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.


This is very typical of what I wear to the office - dress shirt and long skirt

This is a really nice traditional outfit

This is Martha in what she would wear if she was going out or visiting relatives

This is a fairly traditional outfit that I wear around the house or at the office, though most people in an office environment wear more western style clothes

Reflections on Poverty

I think the aspects of poverty that stands out the most here is vulnerability and lack of choice. It is harvest season so people don’t seem in destitute, but there is this sense of insecurity. Some people will run out of food before the next harvest. So many people are just getting by. What if there is a drought, or pest problem, or market prices crash? There are no government safety nets, there is no savings, and the likelihood is that friends and family will be in the same situation. So many things could go wrong that could send a household into a desperate state. A bad harvest is not a matter of less profit or going bankrupt, it is a matter of not being able to feed and clothe your family.

The one advantage to poverty in the rural area is that at least there are not as great of inequalities. There are definitely people who are better off than others, but most people are of the relatively the same social status. The main images of wealth come from western influence, mainly in the form of media and products. Such a disservice we do the world.

The other characteristic of poverty that strikes me is the lack of choices people have available to them. Many people want to continue education after primary school, but can’t afford to. There are few jobs available, even for those with some education. It is hard to take the risk of doing things differently if you are just getting by. I am hesitant to ask young people what they want to do when they are older, because I know it is not really a matter of what they “want”. So many people tell me they want to go to Canada; the land of opportunity, but the chance of them raising the funds to leave Malawi is slim. I’ve also been asked how easy it is to sneak into Canada and work illegally.

Living here makes me view my life and the western lifestyle in a new light. I can travel anywhere in the world. If I want to eat a chocolate bar I can just go buy it. I can choice what school to go to. I can get a job fairly easily. I can go to the doctors when I get sick. The worries I have seem so insignificant. I have security and choice, two things that everyone should have.

Recreational Activities

Board game carved into the roots of a tree

Football match in Bwanje


One of the departments of BERDO works in HIV/AIDS. The HIV/AIDS rate in Malawi is one of the highest in the world. Not only does the disease itself reduce a person’s quality of life, but it also prevents them from fully participating in development activities. BERDO provides voluntary testing and counseling, training in Home Based Care, training in establishing herb and vegetable gardens for the sick, agricultural assistance, and assistance to AIDS orphans. The office has its own testing equipment, which it also brings to villages that are to far to access it.
I went through the counseling and testing to get a better understanding of the process. First someone talks to you about what the testing is about and asks why you want to get tested. They then prick your finger and draw out a small amount of blood with a thin tube. The blood is placed on two different HIV tests. They look a bit like pregnancy tests. One line and you are negative, two lines and you are positive. I was not that worried about being positive for the HIV virus before, but sitting and waiting the ten minuets it takes for the results to show is a little nerve racking. Before you know the result they ask you what you will do if you are positive. It is a scary thought. You think of how your life would change. Everything you wanted to do in life jeopardized. Oh please let there only be one line. Indeed after 10min. only one line appeared and I was told I was negative. Sigh of relief.
Unfortunately, this is not the result that about 40% of the people visiting the testing centre get. Another hardship of the disease is the stigma that is attached to it. The people with AIDS are sometimes accused of being sexual deviants or drug users. Probably so people can feel as if it couldn’t happen to them. There is also a lot of anger for those that find out they are infected. A co-worker of mine told me how they had questioned a person who had found out they are positive about what they would do now that they knew. He replied that he would try and infect as many other people as he could. There is fear about dying alone and anger that might not be directed anyone in particular. Some people also see it as if they are already inflected they don’t need to be careful any more, and so engage in unprotected sex despite the other person’s status. BERDO works with communities to try and eliminate the myths and stigmas, as well as provide education on how to protect them selves.

Team Malawi 2007

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