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Times of transition and uncertainty are inevitable. The ideal way of getting through these times is through a balance between acceptance of this inevitability, and taking responsibility and action for getting past it- based on strong vision for the future.

Right now is hungry season in Malawi. The time of year between the rainy and dry seasons; right before the harvest when food stocks from last year are at their lowest or are completely gone. Men and women wander the towns and countryside looking to do piece-work in exchange for food or money, cases of petty theft and crime go on the rise, and there’s an increased atmosphere of uncertainty and even desperation.

Malawians are already experts at acceptance of fate, but often to the point of complacency. Individuals and families ideally would have planned their consumption for the year according to their harvest, and taken charge of generating other sources of income to bridge any gaps, long before the hungry season came around.

At the same time there has been much longer-term economic uncertainty in the entire country. Malawi doesn’t produce enough exports to gain foreign exchange currency to buy basic necessities, like fuel and medicine, from outside the country. Electricity is sold to neighbouring countries so that fuel can be bought, but black-outs in Malawi then double in frequency and length. Forex for importing consumer goods is diverted to buy crucial medicines, but shelves in shops then go bare. One shortage is simply exchanged for another, and it’s never known what the next unavailable thing will be.

The government is already an expert at generating excuses and temporary fixes, but leadership needs to take responsibility and action. Strong governance decisions, along with planning for long-term solutions, and smart economic policy are what is needed.

Even the EWB WatSan team is in a time of uncertainty and transition. New leaders look to define their roles, outgoing leaders look to pass on their knowledge and provide coaching through the transition. Many people will be soon leaving the team, most peoples’ futures are undefined and full of unknowns. Even funding availability for the remaining people on the team is uncertain.

The team has to redesign the way it works, and create a strategic plan for the year despite all the unknowns, all while avoiding overstressing and burning-out.

I am also among the people in a time of transition and uncertainty. The planning for my own upcoming hungry season is already running behind. My vision and purpose for the future needs to drive focused actions, so that I can maintain my productivity and sustenance in the coming future.

I have to take charge of my own situation and hustle to get to the place I want to be, while accepting that times of transition and uncertainty are inevitable and universal, and avoiding unproductive worrying and stress.

In all situations complacency isn’t an option. The situation is already upon us. Strong leadership needs to guide intelligent actions based on strong vision and purpose. Searching for piecework after the hard times hit, or exchanging shortages aren’t the right type of solutions.

So if you’re in a time of uncertainty and transition, take comfort in how you will grow and learn in getting through it, relax, then

“Motivate, accelerate, never wait, know your weight, throw away hate
Grow and make great of your older days
Elevate, concentrate, get your focus straight and orchestrate fate
Just motivate, accelerate, never wait, show the way, no escape
Take hold and shift shape, live a longer day
Elevate, concentrate, get your focus straight and orchestrate fate…”

(from “Release” by Blackalicious)

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In common theme of sharing links to other peoples perspectives: here’s a bold one that has often entered my thoughts while being here…

Mind of Malaka

So I got this in my email this morning…

 

They call the Third World the lazy man’s purview; the sluggishly slothful and languorous prefecture. In this realm people are sleepy, dreamy, torpid, lethargic, and therefore indigent—totally penniless, needy, destitute, poverty-stricken, disfavored, and impoverished. In this demesne, as they call it, there are hardly any discoveries, inventions, and innovations. Africa is the trailblazer. Some still call it “the dark continent” for the light that flickers under the tunnel is not that of hope, but an approaching train. And because countless keep waiting in the way of the train, millions die and many more remain decapitated by the day.

“It’s amazing how you all sit there and watch yourselves die,” the man next to me said. “Get up and do something about it.”

Brawny, fully bald-headed, with intense, steely eyes, he was as cold as they come. When I first discovered…

View original post 2,021 more words

Hey!! Who stole my shoes!?

It’s a lonely night in a big empty house. The occasional green glow of a solitary firefly is all that can be seen out the window across into the dark yard. An old dusty curtain hanging across the open back door is the only barrier between the damp outside and the unfriendly yellow glow of the bare light bulb inside. Besides the occasional cool breeze gently disturbing the curtain on it’s way into the room, all that can be heard is the soft typing on the laptop keyboard, the occasional buzz of a mosquito searching for a meal, and the mysterious creaking of the wicker furniture.

A brisk knock at the front door bounces through the rooms’ hard polished concrete floors and bare concrete walls.

“Hello?! Who is it?”

A quick trip across the kitchen to the front of the house. Open the door.

No one there but the damp outside; better lock-up for the night. It’s getting late and almost time to wrap up working anyway. Turn the key, slide the dead bolts across, one last nervous peak out the front window.

Now a knock at the back door.

“What the..?”

A trip back across the kitchen, and another peak outside. No one but the crickets and the gentle stream tumbling over the rocks down the hill.

Better lock up here too…

Sit back down in front of the laptop, put some music on to break the creepy silence. A funky groovy beat starts off the playlist. Maybe a little late night jam session will cure the heeby-jeebies.

I hop out of my seat, and slide across the floor in my socks to the beat. Let me just grab my shoes by the back door here…

“AHH! *$%#!! My shoes are gone!”

“Some crafty bastards stole my shoes!! and right from under my nose!”

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No one likes being robbed, it really sucks. It sucks even more when you know it was pre-meditated, when you know people know where the white guy lives. Doesn’t exactly make you feel the friendly pulse of “the warm heart of africa”.

But as they say here , “it’s part of life”, and once again I’ll learn to be more careful about where I leave my stuff. Even my old worn out shoes.

If you have your own blog, you probably know that you can choose to see all the statistics from the traffic that comes to your website. It’s pretty interesting to look at all the available stuff, like what types of internet searches have led people to your site, or even where in the world the visitors to your site come from. You might even be able to get a personal boost from seeing the total number of visits on any given day.

Looking at the statistics for the number of times people have clicked on links to other blogs on the right of this page, only 3.27 percent of total visits have resulted in someone linking to another blog.

When one of the purposes of this blog  is to provide different perspectives on living and working in Malawi (about this blog), I think this statistic represents many missed opportunities of getting a wider range of views.

So I want to bring those opportunities even closer to your finger tips, bring them to your attention, and let you see even more of “what you might be missing”.

These are the links to some of my favourite blog posts from the past year, written by my team members and friends from EWB. These are some of the posts that have most inspired me, or resonated with me, or made me smile, or expanded my own view on things, or been the most original, or were just wonderfully written and/or fun to read. 🙂

Please take the time to check at least 1 or 2 of them out 🙂 and enjoy!

This is Africa By Duncan McNicholl

Pensées au hasard vol.2 By Bernard Lefrancois (A wonderful post if you have the pleasure being able to read in French)

Ndipita ku gomo (I’m going to the mountain) By Kristina Nilsson

How to bereka mwana (carry a baby) in Malawi By Tessa Roselli

After the Rain By Genevieve Parent

Crossing the Shire By Lisa Boyd

Of course these are only blogs from EWB, there are so many other great blogs and articles out there on development work and experiences abroad. There’s an entire world of other views and perspectives that I encourage you to find. Amazingly without leaving your chair, through a simple internet search. You may even end up noticed as an interesting statistic on someone else’s blog…

(This is the third part in a series of posts around a single story and event. The previous part is here)

“In 2010, millions of Kwacha worth of funds went missing from a Water and Sanitation project in Malawi.”…

…“The police had been informed, arrests made, lawyers hired, legal proceedings set in place, and District officers quickly shuffled into new positions to fill in the gaps.

I found myself in the situation where the main people I had worked with for the past 6 months were no longer working at the district, and without any transition of knowledge and information having been done with the new staff.”…

The first redeeming factor in the whole situation was that something had been done. Even if it had taken a long time, some action had been taken towards justice and accountability. There’s hope that the system isn’t completely broken.

Then in thinking about what the outcome of these events meant for the continuation of the work I was involved in, I realized that what I had accomplished was a lot more than just working with two individuals who were now gone.

I had been there in the district for 6 months, sitting in offices with many different district staff, having meetings with district leadership and helping anyone and everyone with small tasks and advice.

An article edited here, a conversation about accountability mechanisms there, a computer glitch fixed there, a ceremonial function attended, a lunch at someone’s home, conversations about someone’s family past and future. I was pretty involved with the district and almost considered another member of the staff. My interactions were far from limited to my past two direct counterparts, and the things I was helping them work on. I had developed strong relationships with so many of the people, including the staff that were shuffled into the empty positions and their supervisors.

Not only had I built strong relationships, but my understanding of the workings of the Malawian local government system had been steadily increasing as well. I had a much better idea of the processes, the hierarchies, how to get things done, and who to talk to about what. The relevant leadership in the district were already aware of and strongly supportive of the initiatives that had been started, and the tangible outputs that had been completed with previous staff were still around.

I had already gone through the hardest part of figuring out what and how to move things forward, learnt from a lot of mistakes and wrong approaches, and now I had to apply only the relevant steps and principles with the newly responsible staff. People who also happened to be extremely motivated and hard-working.

I’m still only at one level of understanding of the workings of the local government in Malawi, and about the best way to approach the type of change we’re trying to achieve, and I still don’t know if the outcomes of the work will be as expected. But I can safely say that I have made some meaningful impact on the district water and health departments here.

This post only describes one way that I’ve been working in Malawi and what I’ve accomplished. If you believe in this way of learning and working on issues in developing countries, please make a donation to EWB at this page…https://perspectives.ewb.ca/jordandaniow

(This is the second part in a series of posts around a single story and event. Please read the previous part here before this one.)

“In 2010, millions of Kwacha worth of funds went missing from a Water and Sanitation project in Malawi.”…

It doesn’t take much to come up with reasons why this situation is tragic. The loss to the Malawian people, the fact that the people behind the disappearance of the funds are the very ones responsible for the well-being of the people, the fact that nothing at all was done about it for so long by anyone, the list of major tragedies goes on…

Shortly after I left the district, I made a phone call to check in with how things were going. The first thing that came up was that the final results of the audit had been confirmed.

The police had been informed, arrests made, lawyers hired, legal proceedings set in place, and District officers quickly shuffled into new positions to fill in the gaps.

I found myself in the situation where the main people I had worked with for the past 6 months were no longer working at the district, and without any transition of knowledge and information being done with the new staff.

A sunken feeling developed in my chest. Despite having suspected and thought about the possible outcomes of the audit, the reality of the situation weighed pretty heavily on me all-of-a-sudden. The personal betrayal I felt, the disillusionment I had with the system I was working in, the disillusionment I had with human nature, the feeling of loss and futility in everything I had worked towards in the district and in Malawi, and even empathy for the families of the accused and the rest of the district staff. All these mixed feelings flooded over me, a whole other level of tragedy in this situation of missing funds.

But in the reflection space that followed the phone conversation, and pretty much right away, it was clear that within this situation there was still a possibility, and even a good opportunity, for a strong recovery…

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Read the next post for the conclusion of the story…

(This is the first in a series of posts around a single story and event)

In 2010, millions of Kwacha worth of funds went missing from a Water and Sanitation project in Malawi. The project funds were supposed to be used by the local government to improve the lives of rural Malawians, at the same time as giving the district officers experience that would improve their ability to plan, manage, and implement activities within the District.

I arrived in that same District a fair bit of time after the scandal was uncovered, and heard every possible version of who was responsible, yet nothing had been confirmed, and nothing had been done about it by any authority in Malawi.

I played my role in the district, helping them to develop systems for monitoring the current water and sanitation infrastructure in the district, and for making decisions on the allocation of new infrastructure and activities. Also assisting to coordinate NGO activities with the District Council.

Progress was slow, and I often had to keep myself busy with work internal to the EWB team, or through the continual planning and reflection on the best way to move things forward through the District’s own processes and initiative.

I plowed through working most closely with two officers that the District  decided would be the most appropriate people to work with. I worked to guide them and teach them small skills, provide assistance however I could in any of their work , develop trust, build good relationships with them, and also just enjoyed getting to know them as my friends and colleagues. All while trying to motivate and get them to take action on all the issues that they themselves had recognized and wanted to fix in their work.

After 6 months it was decided that the work could be continued without my full-time presence in the District, and that most of my time could be better used on other initiatives.

In the last month before I left, a high level government audit was finally called to uncover what had actually happened with the huge amount of missing funds, and to hopefully initiate some kind of action. I tried to keep up with whatever news on the audit’s progress and findings, and just before I left, the suspected results were very upsetting, and very serious…

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Read the next post to get the continuation of the story…

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