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Carlos September Take 10 Volunteer Team

 Carlos from the September Team:   Our work isn’t done yet

The Take 10 Volunteer Programme has suffered the negative consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic as many other institutions, people, and places around the world.  All of our teams have had to pause their training and project work.

 

In this post, we will share some thoughts and experiences from Carlos from the September 2019 team. He was in the middle of his project work in Malawi when he had to leave it all behind to return to Europe like so many others.  In an interview we made with him he shared insights, impressions, and results from his project. Currently he  is putting his energy into supporting the project from his home in Spain.


What was your project about?

Sabina and I were working with pre-school and teacher training in Mzimba in the northern part of Malawi – in cooperation with project leader Brewster Mwangolera and Sheriff Banda, supervisor / translator.

After the first observation period, we evaluated that the preschools were not running properly. The caregivers were complaining that communities don’t support them and the members of the community were also complaining about the caregivers – sometimes they wouldn’t go to the preschool at all. It was clear there was something wrong in the organisation.

We did a questionnaire during our first teacher training session and we found out most of the teachers felt that they were not properly supported by the community. We decided to start our project by empowering the caregivers. We also wanted to look at the internal structure of the pre-school. The chairperson, the secretary, the chief, and the treasurer had to know how to best do their part in the work.

In every preschool, they have the same system. Four or five people are dispatched on different positions but we discovered sometimes they don’t know why they have them and what exactly to do to make it work. Those positions were great but, in the end, if the people don’t know their tasks and why they are important what is the point? It turned out the people weren’t fulfilling their duties and we found out why.

It appeared that the agreements they had were all verbal contracts.  Many people weren’t doing what they were supposed to – the community wasn’t supporting the caregivers and many people weren’t sure what they should work with exactly.

We reinforced the contract they already had but we made it into a written one with more clear guidelines.

We made a video about the process with the contracts that you can see below.

 

Focus on health

The second part of our project was related to health – some of the people at the preschool asked us about first-aid kits. We took these issues and came up with two things. The first one was to organise a first aid training course. It included the use of a first aid kit, CPR technique, and other first aid essentials.

Then we bought the kits – 32 in total before we left Malawi but we couldn’t distribute them. We wanted to do it the proper way – instead of just giving them the kits we wanted to provide training for the caregivers and people from the community to learn how to use them. This way they could help the kids and the people in the village when accidents happened.

What did your activities include?

The first two months of the project we were visiting a total of 32 pre-schools. We had a meeting with them where the people shared their needs. The previous team of volunteers had been working with them a lot so we wanted to continue where they left off. We were writing down everything they told us in a diary so we could have a record of our discussions.

We didn’t promise anything to them or start doing anything at first. We were only listening to understand the situation and the most important needs. After the initial observation period would be the time to decide how would could support them in the best way to provide what they need. In the end, we evaluated that it would be best to focus on the internal structure instead of the external part.

We saw the playgrounds the previous volunteers build were almost completely destroyed. They were abandoned – the communities didn’t take care of them and this was very sad for us because it was a lot of money and effort from the previous team and that just wasn’t maintained. We didn’t want to make something and leave, we wanted to improve the conditions and create something that will stay long-term.

What was the situation at the preschools when you arrived?

We saw a difference between the preschools that were helped by the volunteers before us and those who weren’t. Also, some communities took better care of the preschools than others – the conditions were different.

 

How important is health for pre-schools? 

Health is fundamental.

There were only one or two caregivers working daily in one preschool with 50 children. It was a lot of responsibility for one person – the caregiver also had a lot of tasks – clean, cook, take care of the kids.

Children run around with a lot of energy and they are in a nature-like environment – a lot of sticks, stones, even spiders and snakes are around. One person in charge of so many people cannot ensure a safe and inspiring environment for learning.

 

Do you think health is important in learning?

Yes, it is. A safe environment is essential for good learning. That is why we wanted to emphasize on the first aid course – we know it is important not only to have a first aid kit but also how to properly use it.

We picked up a Red Cross UK guide from DAPP Malawi’s library. It was a great guide on safety and first aid so Sabina and I read it and summed up each part in an understandable way. We collected the most important findings and Sheriff, our supervisor, translated the summary we wrote in Tumbuka – a dialect of Chichewa (official language in Malawi) typical for the northern part of the country.

We wanted to go to each pre-school and give a course based on these findings and make a practical action where children and caregivers could try those techniques themselves. We would also leave the guidelines in the pre-school so people would have the materials and know what to do if an accident happens.

In the Malawian culture there are many myths and rumours including black magic that people believe in. Education is therefore very important because people need to understand and learn what is true and what is not – those myths and rumours sometimes have big consequences for the people.

It is also important to be educated about health and safety – if a child dies people need to know it is not because of magic or a curse – the reason could be a serious sickness no one paid attention to or an infection. There is a serious threat of malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV in Malawi – it is important people know the real situation and what they can do about it.

What did you achieve during the project and what would you do more?

We finished our first project about establishing a written contract that would increase the chances of people taking their responsibilities more seriously. We also had a big event – training, different from the teach-training, for all of the people working at the all 32 preschools – 128 people in total.

Our approach was to divide those people into four groups. Sabina and one of the teachers took one group, I took care of another one with another teacher, our supervisor and our project leader took the other two groups. We explained how they could improve their tasks at the school and how important it is to do them right and also what other people can do to help them.

When we were discussing what they are currently doing we found out a lot of people were doing tasks that weren’t their responsibility. We made sheets what their tasks could look like depending on their positions so the work could be clearly divided and each person has an understandable responsibility area. We got good feedback after the session so we hope it will have a positive effect.

We also started a project with the students at DAPP Malawi. In the next three months, we were planning to do 9 events in total. We started with a video-editing course – we showed them some videos Sabina and I created. We also wanted to have an event for making business cards, posters, and logos and many other things like that.  Unfortunately, this plan was cut because we had to leave earlier than expected. We only managed to do the video editing course.

We wanted to keep the project active and support it from our homes but soon the schools also closed because of the virus so for now, this is also on-hold.

We also had the first-aid kit project. We have the book from UK’s Red Cross in PDF so we can keep working on taking out the important takeaways and making a summary which we then will send to our project leader to translate.

Currently, we are planning what is the best way to distribute the first-aid kits we bought together with these guidelines. In a perfect scenario, we would also find a way to have the courses we wanted to give in first-aid when distributing the kits but right now the situation is quite complicated so we don’t know how it will work out. We are in contact with DAPP to find the best way to finalise the project.

I also think it is important to point out we managed to buy the first-aid kits thanks to donations collected from fundraising activities – it is thanks to many people form different countries that we managed to collect the resources and make this a reality.

 

 

How will the situation develop in the future?

Some weeks ago no one in Malawi knew about the Coronavirus situation. It was mostly hitting Europe, Africa was not affect so the focus was on the other problems circulating around like malaria, HIV, tuberculosis, etc.

Now it is getting more serious as the president has announced Coronavirus an emergency after the first positive cases in nearby countries appeared. The thing is if Europe is so affected it will also have an effect for most of the African countries – the aid from NGO’s and projects like ours will be cut because of this and it will have consequences. Countries that were offering assistance now have to deal with the coronavirus crisis in their own areas and also people cannot travel so they cannot volunteer. We saw what happened in 2008 with the economic crisis – education, health system, everything was affected. This virus has more consequences than just making people sick and soon they will be felt.

There are also not many possibilities to check if people have the virus or not around Africa, that’s why there are so little reported cases for now. There are already a lot of problems in Malawi and also in other countries – this just adds up to everything else.

 

 

What was the situation when you were leaving?

We left on 22 March 2020. On 20 March, Malawi was announced as a catastrophe area even though there weren’t any confirmed cases at this point.

The situation was tense – people were nervous and worried. We were also affected because people on the streets were calling us “coronavirus” and we were worried since people were not in a good state of mind because of the situation. They knew where we live and we couldn’t be sure how things can escalate. They knew we were in Malawi since December so we couldn’t have brought the virus – because it didn’t exist at this point – but the panic was still there. I was also reading on the news that white people were being attacked, for example in Ethiopia, because they thought we were bringing the virus.

So the situation was quite tense. Things were changing very fast.

The journey is not over

Carlos is back in Spain but the forced change of location has not stopped him from contributing to the project from afar. The work he and his partner Sabina have done for the time in Malawi is impressive and has undoubtedly taught them a lot. As Carlos himself puts it:

“I have had many experiences since September 2019, very good ones and some difficulties too – all of them are with me now and I grew from that. It is not easy to leave your comfort zone in your country and move to a country like Malawi, but it is worth it.

The most important thing which I have learned in this period is to realise there are more points of view about the world we live, the meaning of a family, the way to love, the understanding of culture, respecting beliefs and doing a hard job.

There is more than one way to look at these things and I am happy to have discovered that. I think my project has not finished, just changed the direction, and now it is time for me to try to be useful in this Coronavirus crisis here in Spain and at the same time I am linked with Malawi and working hand in hand with them, sending good information about the virus and still developing the project with Sabina – our work is not done yet.”

Take 10 Volunteer

A safe environment is essential for good learning. That is why we wanted to emphasize on the first aid course – we know it is important not only to have a first aid kit but also how to properly use it.

– Carlos, September 2019 Team

Take 10 Volunteer
Take 10 Volunteer
Take 10 Volunteer Teams

September 2019 Team Post-project Interview

Read the interviews with the September 2019 Team for their expectations for the project period and impressions of the training period before leaving for Malawi and India.

There are also not many possibilities to check if people have the virus or not around Africa, that’s why there are so little reported cases for now. There are already a lot of problems in Malawi and also in other countries – this just adds up to everything else.

– Carlos, September 2019 Team

World Health Organization Africa

W.H.O Africa

The World Health Organization Africa provides updates on the health situation in Africa, related projects, and development of various issues.

COVID-19 in Africa

COVID-19 in African countries

Having a hard time finding adequate materials about how to avoid the spread og COVID-19 virus, Sabina and Carlos took the initiative to develop these
specifically designed posters, in cooperation with graphic designer Eike Einmann from DRH Lindersvold. The posters are simple, clear and “low-ink”.

 

Take 10 Volunteer

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