Leyre from the September Team: I would like to continue with what we started
The Take 10 September 2019 Team was divided into two trios and one duo for their project work period in Malawi and India. The unfortunate circumstances around the COVID-19 pandemic disturbed all of them but the teams managed to achieve a lot and we know they have good insights to share with us.
Today, we want to introduce you to the post-project interview we did with Leyre (Spain) who was working with pre-schools in Dowa, Malawi.
What exactly was your project about?
My project was in Dowa, Malawi and I was working in a trio with Paula and Henri. Since Henri had his separate activities my project work was only with Paula.
Our focus was 14 pre-schools around the communities in Dowa. The project was mostly, but not only, about those preschools. The first thing we did was to visit them with our translator to check the situation. This included observation and evaluation and forming an impression of what is the biggest need, what are the issues that need to be solved.
What was the situation at the project when you arrived?
When we arrived we saw that most of the preschools were closed. That was the main problem – a lot of them were not active and the active ones were missing a lot of materials to make the classes interesting and fruitful so education was not on a very high level.
What were the biggest problems according to you?
Preschool is not mandatory in Malawi which brings the biggest issues. The government is not sponsoring anything concerning preschools – some communities don’t even have a building to conduct classes.
There are no teachers with fixed salaries who are permanently employed – all the teachers at the institutions are volunteers from the community. They are not earning any money from teaching and their motivation is very low. They sometimes don’t even go to teach. And it is understandable – those people need money to live and support their families. This is a main priority and it is hard to focus on the importance of education for children when you have to find a way to make ends meet for yourself. This also means many children work from a young instead of going to school – they need to help their families with income.
Another big problem according to us was that preschools were not provided with food for the kids. The children didn’t have any secure food source and this in itself created other problems. Children often did not go to school – the parents didn’t send them because there was no guarantee they will get fed well.
What did your activities include?
A lot of our activities with the preschools included going to the places with the translator for observation and evaluation. Sometimes we went by walking, other times we were biking. On a few occasions, we also used a motorbike because the distance was very big. It could take us up to 4 hours to go there and back. This was also part of the project and something we had to consider when we were deciding how to approach it.
An important and big part of our project work was working with motivating the teachers at the preschools. We met all of them and we did two teacher training sessions in DAPP Dowa. There were around 60 teachers per teacher training session so I think it was quite successful – there was a lot of interest.
We were also responsible for checking if all necessities are present in each preschool. To do this we made a list and prioritized elements so we could ensure each preschool has an optimal environment and possibilities for the children.
Part of the project was also to build one of the preschools from scratch. As I mentioned, some of the communities didn’t have a building to conduct classes so in collaboration with the community and the chiefs we started the project of building a preschool in the area.
We managed to finish one and we have another similar project going in another community. Unfortunately, we had to leave before this project was completed but it is still going even if we had to return home.
What did you achieve during the project?
We are really happy with the things we managed to achieve for the time we spent in Malawi. Building the preschools, the teacher training, and collecting necessary materials to improve the situation are just part of the things we did.
Of course, this was done with the help of fundraising activities so we have all the people who donated money to the project to thank as well – it wouldn’t happen without them. We decided on 3 000 euro as a goal when we started and we almost reached the amount so I think it went quite well.
Thanks to the fundraising we were able to provide all preschools with different materials – hygiene and cooking supplies, buckets for storing drinking water, etc. What is one of the highlights for me is ensuring there is enough porridge for the children. We managed to provide all the preschools with porridge supplies for at least 3-4 months before we had to leave. Paula and I are both very happy about that and we think it is important for the schools as one of the biggest issues is the lack of food supplies. This can help kids stay in school and parents feel more confident in sending them there.
What were you planning to do more if your project wasn’t interrupted?
What I would like to do in the future is continue with what we started – finish all the preschools including a playground project which we initiated. I hope it will continue development even without us since we presented the project to the communities and showed them how to execute it.
We also emphasized why having it is important for the children, their development, and health. All the materials are already collected so what is needed is only the construction work.
We also left some materials for the communities to be able to fix and improve parts of the preschools – new windows or fixing the floor and the roofs. This is extremely important especially during the rainy season. It rains a lot and easily destroys the walls, the floors, and the roofs because they are mostly made of soil and just a little bit of cement so it is not a very strong or durable construction. This is something we would have put our efforts into if we didn’t have to return early and had more time in Malawi.
What did you learn from the experience?
I personally learned some remarkable things. First, I really learned the meaning of words – what it means to share. In our daily lives, it is super easy to say we are good people, we share with everyone, and we are truly empathic. While it can be partially true, this is easy to do when you are in your comfort zone and you have enough so you can give to others. I learned that the real meaning is to give without thinking what is left for you. Doing it unconditionally.
It is also easy to consider yourself empathic and open-minded towards different cultures but I realized that expectations and reality are two different things. When you are working in a completely different cultural environment you need to deal with behaviour and situations you don’t understand at all. It is very far from what you are prepared for and what you initially expect. Sometimes their actions can even hurt you because you are not prepared to face such reactions and attitude.
Another big thing for me was seeing the tremendous effect of the traumas from the colonialism age on the people there. In some situations people feel they need to show you they are not less than you, even though you are not implying it in any way. But they have this mindset rooted deeper inside and to me that was extremely sad and unfair to witness.
Paula and I also worked on some other projects we wanted to develop.
The Empowerment Girls Club – we created this club in DAPP with girls attending the university, aged between 20 and 23. One day per week we had the club with different activities for empowering girls. We were giving them tools to better understand the role of women and also see how it is perceived around the rest of the world so they can better understand their value and appreciate themselves for who they are.
We tried to give them tools and do activities to open their minds and increase their self-confidence as women. This included being able to express an opinion and feel equal to boys, to feel they can study, and work instead of thinking they only belong at home. Women have value. We spoke about a lot of things including sexuality, body, and rights amongst others.
The other thing we did was another club with the name Bomoko – it translates to “unity”. We developed this club with one of the headmasters in the preschools we worked with. The idea was to make an intercultural club to exchange thoughts, doubts, concerns, do cooking and other activities.
It was a way for people to spend time with others, learn new things, interact with each other, and exchange thoughts, opinions, and ideas. It promoted open-mindedness and respect.
Despite being unexpectedly interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic the September 2019 Team managed to achieve a lot and learn plenty from the experience. We sincerely hope they will have the chance to finish their project work. Regardless, they are doing their best to support the projects from their home countries despite the circumstances.
Preschool is not mandatory in Malawi – the government is not sponsoring anything concerning preschools. Some communities don’t even have a building to conduct classes.
– Leyre, September 2019 Team
I personally learned some remarkable things. I understood the true meaning of words like “sharing” and “empathy” and I also realized that expectations and reality are completely different things.
– Leyre, September 2019 Team
Carlos was working with pre-school and teacher training at the northern part of Malawi.
Alazne was working with Academy for Working Children in Jaipur, India.
Adria was working with Academy for Working Children in Jaipur, India.
Sabina gave us her insights about her project period in Mzimba, Malawi where she and team mate Carlos worked on projects related to preschool and teacher training. Currently they support the projects from Europe.
Even though we were forced to leave Malawi prematurely, Sabina and I are still supporting our projects in Mzimba (Malawi), from home. We have different kind of projects and this one is about sustainability.
Adrià worked in a trio with Alazne and Maria with education in northern India where the three of them learned and achieved a lot, working with Academy for Working Children and projects in the slums of Jaipur.