Field day in Dedza

A life changing experience

Before I left Canada I had created a work-plan with Farm Radio International (FRI, the Canadian partner) and Farm Radio Trust (FRT, Malawian partner). I was coming to Malawi to research with farmers and use journalism through Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to help these farmers transform their farm into a small business by teaching them the significance of, and ways to, optimize their value chain. I would also use Digital Marketing tactics (Social Media, Blogging, Website planning) to help promote FRT’s mission and work. I could not wait for the experience I would gain, or to use what I learned in my degree and from my work to help farmers in Malawi come one step closer to being food and income secure. I came with one goal in mind: to make a difference.

As of late I have been working on strategizing and implementing a Digital Marketing communications plan for FRT. I’ve enjoyed the experience this has given me. Unfortunately, I haven’t been out to the field as much as I would like, but on July 18th I was sent on a field workday to the Dedza district of Malawi (about 100 Kilometers south of Lilongwe). I was ecstatic. I was sent to document FRT’s work with broadcasters (in this case Zodiak Broadcasting Services) and farmers in a program called Radio Marketplace (RMP)[*]. Little did I know, this 9 hour adventure would be life-changing.

We were welcomed with a breathtaking view as we made it up the mountain to start our descent to the other side into the Dedza district. There were many farming villages dotting mountainsides and valleys. We descended into Dedza on a well used — to say the least — dirt road.

As we drove through villages, locals would double take. They were so surprised to see me. I am the first Muzungu that the majority of these people have ever seen. Children would call after me saying “Muzungu, Muzungu!” (Literal translation: “White, White!”). It was funny - and so bizarre - to be a novelty.

School children trying to get a glance of the Muzungu!

Our first stop was at a school. It enrolled many children from around the area — hundreds would walk several Kilometers to get to school. As we pulled up, the students dropped what they were doing to crowd the car and catch a glimpse of the Muzungu (much to the annoyance of their teachers … oops!). I found out that the motivation for these children to come to school was to have an extra meal in the day. Although this was saddening, FRT’s work in the area was a small step in the right direction to fix this issue.

Farming group and their children waving goodbye

We traveled to five different farming groups to interview them on the effects of the RMP on their farming practices. At the end of each session, the group elder would say a few words of thanks, followed by a beautiful song and chant by the villagers. The song told a story of thanks and gratitude, of their farms being transformed for the better, and of their hope that we come back. We are always welcome. Here’s a snippet of one of the songs.

Village leader saying words of thanks

One man spoke directly to me in English so that I may understand: “Welcome to our village. Thank you. Thank you for coming and helping. The children here have never met someone like you — a Westerner. Their worlds have been opened by this.”

A shiver ran up my spine. I couldn’t begin to thank this man for his kind words. But at the back of my mind I couldn’t help but think: I have not done that much. I am here to report and document, take pictures and write a story. But I guess it’s these small gestures that add up. I hope. The work that FRI/FRT is doing is helping bring smallholder farmers such as those in the Dedza district to a state of food and income security to slowly eradicate and solve these issues. It’s progress.

At the end of the field day, I was fortunate enough to be re-named with a Malawian name. Nthawi, pronounced uN-tAH-wee. It is Chichewa for time. The locals and farmers gave it to me because “it is a unique name for a unique person”. I was very happy and humbled to be given a Malawian name, especially one so special and with such a great compliment!

I find this name fitting, as I am here for such a short time. I’m a visitor trying my hardest to help, and quickly learning that I can’t change the world this fast and by myself. My work is only a small part. But it’s a start. It also speaks to my reflections and realizations from my time here.

I struggled with a bought of homesickness last week. After speaking to friends and family, their words of wisdom truly re-kindled my passion and desire to be here. They told me that this feeling of being homesick only exists because I am so loved back home. My family and friends care about me, and I them, to the point that being away from them is sometimes saddening. But this isn’t a bad thing. I’m so fortunate to have this and to be able to come to this part of the world with no one else that I really know[], and still not feel alone. It also puts into perspective who and what I have back home and how fortunate I am for everything in my life, no matter how small. This realization emerged from my short time and experience here in Malawi.

I’m truly enjoying my time and experience here — it’s opened up my world so much and given me an amazing perspective. And I’m only half way done. The next five weeks will be full of wonderful experiences, I’m sure of it.

A proud Malawian woman, my favourite picture!

[*] I will be doing a follow-up blog with this to explain more about this.

[†] Thankfully Noreen, a Masters of Journalism student at Carleton, is here with me and we have become fast friends!

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