Posts Tagged ‘Blantyre’

A Reflection on Malawi

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

This is a reflection I wrote for the quarterly newsletter of the Blantyre Synod Health & Development Commission (BSHDC)

Our group of eleven Canadians landed at Chileka airport at noon on a Saturday and our whirlwind tour of Blantyre Synod began. For the next fourteen days, as we visited the various BSHDC programs, we would experience many things, meet many people, and have many of our assumptions, about Malawi and ourselves, challenged in abrupt and unexpected ways.

There were a few particular words we heard often during our stay in Malawi. One was, of course, ‘azungu’, but another, heard even more often, was ‘welcome’. There was a third word, however, that I heard only twice or three times during the whole trip but it is the one word that has had the most impact on me: Chisomo. Grace.

Malawi: Day Five

Thursday, May 17th, 2012

20120425-DSC_425220120425-DSC_428020120425-DSC_429620120425-DSC_433420120425-DSC_436320120425-DSC_4384Wednesday: The day began with a short drive out of Blantyre north to Lirangwe. Once there, we were greeted by a sea of school-children who just happened to be out in the yard when we arrived. The Blantyre Synod Health & Development Commission rents office space from the school.

Once through the small army of very excited children, we were briefed by the BSHDC staff on the various programs that are undertaken in the Lirangwe area – funded through PWS&D. From there we were taken to see some of the programs in person. First was a “bore-hole” water pump. This differs from a “shallow-well” water pump only in the depth that is drilled. A bore-hole, while enabling the pump to be farther from a surface water source (and therefore closer to where it is needed in the villages, is also much more expensive and difficult to construct. The BSHDC uses a combination of bore-holes and shallow-wells to improve the water supply needs in its program areas.

20120425-DSC_4488We were then taken to see a bore-hole that had been installed about six months ago. The local committee told us that they had experinced a complete elimination of water-borne disease in their community since the installation of the bore-hole.

Were were then taken to an agricultural program where BSHDC is encouraging villages to modernize their planting practices and diversify their crops. This means moving away from the very common “ridge farming” and shifting from maize-only to cassava, ground-nuts and other crops.

20120425-DSC_4721We were back to Blantyre for lunch at the BSHDC head office where we had a lengthy discussion about the challenges and opportunities of the work that BSHDC does.

For the afternoon, we split into four groups to do some home visits to patients of the BSHDC’s Home-Based Care program. In the group I was in, we met Stephen who suffers from a variety of illnesses and relies on this program for his very survival. Rev. Mike Burns presented Stephen with a prayer shawl that had been donated by Knox Presbyterian Church in Waterloo, Ontario.

Then it was on to a BSHDC-run program called Children’s Corners where activities are planned for neighbourhood children. The group was split into two, and there are photos here from both groups.

After an early supper, it was off the Prayer House meetings. Again, we split into two groups, each attending a different prayer house. The photos here are from Thanthwe Prayer House. You can read more about Thanthwe on the Burns’ blog here:

Malawi: Blantyre Secondary School

Thursday, May 10th, 2012


One of the highlights of my trip to Malawi, besides all the official stuff we did, was the opportunity to visit the school where my grandfather, Robert Dale, taught biology from 1965-67. He was sent to Blantyre Secondary School (BSS) as part of an aid program funded by the Canadian government through the External Affairs department. The rest of the family, including my mother at 13 years old, went with him and they all lived on the BSS compound.

As I arrived in Malawi, I wasn’t sure I would get to see the school at all. We had a very full itinerary and the school was just far enough away from where we were staying that squeezing in a visit would be difficult. Even if we got to the gate, I never expected to be allowed inside.

As it happened, the Monday after we arrived was a holiday due to the state funeral being held for the late President Bingu wa Mathurika. This unexpected holiday broke open just enough of a hole in our schedule for me, my wife and our new friend Conrad (from the group) to walk the 1.5 kilometres to BSS.

The Warm Heart of Africa

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

The relatively tiny country of Malawi – often called “The Warm Heart of Africa” – has always been a part of my family’s story.

In 1965, just a year after Malawi gained its independence from Great Britain, my grandfather accepted a  school administration position at Blantyre Secondary School in Malawi’s largest city. His appointment was part of a program of Canada’s Department of External Affairs – the first such program to assist the fledgling country.   At the same time, my grandmother accepted a teaching position at St. Andrew’s Secondary School – now known as St. Andrew’s International High School.

So, at thirteen years old, my mother and her younger sister and brother found themselves in the heart of the dark continent.

The stories have been told many times over the years – with sometimes varying details: the time an elephant snacked on the thatch roof, the time a gecko fell in the pudding, the time my aunt – peering through her camera’s viewfinder – shouted “just another second!” as a disgruntled rhino charged their Land Rover. Thankfully, the driver ignored her. [these are my memories of these stories – I make no claims of accuracy]

In exactly six months, my wife Arminta and I will set off on our own Malawian adventure!

The Presbyterian Church in Canada (where I happen to work) does a considerable amount of work in Malawi. In addition to funding several projects through PWS&D, we have anywhere from five to ten staff in the country working with our partner, the Blantyre Synod of the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP).

We will be travelling with several other Presbyterians from across Canada on a two-week “study tour” of Malawi in and around Blantyre.

We are beyond excited about this trip. While both of have traveled overseas before, neither of us have been to Africa – and we haven’t really traveled at all since our honeymoon a decade ago – and that was just to Maine, so it doesn’t really count.

I’ll likely blog more about this as the time gets nearer, but now that it is all confirmed, I wanted to make the “official” announcement.

I posted an update here: