Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Back in Canada

I've been back in Canada for about a week now. Unpacked and recovered.

My last day in Malawi I spent hanging out with the other EWB volunteers, reflecting all our different experiences. There had been ups and downs, challenges and joys. Some how I managed to get through the whole summer in great health. But I spoke too soon. The night before we flew out I fell ill. Fever, chills, headache, body aches, and nausea; all symptoms of Malaria. I started treatment right away and hoped I would get better before the flight. The next morning I felt a lot better and boarded the plan for Johannesburg, South Africa. But by the time I got there I was feeling pretty sick again. All I wanted was to get home, so I got on the plane to London. It was the worst nine hours of my life. By the time I got to London I had a fever over 39 C and could barely walk. My fellow EWBers were amazing at sorting everything out for me as I lay in the sick room at Heathrow airport. I went to the nearest hospital and stayed the night in London to recover. The next day I was well enough to get back on a plane thanks to the Malaria meds and rest. I have never been so happy to come home. I cried in relief as the plane landed in Toronto.

Monday, August 20, 2007


Nkhotakota or BUST!

Me and Elius after dinner

Playing around with the grading mask at the Masinda Factory

The coolest goat in the world, check out that mohawk

I have left Katimba village where I was working at the Masinda Cassava Starch Factory. I spent some time working on the designs in Lilongwe and Mzuzu. I am now back in Lilongwe and fly out tomorrow. What a long strange journey its been. I will add a couple more posts and pictures when I get back to Canada.

Poem from Amos


When you came here
Stories you could hear
Are of the programmes
Implemented here
And of the people
Who were here
Stories that brought joy
And fear
You nearly dropped a tear
That was in May
Long last you opened your way

Then came June
Together we have done evaluation
Together we have crossed rivers
Together we have inhaled dust
Something we shan’t do together in August

Then the globe turned July
Your months stay counted three
You were as free
As a bird in a tree
This proved your unique

Soon you are going back to Canada
You shall not inhale dust again
But hopefully,
You will always remember Malawi
The warm heart of Africa

Monday, August 13, 2007

Wildlife of Malawi

I haven't seen any lions, hippos, or zebras here in Malawi, but I have seen lots of bugs and lizards. These ones are not so bad, as they don't give you Malaria like the mosquitoes, or bite you like the fire ants.

Chance Kawiya

Age: 27
Occupation: Vice-assistant manager at the Masinda Starch Factory
Family: Newly married and expecting his first child

Chance was not only my co-worker at the Masinda Starch Factory, but I also lived with him and his wife Elius, in Katimba Village. Chance is one of few people in the village that speaks English very well. When I asked him way this was, he explained that he, unlike most people in the area, had completed secondary school. Here are the answers to some questions I asked Chance:

Q: For you, what are the three most import things in your life?
Chance first listed: To have food, to have a good house, the have gardens, a good family, and then to be God fearing. When I asked him to rank these he indentified God as number one, followed by family, then having food.

Q: For you, what are the best things about Malawi?
A: Good education, many rivers, lagoons, and hot springs, small villages, farming, and a lake near by

Q: What are the worst things about Malawi?
A: Poverty and corruption

Q: What is the most difficult aspect of poverty?
A: The lack of employment.

Q: What are the some of the biggest differences between urban and rural lives in Malawi?
A: Finding money in the villages is much more difficult. There are more jobs in the city. You can always find work, even if it is just temp work.

When I asked what were some the advantages of living in the rural area, he couldn’t think of any at that time. There must be some, or people would not live there, but I found it interesting that he could not think of any, even though he has always lived in a rural environment.

Q: What role do you think people from the West should play in Malawi? In what way can they have the most positive impact?
A: To bring jobs to Malawi by starting businesses and factories.

When talking to Chance there was a definite theme job security being a huge importance to him and development in Malawi in general.

Friday, August 3, 2007

My First Day in Masinda

Monday was my first full day in Masinda. The day started at 5am as the sky was just starting to change from night to day. The bike taxi arrived at 5:30am to transport me and my luggage to the cassava starch plant. We got off to a bumpy start as the weight of me and my pack on the back of the bike raised the front off of the ground. So, an extra bike had to be hired; one for me, and one for my bag. It was my first trip on a bike taxi, and it was pretty fun, even though we wiped out once going down a sandy hill.

I spent the morning at the plant gathering information and trying to think of possible solutions for the wastewater issue. At lunch I got to see my new home for the first time. I am staying in a fairly typical rural Malawian household. There are four houses clustered together. Everyone is related in someway, so it is really one big family. I am staying with a newly married couple, Chance and Elius. I have a 7’x7’ room to myself which consists of a wire to hang clothes on and a reed mat to sleep on.

The first night I was there the moon was so bright you could read by it. Signing and clapping could be heard in the distance. I was told it was to announce the up coming circumcision ceremony. The women in my compound formed a circle and started dancing and singing songs of their own. They laughed, but welcomed me as I joined in. The voices in the distance got closer, and a group of about 20 boys emerged from the bushes into the clearing of the compound. They formed a line and we one opposite to them. The dance party began with everyone clapping and singing song after song. A group of women and girls arrived and joined our side. In twos or threes dancers from one side dance across and pick a partner to come out and dance, then return to their place. I was having so much fun; despite having a bad headache. I figured I was either dehydrated or getting Malaria; both very realistic possibilities.

The Starch Factory and Wastewater Project

This post is mainly intended for my chapter back in Guelph, but also for anyone else who is interested in more of the technical aspects of my experience.

The Masinda Starch plant is a small scale processing plant located in a fairly isolated rural area. Cassava is collected by ox-cart from the surrounding farmers and transported to the plant. It is then weighed, washed, and grated. After it has been grated into a thick pulp like substance, water is added and the starch is separated from the fibers by sieving. The water starch solution then passes through a sedimentation channel. After the channel is drained there remains a layer of starch at the bottom which is removed and dried. Once it is dry, it is milled and packaged.

Click on image to see full size

The main issue with the wastewater, which contains mainly water and starch, is its high BOD (biological oxygen demand). If the water is directly discharged to the near by river, the decomposition of the organic matter (starch) will use up the oxygen in the water killing aquatic life. Another major issue is that the current wastewater system was designed for production rates of two tons of fresh cassava per day and the plant is currently running at about 8 tones of fresh cassava per day. What further aggravates the situation is that the currently system is also heavily clogged with solids. Oh, it also smells pretty bad from the fermination going on.

As a temporary solution we have begun to build a berm 15m from the river to contain the overflow. The water flow through 15m of soil should adequately clean the infiltrated wastewater before it enters the stream. We have also directed overflowing pits to a large recently dug dirt pit (see picture above).

After meeting with one of the people from IITA who was involved with designing the original system, the preliminary long term solution that we came up with was:

1. Develop a maintenance plan for regularly cleaning out the system, including composting pits for waste organic matter
2. Use screens to prevent larger debris from entering and clogging the system
3. Add power made from the Moringa tree into the large pits to act as a coagulant (enabling more solids to be removed)
4. Add limestone powder to smaller pits to neutralize the acidity of the water
5. Direct water to adjacent cassava field after smaller pits
6. Direct overflow from cassava field to a low lying vegetated areaThis vegetated area can also be enhanced with plantings of water purifying and absorbing plants. A berm should also be created downstream of the vegetated area to prevent potential contamination of hand dug well.

Click on image to see full size

I am currently in Lilongwe researching the details of this plan. The other thing I wanted to look into was the viability of using the biogas created from the settling pit. Any comments, questions or suggestions are welcome.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Pictures from Nkhata Bay

View from the window of the bamboo hut I was staying in

Preston (an other EWB volunteer)

Wooden fishing canoe

view of the Bay

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Placement Change

I wrote the following on Wednesday July 25th:
A lot has happened over the last couple days. On Sunday I met with Danny; a long term EWB volunteer, and decided to move Nkhotakota to work with him on cassava processing project.

Working at BERDO has been a great learning experience. I had the opportunity to see first hand how a local NGO is able to have positive impact on rural Malian communities. There was; however, no defined work for myself. That was further complicated by the fact that BERDO currently has no major donor to support their projects. July 31st is the final day of the two year project funded by Oxfam. Oxfam has funded a number of BERDO’s projects over the years; however, they have decided to focus funding on the southern region of Malawi and BERDO is considered part of the Central Region. One thing you learn from an experience like this is the development sector is very complicated and sometimes quite political. As of July 31st, the BERDO staff will be divided between those who can afford to become volunteers, and those who will need to look for work else where. It is really disappointing to see such a great organization be put in this position. BERDO, however, will not be beat by this. There are a number of members that will continue to work for the communities even without pay. The communities understand the position BERDO is in and will continue to participate in programs and try and seek funding from other sources. Finally, BERDO has a number of their income generating activities, including a maize mill and number of farms, to help keep some things going until they can find more funding. Their dream is to one day be completely self-sufficient, so that they do not have to rely on donors; very ambitious for any development organization. We were warned before we came here that we might be upset by some of the people that work in development organizations. For a lot of people it just a good job and the beneficiaries are second to their own ambitions. I have talked to other volunteers who have experienced this, but for me it was just the opposite. So in some ways it was sad to leave BERDO, but where I can greater impact is on the project in Nkhotakota, and so here I am.

Yesterday was my last day in Bwanje; hard to know if I will ever be back there again. It was a really nice day. I came into work to take part in the morning devotion one last time. We start off every day with singing hymns and prayer. Even though I am not religious I really enjoy the singing, even when I don’t know what I am actually saying. I said goodbye to all my co-workers. I then went to the secondary school and found my Chichewa teacher Agnes. We walked around town together then spent some time at her house. Her sisters showed me how to pound maize.
In the evening I gave my family some good bye gifts and hung out with Godfred, Lison, Francis, Gifty and Gifty’s sister. The thing they liked the best was this little safety light that flashes. I then got out my camera and we took a ton of photos all over the and outside the house.
Dinner was also pretty special. Instead of nsima, we had chips AND rice, with cabbage and egg relish. I left early (6:30am) on Wednesday morning. The dogs, Bruce and Tiger, accompanied me half way to the mini bus pick up. By noon I was in Nkhotakota. Now on to what I will be doing here.

The project that Danny is working on here is all about cassava. Cassava is a potato like crop; I will have a lot more to write about it in a couple weeks. It is mainly used as a staple crop for human consumption, however, the starch can also be removed to be used in manufacturing. The project is a small processing plant in the Nkhotakota area, to test if this is a viable option for the area and Malawi. There are many areas within this project that need to be dealt with. One of these is dealing with the left over water from processing. The water has a high organic matter concentration, which means if it is directly dumped in a water system it will consume too much oxygen and damage the environment for aquatic life. The other issue is that cassava contains small amounts of cyanide, which will also be in the wastewater. They currently have a system in place to deal with the wastewater, but it is currently being run over capacity. The plant also wants to double production, which means more wastewater to deal with. My goal over the next few weeks is analysis the current system, investigate alternatives, suggest a solution, and possibly over see construction of the design. I am really excited about this project as it is directly related to my studies.

Tomorrow, I will be heading up to Nkhata Bay. I am meeting Preston, another EWB volunteer, who is working on a very similar project for a coffee processing plant. I am hoping to get some ideas and research matterial, as well as advice for a voiding set backs. I start work at the plant on Monday, where I will be working the line to get familiar with the operations.

The other exciting thing is that I get to live with a whole new family and see how their life differs from the family I have been living with so far.

The Top 10 Things I’ve learned Living in Malawi

10. When you need to pick your nose, feel free

9. The speed limit doesn’t mean much when there is no speedometer

8. Your hands are for eating with not for carrying things with

7. Chickens make better bus passengers than babies

6. High-fives are awesome

5. It’s football not soccer, a pear not an avocado, and it’s maize not corn

4. There is a way to convert plastic bags and old tires into food, its called a goat

3. Deep frying makes anything edible

2. A bike’s capacity is 1 man, 1 woman, 2 children, a stack of fire wood and 10 chickens

And the number one thing I have learned living in Malawi, is what?

1. If you haven’t eaten nsima, you haven’t eaten

Reflections on Integration

Integration is a tricky thing. It is a constant challenge to know how to act and realize what the impacts of those actions are. On one hand you want to build trust and show your host community that you are genuinely interesting in learning about their lives by participating in them. On the other you are not a Malawian and never will be. You have your own life and culture which you don’t want to give up or pretend does not exist. You could simply say, “Just do what Malawians do”; but which Malawians. Do I act like the beneficiaries of the projects I work on, which are usually the poorest? Do I act like the people in the family I live with? Do I act like my co-works? Do I act like white Malawians? Do I act how a Malawian would with the resources I have? These can all be very different. Even the fact people treat me differently prevents me from being “like everyone else”. It is very hard to know why someone is acting a certain way towards you. Is this reaction because I am a westerner, a woman, a young person, a visitor, a traveler? For example, today on the mini bus they encouraged me to take the front seat (which is so much more comfortable than any other). Is that because I am a westerner or because I was a young woman traveling by alone, looking lost and tire? There are a lot of times when it makes sense to reject such privileges, as it just emphases that you are different and should be treated as such. I have ridden the mini bus many times and never been offered the front seat, normally I am crammed in the back with everyone else, chickens, goats and all. I took the front seat this time, mainly to see what it was like. It was a much better ride, but I did feel like I was being put in a different class then the other passengers and was totally disconnected to what was happening behind me.

Part of integrating is also forming relationships with people around you, but this can sometimes be very challenging. Malawians pride themselves in being very friendly people; which is true, but often people that “target” you to be their “friend” have some alternative motives. It makes you hesitant to interact with people, and eventually your first thought about everyone one who comes up to you is “what does this person want from me?” Earlier today I was talking to a few Malawians staying at the same rest house. They were playing bao, and I ended up playing a couple games with them. Later I got a knock on my door. One of the men asked if he could know more about me. I asked him why he wanted to know more about me. He told me he wanted to be friends and then went on to explain that he wanted to know if I could help him get to Canada. Other times right after someone introduces themselves to you they ask me for money or to buy something from them. The worst is not knowing if someone really is your friend, or just acting that way. I have had a couple experiences where I thought I was developing a friendship, but then they started hinting or asking out right for things. This creates for me a very lonely situation.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


Mural on the side of a building in Lilongwe

Cultural festival with students preforming traditional dances from different African countries.

Common style of Malawian art.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Denis visits Bwanje

My friend and fellow EWB volunteer, Denis, came and visited me in Bwanje last weekend. He asked me how he would find me when he arrived on the minibus. I told him it would be no problem, just ask where Kyla is to anyone you see and they will point you in the right direction. As soon as he got off the bus in Bwanje and man on a motor bike came up to him and asked if he was Kyla’s friend. He then gave him a ride to my house; one nice thing about living in a small town. We took a walk to the town centre where there are some stalls and tea rooms. We had tea in one the tea rooms which was my first time to do that here. We both got big cups of milky super sweet tea. In Malawi they fill the cup about a quarter to a third full of sugar for their tea.

We met up with my friend Amos and walked all over Bwanje stopping off at most of my co-workers houses. The next day we tired to cook some mandasis for breakfast. Mandasis are basically balls of dough fried in oil; pretty much a Malawian donut. The only problem was we didn’t really know how to do it so we just guessed at how much of each ingredient to put in. We ended up with “dough” that was more like yeasty plaster of Paris. We tried cooking and eating it anyway, but it was really bad.

Luckily, the care package from my family had recently arrived (only took six weeks to get here) and contained two boxes of Kraft Dinner! We cooked up a box of KD over the three stone fire and ate it right out of the pot.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Gift Ziwoya

Age: 18
Occupation: Student in second year of secondary school
Family Status: Single, lives with his mother, father, 4 sisters and 1 brother

Gifty (as everyone calls him) is one of my best friends in Bwanje. We often walk to and from school/work together and play bow or go to football games on the weekend.

He was born in Bwanje, after his parents came from Lilongwe in search of land. His family works as subsistence farmers growing one crop; maize. They grow enough maize to feed the family of 8 the whole year. Gifty’s school fees are paid by his uncle who works in Blantyre. It is common for people living in the urban centres send money to relatives in rural areas.

Outside of school Gifty takes part in a youth group that teaches people about HIV/AIDS and how to protect themselves. He also enjoys watching football and eating nsima.

Gifty values education highly and sees it as a way out of poverty for him, as well as the country as a whole. When asked what he would like to see change in Bwanje, he replied that he would like to see more people educated. Education came up again when I asked what he considered a “good life”. To him a good life consists of being educated and being able to look after his parents. He also sees promoting education and transferring knowledge as the best way people in the West can assist Malawi. Gifty’s dream is to attend post secondary education to study medicine and become a doctor.

Malawian Proverbs

Kuyimba ng’oma sikuswa
Literally: Beating a drum is not to break it

Tsache latsopano limasesa bwino
Literally: A new broom sweeps well
Meaning: A new person can bring new good ideas.

Mutu umodzi susenza denga
Literally: A single head does not carry a roof
Meaning: you can’t solve problems alone

Ukakhala mwana, mphanje umayambira pamehenga
Literally: As a child you begin to hoe the garden on sandy soil

Chibwenzi sangula ndi chipanda
Literally: Don’t buy beers to have friends

Angakhala fisi ali ndi bwazi
Literally: Even the hyena has a friend, his friend is the darkness
Meaning: Every cloud has a silver lining

Ulendo wadya galu
Literally: The dog has eaten the journey
Meaning: The journey was a failure

Waponda phwetekere
Literally: He has stepped on the tomato
Meaning: he has impregnated a woman

Njovu ziwiri zikamamenyana ndi udzu omwe umavutike
Literally: When two elephants fight it is the grass that is in trouble

Mbuzi ikakondwa, amalonda ali pafupi
Literally: The happier the goat the nearer the buyer

Ukakwera pamsana pa njovu usati pansi palibe mame
Literally: When you are on the back of an elephant, do not pretend there is no dew on the grass

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Monkey! first bit of wildlife I've seen

Me on a brige in Lilongwe

Amos' (my coworker) engagement party

Women carring water and child in Bwanje

Cultural Context of Engineering

Some people reading this blog might be asking themselves, "where is all the engineering in this Engineers Without Borders volunteer placement?". I've found what EWB focuses on is not the technical engineering skills, but thinking critically about the cultural context in which designs are implemented. What becomes very clear from living here is that things do not work the same as in Canada and the assumptions we can make in the west do not always apply.

Some Challenges to doing Engineering work here include:
Everything takes longer than you think it will
Communication issues are huge
Difficult to get spare parts
Lack of infrastructure
Lack of reliable energy supply
Lack of materials
Lack of resources for research
Heavy rains prevent building at certain times and wash out structures
Inadequate waste disposal facilities and practices
Low literacy rates
Lack of computers and people with computer training
Some things are more expensive

Some good questions to ask when designing a technology or system include:
How do I know this design will improve people’s quality of life?
Who has identified the needs of the design?
How will the design be used?
Who will use it (women, children, elderly, men, farmers, individuals, communities)?
Who will have ownership over it?
What resources are required to run it or maintain it?
Are those resources locally available?
Can the people afford to run and maintain it?
Does it cause environmental degradation (soil erosion, deforestation, air pollution, habitat destruction, water pollution, etc.)
How will byproducts be disposed of?
How will equipment be transported?
Has the whole cycle of the process being modified been examined?
What is the root cause(s) of the problem?
How do I get information?
What do the words being used mean to me? What do they mean for the other people involved?
What skills and knowledge are widely known?

Designs that tend to be most successful:
  • Rely only on local resources (both material and human)
  • Are as simple as possible
  • Appropriate to the culture and livelihoods of users
  • Are based on fulfilling a basic need
  • Cost effective
  • Produce little or no waste
  • Do not require electricity or fossil fuels
  • Extremely durable
  • Can be transported by bike
  • Require little training for use and maintenance

The projects EWB volunteers work on often involve little technical engineering skills, however, the analytical thinking and problem solving skills that are learned through engineering are often helpful in providing feedback for local organisations.


Bar at the Wheelhouse on Senga Bay

I just got back from the mid place retreat. I was great to see everyone, most of which I hadn't had any contact with over the past two months. It was also my first time to see Lake Malawi. We worked on finding solutions to challenges we are facing and creating action plans for the remainder of our time here. My main challenge with work is finding a way to shift my focus from learning to adding value at BERDO. The retreat helped me come up with three project ideas to present to BERDO.
Creating visual summaries of our placements

We had a chance to take a break and have some fun. Swimming in the lake, playing beach volleyball, hanging outwith friends, and other amusements (see picture below).
Paul wearing Anne's pants

It was also a great time to reflect on my experience here and do some big picture thinking. One question that comes up a lot for me is "What role should I play in human development?" I think I am starting see the world as much more of a global system and that "human development" is not something that is isolated to "developing" countries. A large part of the change I would like to see needs to happen in the West. Thinking about the global system, it is the unsustainable lifestyles of the west that appears to be the biggest challenge. I am not sure where I will work in the future, but I know it will be focused on the same over all goal of creating a global system that promotes sustainable quality of life for all people.
Group picture of all the JFs in Malawi and the long term volunteers in Malawi and Zambia.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


I have been asked what I have found the most challenging about my experience here in Malawi. The thing that I have found the hardest is feeling isolated. This isolation is due to not only being disconnected to the world outside of Bwanje, but also being culturally isolated from people with Bwanje. For the first time in my life I am visible and cultural minority. I cannot just blend into a crowd and be treated the same as everyone else. It often feels like I am wearing character custom everywhere I go. Most people find me amusing, some small children are terrified, and I am expected to smile and wave at everyone. But you can never take the custom off and just be like everyone else. Though, this has gotten better since I have gotten to know people in the community. At least most people call out “Hey Kyla”, instead of “Hey white person” now.
This experience has helped me become aware of just how important culture is. It is isolating and frustrating sometimes to not have anyone around who shares your culture. No one that communicates the way you do, that understands the cultural references you make, or shares similar cultural values. Because I am the minority, I am the one is doing things oddly, if not completely wrong. I feel like I always have to defend my ideas and values. It’s communication that is the hardest. I have to speak slow simple English to get my point across, and sometimes feel like it is difficult to develop deep relationships based on that. Even if the actual words are understood, they may still have a different meaning for each person.
Over all people share more similarities than differences and there is always common ground that can be found, but all the same you are always aware that you are different and you are an outsider. This has given me a greater appreciation for what people immigrating to a new country must go through. How worse it must be to also not feel welcomed.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Gender Equality Programs

BERDO has found that development projects are much more successful when they include the participation of both men and women in the community. Gender inequality is major issue in rural Malawi. Often the women are over burdened with work, and are not involved in finical decisions. Harvest time is particularly bad, as the men get a relatively large amount of cash that is not always spent in the best interests of whole household. Money is wasted on beer, cigarettes, entertainment, extra material relationships, or frivolous purchases. In order to curb these behaviours BERDO runs education sessions on gender equality practices. One thing they have found that works well is having community debates on gender issues. One thing they asked me to do was make some posters showing gender inequality. From what I have seen of BERDO's programs there are more women than men participating. I am not quite sure why this is, but it is something to question, as having little male participation is also not desirable.

Me drawing the below poster

Amos Chandilanga

Age: 26
Family status: Lives alone, but will be married in September
Occupation: Extension worker for BERDO, specializing in gender equality

“Rich people with poor heads are going to school, while poor people with rich heads rot in the villages”

Amos is frustrated. He is intelligent, skilled, and knowledgeable, yet he struggles to get by. He places a huge importance on education. He is frustrated because although he is good at his job he does not have the papers of higher education, which would allow him to get a better job. “I am happy to see the changes in the community, and I am good at what I do, but I work very hard and only get a peanut in return” he tells me.

Amos’s father died when he was in his first year of secondary school. From then on he was in school only when his sister; who was supporting him and 3 siblings, had enough money left over for school fees. After secondary school he worked for an organization doing agricultural work. He learned many skills; however they refused to give him any qualifications out of fear of him leaving them for another organization. He then worked for an organization which tried to get girls to stay in school. After that project ended, he had to look for a new job. He ended up working for BERDO and specializing in gender equality practices.

What Amos is really passionate about is writing. He writes essays, poems, short stories, and plays. There was a time when he would write and act plays to make a little money to get by on. One day a friend came to him and told him about a writing contest which provided a scholarship for first prize. His friend told him he would help him if he showed him some of his work. Amos put together a large collection of his writing and gave it to his friend. Some time went by and Amos asked his friend what the results of the contest had been. His friend told him he had not heard. Amos later found out that his work had won first prize, but his “friend” had entered it under his own name and claimed the scholarship.

It is hard to say how he feels about his future. He is currently working his way through a certificate in rural development to try and enhances his skills and qualification, but he still feels very stuck in his environment. He has recently become engaged and will be starting a family of his own. He says “maybe God will have something for me in the future.”


Nsime is the staple food in Malawi. It is made by boiling corn flower until it becomes a thick portage (similar to cream of wheat, only cream of corn). Then more flour is added and it is stirred until it becomes a solid. It is scooped out into balls as seen above. It is very filling. When I first came to Malawi I could only eat 1 lump. I now eat 3. I often find it is hard to feel full on other foods now. This is something that is eaten for both lunch and dinner pretty much everyday.

The above picture is my breakfast. On the plat is portage made of maize. I also put in milk powder to add nutrients. It is common to put lots of sugar on top. I also have tea and bananas every morning. People here put a ton of sugar in their tea.

Another thing that is made from pounded maize is sweet beer picture above). They basically just soak it in water for a period of time. It has a very unusual taste that is kind of sour. The texture is a bit hard to get used. Other volunteers have said the after taste is a bit like vomit. Even though I don't like it that much, it is not that bad. Like most things it is better with lots of sugar.

Nsima on its own doesn't have much of a favour and people never eat it on its own. It is served with relish, which refers to any dish served with nsima. Above is a picture of a relish made of rape, tomatoes and peanut flour. You break off a piece of nsima with your hand (only the right hand), roll it into a ball and make an indentation with your thumb. That then becomes your spoon for the relish. Below is a fish relish.

Chicken is also quite common in my household. Above is a picture of Martha preparing two chicken's over a fire. For the first time I watched the slaughtering of an animal, when Lison cut the throats of those chickens, which I later ate.

The picture above is Baobab Tree fruit. The outside is really hard, almost like a coconut. Inside there are these chalky chunks you suck on or dissolve in water. In the middle of the white chunks is a black seed which you spit out. It is an odd taste that is hard to describe, but it is slightly sour. It is eaten as a snack.

Letter in Chichewa

Dzina langa ndine Kyla Firby, ndi ndinachokela ku Canada. Ndili ndi zaka 23, ndi ndine ophunzira. Ndidabwera ku Malawi mwezi wathawu. Ndilikuphunzila kuyankhula ndi kulemba Chichewa. Ndimagwira ntchito ku EWB Canada, ndi BERDO ku Malawi. Ndi makhala ku Bwanje kwa Mr. ndi Mrs. Shara. Ndi maphunzila kuphika nsima, kusesa nymuba, kuchapa chovala, ndi kudzuka m’mamawa. Ndimadya chimanga, mtedza, kabichi, nthochi, mbatata, maungu, lepu, mbuzi, mazira, nkhuku, ndi nsomba. Ndidapita ku Blantyre sabata latha. Ndidzapita ku Lilongwe sabata lamawa. Ndikufuna kuona EWB mnzanga ku Lilongwe. Ndidzapita ndi abwenzi ku Peace Corps. Akukhala ku Sharpavale.

Ndilikusowa inunonse.
Ndidzawaona mu Ogasiti.

Kyla Firby

Khalani omasuk!


My name is Kyla Firby, and I come from Canada. I am 23 years old and I am a student. I came to Malawi last month. I am learning to speak and write Chichewa. I work for EWB Canada and BERDO in Malawi. I live with Mr. and Mrs. Shara. I have learned to cook nsima, sweep the house, wash my clothes, and get up early in the morning. I eat maize, groundnuts (peanuts), cabbage, bananas, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, rape, goat, eggs, chicken, and fish. I went to Blantyre last week. I will go to Lilongwe next week. I want to see my EWB friends in Lilongwe. I am going to go with my friend from Peace Corps. He is living in Sharpavale.

I miss you all.
I will see you in August.

Kyla Firby

Be Free!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

BERDO's activities

The following are a examples of some of the activities BERDO does within the Agriculture and Natural Resource Management department. Above is Mr. Zulu giving instruction to a BERDO member about growing Blue Gum trees.

The above picture is of Mr. Zulu and BERDO's fruit tree grafting specialist. They are inspecting the new seedlings for mango trees. One of BERDO's main activity is helping communities establish tree nurseries. Over 3 million trees have been planted through BERDO's projects. A single community nursery can raise 10,000 seedlings a year. Fruit trees are especially good as they provide the community with a source of income that might have other wise come from chopping down the tree for firewood and charcoal.

Revolving livestock loans are another of BERDO's activities. The animals provide households with food and income. The picture is showing the pen that must be constructed to receive a goat loan. The pen is actually on stilts above the ground to keep it cleaner. Once the animals breed the loan is repaid in offspring, which are then transferred to another household. BERDO does these type of programs with goats, pigs, and guinea fowl. One challenge to the animal loans is sometimes people will hide offspring or report that the animals died, so they do not have to repay the loan. Over all it seems to be successful program. We visited one women who received a pig loan seven years ago and is still successful raising pigs on her own.

Compost making is a popular activities that BERDO trains village members in. There has been a lot of positive feed back from communities that they feel confident in making compost and have noticed the difference it makes in their field. The picture about is a group of people from Sharpvale who have just participated in a demonstration of how to make compost. The brown mound in front of them is the compost heap. It is made by layering plant refuse, livestock droppings, and ash, soaked in water and covering in mud (to prevent damage by animals).

BERDO sometimes holds demonstrations for communities in regards to available technologies in agriculture and food processing. The above picture is on a device that separates the maize kernel from the cob; a job that is often done by hand. It was designed by a Malawian engineer and constructed of materials found locally. It was fun to see the old women get really excited about it and show off how fast they could turn the handle. Other technologies that were demonstrated that day was a peanut sheller made of wood, a device for mixing chemicals into the maize for storage, an press to make oil from nuts, and an oven. All these technologies were constructed locally, made to last, run on human power, and focused on the needs of the people.

Team Malawi 2007

Team Malawi 2007
The Malawi team meets for the first time in Calgary during the EWB National Conference