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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Malawi- teaching me to love

My mom wanted me to write another blog post... And who can say no to their mom? 

I thought I'd write to help you experience all of what Malawi was to me. 

Moving here I was scared, I threw up on the airplane even, I accredited that at the time to smelly eggs but lets be honest, I was scared. I was unsure I could survive in a world without tv, a car, hell, even a refrigerator, but hey, turns out I could! 

It seems everyone compares their Peacecorps projects "well he or she did more than me or less than me ect ect", and maybe some did more and maybe some did do less but I'm proud of the projects I have done, successful or not and have really learned a lot, mostly about myself. 

I completed a few borehole projects, was part of an awesome girls empowerment camp and even hosted a few nutrition trainings.  I saw joy and happiness from something so small. 

My "income generating activity" was more successful than I could have ever imagined, though starting out slow, having the community really connect and work together made me see what is so special about this country, the ability to be all as one. Although i am, and will always be a little selfish, I think watching a community contribute money, time, skills, labor, when they may or may not benefit in the end, opened my eyes to the beauty of giving. 

I met some great people, that will be the hardest part for me, people not only from Malawi but from all around the world. I don't know how I will ever say good bye to the people who I have grown to love here, people who have taken me in, feed me, cared for me, held me, laughed with me and at me, and people who i just awkwardly shared moments with me throughout my time here. 

My neighbors who I call my second family, who come and check on me everyday and invite me to eat chickens with every weekend even though I've never returned the favor. I  will always have a place in my heart for them and have even offered to help their daughter go to a private school next year, costing only 100 dollars a semester. It's amazing to me how much we take simple things like the right to a good education for granted. I want all children in Malawi to be able to get proper education but the girl child is often times overlooked when considering school. I can't wait to follow this girl for the rest of my life and see how she changes her Malawi in the future. 

My family in Blantyre, even though my mom constantly asks "you're out of the village again"- I dont think i could have made it without you. I wish to say thank you, not only for keeping my sane these last few years but for always being so generous to me even when I couldn't return the favor. I will always remember all of you, from days swimming around, laying around, sometimes even sneaking around, to never-ending nights at doogles, your memories will always be with me. 

My coworkers have kept me motivated, grounded, and impressed with their constant ingenuity and strength. I am so proud of each and every one of you and look up to each of you and your projects, relationships, and experiences. You all inspired me to continue in some way when I was down and and hating Malawi. And for that I thank you all.

As I close my last few months here I am wondering what will be in store or my future. I seem to be in no rush to figure it out and I am glad I have the support system to let me have that time of readjustment and just enjoy my family and friends awhile before my next adventure begins. I am looking forward to being home, hugging friends, holding babies, and dancing in real shoes. I am glad I have had the experience in Malawi. I am humbled by this place and inspired all at the same time. 

With love. Kristi

Friday, October 18, 2013

Water, heat, and a little girl named Piriani

About a month ago I got asked to see a water problem in a village about 13km from my house. Now this isn't far- but when it's hot season and you have to ride a bike on what i would consider sand, it's not really fun.  I wasn't looking forward to this trip and I regret that selfishness now. When I arrived I found a borehole that had not been working for ten years and a solution that to me, was mind blowing. Here I met a young girl named Piriani who will always have my heart. 


Piriani is 7, she speaks only Chichewa, is in standard 2 (2nd grade) and draws water 4 times a day from what could only be described as a whole in the ground.


Now drawing this water takes an immense amount of time, from patiently skimming softly a the surface to not get any dirt in the water, to waiting in line to draw the water itself. Piriani not only does this 4 times a day to help her family but also has to walk back up the river bank and to her house with this small amount of water taking hours away from her youth. 

(See the hill in the background)

I applied for a grant, as I usually do, and some amazing thing happened, instead of begging and pleading with my family and friends, some random person, who I don't know, donated the money almost immediately. A God send really, and a sign that this was most important to finish. I was also having big problems at the bank with the money coming in late,exchange rate issues and i was really starting to feel the pressure of this project. Thankfully the money came in, although not as much as I was expecting, and the parts got dropped off to me by a very patient "parts dealer" and  I was back to the village to meet Piriani again.

(On the left) 

Come to find out when taking the borehole apart the pipes were all put in upside down for the last 10 years and this was causing the majority of the functionality problems. This is Africa. I can't even explain how hard I laughed at the fact that the borehole was breaking itself over and over again because it was assembled wrong 10 years ago. I know this isn't funny, but the irony of this nearly killed me.   Meanwhile I watched from a mango tree with these goons;



Finally the borehole was fixed, and of course I convince Piriani to let me take her picture. 


Not only will this borehole save time for Piriani to draw water, so she has more time for play, and to enjoy being 7 as much as she can, but the risk of waterborne disease has greatly decreased.


The smile on this girls face and the fact that this Rainy season she may not suffer from cholera or another diarrheal disease brings joy to my heart. 


Of course the rest of the children enjoyed too! Thanks to everyone who supports me through this journey, your encouragement is really doing more than you think. 


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Girls empowerment training at home of hope!

Last weekend I got an amazing opportunity to work with home of hope orphanage here in Malawi.



Home of hope is an orphanage that runs strictly on donor aid and rarely has any government funding. 




Some of you might have heard of it because Madonna's aid organization "Raising Malawi" donates to it and of course gets a lot of media coverage. I have conflicting view points on the orphanage itself, but that's not what this post is about. 



Home of hope provides clothing, shelter, education and care to over 500 children without families to provide for them. Like many places in Malawi the girls are failing to go to school due to menstruation issues and I was asked by Raising Malawi to come and do a 3 day training at home of hope orphanage. 


Myself and 2 other peace corps volunteers worked tirelessly for 3 days to provide the girls information on sexual health, reproductive health, natural beauty, confidence, communication, gender based violence, and human rights. There were around 100 girls from standard 6 (6th grade) to form 4 (12th grade) who attended this training



We started off a bit shy and quiet and by the end of the training were asking thought provoking questions and starting to critically think about issues facing women here in Malawi. 



 During one session lead by fellow PCV, Lauren, the girls were asked questions about rights particularly concerning their bodies. 
When asked if they dressed in short dresses they deserved rape or harassment nearly all of them agreed, when asked if their husbands could rape them nearly all of them said no, 
when asked if they had to have sex with their husbands even if they didn't want to they nearly all said yes. . .


As a woman, especially one who would never even second guess my answers to these questions (which were all completely opposite) I was in complete culture shock. It amazes me that I've been her for almost 2 years and am still sometimes put into place by responses from girls nearly half my age.  Human rights and gender equality are something we take for granted, we over look these things in our work because we can't fathom them happening but I have to take a look back and realize that this isn't America, these girls rarely get choices, rarely get to say no to violence. 


This weekend brought about a lot of struggles and has me thinking about my future in the developing world. How do we even begin to educate these girls when the culture they live in doesn't support it. If they refuse their husbands sex or if they wear what they choose they are beaten and raped and punished. I know this is happening all over the world and I admit to being naive and closing my eyes to it before but it's hard for me to continue doing that now. 

The girls at Home of hope provided an eye opening experience to me and I hope that the girls at least learned a little from us as well.

On a lighter note we had fun doing pad project and every girl got to learn how to sew these reusable pads!  There is currently a volunteer from Japan at the orphanage as well as a volunteer from Australia who will be helping these girls continue to make them and maybe even set up a business selling them.

Here's some pics:








Sunday, August 11, 2013

Shine girl, shine!!

So a lot of you have seen my endless photos on Facebook the last few weeks and me going on and on about glow but you may have been wondering: what is glow!?!?

I'm here to explain all that glow was for me and share some of MY favorite moments with you all. 

About a year ago camp glow was explained to me as a girls empowerment camp that peace corps volunteers hold worldwide. Glow stands for girls leading our world and this camp has been ran in Malawi for 10 years now.

Myself along with five other fantastic girls got the opportunity to plan glow from start to finish, starting in August of last year and just ending this past Sunday. All of the hard work certainly paid off after this week and I won't get into logistical details because frankly it's boring and most of it would be complaints :)
Here's the team:
Yeah we got matching outfits. 

the six of us were in charge of everything from lodging to transport to camper selection to making sure that the girls went to class and were safe and sound all week.

We invited 60 Malawian girls from secondary schools around the country and 6 girls that came to camp last yesto be "junior counselors" along with 6 wonderful Malawian women who coupled with 6 peace corps volunteers to be counselors for these girls! 

The girls were taught so many things and although we tired them out daily (with activities from 6am-10pm) we could have went on and on in some with some of these topics!

We talked about natural beauty and confidence and trying to love who you are, along with natural ways to pamper ourselves and shying away from chemicals (skin lighteners and hair straitening chemicals)

We had an "I can't" funeral where each girl wrote down things people told them they couldn't do and threw them into a fire- which we then used for s'mores and camp songs :)

The girls learned about gender based violence, human rights, theater, writing and nutrition, reproductive systems and our bodies along with menstruation and hygiene and of course we did pad project! The girls also got a generous donation of pre-made pads in little bags that had panties and bags and washcloths and they basically went crazy! 

We had plenty of craft time and journaling, we had a dance party and my favorite event: a talent show. Where the girls wrote poems, sang songs, did skits and expressed how much they learned at glow. 

The girls went to the US embassy on a field trip, saw the parliament building, learned how to take a photo and played soccer  while leaning about HIV!

We had a candle lighting ceremony where each girl got to express what their favorite part of camp was:

The girls got over 300 books donated to them to take home!They also learned the importance of sleeping under a bed net and ways to fix our nets in beautiful ways:

We had many lessons learned and many long classes but we also had a lot of fun! 

There were so many great sessions at glow this year and the girls learned so much from health to nutrition to expressing themselves through art along with just making friends and learning that their problems are the same as someone that's living on the other side of the country.

We learned about peer education and club glow (taking lessons learned at camp back to village girls clubs) And out lf this came one of my favorite memories, from one of my favorite young campers (only 14) expressed how she wanted to start a youth club not in her secondary school but with primary school youth because "sometimes when they get to secondary school it's too late" and girls are pregnant or married or dropped out of school already. Here's Hellen: an inspiration and someone who will truly change Malawi

 I'm so grateful to have been part of the planning and implementing of camp glow! And hope this camp continues to empower young girls all over the globe! There were so many more topics and events here at glow and i hope that this preview expresses how this camp has changed not only the girls that attended, but the people who helped run it!


Shine girl, shine!!

So a lot of you have seen my endless photos on Facebook the last few weeks and me going on and on about glow but you may have been wondering: what is glow!?!?

I'm here to explain all that glow was for me and share some of MY favorite moments with you all. 

About a year ago camp glow was explained to me as a girls empowerment camp that peace corps volunteers hold worldwide. Glow stands for girls leading our world and this camp has been ran in Malawi for 10 years now.

Myself along with five other fantastic girls got the opportunity to plan glow from start to finish, starting in August of last year and just ending this past Sunday. All of the hard work certainly paid off after this week and I won't get into logistical details because frankly it's boring and most of it would be complaints :)
Here's the team:
Yeah we got matching outfits. 

the six of us were in charge of everything from lodging to transport to camper selection to making sure that the girls went to class and were safe and sound all week.

We invited 60 Malawian girls from secondary schools around the country and 6 girls that came to camp last yesto be "junior counselors" along with 6 wonderful Malawian women who coupled with 6 peace corps volunteers to be counselors for these girls! 

The girls were taught so many things and although we tired them out daily (with activities from 6am-10pm) we could have went on and on in some with some of these topics!

We talked about natural beauty and confidence and trying to love who you are, along with natural ways to pamper ourselves and shying away from chemicals (skin lighteners and hair straitening chemicals)

We had an "I can't" funeral where each girl wrote down things people told them they couldn't do and threw them into a fire- which we then used for s'mores and camp songs :)

The girls learned about gender based violence, human rights, theater, writing and nutrition, reproductive systems and our bodies along with menstruation and hygiene and of course we did pad project! The girls also got a generous donation of pre-made pads in little bags that had panties and bags and washcloths and they basically went crazy! 

We had plenty of craft time and journaling, we had a dance party and my favorite event: a talent show. Where the girls wrote poems, sang songs, did skits and expressed how much they learned at glow. 

The girls went to the US embassy on a field trip, saw the parliament building, learned how to take a photo and played soccer  while leaning about HIV!

We had a candle lighting ceremony where each girl got to express what their favorite part of camp was:

The girls got over 300 books donated to them to take home!They also learned the importance of sleeping under a bed net and ways to fix our nets in beautiful ways:

We had many lessons learned and many long classes but we also had a lot of fun! 

There were so many great sessions at glow this year and the girls learned so much from health to nutrition to expressing themselves through art along with just making friends and learning that their problems are the same as someone that's living on the other side of the country.

We learned about peer education and club glow (taking lessons learned at camp back to village girls clubs) And out lf this came one of my favorite memories, from one of my favorite young campers (only 14) expressed how she wanted to start a youth club not in her secondary school but with primary school youth because "sometimes when they get to secondary school it's too late" and girls are pregnant or married or dropped out of school already. Here's Hellen: an inspiration and someone who will truly change Malawi

 I'm so grateful to have been part of the planning and implementing of camp glow! And hope this camp continues to empower young girls all over the globe! There were so many more topics and events here at glow and i hope that this preview expresses how this camp has changed not only the girls that attended, but the people who helped run it!


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