I was sitting in a one-room brick building in a village a 20-minute drive from the main highway with Jonathan, one of Concern Universal’s Water and Environmental Facilitators. He had just finished running the morning session of a training for two new village water and health committess, and we were eating a nsima and chicken lunch provided by the committee members. We were discussing his job with CU and he looked at me very seriously and announced, “We are much specialized in feces.”
……Ok, maybe he didn’t say it too seriously.
For the past two weeks I’ve been hanging out with self-described specialists in feces – or rather the Water and Environmental Sanitation (WES) project staff at Concern Universal. After a brief stop-in at the CU head office in Blantyre, I headed to beautiful Dedza, where one of the CU field offices for the WES project is located. I spent a week there, and then this week I was at the other field office in Ntcheu.
Now, I can show you these places on a map….
….but that really doesn’t do them justice. I’ve heard a rumour (or is it more?) that J.R. Tolkein visited Malawi before writing the Lord of the Rings, and Dedza is one place where you could believe it to be true. It’s surrounded by mountains, and while the pictures I’ve taken so far don’t do it justice, you’ll just have to trust me that it’s a pretty neat place. Ntcheu has fewer beautiful mountains, since it’s lower in elevation, but it compensates by having riper, more delicious guavas.
In Dedza & Ntcheu I’ve been trying to get to know all the people involved in the WES project and start to understand what they do and how they fit into the monitoring & evaluation system I’ll be working on for the project. In real life that mostly means I’ve been having one-on-one chats with everyone from Health Surveillance Assistants (HSAs), the government workers who help CU deliver and monitor their project in individual villages, to the project and programme managers. I’ve also been trying to get out to the field with project staff as much as possible.
My trip with Jonathan was to sit in on a day of community based management training he was giving to two new village committees. In the morning they discussed the responsibilities of the committee positions they’d just been elected to earlier in the week, and in the afternoon they finished learning to cast sanplats (the cement covers for improved pit latrines). Since the training was in Chichewa I didn’t add much, although I did provide the entertainment – about halfway through the morning session, a little boy who had been sitting in the front corner got up to leave the room. He got to the end of the row, saw me sitting by the door, screamed MAMAAAAAAAA!! (or the Chichewa equivalent) and bolted up the second row to the safety of his mom. His reaction was pretty extreme but it’s not unusual for small children to burst into tears at the sight of me :)
At the moment it’s the lean season in Malawi – the time of year before maize has been harvested when people’s reserves of maize are at their lowest. One of the women in the village I was visiting with Jonathan commented how hungry people are right now, and I’m impressed that people will sit for hours in a hot classroom and are able to learn about committee roles when that’s the case.
My trip to the field with Alinane, a facilitator from Ntcheu, was to check on a school sanitation club (CU works with some schools to build latrines and promote student sanitation clubs) and some existing village committees. It was especially exciting because, on the way back to the office, we stopped in to see a launching ceremony for a tree-planting income generating project. In this video, the women are singing some political songs (I’m not exactly sure what about) before the closing speeches begin. (Video will be posted when Megan gets a better internet link)
In my spare time, I’ve been trying to download Luke Brown’s brain into mine – Luke is the EWB volunteers currently on the project. He’s leaving at the end of this week, which is kind of scary. I’m also excited to start connecting to Malawi more on my own – the last few weeks it’s like I’ve been experiencing ‘Malawi lite’, out of the necessity of handing over everything that Luke knows to me I’ve been spending most of my time with him and have been focused on work. It has been nice to get introduced to a ready-made community of Luke’s friends and to get comfortable in Ntcheu and Dedza before having to find a place to stay, but I think I’m ready for the next steps! I’m planning to spend the second week of April in a village, and I’ve decided I’ll be based in Ntcheu for the next couple of months, so I’ve started putting out feelers for a family to live with. The nice thing about Ntcheu is that even though the centre of town is pretty much a stretch of the main highway, a short walk away from the highway gets you into pretty villages. I plan to go exploring an find a place to live!
(Posted by Megan’s Dad, her internet connection is none too swift)