Wednesday, April 29, 2009


A Day of Celebration: by Kris Knoepfli and Leo Gervais

It was a day of mixed emotions! We arrived at Namasalima School at the usual time for a day of celebration and thanks for all the hard work that had been accomplished over the last few weeks.

There were speeches, awards, the handing over of the borehole (water well) and smiles across everyone’s faces. Among the many highlights were the netball and football (soccer) tournaments, which culminated in a game with all of us “mzungu” out on the field with some of us falling during play. The roars of laughter could be heard in neighboring villages.

We also learned today that approximately 20% of our little friends at Namasalima are HIV positive. A sobering thought. We were comforted some by the enthusiasm of the students’ embrace of the Grass Roots Soccer program (adopted by Dignitas for the Rotary Chachoka-Aids, Kick-a-Ball to Africa program) that focuses on educating the students about HIV and its prevention. The message was clear – “You simply can’t tell who’s infected from looking at them.” A message that appears to be sinking in slowly, but surely! As one of our friends from Dignitas commented tonight - “we ARE winning the battle, every day we’re here!” Positive words that re-energized us all!

Above is a photo showing Sandy from Dignitas and Linda, our fearless team leader, with the children in the foreground. We felt this picture symbolized the partnership that now exists among NGO’s and service organizations that are working together to improve the lives of thousands around the world.

As we waved farewell, the little girls anxiously grabbed our hands to say “good-bye”. Moments that would bring tears to anyone’s eyes.

As a cohesive team, we reminisced tonight about the highlights and challenges the last few days presented. Overwhelmed by how quickly a home away from home can be established, united we look forward to a new adventure tomorrow!

Richness is not found in the things we have, but the moments we share with others!


We are loving your comments and words of encouragement. For those of you who are not aware, there is an opportunity to comment at the end of each post. Please keep sending your messages. We love to get them!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Amazing day under the Malawian Sun: by Bev Bowra
School was in session when we arrived at 0800 hrs. The students in primary sit on the floor, spilling out the doorway i.e. Grade 1 has 251 students with one teacher. The teacher repeats “silence” 3 times and the lesson begins.

Eight team members shared a teaching experience in 4 classrooms. The team also distributed a package of school supplies to each child. Over 1400 energetic, excited students were eagerly anticipating their gift from Canada. A professional distribution expert had them lining up in perfect order in the school yard.

Marg and Anne continue to work on the books in the new library. Libby and Ruth Lynn assisted in the sanitation lesson to 40 students. Glitter was placed on hands and faces to represent how easily germs are transmitted. This caused so much excitement with the students, both boys and girls, as much for the lesson as for the ornament or decoration that the glitter created.

Painting was a priority today as we completed 9 classrooms including the window openings and blackboards.

We had a wonderful day interacting with the children, teachers and volunteers. Spirits are high. What will tomorrow bring?

FYI: Message to Friends & Followers of Team 2

The two previous entries were posted by Team 1 after their return to Canada. We would ask you to look at their "before" pictures of the classrooms and then the "after" pics that we will post next.

By: Jeff Kawzenuk & Steve Truelove (team #1)

Misango Primary School –
Namasalim, Zomba District

This is one of the Projects we are working on – Misango Primary School. Fourteen villages send their children to this school – grades 1 – 8. Children walk as far as 8 kilometers to school. Students attending school receive one meal a day through the World Food Program. The Namasalima area frequently floods during rainy seasons, suffers from massive poverty, a high rate of malaria and a 30% HIV/AIDS.
Startling Statistics:
1681 Students
9 Classrooms
8 Teachers
1 Principal
2 Working Latrines (toilets)
Few students have shoes and use the areas around the latrines for toileting – causing huge health concerns.
No desks – students sit on concrete floor
No doors and windows
Classrooms are infested with termites
No school supplies
Grade 1 – 350 students – 1 teacher
Grade 2 – 475 students – 1 teacher
Grade 3 – 340 students – 1 teacher
Grade 4 – 190 students – 1 teacher
Grade 5 – 110 students – 1 teacher
Grade 6 – 100 students – 1 teacher
Grade 7 – 76 students – 1 teacher
Grade 8 – 40 students – 1 teacher
1 text book for every 5 students
School used by community as an evacuation site during flooding
Teachers earn C$150.00 per month and pay rent for homes from the community
School has a PTA and a School Improvement Committee
Primary school is free
Secondary school – students must pay

Although small, but YES we are making a difference here.

The Amazing Resilience of the Kachere Sisterhood
By: Pat Snyder & Patti Hughes (team #1)

The spirit of the Kachere sisterhood was evident on our first day as we drove up the dirt road to their CBO centre. (community based organization) Twenty women dressed in there colourfull chitangis welcomed us with open arms, singing and dancing with joy and enthusiasm. Every day we saw evidence of mothers caring for their children and grandchildren and supporting one another with daily tasks including;
- Carrying water from the wells
- Hoeing crops
- Cooking meals over outdoor fires
- Chopping vegetables and chicken
- Washing clothes in the river
- Caring for the elders
- Helping with the manual labour to build the community child care centre and latrine
- Sweeping and cleaning indoors and the grounds outdoors
- Participating in the maize harvest which is the main staple of their diet

Maize is used for the main food source (sima) and preparation is more involved than one would think, including;
- Picking the cobs from the corn stalks
- Husking the corn
- Removing the kernels from the cobs
- Separating the kernels from the chaff
- Drying the kernels on large mats in the sun
- Bagging the cobs for fuel
- Bagging the kernels
- Grinding and pounding the dry kernels to make maize flower to make sima (like polenta)

Periodically, while carrying out these tasks, they would burst into spontaneous rounds of song and dance.

Monday, April 27, 2009


First Day at School: by Libby Duncan Team 2 set off at 0730 to travel 40 kms. along a narrow, dusty, rutted road. We were bounced around in a Land Rover – very sore derrieres.

We all split up after a tour of the school: 9 classrooms, 3 latrines, 1675 students, 8 teachers. Initially we were all speechless at the sights that greeted us. The teachers’ living quarters were simply appalling.

Leo and Chuck were involved with reburbishing the well. Anne and Marg organized 700 books in the 5’ x 10’ room. Everyone else picked up where Team 1 left off: painting the walls of the nine classrooms. Each of these concrete classrooms (18’ x 27’) accommodated 300 children sitting on the concrete floor.

The children were definitely the highlight of the day – so much joy and laughter pouring forth. They were fascinated by all of us: giggling girls, shy young ones, beaming smiles, bright eyes, bare feet or shoes that didn’t fit, curious, polite, engaging and open. They simply adored having their pictures taken and burst into peals of laughter when shown the digital image. Their enthusiasm and delight was contagious. Many of us wanted to wrap our arms around them and share a hug. When I put a spot of paint on the tip of the nose of a young girl, hysterical laughter went on for 20 minutes.

Lunch was under a mango tree and was comprised of rice, cooked cabbage and a goat who apparently had seen the sunrise.

I am feeling very tired tonight but know better why I am here. My emotions are many and difficult to put into words. There is no simple answer to the poverty and the extreme problems in Africa. Am I making a difference? Maybe only a small one here but a huge one inside me.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Team 2 is Ready to Launch: by Chuck Taylor

We are rested, organized and forming into a unified team. We arrived in Blantyre Saturday, 37 hrs. after we first met at YYZ. We brought 600 lbs. of “stuff” to give away. We hauled it and ourselves to Zomba and the drive was spectacular. People walking on both sides of the road, bicycles overloaded with huge piles of firewood, tables selling vegetables and crafts, fresh goat meat on a table being fanned to keep flies away. There were many, many children. So much colour. Everyone barefoot. Air is humid and smells different. We drove through a political rally with chanting and dancing.

After settling into Annie’s Lodge we went for a walk in the Botanical Gardens and enjoyed colours most of us haven’t seen since last summer. The people we encountered were shy but gently friendly, responding to “hello” with bright smiles. Later, Libby became our banker and collected our US dollars for conversion to Kwacha. The final results passed audit.

Today, the Team attended church at Malawi University chapel. It was an incredibly lively event with singing and dancing. Kris and Leo opted for a wander through the markets of downtown Zomba, honing their bartering skills and playing the local version of backgammon.

The team is coming together. We are pumped for our first day of work tomorrow at the local school.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


Last week The Rotary Club of Burlington Lakeshore held a Curling Bonspiel & Dinner - "The Spiel/Meal/Deal". Over $13,000 was raised! The proceeds have gone to the Rotary Sweat Equity Trip in Malawi. These funds will buy the supplies for Team 2 who will continue the work started by Team 1. We have one more day before our departure.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kacherry CBO – One mission Accomplished
By: Maureen Bird

I came with only 3 sisters on the trip, gained 8 more plus 7 brothers. By the end of the week, I had 28 more sisters ( the Kachere volunteers) and several new brothers, the brick layers. The CBCC (community based child centre) and CBO (community based organization) offices had all it’s brickwork and roof completed – a wonderful start. Our main job here was to parge the interior walls. There seems to be a special technique – fill up the trowel with mortar, throw it at the wall and hope that 50% of it sticks. Then smooth it out and try not to remove it all. It took days, so we left the final steps and high parts to those who knew how to do it better. At the same time, I joined the brick layers building the 2 hole latrine. They were not so sure at the time, but with lots of mortar slapping and lifting bricks, they were slowly accepting of a woman in the roll. By the end, they called me “best friend”.

The women of Kacherry are unbelievable. Most of them are HIV positive and on ARV’s. They are willing to do anything. They carry 20 – 40 liter pails of water on there heads from 200 meters away for the mixing of the mortar. They joined us in parging, painting and even brick laying. Yesterday we painted.

Today was the formal turnover ceremony. There was in excess of 200 villagers in attendance including the GVH group village headman plus about 10 other village chiefs. There were speeches of thanks from the chiefs, Dignitas, Rotary and villagers followed by lots of dancing and singing. We did the “Hokey Pockey”as our performance and chief Charles joined in . The banners are “all hands together” with the Rotarians hand prints and the villagers lined up to add there hand prints to show unity. I’m the newbee but so many of the more experienced felt that this was the most impressive bonding experience.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Cheers from Team 2!!!!!!!

Malawi Group 2 Gets Ready to Go
We have been reading the Blog with great interest and are getting excited about our iminent departure. You are definitely getting us fired up!
We got together Wednesday for dinner, distributed tickets and Team T-shirts. We then packed our extra hockey bags full of pencil cases, dental supplies, infant layettes, skirts & toys.
On Friday we had a fundraiser, a Curling Bonspiel and dinner in support of the Malawi trip. I will report the results with some pics shortly.
Meanwhile, any hints about things we should bring?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

By: Chris Snyder

One of the highlights to date has been our participation in the Home Based Care Program. HBC is one of the cornerstones of the treatment of HIV/AIDS in Malawi and many other African Countries. Many of the volunteers who go out by bicycle or foot to visit patients are themselves HIV positive. Pat, Caroline and Widit went by foot. Jim, Brian, Jackie, Penny, Patti, Maureen and I went by Bicycle. Penny has already given you her experiences…here is mine.

Our little entourage consisted of four volunteers and me including Rose, a widowed mother of a 2 ½ year old who has been on A.R.V.’s for about four years. The child does not have AIDS. I was given the best bike that came from Africycle an organization based in Uxbridge Ontario. I felt somewhat guilty accepting it however, I knew I would offend them if I did not ride it. I eventually offered it to Emmy who was struggling on another bike. Riding her bike which had a 24 inch wheel base was fine on the flats however I was forced to walk it up the hills. Our route went along red dirt roads, through fields of maze and small villages. We passed other riders, people carrying sugar cane on their heads, selling tomatoes and pumpkin on the road side, mothers and children with babies on their backs and oxen pulling carts often loaded with people.

We had several stops including one at the thatched roof home of a 46 year old widowed women who had a 10 year old son and a three year old grandson. Rose helped the fragile woman who had much trouble walking. We sat on a mat on the ground and discussed her situation. She earned no money but had a few chickens and goats that she could sell. Her brother was there but on crutches because of a leg deformity. There were also about 15-20 children who were curious about this stranger who had arrived in their village. The woman also had heart problems and has been on ARV’s for about two years. We checked her ARV’s which were made in India. I was asked if I wanted to take pictures. These people had never seen themselves in a picture. The giggles of all including the patient gave these people a lift at least for a short time. I will try to get them pictures.

The resilience of this woman was remarkable and I felt humbled and privileged to have been included in this women’s and her families lives. As we hopped on our bikes, surprisingly I felt energized and uplifted and I realized I had had a beautiful spiritual experience.

Biking To Patients Of Sapaao
By:Penny Eccelstone

The old Public Health Nurse in me was very excited today to be sent on a home visit with a home based care volunteer to visit three HIV positive women. These home based care workers are given 10 days of training and they go out to small clusters of homes to visit patients with HIV/AIDS, occasionally Malaria and also T.B. The purpose of their visit is to ensure that patients are taking their medications and to give them support, also to assess their general well being. If they feel they need more care, they refer them to the hospital. They travel by bicycle (very few people in Malawi own cars). The average annual income being about C$300.00.

We visited three women, two HIV positive women with babies and a granny (she didn’t know how old she was, but thought she was about 70 years old) and had bilateral Breast Cancer which has never had treatment plus HIV. She is also caring for three grandchildren. The two young were breast feeding their babies. In the west HIV women are encouraged not to breast feed but here they are encouraged to breast feed for six months so they are not tempted to bottle feed and dilute the formula to save money. The government pay for all drugs people take in Malawi and the ARV’s. These drugs are now cheap and plentiful. Dignitas originally supported these programs however it has now been taken over by the Ministry of Health. This program is sustainable and allows Dignitas to support other programs in other areas in the country. Three of us, Maureen, Diane and I rode bikes with Emmy, the home based care volunteer and Victor, an interpreter and we enjoyed the experience immensely.