to myself. It was over the course of that final year that I composed my scholarly contribution “Globalizing the High School Classroom”. This was the first step in my own personal and professional journey as a global educator to influence others to become engaged in and hopeful of a future that included more dialogue, understanding, and eventual solutions.
After all, one cannot expect to keep a fire burning if you do not stoke the flames, carefully laying on new logs, and catching afire each ember until they are aglow. Global education is one of the the most critical emerging fields of our time because it fundamentally seeks to pass the torch forward to young developing leaders and equip them with the skills, knowledge, attitudes, and values to create innovative solutions to the most challenging global issues they will face in their own and future generations to come. Concern Worldwide and Global Concerns Classroom are doing this critical work alongside teachers such as myself, NGO’s, humanitarian aid workers, program officers, and community members. Together, we are part of a global civil society who are taking action and sparking the young minds of students who more each day find themselves in an ever-changing, globalized, and interconnected world.
In Malawi, we marveled at the combination and synergy of farmer’s age old traditional agricultural practices mixed with innovative methods such as mulching in the maize fields, crop diversification, maximization of rainwater retention, and irrigation which are increasing crop yields while minimizing pests and crop loss. We came to better understand how vulnerable households are increasing their local economies, food security, and environmental sustainability. We were inspired by the fearlessness of those challenging the prevailing gender norms and inequality through women empowerment, intervention, and sexual and reproductive health education of girls and women. We were humbled by so many of the things we take for granted in the western world and took home with us lessons which shall last a lifetime. What an incredible journey it has been indeed. I am forever grateful for having had this educational and cultural experience to travel as a teacher with my student with such a powerful, impactful, and important global education program. The opportunity to fluidly interchange between the roles of an educator and a student is a unique and enriching experience to which I can only say…Zicomo (thank you)!