Posts Tagged ‘Malawi’

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:

Malawi Trip Update

Friday, January 6th, 2012

A quick update about our upcoming trip to Malawi:

  • I’m now officially a “co-leader” of the study tour – which means that the dozen or so people we are taking will be my responsibility should anything go awry while we are travelling. All of the pre-arrangements are thankfully someone else’s responsibility! The coolest thing about this is that the other “co-leader” is my very good friend (and mentor of sorts) Rev. Ted Creen, recently retired from St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Owen Sound.  I’ve known Ted for nearly thirty years and I am so excited to be sharing this experience with him.
  • As I mentioned in the last blog post, the purpose of the trip is learning. This is not a mission trip in the traditional sense. Malawi may be a little short on fuel these days, but they’re hardly short of available labour. Flying halfway around the world to erect a building that could instead be built by Malawians (thus providing income) doesn’t make much sense.  Instead, the purpose of the trip is learn – in an intensive way – about the work that the PCC does in Malawi. We will be hosted by our mission staff there and will visit the many projects that Canadian Presbyterians support directly including orphanages, shelters, etc. The trip will also include a weekend “home visit” with a Malawian family.
  • There are three Canadian Presbyterian families currently serving in Malawi. You can learn more about them and their work (and about life in Malawi) on their blogs:

Stay tuned for more updates leading up to the trip.



Star Trails in Malawi

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

The stars here in Malawi are beyond amazing – especially if you get out of the city. While here in Mulanje I attempted to shoot some star trails. I’m not entirely satisfied with the results, but I think they’re pretty cool.

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.

Malawi: Getting there

Friday, May 11th, 2012

I’ve just uploaded another set of photos from our trip to Malawi. I realize that these are out of order, but my priorities here are not necessarily chronological. The voyage to Malawi is a long one – we left Toronto on a Thursday evening and arrived in Blantyre at noon on Saturday. The trip included two overnight flights and an 11-hour layover at Heathrow in London. Luckily, the trip itself was uneventful in all the best ways and a rather enjoyable experience for the group as we got to know each other.

20120419-DSC_2777Our group of eleven Presbyterians included four from Winnipeg, two from St. Catharines, three from the Georgian Bay area of Ontario and the two of us from Cambridge. Only a few of us had met before this trip so the journey itself was a good opportunity for the group to bond a little before we were immersed in the culture shock of Malawian society.

These photos are probably more interesting to those who were with us than those who weren’t, but I share them here regardless. (more…)

Malawi: Day One

Friday, May 11th, 2012

20120421-DSC_2986Around noon on a Saturday, we finally landed at Chileka International Airport where we were met by Rev. Mike and Debbie Burns. Mike and Debbie are Canadians appointed jointly by the PCC and the Blantyre Synod to serve as part of our long-standing partnership. Mike is associate minister at St. James CCAP in Blantyre while Debbie serves as Technical Assistant at the Blantyre Synod Health & Development Commission. Mike and Debbie would be our hosts, interpreters, tour guides and friends for the next two weeks.

After quickly dropping our bags at Annie’s Lodge, the hotel we would call home for the next five nights, it was off to our first official event – a meeting with the General Secretary of the Blantyre Synod, Rev. Alex Maulana. Following the meeting, we were taken on a tour of the historic Blantyre Mission by Rev. Chitsulo, a former General Secretary. We were shown the Blantyre Synod offices, St. Michael and All Angels church, and the primary and secondary schools that are located on the Mission.

Malawi: Day Two

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

20120422-DSC_3323Our first full day in Malawi began with the English service at St. James CCAP at 8am. (The Chichewa service is at 6am!) The Malawian culture, we discovered, is EXTREMELY welcoming of visitors – to the point that it makes most westerners uncomfortable. Imagine if every Sunday all visitors were called up to the front of the church an expected to introduce themselves to the congregation! There was, of course, lots of singing… four different choirs sang a few pieces each! Our co-leader (and my good friend) Rev. Ted Creen (shown above) had the honour of preaching the sermon.

In the afternoon, we went for a hike on Mt. Michiru on the outskirts of Blantyre. It was a good way to shake off the stiffness of two days of air travel. The scenery was beautiful, of course, but we noted that it was also quite similar to Canada. Many of the photos could have easily been taken at home. It was a strange realization.

20120422-DSC_3425Also in this set are the first of many “through the window” shots where I have tried to capture the diversity of Malawian life as we drove around Blantyre. Most of this day’s shots are “semi-urban” around the outskirts of Blantyre… in following days, you’ll see more of urban Blantyre followed by rural southern Malawi.

Malawi: Day Three

Monday, May 14th, 2012

20120423-DSC_3634I’ve already covered part of this day in my earlier post about my visit to Blantyre Secondary School. The intended itinerary was wiped out by the state funeral and accompanying national holiday for the recently deceased President Bingu wa Mathurika.

20120423-DSC_3708As a result, it was a fairly easy day with a visit to the market in morning. We were advised not to take photos at the market, except within the one fabric seller’s stall from whom we had permission. Later in the day, we had a team briefing and then took some time to organize all of the various donations and supplies we had brought with us. We would be visiting several schools, child-care facilities, hospitals, etc, over the next several days and we had to ensure that our gifts were appropriately distributed among them.

Malawi: Day Four

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

20120424-DSC_3813Tuesday: Half of our group went to Chichiri Prison to participate in a bible study for inmates run by our own Rev. Mike Burns. No cameras were allowed at the prison, so that outing is not represented here.

The other half of the group went with Debbie Burns to visit the homes of some of the members of the Tidzalerana Club in the Ndirande neighbourhood of Blantyre. We were accompanied by Hamilton Banda, a local community leader and volunteer. The group reunited at the Tidzalerana Shelter where some of the most vulnerable Club members live.

Back to Annie’s for lunch, Ted and I snuck up the road to check out St. Andrew’s International High School where my grandmother taught and my mom attended back in the sixties.

20120424-DSC_4114In the afternoon it was back to Ndirande to visit the regular Tidzalerana Club program for diabled adults and children. Here the club members and there caregivers come together every Tuesday for worship, a meal and fellowship.

At the end of a long day, the group gathered after dinner for a time of devotion and reflection on our first real day of witnessing the struggles facing the people of Malawi.

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: