My host family

Posted June 23, 2007 by Wayne Miranda
Categories: Malawi

Nyumba ali bwanji!?  (How is home?)

A LOT has happened since I last posted!  I now live with my new host family as an uncle and brother, and have made many acquaintances and a close friend who lives two doors down my street.  I’m also working with two of CADECO’s clients, which are my new partner organizations, Centre for Youth and Children Affairs (CEYCA) and Public Affairs Committee (PAC).  It’s been a busy few weeks since starting work – settling into Malawian office life, field visits, meetings, donor proposal writing, and lots of reading about CEYCA and PAC.  In fact, I wrote this while on a field visit working with PAC in Kasungu district, about 2 hours north of where I live, but I’m back in Lilongwe now.

Wayne in Kawale

I had some requests for an example of proverbs used in CADECO’s organizational consultancy work…One recites like this, “When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.”  I’m curious to know what you understand from this, so send in your comments!

Another one that you may already be familiar with is, “Failure is an orphan, while success has many parents.”

To continue describing life in Malawi, my placement is actually urban based, so first a glimpse of my home life…

I live in what I think is an upper middle-class household in a Lilongwe suburb of sorts.  Analogous to Canada where Ottawa is the capital, but Toronto is the commercial center; in Malawi, Lilongwe is the capital, but Blantyre is the commercial center.

You can see pictures of the house by clicking here

In Lilongwe, I live with the family of Leonard and Trinity Mkandawire.  Leonard is the manager and accountant in a Malawian book store chain, and aspiring entrepreneur of a general goods & stationary store.  Most stores in Lilongwe are owned by east-Asians, Nigerians, or Congolese.  I’ve only scratched the surface of why this is and I’ve heard mixed arguments on the difficulty for a single Malawian to have enough capital, or acquire the necessary loans to open their own shop in Lilongwe.  Trinity is a Standard 8 teacher of mathematics – “Standard 8” is the equivalent to grade 8 in Canada as being the final grade of primary school.  While I knew intellectually some of the challenges in achieving universal free primary education, it was still shocking to hear first-hand from a teacher the same issues of students dropping out due to hidden fees for national examinations or uniforms, and the lack of teachers, and the lack of adequate school facilities in terms of water, shelter, hygienic sanitation for students while learning.  (Aside: I was asked about my potential involvement with CIDA through CADECO…so far I am not involved with CIDA nor have I seen them anywhere I have travelled in Malawi, but most of the primary school textbooks have big bold statements of the back cover mentioning they were proudly funded by CIDA 😛 – CIDA is the Canadian International Development Agency)

Leonard & Trinity

Anyhow, Leonard and Trinity are parents to Talina (Standard 4) and Grittel aka Gritty (Kindergarten).  While at first the children were fearful of the new muzungu visitor (I think primarily for respect of hierarchy), Gritty has resumed to be the troublemaker, and with Talina, our favourite pastime together is for her to teach me Chichewa and to learn English from me.  We have many laughs when I butcher the pronunciation of words.  (For a taste of my difficulty – chombe “chombeh” is tea, chomba “chombah” is marijuana, chombo “chomboh” is Malawi’s most famous and tasty fish…mmowa is morning, mowa is tomorrow…etc.)


I also live with Leonard’s brother, Roderick (23) who is studying accounting, niece Catherine (Standard 7), and Christopher (16), who is the houseboy.  Rod being around my age can tell me lots about Malawian culture and since we are both outside the immediate family yet still a family member, I tend to follow his lead when venturing new ground.  Cathy and Christoph both speak very little English and so I try to spend as much time with them as possible.  They do the vast majority of the housework, which is typical for their status in the household, and so live a very tiresome lifestyle, yet seem to be content.


With Cathy I have started playing a game called “Riddle, Riddle” (though with a Malawian accent it sounds like “leedo, leedo”).  It’s another fun way to learn Chichewa, but I must say that I seriously lack the wit to answer the riddles or construct any half decent ones.  One example, “It is a house with a door that when you open, it is open, but when you close, it is never closed.”  Stay tuned for the answer in my next post, send in comments or e-mail me your guesses!


Christoph loves to listen to music (religion is very important, and so gospel music tends to be everyone’s favourite), or the football match (Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, and of course team Malawi are among the favourites – I’m keenly interested in how so many Malawians know the smallest details of even the bench players).  I’m also learning Chichewa with Christoph and teaching him English simultaneously.  And since he speaks and understands very little English, we both know the phrases, “I don’t know” and “Sindidziwa” very well.  He is also teaching me how to cook nsima!


I also met and continue to spend a lot of time with one of Rod’s friends, Chipie.  Chipie is studying the same accounting as Rod, but is older and in a higher class.  Chipie is actually short for Chipilero “perseverance” which is fitting to his character.  He has been given the opportunity to studying accounting, a fairly respected career in Malawi, largely due to support from his uncle who he grew up with to attend school in Blantyre.  We are able to communicate well because he speaks fluent English, so we can walk for hours around the surrounding neighbourhoods to share a common curiosity in each other’s culture.  I take many of my questions about Malawi to him since he can break it down and explain in detail.  Chipie has joined a friend, Tabu, in a small-scale initiative called YAC: Youth Arts & Culture.  Tabu explained to me that while many youth have been exposed to HIV/AIDS education, many are no longer in school, cannot find work, and thus pass the time at home or with a boyfriend/girlfriend.  YAC intends to provide a means for youth to do something with fellow youth, and secondly, to expose the many talents that would otherwise be suffocated by disapproving parents, or broadly, lack of opportunity.  So Chipie and Tabu are currently recording local Kalawe gospel artists, some of which get aired on radio stations in Lilongwe!  They also have a football team, and are looking to have a drama club.  This was all launched with their own funds and revenue generation, driven by their amazing passion to take control of their own futures.  Talking with them is a huge source of motivation, and so every Sunday starting from last week, I have agreed to meet and help where I can.


The family’s favourite pastime in the evenings is to listen to the radio or watch television which is whatever happens to be showing on the only channel TVMalawi. You may have heard that the first lady of Malawi, Ethel Mutharika, passed away about 2 weeks ago, and so the government of Malawi has called for one month of mourning from the day of her death. Since that day, traditional songs by choirs across Malawi have been continuously aired on TVMalawi, only to be interrupted by official messages of condolence from various organizations, as well as the news. At first I thought it was just me who felt one month was over the top, but from the few Malawians that I’ve talked to, I feel I have a case. My family themselves are quite tired of the same songs, and choose to watch some Nigerian movies – which I could talk at length about, but I’ll leave it for another day.

So overall, this seems to be a comfortable lifestyle for my host family, and I can say I am very comfortable myself.  But I’ve only seen the surface at best with small glimpses of the challenges they face.  I have seen glimpses of the roles everyone plays and how they came about, whether its caretaker of children or the house, provider, future provider, and how some basic factors like age, immediate or extended family, gender play in defining that role.  Since I am urban based, I lose the opportunity to see life from the perspective of the vast majority of Malawians, that being rural village life.  But I have gained the opportunity to see a life which many villagers are flocking towards.  So I look forward to exploring urban livelihoods, and the factors that make them so complex.  I would love if any of you help me come up with factors to probe into – it would make for much better learning to share in September.

Me & the kids

I look forward to hearing from you, and sorry I have posted this after soo long.  Now that I have settled and have slightly more control over my schedule, I will be posting more often.  The next post will be on what my work has been so far and some of my field visits.  Feel free to make requests about what you would like to hear about!

Until next time,


A bit on my placement

Posted May 14, 2007 by Wayne Miranda
Categories: Malawi

I’m walking a tight rope balancing being proactive and patient at the same time. My status as far as work is concerned is that CADECO will come up from Blantyre to Lilongwe to meet me today, and then we will all visit the three clients I will be working with. If that doesn’t happen, I’m heading to Blantyre to meet CADECO tomorrow. I was really looking forward to moving into my host family’s house this past weekend, but my first meeting was also pushed back to tomorrow…so I hope I can turn this into a win-win outcome by meeting with CADECO or my host family today. Wish me luck!

I’ve been meaning to explain more about my work because the little that I know is really exciting.

As I mentioned previously, I’ll be working with CADECO, a private sector organizational development consulting firm. Organizational development is a means to achieve financial and organizational sustainability by continually improving the effectiveness of current resources. The tradiational approach was very material focused where training was used to improve donor management in NGO’s, proposal writing, revenue generation, etc. Now, organizational development is about an organization’s ability to solve current problems as well as future problems. This is done by helping organizations become more able to learn in its rapidly changing environment. It looks at culture, structure, external relations, strategy and vision among other dimensions. And the ongoing process is internally led.

I realize that is likely a lot of buzz words, but I’m paraphrasing and synthesizing from Rick James’ “Demystifying Organizational Development”, and Chiku Malunga and Charles Banda’s “Understanding Organizational Sustainability Through African Proverbs.” There’s a lot of rich sophistication that I’d love to discuss with anyone who is interested. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to send them my way.

Chiku and Charles are actually the co-founders of CADECO and have taken the language of organizational development and made it relevant to African leaders through African proverbs. Indirect communication is popular in Africa (I have yet to fully experience it in a business setting, but I’ve heard many stories), and so I think using proverbs is an interesting approach.

Chiku explains proverbs have the advantage that they comprises the identity and collective wisdom of Africans. Proverbs are used in African humour, to confront issues, and build relationships unifying different perspectives. It transcends literacy and thus can be appreciated by anyone. The simple statements can explain complex issues with metaphors that render strong mental imagery that could inspire insight beyond discussion. I enjoy metaphors especially if they have a purpose, so this is really exciting (–yes I’m a nerd), and I’m really curious to see how effective it is when applied within Malawian organizations.

So where I fit into this picture…

CADECO is called to do consulting work with Malawian organizations and together they develop specific action plans. I will be working with three of CADECO’s clients to liason CADECO and the clients as we help to implement the action plan to positively impact the three clients. Also, I will be able to feed back information on how CADECO can improve its work in the future.

This makes for 3.5 months of great learning opportunities and potential impact on four organizations. Of course it comes with great challenges — my greatest concern being balancing the depth and bredth of my understanding of four organizational contexts. It will also be difficult to know the impact on the poor (who I ultimately am working for) since organizational development relies on the ripple effect of change. Still, I’m looking forward to it!

Much love from Malawi.


First night surprise

Posted May 12, 2007 by Wayne Miranda
Categories: Malawi

It turns out I could not go to Blantyre as told at one point.  It makes sense from a point of view of spending time wisely, though I’m disappointed to miss seeing Blantyre as I hear is very different from Lilongwe.  Expecting ambiguity and changes in plans will be key in Malawi.

It’s been slightly more difficult to schedule Internet time than I originally anticipated, sorry for such sporadic posts, but I just wanted to jump in with my first day in Malawi.

After a week of fairly intense learning with 12-16 hour days of development thinking and practical activities in Toronto, I hit the road last Sunday with 8 fellow Malawi team members.  I spend the next 2 days on or between flights finally landing in Lilongwe airport Tuesday afternoon with surprising ease.  Fortunately for me, so did my backpack – not the case for 5 of my friends.  Anyhow, minus some sorely missed baggage, the 9 of us are escorted into town by Erin (has lived in Malawi for a while now) and David (EWB Director of Southern Africa Projects).  We minibus it to Mabuya camp, a campsite typically used by backpackers and where the adventure tour jeeps are on steroids.  With a short rest and some avocado-tomato sandwiches, we start a few Malawi-specific training sessions.

While this was all super cool, I’m going to skip over a bunch of funny short stories to describe the surprise I had late Tuesday.  So sore bum, stiff legs and all, I join the group in a relatively luxurious minibus.  We head down a foreign yet strangely fitting ochre dirt road lined with gutters (which I suspect is for rainy season flood control…and the occassional opportunistic bladder), women with small babies strapped to their backs balancing impressive loads on their heads, minibuses spewing black smoke while transporting double the number of people as there are seats, and men bicycling on 1950’s cruisers probably returning from work.  We leave the minibus and walk the last leg of the trip.  I turn the corner and suddenly am overwhelmed with the singing and dancing of a local women’s choir around Erin’s housing compound.  Sensory overload!  I look around hesitant to join in the singing of our welcome since the lyrics are in Chichewa but ndidiziwa Chichewa pangono pangono (I know Chichewa little by little).  Erin yells out to the group, “Dance!!”, and so I follow the choir’s lead.  Left elbow jab, right elbow jab, pat thighs twice, stretch to the sky, grab the sky with my right hand, grab the sky with my left hand.  The choir sounded amazing after practicing three days a week, but the 9 of us brought up the rear with our terrible out-of-sync dance moves.  The women in the choir couldn’t resist laughing at us muzungu’s (white or Western person).  But it was all in great fun and the welcome was a much needed energy boost.

As pitch darkness arrived, we head inside for our first Malawian meal with a Malawian family.  We ate nsima (“nSEEmah” in Malawi, “nSHEmah” in Zambia) and beans, the quite tasty staple meal in Malawi, as well as a vegetable relish of boiled okra.  The okra relish being slimy — though relatively better than the Ghanaian okra I ate in Toronto — still tested my gag reflex, but I survived to try it again another day.

After dinner I adopt a more questioning hat and start a conversation with agogo (grandfather) the male head of the family.  I say and mean “started” because I honestly have little idea what was said with the many voices in conversation around me and a dance party in the next room.  We somehow start discussing Malawian politics touching on Mutharika (current President), Muluzi (past President), and others.  Agogo and his son, Blessings, are both musicians and I look forward to getting to know them a bit better.

We returned to Mabuya camp after a warm welcome and I was glad to hit the sack for a good night’s rest.

I hope everyone in having a spectacular summer back in Canada!


I’ve arrived!

Posted May 10, 2007 by Wayne Miranda
Categories: Malawi

I just got a few minutes on the computer, so I just wanted to leave a quick note that I made it safe and sound into Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi, on Tuesday.  The past couple of days have been amazing, and later today I am heading to Blantyre to meet my partner organization, CADECO.  I’m not sure how long I will be staying in Blantyre, but as soon as I next find an Internet cafe, I will share some more stories about my one week of in-Canada training, the 2 day flight into Lilongwe, my warm welcome, my in-Malawi training, and of course, what my role is with CADECO (at the moment, I myself only have a vague idea).  Whew!  Lots to share!

Salane bwino!



Posted April 25, 2007 by Wayne Miranda
Categories: Malawi

Welcome to my blog! The next step in my Internet-savviness. But more importantly it will be home to stories from my journey as a development worker in Malawi, the warm heart of Africa as its known by some.

Many of you are probably aware that I will be spending the next 4 months working in Malawi as a Junior Fellow overseas volunteer with Engineers Without Borders Canada (EWB). Writing this today, I can hardly believe its been three and a half years since I first discovered the Waterloo chapter of EWB. Then composed of a core group of a dozen or so people, I remember learning about the organization literally as I was telling other people about it! Since then the group has mushroomed to over 60 strong, many of whom I’ve had the pleasure of working with, and who not only inspired, but continue to feed my passion to understand the livelihoods of people in developing communities and assist their efforts to work their way out of poverty.

I’ve spent the last few years gathering glimpses of what it means to assist developing communities. In the last few months I’ve accelerated this learning as I actively put myself in the adventurous hiking shoes, flexible flip-flops, and professional dress shoes of a development worker in Malawi. All to develop an approach to learn the realities that challenge Malawians – basically, I am learning how to learn while overseas!

Next up is a week long training in Toronto to cover anything from defining poverty and development, exploring cultural integration, to nutrition and staying healthy overseas. I’ve heard it can be an intense learning experience with overwhelming food for thought, but its sure to be a good time since I’ll be with the rest of the Malawi overseas team! Last time we hung out was back in January for the EWB National Conference in Calgary.

Team Malawi 2007

Bookmark this page and check in often as I will be posting as frequently as I can while in Malawi. This blog is also a means for me to stay connected with all of you, so feel free — in fact I will hugely appreciate it while in Malawi — to post your thoughts, comments, questions, or email them to me at

Stay tuned for more news on what I’ll be doing in Malawi, who I will be working with, and at long last, my first experience in Africa!