The Malachi Project
Our own Lucy Ward, daughter of Rosanne & Roger, is heading to Malawi to set up a new project.
We are helping to support her as a church and if you would like to find out more about the project and how to provide financial support, please watch this short film.
Lucy has made a new film after one year in Malawi you can watch it here.
Lucy will be keeping us up to date with regular newsletters, see below.
UK - Malawi Primary Teaching Skills-Share
As you hopefully saw in a previous email, I made the decision to open the skills-share out to all primary teachers. I have made a short film that you could share with them, giving a brief introduction to Malawian schools and the skills-shares:
I currently still have no teachers, which is a little dispiriting, so please, please do think who you could ask, and then ask them! I’m particularly interested in primary teachers from Birmingham, because of the Birmingham-Malawi partnership, but it is open to anyone.
I discovered in conversation that one of The Malachi Project’s prayer partners had not realised what I do during the week, they thought that I just painted numbers and ran skills-shares. So, I thought I’d better dedicate this month to this!
Painting and skills-shares are just what I do during the school holidays, the main aspect of my work is focus visits. I was doing 3-day intensive visits, but to try to reach more schools, I am currently doing 1-day visits, to see what works best. Through the school day, I observe as many teachers as I can, (generally all of them if there is one class per standard,) giving feedback on their teaching skills, celebrating what was good about the lesson, giving encouragement and also setting 1 or 2 targets for development that are specific to where they are at. Sometimes these can be as simple as to project your voice to the back of the room; often they are ways to make the lesson more interactive.
After school, I do two whole-staff training sessions, one in interactive teaching methods and the other in Christian teaching. (Or sometimes Character Education if the school/district prefers that it is non-religious in nature.) My teaching style is very participatory and it takes the teachers a while to get that I expect them to join in, as they are used to a more passive sitting and listening learning style. But once they do get going, and participate in each activity as a learner would do, it is a real joy to see them laughing and being like a child again! I go through why we want to move from passive to active learning, and then give them a whole host of ideas that they can use in their classrooms, which we put into practice there and then.
Once the ice is broken, we move onto a second session about Christian teaching. When asked how God views children, they can often cite bible verses, but when it comes to how God views a teacher, there is usually silence. We look together at a few, (see Musings) and this is the part I believe is truly transformative, for the teacher, and subsequently the learners. Teaching is a specific calling from God, and highly valued by him, despite its lowly value in worldly terms. What I want them to takeaway is a new sense of their worth, in God, and a pride and reverence for the privilege of that calling.
Education is about much more than academics, and so is teaching. Stewarding our calling wisely is about shaping the future generation in a godly way. So, we spend time thinking about all the ways we can model godly character to the learners, in how we treat them and interact with them, and ways we can specifically develop godly character. We move on to think about creating a sense of belonging and participation in their (God’s) community – both classroom and whole-school, and how we can use this to teach lessons that will help them now and in later life, to help to grow them to be all God made them to be, in every way. The Character Education session is very similar, except without the biblical aspect at first, and the use of good moral character rather than godly character.
On the single day visits, each week I go to a group of schools in the same area, so the schedule is pretty relentless – leave at 5:30am the first day, and it doesn’t really stop then until the last day when I get home at 7pm ish. (In theory I mean to leave the last school to have time to drive home in the light, but it never quite works out!) I stay with a local family, often Ven. Dewa or my friend Jesman and his family, but also with parish priests or Heads.
This is quite counter-cultural; hierarchy is a big thing here and I suspect the diocese secretariat doesn’t really agree that I should be doing this, to them it isn’t right, I should stay in a lodge as they do. But if we are all co-workers I God’s vineyard, there shouldn’t be a hierarchy, and I prefer it anyway, so I just quietly continue. Malawians are incredibly hospitable; there is often a perception that I won’t be able to stay at their homes, that they won’t be comfortable enough or have the facilities I “need”, or that I won’t be able to eat their food, but once they realise I can, they are so welcoming, and I hope it breaks a bit of the impression of being in some way superior to them.
Rainy season: During the rainy season, you definitely have to
hold your intended schedule lightly! The combination of flash floods and poor
road infrastructure continue to be a problem, the lake shore road in particular
seems to have less of it left each time I travel it.
Cholera: Good news for Malawi is that cholera is currently on a downward trend. A month ago, daily reported cases were in the 800s, but for about a week now has reached the 400s. As you can see below, the primitive nature of the temporary treatment centres, particularly during the rainy season, means the sooner the better for its end.
Spare time: Someone asked me what I do in my spare time. (On a side note, please do write and ask questions, it’s great to be able to include something people are interested in knowing.) If I stop and think about it, household chores might be what I spend most time doing, sad I know! Everything takes longer in Malawi – sweeping, mopping and polishing is much slower than a quick whip-round with the vacuum, (white floor tiles are an unfortunate choice in Africa) and cooking everything from scratch also takes ages. I sometimes long for a tin of chopped tomatoes! (You can actually buy these, but they are imported and ridiculously expensive.)
In the last few months, I’ve been working on a more consistent fitness regime. Driving so much has been taking its toll on my legs and back, and even my arms when there’s a lot of off-road. The Toyota Hilux was definitely designed by men, for men! With a lot of hours on the road, after a while, everything feels too big and too heavy. So, I’ve been doing much more strength and conditioning, of my legs, core and arms, and I think it is making a difference. I also swim regularly. There is a somewhat random Chinese mega-complex including a hotel with a full 25m pool near my house, and on a nice day it is idyllic – who doesn’t want to swim looking up at the sun and sky, surrounded by banana plants and palm trees! In the cold season though, a 25m, full-depth, unheated pool is no joke - it’s cold enough that it hurts, it takes a good 20-30 lengths before your muscles stop seizing up and the cold shower afterwards feels warm! (And that’s said by someone who spent many years splashing about doing UK open water swimming!)
One of my highlights is to spend time with Miriam, the daughter of some missionary friends. I take her out every couple of weeks, we go to the playpark, or hiking, and always for large quantities of cake! It is a great arrangement – Miriam has complex special needs and her parents see it as a blessing for them, to have a bit of a break. Whereas for me, the blessing is all mine, as I love spending time with her!
Increasingly there are social events with friends, although things to do are limited and I miss all the theatres, cinemas, concert halls, pubs, restaurants and other leisure facilities of Birmingham.
Every time I lead the Christian teaching session, the significance of this verse hits me more:
“God has placed in the church first preachers, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.” 1 Corinthians 12:28
Teachers are above miracles. Have you ever stopped and wondered at that? They are placed that high in God’s esteem. The value of teachers and teaching is something I deeply believe in, it’s what I spend my life trying to convey, but it makes me realise that even my opinion is tainted by the viewpoint of the world. I’ve seen the way witnessing a miracle can be life-changing, faith changing. Miracles are still talked about decades, even centuries later. We have patron saints who performed miracles, there are places of pilgrimage to sites of miracles the world over. Yet in God’s eyes, teachers are above even miracles. My prayer, every time I do this session, is that God would meet with the teachers and pour that knowledge into their hearts. Because it is certainly not what the world says, nowhere more so than in Malawi.
- For UK primary teachers to come forward to attend the skills-share.
- The impact on teachers and teaching from the single-day infant focus visits.
- Confidence in leading the single-day visits. I think these are hugely valuable, but it’s a harder challenge to get teachers to accept me and participate when there is only one day, it’s harder to build relationship, and at times it can be exhausting/dispiriting.
- Energy for leading them – doing it this way reaches more schools, but it is even more intense.
- Next month I will be travelling to South Africa for the TeachBeyond Regional Conference. Pray that this will be a time of refreshing, learning and renewal.
Infant Teaching Skills Share
I’m putting this right at the top – I am still looking for infant teachers or early years practitioners to attend the infant teaching skills-share. If you fit this description, please come! If you don’t, please carefully consider whether you know someone who does, and approach them. Sadly, I haven’t had anyone who fits the needs for this year’s skills-share come forward yet, although there is one I am deeply hopeful will say yes. So please get thinking, particularly if you live in Brimingham, about an infant teachers or early years practitioners you know. It will be the final week of July and the first week of August, and I’m ideally looking for two people. It will likely cost £1500-2000 each. I hope to keep it to the lower end of this, if additional funding for the skills-share can be found. That includes the two skills-shares, flights, travel in the country and 3 mini-trips, probably a safari, a rainforest and the beach/lake.
The cholera outbreak continues, at around 500-700 cases a day, although these are only those who access health centres, it is hard to guess what the actual numbers may be. There’s also no vaccine left in the country. But it’s good that the numbers appear to be holding steady rather than escalating and schools have reopened. As I haven’t heard of any cases in the Anglican schools, I’ve continued visiting, although it has been convenient that Lilongwe work has been a higher priority this month anyway.
One of my favourite trips this month was to Thandaza and Wato Primary Schools. These two are about 70km from each other, but both are up in the north-west corner of the diocese far from any other schools. I had been putting this off as both are hard to access – Thandaza is a good 30 minutes off the tarmac, on poor dirt roads that include hills and crossing a river with a collapsed bridge, and Wato is a quite different challenge – it has no road! I basically have to squeeze the car down a footpath between a field and a ditch, and I neither want to damage people’s crops or end up with the car on its side!
Left – rainy season driving conditions.
Right – another view of the collapsed road last month. Yes, that is the tarmac layer at the top!
However, what had seemed a chore and was going to be a slog of a day with huge amounts of driving infact produced a deeply humbling experience of being reminded anew how much these visits mean to rural communities. I went on a day that is a national holiday, but despite that a lot of the children turned up to school in Thandaza, as word spread round, to watch me paint. And then the choir from the church came to sing! At Wato, I had to wait to start while they found enough chairs, because all the village chiefs wanted to watch. As is always the way, an already tight schedule got extended and I went home in the dark, but a trip I had not been looking forward to was infact a huge blessing to me, as well as the communities, who were all very pleased with their number lines, but also simply the fact that someone had come to visit them. I suspect they think I’m a rather strange visitor, someone who is white, female and alone is not what they expect, particularly when I am wearing clothes covered in paint!
Left – one of many unglamorous tasks: it takes at least an hour to scrub the number templates clean.
Right – Ven Dewa, the archdeacon I often stay with and fellow cat lover, chilling with his cat Gaba.
There has also been wonderful news on the infrastructure front, in fact the day after I got back from this trip. MACS, (Malawi Association For Christian Support), an incredible charity who have been present in Malawi for many years, were able to give the go-ahead to build a much-needed double block for Nthumbo Primary. You shouldn’t have favourites, but this is one of the schools closest to my heart, and it is such a joy to know that Standard 1 and 2 will no longer be outside all year. On the same day, we also heard that Build:On are going to start Wato Primary’s double block. As I had visited just the previous day, it was wonderful to then discuss this on the phone with the Head! Wato was started with just one double block, as a solution to the distance learners had to walk to the nearest other primary school, but has obviously since outgrown itself. The community had built some rickety reed shelters, but to know they will now be housed in classroom blocks is brilliant.
Left – the shelter Standard 3 currently learn in at Wato Primary School
Right – where Standard 1 and 2 currently learn at Nthumbo Primary School
I also mentioned previously the situation at Mtsiro Primary School, which is at the top of a hill with no access to water, other than at the bottom of the hill, which then has to be brought up a steep slope by the children. How to approach charities, the fact they work in set locations etc, has been a learning curve for me, but this month we managed a visit there with the District Water Office, for them to do a site survey and look at options.
For this term, I have changed the previous three-day focus visit and I am doing one-day infant focused visits. In the morning, I observe just Standard 1-4, or sometimes just Standard 1-2 if it’s a larger school, then when school finishes for the younger children, I do a training session in interactive teaching methods with their teachers. Then once all the learners have finished, I do a whole-staff training in Christian teaching. I then move on the following day to another school in the same area, and continue. I will likely do the same in the summer term, but be able to switch to the inaccessible schools once the rainy season is over. In this way, I will therefore see a huge amount of infant teaching, hopefully including lots of good practice, which will inform the infant teaching skills-share. I also think this is the most effective level to push interactive teaching methods.
In other news, Toula
continues to be an absolute joy. She and Callie get on fine now, although it is
a case of Toula hero-worshipping Callie and Callie tolerating her in return!
She is a food monster, and both Callie and I are learning that if you don’t eat
your meal immediately, she will be in there in a flash! She is definitely the
clumsiest cat I’ve ever known, and has zero spatial awareness, which is
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how you maintain an intensity of faith when there isn’t the level of spiritual input you would like. I always knew that there wasn’t going to be a Gas Street Church equivalent in Malawi, and whilst I am so thankful that I found Flood Church, it lacks the fire and passion I was used to and I miss it. I still attend the Anglican church, as I feel that not doing so might reflect badly on myself and my project, but sadly preaching in Malawi in general often focuses around blessing equalling money, and content which is not biblically correct.
My passion for The Malachi Project has never gone, but there are times when it is discouraging, when the enormity of the task of changing education in Malawi and how powerless I am to influence the large-scale changes needed in pedagogy, curriculum, mindset of the whole country etc. It isn’t easy to always work alone, or at least to feel alone, with diocesan colleagues who take no interest in the project. I have to remind myself a lot that Jesus came for the one. He sees the one, responds to the one, and that I too should focus on the one school, the one group of teachers set before me that day, and serve them, rather than drowning in thoughts of issues I cannot change.
A few things have helped with this. Obviously, coming back to the bible, as mentioned above. I also re-read chunks of Kisses From Katie, by Katie Davis-Majors, which whilst written at a time when she was very young, is nevertheless a huge reminder to me of a faith lived out in love for the one set before her. I also re-read some of the letters in Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light. This book always humbles me. It is the last thing you expect to read, from someone who is undoubtedly a modern-day saint, and starkly reveals her struggle in darkness, and not feeling the presence of God in her life. It also pours out her absolute love and commitment to Jesus, and to serving him regardless of feeling. It’s easy to think that missionaries must walk in the light and presence of God constantly, and feel that I fail in comparison, and to read that even Mother Teresa didn’t feel this can be comforting.
My biggest challenge is undoubtedly my prayer life, and my motivation to maintain this with passion rather than duty, or even duty for that matter. Even during lockdown in the UK, my small group “met” each week on Zoom, perhaps with little expectation in terms of the effectiveness of prayer, but actually we discovered that prayer can work just as powerfully over the internet as it did in person. I miss the sort of bold, prophetic prayer than inputs so strongly into my passion for my own prayer life. When it’s your model and constant experience, I find it so much easier to motivate myself to pray in the same way alone. In Malawi, prayer doesn’t get much space, if any, in church services, or listening to God, responding personally to talks, etc. However, if I am honest, there are times when I could experience this in other formats, and the challenges of the internet or being out in the field mean I miss out. And sometimes, it’s just laziness. Choosing to be tired and not push myself.
I was very blessed to have a long conversation with Joanne, the Coordinator of The Sparrow Project, which is another project with a similar focus to mine, run by TeachBeyond, albeit on a much larger and more professional scale than little-old-me on my own in Malawi. She gave me the opportunity to talk about The Malachi Project, and as I spoke I realised anew the incredible journey of God’s faithfulness that I have been on, and that I see and walk in God’s light constantly, even if I don’t feel it. He has protected me under the shadow of his wing, but also pushed me to step out in greater trust than ever before, and I had forgotten, probably for months now, to actually remember that, too absorbed in the day-to-day process. As I am painting the numbers, I always pray for the school I am at. For some reason, the digit 8 always reminds me to do this! But I haven’t looked at the bigger picture, expressed my gratitude to God and I haven’t been good at the discipline of putting my whole heart into prayer. So, it’s my challenge. “Fake it ‘til you feel it,” is not the right motto, but pushing through the harder times matters and has been a struggle.
- For infant teachers and early years practitioners to come forward to attend the skills-share. (And the one who is currently considering to say yes, if it is right for her.)
- That the cholera outbreak is contained and abates.
- The single-day infant focus visits. I think these are hugely valuable, though it’s a harder challenge to get teachers to accept me and participate when there is only one day, and it is even more intense.
- Prayer of thanks for new infrastructure.
The rains have come! A month earlier than last year, and more typical for Malawi, which has pleased everyone greatly, as they can get crops planted. I ended up doing a huge amount of travelling this month, reaching the schools furthest away in the diocese. As you can see below, rains cause havoc to the often poorly built and unmaintained roads. The road down from Nkhotakota was just about passable the day I drove it, but the following day the road collapsed into the river at two different places, shown below. If you look you can see that there is no infrastructure supporting the very thin layer of tarmac, just earth over a river, which erodes away underneath, unseen from the surface. It is rather alarming to think that just one day before I drove over both of these. (If you look at the soil colour, you can see these are two different holes, although both on the same road.)
This month I visited some of the furthest flung schools in the diocese, and it was great to finally finish their number lines. These are always hugely well received and delight the staff and children. It sometimes challenges my thinking, as I never intended to come to Malawi and be a painter, and I still believe that improving teaching skills is what is needed. However, what the Malawians appreciate most is the number lines. They post pictures of them on the WhatsApp groups and are very proud of them, they always exclaim that now the classroom is, “Very beautiful!” And when you visit these communities and see how little they have and the conditions they live in, bringing a bit of beauty, brightness and pleasure to children’s lives seems a good thing, particularly as they are also a useful teaching resource. The government currently has a National Numeracy Program running, which includes the use of number lines in infant classrooms and Heads proudly tell me that they were able to show pictures of their number lines at their training, so it is fortuitously demonstrating excellent provision. It also shows ownership by the Anglican church, an issue many Heads struggle with, as villagers complain/say (quite rightly), that the church does nothing to support the school. As well, it helps build goodwill between the communities and the Anglican church, and between the teachers and me, which I think is a good thing and all helps develop relationship.
One school needed a quick bit of cement first so the wall could be painted. Which meant another trip back, but I believe in none being missed out.
I had one novel experience – I arrived at a school and they said they had been waiting for me but saw a snake go into the school office. This meant they couldn’t get the keys for the classrooms, so before we could do anything else, the local snake killer had to be called out and paid!
I also had a couple of brilliant days pursuing options for something that increasingly interests me – using naturally available resources to make teaching resources for use in schools. Those of you who have taught with me, or did Youth, will know that I love making props, and making things in general. I had a great time with Shy, a forest reserve guide, exploring lots of things in Nkhotakota Forest Reserve, how they are used to make things, as well as what locals use as medicine or for certain powers flora and fauna are believed to have etc. It was fascinating and I came away with all sorts of ideas for making things. As a geographer, it also made me reflect on the difference between the abundant forest reserve and the normal Malawian landscape. much of which has been devastated by deforestation for charcoal, with very little in the way of replanting. There is nothing about deforestation in the curriculum, and it did spark my mind. If future generations grew up knowing the value of the natural habitation and the need to preserve it, much good could be done for the future of Malawi. How that could be done requires some thought.
Wild ginger which can have purple, yellow or white flowers. Right, the type of tree with fibrous branches to make a natural toothbrush.
Christmas has made me reflect that things have improved socially for me a lot. My new home group have become friends, and we had a great Christmas social at my house. My expectations for Christmas were more realistic this time too – basically nothing much happens! I did get to sing at one carol service though and spent Christmas Day with friends.
I also have a new cat, Toula, who is adorable, and very affectionate. Callie doesn’t like her, and sparks fly at some points, so please do pray things settle down!
Prayer and Musings
I thought I’d combine these two this time. As is often the case, as the calendar year came to a close I found myself thinking ahead to my goals for 2023, as well as reflecting on 2022. The original vision and intention for The Malachi Project was to develop teaching skills, and I absolutely believe in the importance of staying true to this. However, there are so many different ways of doing this, and different needs to address, that it is a challenge to know where to start and what best to do. Reflecting back on the past year and all I have seen and learnt, these are the things I am particularly considering:
1. Number lines: Of the 79 schools this is relevant for (excluding private schools, secondary schools and those with no infant classrooms to paint), I have completed 53 schools / 148 classrooms, and definitely want to finish the remaining 26 schools this year.
2. Infant teaching: I’ve always believed that the most important years of education of all are the first ones. How you start out sets the path for who you become, as a learner and in all ways. In Malawi, importance, and value, is placed on the older years. To be a secondary teacher you need a degree, whereas you don’t to be a primary teacher, and even within primary teaching, the infant classes are viewed as the “easy” ones. I am delighted that the government seem to be changing their minds over this, and the National Numeracy Programme and Reading Proficiency Programme are pitched solely at infant teaching, which is going to be a big focus in the coming few years. I had already decided that the next skills-share should be about infant teaching, so it’s good to see the government is in line with my thinking, hahaha! But seriously, in my many school visits, it is obvious that the standard of teaching in infant years sets a precedent and that that is where the most improvement needs to be seen.
3. Focus visits: These are the backbone of my work, but if I did a week at every school, it would a) take years and b) not necessarily be using my time for the best, as there are many really good schools. So I am thinking through how to do this most effectively, perhaps with combinations of different length and differently focused visits.
4. Making Resources: I love making things, and I increasingly wonder whether it is part of God’s plan to use this. There are some schools who collect up readily available natural resources and use them to make teaching resources, but trying to develop this through all schools interests me, I do think having something tangible to look at and use helps with understanding.
5. Caring for God’s World: This is a new one. I want to look at the possibility of using someone like Shy for workshops at schools, to teach them about their national environment and its value and importance. If done in the right way, with lots of practical examples, it could also model interactive and engaging teaching, from a Malawian, and be a teaching tool for me to discuss with the teachers.
6. Film: I acquired a small projector, and want to use film clips, again to model good teaching from fellow Malawians.
7. Infrastructure: Whenever I visit schools, I am at pains to make it clear that my role is teaching skills, and that Oscar, the Diocese Education Secretary, is in charge of infrastructure. But in saying that, it is impossible not to be moved by some of the circumstances and dire needs in schools. A few examples are shown below. In UK terms, many of these are relatively cheap to fix, in comparison to large building projects, but astronomical to Malawians. So although it’s not my role, I will spend some time looking for sources of funding to help these schools. To give you an idea, to roof a school with iron sheets costs in the region of £3000, as does building new toilet blocks.
The girls’ toilet block at Msangu Primary School collapsed in the storms a few days before I visited. The boys’ one had already collapsed a few years ago, presumably due to poor construction.
The dire situation with the toilets at Katimbira Primary School. Over 1200 pupils and this is what they have, one with no roof at all.
Recent storms tore the roof off a double block
at Chikusa Primary School
8. Infant teaching skills-share: As yet I have only had one teacher contact me, and I am still really hoping for infant or early years teachers to come forward to join us for the skills-share. If you have children at primary school, or friends who are infant or early years teachers, please do suggest this to the teachers and give them my contact details: Whatsapp +265 982 751811 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
If you could pray for clarity as to how The Malachi Project should move forwards, with all or some of these, I would appreciate this. As ever, if you feel God reveals something to you, please do get in touch and tell me, it is so helpful.
One final prayer request is the worsening cholera situation in Malawi. The government are now publishing daily updates on numbers of cases etc, as they did in the worst days of COVID here. To date, 624 people have died and there have been 18,222 known cases, although it must be remembered that the actual number is likely to be higher. Those in rural areas can not afford to travel to health centres, and in any case would not be in a fit state to do so with cholera symptoms. As I write, most schools have started the new term today, but under government directive, those in Lilongwe and Blantyre remain closed. Naturally, this decision, which was made yesterday, has caused controversy, as there are other “hot-spots” in the country, and it is unclear how much impact closing schools has, which way the outbreak will go and whether we are heading for further school closures
If the end of September/beginning of October were hectic, since then things have been quieter! I had a stomach infection that wiped me out for 2 weeks, and the fuel crisis flared again. People are queuing all day, sleeping in their cars overnight, just in the hope that a tanker will come. Diesel isn’t quite so bad, if you hear about a filling station that has it and isn’t a typical one for the trucks and buses.
However, I have made use of the time doing a lot of hunting down charities, making contacts etc. The best one was discovering that USAID are beginning a $4 million 5-year project to improve reading proficiency. The first year is collecting data and planning the provision, and I am attempting to get myself onto the curriculum development working group. I think I have managed it, and I am hugely excited about this opportunity to input into this, with knowledge of what actually happens in primary schools, what would actually help them etc, rather than what they are told happens by the government. It pitches at various levels, from working with the ministry down to TDCs. (Teacher Development Centres.)
I’ve also been pursuing some option with MACS, a wonderful UK based charity who have done a lot of work building school blocks in Anglican schools, to begin addressing problems for the schools in worst condition or most challenged for school blocks. It’s a slightly tricky situation as it isn’t my remit, it is the role of the Education Secretary, but there comes a time when my disappointment at the inertia of the Anglican diocese to do anything to help its schools reached a point where I wanted to at least seek out and pursue opportunities.
A couple of the excellent MACS blocks.
(Msambaimfa and Sopani)
Another issue I have been investigating a solution for is the water situation at Mtsiro school. Mtsiro is in Ntchisi South, on the top of a narrow plateau. (On the picture, literally the back wall of the school on the right of the picture, to the latrines just behind the trees on the left.) The nearest borehole in 1.5km away, at the foot of a very steep slope. Thus, to get water to the school, pupils have to walk all the way there and back, and manage to carry it up the slope. I had noticed that another of our schools had a water tower built by World Vision, so I’ve also been pursuing the possibility of them building a tower for Mtsiro. This is in its early stages of discussion but so far hasn’t been rejected!
Mtsiro Primary School
I had a productive meeting with the Bishop, whom I suspect is the only one who actually read my end of year report. I really believe that the presence of the Anglican church should be shown by the parish priest taking an interest and visiting the schools in their parish. We discussed a mandate for priests to do this on a minimum, obviously allowing for the fact that some have many schools in their parish, some parishes are spread across huge areas etc.
Looking ahead in the UK
For those of you from Birmingham, the container from the Birmingham diocese arrived, with a few (expensive) delays with customs, and everything was accounted for again, and appreciatively received. For those of you not from Birmingham, but are in the UK, let me explain. The Birmingham diocese has been twinned to the 4 Malawian dioceses for over 50 years. Once a year, a container is sent to Malawi with resources for them. If you would like to collect things for this, I have attached a list of things that would be useful for schools. The container is loaded in June, and I’m sure it would be possible to get things to Birmingham for loading, or for you to take them. Please note that it also costs £6 per cubic foot. (Which is an absolute bargain, as the shipping company are very generous in not charging the commercial rate.) On a separate document, I have attached a list of things that are particularly useful for schools, as well as those that are not,) so that if you would like to start collecting things up you can do so. I’ll keep enclosing this list on prayer letters as we move towards the loading date in June.
As a general point of principle, if you wouldn’t donate it to a UK school, please don’t donate it to an African one, it’s not an opportunity to empty out stationery drawers of old felt-tips that don’t work, for example. If you want to query anything, please do contact me.
Unloading of the container
(The left shows my little helper, Israel, having a quick breakaway to be aided and abetted to climb the boxes by the Dean of the Cathedral!)
Having done a leadership skills-share for all Heads in the diocese, I’ve been playing around with ideas of what to do next, and discussing various options with others. Having looked at teaching provision in schools, and talked with Heads about teaching difficulties, it has become apparent to me that the next thing to address with the whole diocese is the teaching in Std 1 and 2. Phonology sessions at the skills-shares always go down incredibly well, as there is so little training provided in this. Phonics are not in the curriculum, but required by the government. (Which obviously doesn’t make sense.) Teachers have only ever experienced whole-word recognition in learning to read, without any breaking down, decoding, use of phonics etc. One lot of training, for some teachers, was really not enough to equip teachers to adequately teach a completely new concept to their learners, and this is what I would like to address. It is also the case that there is a lot of global research that shows that children who do well in their infant classes continue to do well throughout their school careers. Thus, it makes sense to focus on high quality teaching in infant classes, but these are often the undervalued classes, with the focus on putting the “best” teachers into Std 7 and 8 to cram them for the primary school leavers certificate.
So, I am looking at running a teaching skills-share for infant teachers, with a lot of time given over to understanding phonology and then knowing how to teach phonics, as well as other subjects, to try to better equip our teachers, as well as raise the profile of the importance of infant teaching,
So, this is the call out – if you are a primary school teacher, particularly an infant or early years one, or have a really good knowledge of phonics to the extent that you feel you could present on it, please consider joining the 2023 skills-share! Similarly, there will be other subjects, particularly Maths, and we will be looking at child development, so if any of these are your area of expertise, please do prayerfully consider this. The skills-share will take place in the UK summer holiday, end of July/beginning of August, and I can promise, having done several, that it is an incredible, life-changing opportunity. Equally, if you know someone who fits this description, please do mention this to them and ask them to get in touch with me at email@example.com. It would be self-funding and would obviously include some exploring Malawi and R&R too, but it’s not like going on a short-term missions trip with huge overheads, just your direct costs and a contribution to the cost of putting on the skills-shares. It would be 2-3 weeks. Please note that to have an appropriate team, I am only looking to take people who fit these criteria on this occasion, as the skills-share will be very specific, and I don’t want to overbalance the leadership team with too many UK members. If you don’t fit this but you want to visit Malawi, you’re welcome to come any time!
A couple of comedy moments from the skills-share that I forgot to include previously – the power went out on the first night so Ann and I lit the room so everyone could eat dinner. On the right, the number of teachers they managed to cram into a car to go back to Ntchisi! (We think it ended up at 10 plus the driver, in a Vauxhall Astra estate.)
I’d have to say that although it’s been productive, I haven’t enjoyed being at my desk, on the computer, on the phone, in meetings etc, in the way that I enjoy being in the field at schools, and I’ve been musing over why that is. At the same time, I’ve been tackling Revelation in my personal devotion time. I’m not a theologian, and have found Revelation For Everyone by Tom Wright a huge help. (If you’ve never come across his For Everyone series, I thoroughly recommend it.)
Rev. 4:1 particularly resonated with me. John speaks specifically to churches, then leading into chapter 4, “After this I looked, and there was a door in heaven, standing open.” It’s easy to think of heaven as “up there”, and following on from our earthly life. (I’m not straying into the theology of different beliefs about when we are raised to go to heaven/new life right now!) But God makes it clear to John, and he imparts to us, that the heavenly realm exists on earth here in the present. The door in heaven is open, right now, all the time. The heavenly and earthly realms exist in conjunction with each other, interacting. Sometimes, we walk in a “thin place.” The place where the heavenly and earthly realm interact. (Term courtesy of a Gas Street Music worship song.) Many people experience this in worship, where they are so in the presence of God that heaven touches earth. For me though, I think my thin place, or at least my thinnest place, is when I am actively serving God. When I am at schools, I am walking directly in the vision God set out for me. I walk in his presence. I feel most alive, fulfilled, whole, in these times. And I think we need that, to find that and seek it out, as that better than anything draws us close to God.
Christianity is not a one-way ticket to heaven, to be redeemed at the end of our earthly life to climb the steps to Heaven’s Gate. (Or maybe something more like an elevator or ski-lift, depending on how mobile we are by then!) Heaven is right here, right now. During this time of musing, the Thin Place mini-album from Gas Street Music came out, and if you haven’t heard the title track, Thin Place, do hunt it out. It so exactly describes what I had been thinking about. (Gas Street I so miss your worship!) Obviously, the paperwork, making contacts etc are necessary. But my place of greatest encounter with God is in schools, with the teachers, and I have definitely felt the lack of that, and the joy of returning to it at the end of this month.
There’s less to photo when I’m in meetings, so here are a few other scenes I’ve seen more of, some of the beautiful trees where I live, and my cat Callie slowly learning to play with toys! (She is still as mad as a hatter and the chattiest, loudest cat I have ever met!)
I realise, from various people contacting me, that I did not explain the praying for schools particularly well. Or at least, the list was misleading as the names were next to a specific school. My intention was that each group would pray for all of the 5/6 schools in their group. I think this was more commonly interpreted as praying for the school on the same row as your name, which is also totally fine obviously! Perhaps if you have prayed for one school this month, you might rotate round the other schools in your group, as I deliberately put in a variety of different situations and needs. Praying for the whole group will give you an overview of the needs schools within the diocese face.
In way of explanation of some of the profile information:
1. Retention = a crude calculation of how many learners stay all the way to Standard 8
2. Concerns for Oscar = Oscar is the Education Secretary, whose remit includes infrastructure and the school having an Anglican Head, amongst other things.
If there’s anything else that didn’t make sense to you, please do contact me.
Other prayer requests:
1. School focus visits. I’m going back to Dambolaana school, the place where it all began, as well as others, to do focus visits. I shared some time ago that when I crunched all the data from the criteria I’d looked at to identify schools to focus on, Dambolaana and one other came out as the most in need. I took it as great confirmation that this was God’s calling, and I am excited to be there. I hope that it might be the thinnest place yet, for me, but obviously most of all that it helps the school.
2. That World Vision will agree to build a water tower for Mtsiro.
3. For progress in addressing the infrastructure of the neediest schools – Mankhaka, Ulongwe and Nthumbo.
4. Continuing with painting numbers – the last couple of weeks of the term are for exams, so there’s no teaching to observe and develop. In this time I revert to doing painting number lines, and will in the Christmas holidays. The car is finally repaired enough to do long trips (the whole rear suspension had to be replaced, as well as repairs to the undercarriage) and I have more paint, so I am all set! There’s schools left from the first and second cohort of the skills-share that I would like to get done in December, so that they don’t feel they’ve been forgotten, or other schools have been given preference.
5. The general economic situation in Malawi. Food prices have gone through the roof since the 25% devaluation of the kwacha. There just isn’t really any question that there will be people who are starving this year. Electricity problems and the fuel crisis show no sign of having a solution as the government flounders in astronomical amounts of debt, with continuing corruption/misuse of resources.
This month’s prayer letter is somewhat different in format. I thought that I would give a bit more of a flavour of Malawi and the area in which I work, as I realise it is probably an unknown to most of you. So the file probably looks huge, but that’s because of all the pictures.
I’ve shown roughly the area I work in here, in terms of where the schools are:
This is split into six archdeaconries: Ntchisi North, Ntchisi South, Kasungu, Lilongwe North (which spreads across to Salima), Nkhotakota North and Nkhotakota South. You can hopefully see each of these settlements on the map.
They are very different geographically. Ntchisi North and South are mountainous/hilly, with remote, small villages, far from tarmac roads and indeed from each other.
The lower left shows a school with a view! The lower right shows you the contrast between the rainy season greenery and the dryness of the start of the hot season in the top two.
Ntchisi is the second poorest area in Central Malawi, according to some government information I was reading, and it’s apparent. Almost all people are subsistence farmers. Kasungu is further inland and less hilly, but similarly poor. Here are a few common village sights:
Within Lilongwe North, the schools are based around two hubs – Dowa, which is inland and near Malawi’s refugee camp, Dzaleka, and then Salima, which is over by the lake. Nkhotakota North and South are also by the lake. In these areas, the population is denser. Villages are larger and closer to each other, and it’s slightly less poor in general, I presume because of the access to the lake for fishing as additional income. The land is generally flat, although the roads are no better in quality and distinctly unflat! Lake Malawi is the third largest lake in Africa, and known as the calendar lake as it is 365 miles long and 52 miles wide. It’s easy to forget it isn’t a coastline. The areas along the lake are noticeably hotter than up in the hills in Ntchisi. (It’s currently the hot season, it’s in the low 30s in Lilongwe, Kasungu and Ntchisi, but the high 30s along the lake. It can still be in the 30s well into the night in Nkhotakota, which with no air-con is quite a challenge.
Some sights are common across Malawi. Most roads are dirt tracks, even the motorways are not all tarmacked. The photo below on the left is the M7. You see many weird and wonderful things on the roads in Malawi! You can buy a black-market driving licence without ever having had a lesson, and also a motor fitness certificate without going anywhere near a test centre, so the state of vehicles and driving are “interesting”. It’s amazing how many Malawians they can manage to fit into one vehicle too! People commonly take bicycle or motorbike taxis called kabaza to get around, and there are all sorts of hefty loads being transported to the nearest trading centre. The wonderful thing is that people are always friendly and willing to try to help you. It’s not unusual that I head off the tarmac road with a vague idea of where I’m trying to go, and stop to ask locals, who will always have a go at instructing me. Unfortunately, Malawians are notoriously bad at left and right, so it can get very confusing, particularly if they speak fast and I can’t follow what they are saying! (This is almost always in Chichewa.) But they are unswervingly kind, and often offer to accompany me to make sure I get there.
For people who can afford it, there are trading centres, with small markets and shops selling staple foods and snacks. You often see small piles of tomatoes or other vegetables and fruit for sale outside individual houses too.
Another sight I love is a baobab tree, a characteristic image of Malawi, and at this time of year the trees and plants are all in bloom and are pretty spectacular. It’s surprisingly Mediterranean in September and October, with jacaranda trees, which I never expected and really love. (Baobab tree on the left, jacaranda on the right, with purple flowers although it’s not a great picture.)
I hope this gives you a bit of a flavour of Malawi, and the different areas I work in. To give you a gauge, if you can locate Dwangwa on the map, this takes about 4 and a half hours to drive to from Lilongwe, plus however much time is needed off the tarmac on the dirt roads, and this is the location of my furthest schools. My thanks go here to my friend Annere for some of the photos, basically the better ones!
If any of you ever fancy coming out to visit Malawi, please do! I can recommend various places for holiday, there’s a great safari place, the lake and forests/rainforests, as well as much or as little as you’d like of the schools and communities I work in. The next skills-share will finally fall in UK summer holidays again, so those of you who are teachers, get thinking about whether you’d like to come!
The new school year has just begun, and this will be the final year where the calendar is adjusted slightly so as to return to the normal system, which follows the English school terms. I would love each school to be prayed for at the start of the school year and throughout the school year.
Sometimes (or in fact often!) God has a plan we are not even aware of at the time, but we later see his provision. Those of you from Birmingham may know that there is a container sent once a year from Birmingham to the Anglican dioceses in Malawi. The latest one has just arrived, having been loaded in June, and at the time Andrew and Ann put a bike on the container, for me to give to someone in need of one. At the time, I don’t even know whether they had decided to come to Malawi to help with the skills-share, but certainly little did they know that they would in fact end up meeting the recipient! Stuart was one of the co-leaders of the skills-share. I have known him since 2015, he has always been the most enthusiastic participant we’ve ever had, with a particular passion for Linguistics and Phonology. Sadly, in the last few years, his daughter has been very ill and they were advised to move to a larger settlement so that they would always be within reach of a hospital. At the end of this academic year, he duly moved his family to Zomba, which is where he is also studying his Masters, and set about the process of being transferred to another school to teach. Unfortunately, the government posted him to a school 40km from Zomba, which he was very distressed about, not least because the cost of transport each week (he has to stay there during the week) would eat up a huge chunk of his salary (approx. £30 of a £100 monthly salary) but he couldn’t afford a bicycle to make the journey…
The container arrived that week, with the bicycle, and I duly sent it by courier to him, so that he can travel to and from the school. Imagine cycling 40km to work! In a time of turmoil for Stuart and his family, to witness God’s provision, and his plan having been in place before any of us could have known the significance, was nothing short of a miracle. God is good! And he is working for our good, in all sorts of ways we cannot see. I’m sure it will be a blessing to Andrew and Ann too, to know that it went to such a worthy recipient whom they got to meet and know.
Welcome to year 2! It’s amazing to look back and see all that has been achieved, and I am so thankful to you all for partnering with me and making this possible. To celebrate the anniversary of arriving, I finally managed to make good my resolution to get out and travel and see Malawi. I went to visit my dear friend Wanda, who is a surgeon at Nkhoma Mission Hospital, and together we climbed Nkhoma mountain. The view was spectacular, and as the final hour was scrambling up sheer rock, we were pretty pleased with ourselves!
September has been an incredibly busy month. It started with the completion of visiting schools. In total, there are 86 primary schools, 3 secondary schools and 1 university within the Diocese of Lake Malawi, somewhat less than they had originally told me, but still more than enough to be going on with! Fortunately, after an initially depressing first day of visits in Ntchisi South, the rest of the days were all much more encouraging. It was a real treat for me to find a friend from previous skills-shares, Clifford Sinoya, whom I first met in 2011. He was still bursting with life and enthusiasm and the pupils and staff clearly loved him. (These photos were taken 11 years apart.)
In the first month of being back from the UK my house was
unfortunately robbed twice at the diocese. After a desperate search round, I
finally found a new home, it seems my time has come! I now live in a quiet,
peaceful, safe area of Lilongwe. It is an absolute blessing to have moved and I
am very thankful.
The next event of September was that Andrew, Ann and David arrived from the UK. These were my first visitors and although two of them had been to Malawi before, it was not to the central region and it was wonderful to take them to see some of the area I work in. They very kindly pitched in with preparations for the skills-share, sitting cutting squares of material to give teachers as resources, long into the night by candlelight and head torch. We had a few comedy moments – we drove north to continue with painting number lines, only to arrive to find that the paint pots had exploded all over the back of the truck! This unfortunately went all over everyone’s bags as well, and I’m sure the Youth Camp at Ven Dewa’s house found us a most amusing sight as we tried to get the worst of the paint out of the truck bed and off ourselves and our bags!
We did however manage to paint one school, a school that is very dear to their hearts and it was great to get the chance to visit. We enjoyed a couple of nights at an incredible place called Ntchisi Forest Lodge, in the last remaining rainforest in Malawi. We had some fantastic walks in surroundings like nothing I have ever seen here, then went on for a couple of nights by the lake, which was also very relaxing in a different way.
Then, it was time for the skills-share, which was their main
reason for coming. It was wonderful for
me to have 3 such willing helpers, and each of them in their own way spotted
where they could help and serve, from chatting with Heads and making them feel
welcome, sorting accommodation needs, leading worship, helping with sessions
and so much more. It was a real blessing to have people there who will just
pitch in, anticipate a need and serve so faithfully, and it made it a very much
easier experience for me to lead than the ones last year.
I think I’ve thought that it was the best yet at the end of every skills-share, but this time I felt it overwhelmingly. I changed a few things around, giving more space to free time to just be and enjoy the chance to visit a place they could never normally come to. To give you an idea, the transport costs for most of the Heads was more than half their monthly salary, and the opportunity to come to a lakeshore town was in itself a significant thing for them. We went on what Malawians term a “Jolly Walk” down to the lake, along to the port where the fish is brought in, then to Livingstone’s Tree and the diocese cathedral. Jesman kindly acted as an excellent tour guide, and seeing the joy of Heads getting to see the lake for the first time in their lives was a very special experience.
I also gave over more time for “fun”. We played some sporty games together than they could take back to their school, but also had games in the evening in the meeting room, which resulted in much hilarity and joy. After the opening night, there was a great sense of camaraderie, enjoyment and active participation, which continued throughout.
The main body of the time was spent on sessions of all and every topic relating to leadership and Malawian schools. The sessions we had included: Anglican Schools, Being a Christian Leader, School Leadership for Continuous Quality Improvement, Infrastructure and Fundraising, Child Protection, Biblical Leadership, Creating a Good Relationship with the Community, Teaching Phonology, Grant Applications and Project Management, Creating a Christian Ethos in Schools, Sharing Good Practice, Prayer Stations, TALULAR and Expressive Arts and Servant Leadership.
We were joined again by Stuart Mwale, who travelled through the night all the way from Zomba, to be with us, arriving at 4am. Stuart is currently completing a Masters in Linguistics, and his knowledge and presentation style and second to none in the difficult topic of teaching phonology, which is on the syllabus but commonly missed out of teaching due to lack of understanding and training.
Before we knew it, we had done the final day, presented certificates and distributed resources, and it was time to travel home. Due to the current fuel crisis, the transport costs were pretty astronomical, but I was so pleased that pretty much every Head managed to make their way here and all got safely back. We only finished yesterday, but as I write I can hear the constant beep of additional messages on the Cohort 3 WhatsApp group as they all greet each other and share photos. It is my hope that they continue to maintain this close community. It can be all too easy as a Head to feel very isolated and alone in rural schools spread widely apart. The chance to bring them together, to build new friendships, to learn together and feel part of an Anglican school community is something that I hold very dear as one of the most significant impacts of the skills-share. Obviously, I hope it has equipped them with new knowledge and skills too!
We did a prayer stations session, which was a new idea for the Heads, but they participated and hopefully appreciated the chance to take some time to pray for their school. We used these stations, following the acronym PRAY.
P = PRAISE Write something you want to praise God for, or thank him for, in the last school year, onto a sunbeam. Place it round the sun as you pray.
R = REPENT Write something down that you wish to repent of from the last school year – something you did when you shouldn’t have, or didn’t do when you should have. Light the paper and burn it as you ask God’s forgiveness.
A = ASK Write something you would like to ask God for in the coming school year on a leaf, then place it on the tree as you pray that God will answer that request and you will see it grow and happen.
Y = YIELD For this we first had to make paper boats, which went surprisingly well! Write a promise or commitment that you would like to make to God about your leadership in the coming year, that represents submitting and yielding to God’s character and will to you. Float your boat on the water in the tub.
It’s not really a musing, but it seemed a fitting end.
1. That the skills-share has a long-lasting impact on those who attended. Pray that it will have refreshed and reinvigorated them in their leadership, given them new ideas and knowledge, and a feeling of belonging to a community rather than isolated.
2. Prayer of thanks that it was possible to get everyone there, despite a fuel crisis across Malawi.
3. That friendships will continue to blossom and deepen as they keep in touch, and that they will continue to support each other.
4. Prayer of thanks for the opportunity to travel, and to see the lake and other Nkhotakota sites, for good food and lots of fun.
5. Prayer of thanks to all the leaders of the skills-share, for all they gave out in service to God and these heads.
6. The new school year, which opens 10th October.
I’d be lying if I said coming back to Malawi was easy. The load shedding of electricity continues, and I suspect in reality it will do for years, as the main power plant powered by a dam that was destroyed in Cyclone Ana is unlikely to be rebuilt any time soon. We lose electricity on a 3-day rolling programme: 4:30am – 1:30pm, 1:30pm – 11:30pm and the third day is two 5-hour slots. Then there’s all the additional faults etc! The return to this, bucket baths, pit latrines, lack of variety of food, lack of leisure activities/places to go, cockroaches etc etc. was hard, and stark at first. It’s sobering to leave the luxury, comfort and trappings of the UK, however it might be perceived there, to a much poorer and simpler way of living here, and be confronted by the scale of global inequity. It messes with your head. But I’ve got used to daily life here again, and the expectation of things you don’t actually need does dwindle away again to a place of thankfulness for what I do have. (Except the cockroaches!)
I’ve also had the pleasure of being joined by a new furry friend. The story is that she belonged to a police officer from the compound next-door, and fell off the lorry when he was relocating. (?) No one had come back for her and she had been wandering around our compound ever since, a little lost soul. When I returned to Malawi, she decided to move in with me! I didn’t really get any say in the matter, but she was always very welcome and I am loving having a cat in my life again. She’s now called Callie and has settled in very well. She is quite a character and very inquisitive, she visits the offices to see everyone and has even attended a church service!
August was always set aside to finish my visits to every school in the diocese. There about 25 remaining schools in Ntchisi South, where the schools are most remote from the tarmac and also from each other, so it often takes a good hour between schools. It has made me realise what a task it was to have got through 65 schools when I first arrived in Malawi. Particularly when I also did it in the hot season – hindsight is a wonderful thing! These initial visits are the hardest of my tasks, because of the long, gruelling drives, a lot of new faces and information, and being confronted with the reality of Anglican schools. What makes this part hardest is that I am generally the first diocese “employee” / representative that has visited the school. I then meet with the Head, and set out to intentionally listen, compassionately, to the school’s specific situation and issues. There are many times when it is soul-destroying, and makes me feel deeply ashamed to be there representing the Anglican church. To say that most schools feel the diocese shows no ownership of the schools would be an understatement. It’s also just the truth. They are not supported or maintained as they should be. Anglican schools are always in worse repair that the government schools, and the longer I work here the more I see that schools are not a priority to the diocese, even taking into account that there is no money for maintenance anyway. I’ll take the opportunity to introduce you to my visits from one day, Tuesday 9th August, to give you a flavour:
A small site squeezed onto the side of a hill before it then drops away steeply. (A UK risk assessor would have a heart attack!) The classrooms are tiny, even by Malawian standards. The Head is female, which I always like as there are far too few still, but on investigation I found that in the 3 years she has been there the exam results for the primary leavers’ certificate have been dismal – 40% was the best and no child has been selected for secondary school in those 3 years. The Head didn’t seem particularly concerned about this and just presented it as a fact. When asked what she had done/was doing to improve this, the answer amounted to nothing, and I find this attitude depression. She is quite right about the classrooms issue though. Most school buildings are old, and predate the government decision to make primary schooling free and compulsory. (Not that the second is in any way enforced.) When this happened in 1994, class sizes ballooned. The classrooms are dark, cramped, hot and inadequate, but because they exist, they cannot be a priority, next to schools that don’t even have the 8 classrooms needed for a full primary school.
The most remote school I have been to to date. The Head was new but the Deputy had been there for 11 years and could give me plenty of background about the school. The actual infrastructure isn’t too bad, as the classrooms were built by a charity, although the pit latrines were squalid and included a straw consruction used as a boys urinal that stank.
The reality of working here, and learning here, is stark. Learners walk up to 9km a day to get from the 38 villages the school catchment area serves. Coordinating 38 village chiefs is just impossible and the community does little to support the school. The local parish priest has never visited the school, nor indeed the church. The Head and the Deputy both felt that the school had been abandoned by the Anglican church and that no ownership had been shown in all the time the Deputy had been there. When I talked to the Archdeacon about this, he said he would go and visit. But of course, he’s had 11 years to do that and hasn’t.
This one was depressing for entirely different reasons. When I arrived there were a lot of children out of lessons screaming and shouting, with nothing being done about it. I listened to a long list of woes about the school’s situation, as well as, again, lack of school ownership by the Anglican church. He then took me to show me how the church was failing to maintain the school. And we went to see…. a patch of floor in a classroom where the surface had worn away. A matter of 2-3 bags of cement. I explained that this was not the sort of project the diocese would be involved in, it was a small job the community should be able to complete, or school fund could be used for, and that the school is expected to maintain their buildings too. He responded with the fact that the area was rural, the people were poor etc. But that’s true for every one of our communities, sadly, and others manage to build whole school blocks. Getting your community on side and supporting the school is a skill, and it reminded me very much that the leadership skills-share is so important. But all the same, it’s frustrating when some Heads are so complacent and others so active. He viewed the 60-65% pass rate of the last few years as a success of the school, and this again saddened me, the lack of drive, as we have schools who also achieve 100%, or are disappointed by 90%.
This is the one I felt for the most. There are just 4 classrooms, 2 are good quality ones built by a charity called MACS, who do amazing work in Malawi. The other two are locally made and not complete. Standard 5 learn in a small church where one wall is subsiding dangerously and the other three standards have to walk to the nearest school, about 4km over very hilly ground, as there is no where else they can learn. The community were once supportive, as shown by the fact they built a whole double-block themselves, albeit unfinished. But this year they have contested the ownership of the school, saying it is a government school not an Anglican one, as the Anglican church has nothing to do with the school. Which is true, it doesn’t. The Head was a lovely lady, and it undoubtedly takes great diplomacy to deal with this sort of situation and continue to work effectively. Which she does, but she too feels completely unsupported.
So there you have it. A typical day. If it seems depressing, it’s because, quite frankly, it is. The task of bringing these schools to a minimally acceptable standard of infrastructure is gargantuan. Even though it’s not my problem specifically, as The Malachi Project is about teaching skills not structures, it’s still deeply dispiriting, and hard too that there is nothing I can really say that will help.
But within that, I have to hold on to the fact that all the global research and evidence points to the fact that improving teaching skills is the most effective way of improving educational outcomes. There are battles you can fight and there are those that are too large, or were never yours to fight. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and there are undoubtedly reasons that Malawi has remained so undeveloped and poverty stricken, even by African standards. It doesn’t mean that I close my heart to their plight; I don’t. It would be impossible not to come away from these visits deeply affected. But you have to look at what you can do. I can’t build 90 odd new schools and the reality is that even if I could, that wouldn’t change the situation. A teacher in a new classroom will still be the same teacher, providing the same education. But all the same, I thought I would give this month over to showing you what the reality is like for them, day in day out.
In terms of the rest of that day… some things don’t change – car troubles! The car refused to start after the fourth visit, and despite 4 attempts at jump-starting from various home and car batteries, continued not to. Eventually, I had to resort to paying for the mechanic in Lilongwe to come to fix it (2.5 hours, mostly on dirt-roads). Thankfully it was started and I got back to Lilongwe, where a new fusebox was needed from Toyota Malawi, as it would be hard to say there was much left of the previous one! They said it was due to the wear-and-tear of the kind of driving I have to do and nothing specific I have done, but it was another bill on top of the spectacular amount I am having to spend on diesel this month to make it to all these schools.
I’ve run out of room for musings of a biblical nature, other than to say that in these days my soul very much pants as a deer pants for water, when the reality of the depth of poverty cuts deep, and the shortcomings and failings of the church, globally, to love and support each other seems so far from God’s perfect intention. But He is there, in the midst of it all, and I remind myself that these initial visits are the hardest bit. When you begin to know the people, build relationships, work together, you see the presence of God in the midst of struggle, probably more clearly than anywhere else. We have to choose to go to the hard places, to confront the reality, because that is where you see God, not in staying in your comfort zone or ignorant “bliss”.
- Pray for the global church, that more would be done to redress the balance.
- For the realisation of churches of richer nations that for the poor to get richer, the rich have to get poorer, and that that is justice and is what they should desire to do.
- The rest of these initial visits. For patience and compassion on my part, as it is not always easy to listen to much the same thing over and over, without becoming a little jaded in my response. But each deserves their chance to share, and to feel heard.
- Preparation for cohort 3 of the leadership skills-share. This will take place 26th-29th September, so I will write again before then, but do be praying in advance. The final cohort will be the Heads of the schools I am currently visiting, and that second opportunity to build relationship, a 4 day residential, is unique, and hugely significant.
News: (I’ve included more photos!)
Before I left for the UK, I had the opportunity to attend a Malawian friend’s wedding, which was lovely, and a good moment to realise I have reached the point where I have made good enough friends to be invited to such things.
I had a wonderful trip home. I started with a week in Corfu, which was beautiful, as ever, and a real chance to unwind. I did a lot of sea swimming and snorkelling, as well as a bit of culture and resting.
I then had a bit of a whirlwind trying to catch up with church, school and friends in Birmingham, before spending time with my family. I got to attend my nephew’s school fete, complete with maypole dancing and a ukulele group, as well as to speak at St Mary’s Church and visit my old school.
We celebrated my parents’ Golden Wedding Anniversary and I also fitted in visits to Oxford, where I come from, as well as a bit of sightseeing in London whilst visiting a friend.
The trip culminated in a break at Center Parcs with family, which we all loved. Strangely, it was much hotter than it is in Malawi at the moment!
I couldn’t believe how quickly it flew by but it was a lovely time. The only thing that didn’t quite fall into place was learning more about the teaching of phonics. Although I did get to observe a couple of lessons, the blight of COVID hit and meeting with phonics co-ordinators to pick their brains unfortunately didn’t happen.
Coming back to the realities of Malawi was a bit of a jolt – one of my suitcases was not on the plane (it turned up the next day though!); the electricity load-shedding continues, we lose 10 hours during the day, daily; and I got back to find a thief had tried to force the lock on my front door, which was quite disconcerting. However, it’s good to be back and see friends here again, and it did feel like coming home.
In the next month, I aim to finish my initial project of visiting every school in the diocese. I have one archdeaconry left, in one of the more remote areas that got curtailed due to the rainy season, so I will hopefully get round the last 23 schools. I will also begin preparing the next leadership skills-share, which will be in September. All the Heads from the last archdeaconry, Ntchisi South, will be invited, as well as any new Heads who have joined Anglican schools since the last skills-share. This will then mean that every Head in the diocese has attended one.
Firstly, above and beyond anything else, I want to thank those of you who have partnered with The Malachi Project financially, for your generosity in making all of this possible.
As I come towards the end of the first year, it’s been pleasing to look back and find that the finances have largely held up. However, the Malawian currency (kwacha) was devalued by 25% in May, meaning prices have shot up, and fuel has also gone through the roof. There are now 4 areas of additional cost I need to cover to be able to continue to fulfil the vision fully:
1. Diesel: The price of diesel has soared: it costs 265% of what it did when I arrived in September. (860 to 1470 kwacha per litre in March, and then unfortunately to 1920 in June, with a further rise expected soon.) Fuel increases are of course being seen the world over, and none of us could have anticipated the war in Ukraine and the impact globally. Diesel is by far my biggest monthly cost and doubling the price means that I need to find about another £200 a month. (Some months are infact much more expensive than that!) I managed to cushion most of the first rise by cutting out any accommodation in the field and only staying with families, but there’s nothing left to reduce now.
2. Running costs of the car: In hindsight, my assumption that I could have a yearly service and that be pretty much it was somewhat naïve! To keep the car running, all sorts of small repairs come up, caused by the off-road nature of driving, and maintenance to things like filters clogged up with dust, as well as larger costs such as a new radiator and new panel where someone drove into the door. I do drive it carefully, and none of the damage has been my fault, but the wear-and-tear on a car is just much greater here.
3. Refreshments: These are for the focus visit afternoon training sessions. Asking teachers to stay an extra 2 hours in the afternoon, when they generally don’t have lunch, does not sit comfortably with me without providing refreshments. We’re only talking about 60p per person per day for a bottle of drink and packet of biscuits, but it all adds up.
4. Chichewa lessons: I think it is really important to learn the language of the country you are serving in and always intended to have lessons. For some reason, this got missed off the projected budget.
I believe God wants a full ministry, not one restricted by finances, but that relies on me finding those people he has laid out to become involved. Please do prayerfully consider whether there is anyone you know who might be interested in joining The Malachi Project as a financial partner, or indeed whether you yourself could consider raising your contribution. For those of you who gave your donation as a yearly sum, please do make it again! One-off fundraising events would also be appreciated, for example to support the next leadership skills-share in September.
- The provision of additional financial partners.
- A prayer of thanks for the “travelling mercies”, as they are described in Malawi, and for such blessed time with family and friends.
- To continue to establish a slower rhythm and to be not just do.
May has been an odd month, beginning with what became a 7-hour journey “steadily” driving the car back to Lilongwe (on the advice of the petrol station forecourt worker) as engine warning lights had come on and it kept overheating, despite having coolant. It doesn’t happen often, but when there are problems with the car in the field it does make me very conscious of the vulnerability of driving huge distances alone, particularly as someone who is female and not Malawian. I am always very thankful that there are friendly people who come to my aid. So, I then had to cancel one of my school focus visits for the car to be repaired, and filled the week instead with an intensive blast of Chichewa and a surprising amount of office admin. I in fact ended up spending more time in Lilongwe this month than I have since I arrived. (See Musings.)
Chichewa lessons with my tutor, Sitho. (In Chichewa this is pronounced See-to.)
I have been putting plans into place for my return visit to the UK. (24th June – 19th July) One of the most notable challenges I have come across when working in Malawian schools is the teaching of phonics. This is in the syllabus and on the curriculum, brought in with the National Reading Programme, but insufficient/poor/no training was provided. Consequently, of all the schools I have visited, I have only found one teacher who was actually teaching reading using phonics. Even then, g was being pronounced as j. Phonics is not my area of specialism, as I spent sixteen years as a KS2 teacher, so whilst in the UK I am going to spend several days in various schools, observing how phonics is taught and picking infant teachers’ brains about how I can adapt this for use in Malawi. (It has to involve no resources.) As well as assemblies in return for their helpfulness!
Teaching reading: Only one student textbook for the class, so the text will be written out on the board. I have very good eyesight and I struggle to read it.
For those of you local to Haddenham, I will be speaking at the 10:30 service at St Mary’s on 10th July. Please do come along and bring others. For those of you based in Birmingham, there is a more general Malawi event which I will also speak at, on 25th June, details TBC, please contact me or Liz Carr to find out more.
Standard 3 learners at Chombo school having a “reading lesson”. This consists of sitting ingroups of about 10, with a leaflet that is then passed around the 12 groups. The same leaflets are used all year because that is all there is. It may look idyllic, but this is one of our worst-resourced schools. A storm destroyed two double classroom blocks, so 4 of the 8 standards learn outside all year.
There are two things that would be useful if you
would like to donate anything for me to take back:
1. Black biros
2. Children’s jumpers/hoodies/coats
Also, on a personal note, if you have old DVDs you no longer use, please could you offer them to me? I am particularly looking for Miranda Series 3 if anyone has that, and I am a fan of period dramas and murder mystery style series/ programmes. But anything except sci-fi and horror would be good.
Finally, when I am in the UK I will need to seek further financial partners. The ministry costs have worked out pretty accurately overall, but there are 4 areas of additional cost I need to cover to be able to continue to fulfil the vision fully.
1. Diesel: The price of diesel has soared; it costs nearly twice what it did when I arrived in September. (860 to 1470 kwacha per litre.) I’m sure this is the case the world over, as none of us could have anticipated the war in Ukraine and the impact on globally. Diesel is by far my biggest monthly cost and doubling the price means that I need to find about another £200 a month. (Some months are infact much more expensive than that!)
2. Running costs of the car: In hindsight it is obvious how much coolant a car that size goes through a month in the heat of Africa! There are all sorts of other small repairs caused by the off-road nature of driving, and maintenance to things like filters clogged up with dust. I budgeted for a yearly service and nothing much else going wrong, as I would in the UK! I do drive it carefully, but the wear-and-tear on a car is just much greater here.
3. Refreshments: These are for the focus visit afternoon training sessions. Asking teachers to stay an extra 2 hours in the afternoon, when they generally don’t have lunch, does not sit comfortably with me without providing refreshments. We’re only talking about 60p per person per day for a bottle of drink and pack of biscuits, but it all adds up.
4. Chichewa lessons: I think it is really important to learn the language of the country you are serving in and always intended to have lessons. For some reason, this got missed off the projected budget.
I believe God will provide it, he wants a full ministry, not one
restricted by finances, but that relies on me finding those people he has laid
out to become involved. Please do prayerfully consider whether there is anyone you know who might be
interested in joining The Malachi Project, or indeed whether you yourself could
consider raising your contribution. For those of you who gave your donation as
a yearly sum, please do make it again!
Part of the Thrive ministry, which I help lead, having a women-only bible study and meet-up.
May has been an unusual month. The first week of being in Lilongwe rather than out in the field doing a focus visit was eye-opening for me. I crammed it full of intensive Chichewa work, admin etc. I then had a further week here as it was the termly exam week and there is no point doing focus visits as there is no formal teaching. I realised something very quickly – I felt guilty, about not being productive. I felt the weight of people partnering with me financially, but that I was not “doing” ministry. If I’m honest, although I am “doing” for God all the time, my ability to just “be” with God has reduced since I came here. That first week of being “stuck” in Lilongwe made me very aware of how I perceived the week - as a waste of time, of failing, of not being productive for God. I also find it hard to give over “work” time to prayer/study/reflection, that are all vital to lead an effective ministry, but I am used to shoe-horning this around work time.
Before I come to the UK, I am having a week’s holiday in Corfu. If you know me you will know that to me Corfu is a little piece of paradise, and the good it will do my spirit and soul are something I dream about a lot. Since coming to Malawi I’ve only had 2 weekends away, and I’ve worked through each school holiday either painting numbers or leading the skills-share. I have annual leave, but I’ve used one day so far. I have realised that I find it hard to reconcile having holiday time, as you are supporting me to work, not holiday. Going to Corfu will be at my expense financially, but taking the time still feels uncomfortable.
None of this is sustainable, for me or my faith. I’ve learnt that to operate in Malawi, (without being driven mad and in a constant bad mood!) you have to learn to slow down, because of the speed life runs at here and the frequency of problems encountered. Everything takes a long time. But again, it can mean that doing so easily pushes out “being” with God, and running on a spiritual empty.
It’s a tricky one, because we are called to serve, we are called to “do”. It is fine to lead a ministry that is thriving. But the doing cannot be at the expense of the being, what matters is what the heart of the service is rooted in. I see this so clearly in the story of Mary and Martha. They welcome Jesus into their home. Mary sits at Jesus’ feet, being with him, growing in relationship with him, giving her time over to a complete and single focus on him. Martha, however, is rushing around trying to “do” everything for Jesus, to make sure that her hospitality is as perfect as possible, that she serves Jesus well; angry and resentful at Mary for not helping her.
I have always had some sympathy with Martha. It is really annoying when you are the one behind the scenes racing around making everything happen smoothly, to facilitate others, and no one thinks to help. But the point is, Martha is so caught up in “doing” for God that she is missing from the “being”. She is doing things for Jesus in the kitchen, when he is right there in her living room. He is in her house, but she isn’t with him! I suspect it’s likely that even if she did sit down with him, she wouldn’t benefit in the way Mary does, because she has lost the ability to still her mind and focus in on only what truly matters most – being with God. Her mind would be caught up in distractions and worries, her thoughts far from what he is saying.
Martha is caught up in the busyness and doing, neglecting the being. In all likelihood, if she had asked Mary directly, rather than moaning and complaining bitterly to Jesus, Mary would probably have helped, willingly and with an entirely different heart, that is not resentful. This is because her service comes from a place of oneness with God and wholeness in him, which is where service should come from.
So my slogan for the month – be more Mary!
- The provision of additional financial partners.
- A prayer of thanks for the kindness of Jesman and Father Dewa’s family, who host me at least once a month. Their generosity in inviting me to join them in their homes and welcoming me so warmly means a lot to me, it’s lovely to feel part of family. Luckily for me, they are situated in the two major hubs of schools, both having about 25 schools within reach. God’s provision is good!
- To continue to establish a slower rhythm and to be not just do.
- For safe travel and blessed time with family and friends. The “travelling mercies”, as they say in Malawi.
- That my time in schools observing phonics is productive.
St Thomas’ Anglican Church and Flood Church
There is a lot of bureaucracy in Malawi and it is always slow. Due to having to wait for the Diocese Education Secretary and then each government District Education Manager to approve the focus visit work, I ended up continuing with the painting of number lines for longer than expected. Which is fine, they are always well received. The school day works differently in Malawi. Everyone starts at 7:15 for assembly, but then school ends at staggered times depending on age. The youngest ones finish at 11:30, going through to 2:30 for the oldest ones. I began painting as they finished, which generally involved all the children wanting to stay in the classroom, and watching in fascinated silence. During the process they generally shuffle nearer and nearer, then stand up, so by the end I am completely surrounded by children!
The focus visits then began though. I have to say I was quite nervous about this. It feels a long time since I came to Malawi now, that I have been laying the groundwork and building relationships, to reach the point of this main work, working in individual schools to develop teaching skills. This was the original vision, the heart of The Malachi Project. So, somewhat apprehensively, I went off to Sopani and then Chombo schools, for 3 days at a time of what proved to be very intensive days for me. The first visit was Sopani, a school I have already visited 3 times, and although there was the initial hesitation to engage and join in, by the final of the four whole staff training sessions, everyone was participating and we had a lot of fun doing the maths games, whilst they laughed at each others’ inability to answer under pressure! I also observed every one of the 11 teachers, (plus accidentally observing 3 trainees), then feeding back and advising them on next steps. I focused on four areas – their teacher presence, the teaching of the content, the skills they used and the effectiveness of the learning. Within those 11, I saw an enormous range, from those that taught extremely effective lessons where all learners achieved, to those that were, if I’m honest, pretty awful.
I learnt a lot too, when feeding back and discussing development targets, about the differences between the Malawian perception of what makes a good lesson as a pose to mine. Here, it is often the case that teachers view their role as to have imparted the teaching content. To me, the aim is to ensure the learners have actually achieved the intended learning outcome of the lesson. In the UK, the emphasis is very much on the teacher, to ensure that the teaching, the tasks etc, lead to the children having learnt what you want. In Malawi, the onus is placed much more on the child to do the learning, and so long as the teacher has presented the material, most (not all) view that as their role having been done. It’s an interesting conundrum, as it basically means that many children are left behind and have not learnt anything.
My days consist of observing as many lessons as I can in the morning, doing the feedback over lunchtime and then 2 hours of training sessions. It’s intense. But it was great to see some ideas being put into practice straight away. (See the photos - you can also see the painted numbers here!)
If I had to choose one standout, it would be a teacher at the first school. She is ten years my senior, and made it quite clear that she viewed me with a healthy degree of scepticism. In the first two whole staff training sessions, she contributed minimally, and later grilled me on my qualifications etc. However, on the second day, she warmed up, and by the time we attempted to actually play the maths games, there was a wonderful smile on her face and she was laughing away. I didn’t observe her until my final day, and watched what I would say was a pretty much perfect lesson. What made me smile though, was that she smiled! I have watched her teach before. She is strict, demanding and the sort of teacher I would have been scared of. But my goodness she knows how to build progression and get good outcomes. When I fed back to her, and showed her my observation sheet, with pretty much every “Excellent” point ticked, the smile and pride was written all over her face. I ended with thanking her, for the privilege of watching her teach. What touched me most was that she came up to me when I was leaving, and said that she had really enjoyed me coming and she appreciated it. It made me wonder, as I left, when the last time was that someone had praised her, or made her smile. When she had last really laughed, doubled over with hilarity. During the observation, she used one of the games I had introduced the previous day. She smiled and laughed and enjoyed it as much as the children did. I think perhaps it recaptured for her the enjoyment of teaching, that had been lost in the daily grind of life circumstances, pressures, exhaustion etc. I had come intentionally wanting to convey that each and every one of them has skills, is seen, is valued, and to speak truth into them. I left realising anew how much that matters, and how important it is that I do that.
I’m sure that the focus visits will evolve as I continue them, but as I left both schools I have to say that I had an enormous sense of joy. For me, although trying to observe every teacher is gruelling, (I “only” managed 14 of 17 at Chombo) I loved being in back at the front of the room “teaching”. It’s very much my teaching style that I like children, or in this case adults, to participate and learn by doing. It is not a familiar method in Malawi and they are always a bit taken aback that I want them to participate, not just sit and listen. Even more so when I want them to be learners in mock sections of lessons so that I can demonstrate a skill. It is far harder to “work the room” and get everyone engaged with a group of Malawian teachers than it ever is teaching children! But I hope it made it memorable, and for the sake of the learners I really that it challenged them to think differently about what it means to teach an effective lesson. It’s a conundrum I will have to keep mulling over though.
In completely different news, at Flood Church, I have joined the worship team and am also co-leading a ministry called Thrive, which is for singles. (But strictly not a dating ministry!) I am really enjoying it, it has been a good way of starting to develop friendships and get more involved. I have also done a brilliant course, Emotionally Healthy Relationships, by Peter and Geri Scazzero. If you ever get the opportunity to do it, I recommend it.
The final piece of news is that I have booked my flights back to the UK for a visit! I will be in Birmingham 24th June – 1st July and Haddenham 9th July – 15th July, as well as various other places in between, and I very much hope to be able to meet with many of you. For those of you in or near Haddenham, I will be speaking at the 10th July service at St Mary’s, do come along. I also hope to attend a Malawi event in Birmingham on Saturday 25th June.
The difference to a class that the rains make:
(They learn in the church as there are not enough classrooms) 121 learners down
to 18, although more did arrive later in the morning. If you look closely at
the second picture, you can see how inadequately clothed several children are
for a walk from their village in the pouring rain
I’d have to be honest and say I didn’t feel fully prepared for the focus visits. (Although perhaps there is never a point that I would have.) I was struck by a passage in Exodus where Moses encounters the burning bush, on the preceding weekend of the first one. “Take off your sandals, for you are walking on holy ground.” I feel a lot of parallels to Moses. I didn’t feel ready. I didn’t feel very well. I even thought about postponing it. I had a reel of excuses for why I shouldn’t do it. But I still did.
I watched back the original film from when I launched The Malachi Project. I dwelt in the memory of the moment God cast that vision, that was about to truly come into reality. I reflected that, come Monday morning, as I arrived at Sopani school, I would walk on holy ground. Wholly in the place God calls me to be, in His plan and purpose for me.
It helped me see it differently. Rather than being anxious, wanting to put it off, listening to my doubts, I saw anew the honour. The honour of walking on that holy ground. Moses wasn’t ready. He didn’t have all the skills. But God showed up, and that was what propelled him along, not his own abilities. I reminded myself that God would do his work, despite my inabilities, and that this was His plan, brought to being by him, not me.
We walk on holy ground. We walk in God’s creation and His plans and purposes every day. It’s easy to forget this, and to forget to be thankful and to marvel at it, in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
- Prayer of thanks for the good reception of the first focus visits. Also pray that the training has a continuing impact, and isn’t just a 3-day event that is then forgotten. Many teachers said to me that they really appreciated receiving the first-hand training and that I come to them in situ. (In Malawi, one teacher goes to a training event and is then expected to disseminate the content to everyone else, which often goes by-the-by.)
- Pray that for those teachers who are driven down by the reality of teaching here, it provides a refreshment and reinvigoration to their teaching.
- Prayer of thanks that the “real work” has begun, for the privilege of walking in the vision God gave me, that I will continue to see it that way and that the past months of visiting schools, listening, being present and building relationships has been productive.
- Pray for insight in how to develop the training I give, to address the different conception of the purpose of teaching.
- I am still trying to find a house. Please pray for this provision, as the events on the parade ground behind my house are starting up again in earnest now the rainy season has pretty much ended. It means that for about 6 hours of both weekend afternoon, I need to be away from the house, as the sound system is just deafening. Malawians have no concept of how to use a sound system, they just turn it up as loud as possible and seem to like this. To me, the volume with the reverb is horrible. On top of that, there is now also the volume of the generator they have bought, as power continues to be a problem. Which, naturally, has to be situated just by my house!
- For some reason, the power situation has got worse rather than better. We now have black-out for 10.5 hours every day and it makes working very difficult for everyone. I am intending to do some online training and work in May, please pray that I am able to do this.
I’ve had a lot of fun this month. It was the end of term, so during the holiday I have been going round as many schools as possible, painting number lines in the infant classrooms. 48 classrooms across 17 schools! It was great to doing something more practical and active, I miss that side of teaching. My days generally consist of sitting at the back of classrooms observing lessons, and a bit of standing; they are very static compared to racing around school to find things/people and the constant movement round the classroom. Plus, Malawians always move at a very slow speed! I still find myself setting out at a UK walking pace and realising that the person I was with is already a long way behind me. A friend was telling me that there was once a study into the speed pedestrians cross the road in different countries, and Malawians were the slowest of all. This I can very much believe!
As term begins again, at the end of March, I will be beginning the focus visits, consisting of 3 days in one school, doing a combination of individual observations and coaching, and whole staff training. More on that next month. As the paint pots haven’t run out yet and I don’t want it to dry up etc, I will probably do some weeks of painting, as teachers have been very excited about the difference this will make for the learners.
In preparation for beginning the focus visits, I’ve been re-reading ‘When Helping Hurts’ by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. It’s a book I have read many times over the years, each time I have considered a new piece of work or focus in Africa. They set out to open the eyes of those in developed countries who want to serve the poor, highlight ways in which we actually do my harm than good, and call us to be accountable in our intentions and our practice. I put The Malachi Project through the probing of this book when it was first envisioned, and continue to reflect on ensuring as far as I can and as far as my awareness extends, that what I do is not harmful. (If you are thinking of doing any kind of mission work, I recommend it as a good starting point.)
A huge tenet of mission work for me is that you should never do for others what they can do for themselves. Otherwise, all we are doing is degrading, devaluing or engraining dependency. Loving others as ourselves cannot involve stripping them of their dignity and disempowering them. We are not more important or able than them. There is also the question of who we are doing it for – are we genuinely there to help, or are we there for an “experience”, or to create a warm, fuzzy feeling within ourselves at our goodness and generosity. Are we there to take lots of photos to put on social media, to make ourselves look caring/sacrificial to others?
Over the years, I have steered the teaching skillsshares to include facilitating Malawians sharing their experience and solving problems for themselves. Dependency is definitely a problem in Malawi. It’s not that they are lazy and just waiting for someone else to do it for them. It’s that their only thinking and understanding is that change will take someone else coming in with money and fixing it for them. Often, it simply doesn’t seem to occur to them that they could try to solve it themselves. (Although obviously, there are some visionary, creative Heads and teachers who are exceptions to that rule.)
Painting number lines was an interesting example in considering whether I was doing something for them that they could do themselves. Paint is phenomenally expensive in Malawi, so it did take The Malachi Project to be able to fund it. It turned out that it also took me to be there doing it, as painting was not something the teachers could do themselves. I have to confess it hadn’t occurred to me that the average Malawian would never have held a paintbrush. I asked my good friend Herbert to assist me, and found myself explaining things like how much paint to put on the brush, how to use it, how to hold the stencil down etc. So in this case, it was genuinely doing something they could not do for themselves.
In terms of teaching skills, I very much see my role as two-fold in this respect. I bring knowledge they don’t have, in terms of more up-to-date and effective teaching methods. I can correct a lot of their English teaching and train them in that because it’s my first language. But I am there to challenge their own practice and encourage them to grow, not to do it for them. A large part of my role is to speak love and truth into them. To help them to see that they have abilities and talents that are underutilised within them, and that they have the power to bring about positive change all by themselves.
That was always the vision of The Malachi Project. Malachi means messenger. Ensuring I am being the messenger of good practice, not the white saviour, is fundamental. It is about valuing the Head and teachers, building their confidence, equipping them with new ideas to employ. Empowering and inspiring them to drive forward change themselves.
I’ve thought a lot ever since I came to Malawi about the Serenity Prayer:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change,
The courage to change the things that I can,
And the wisdom to know the difference.”
I don’t mean this to sound like I’ve got it all figured out. I don’t. I grapple with it and place it before God a lot. Every time I arrive in a big 4x4, I know I am underlining the difference between us. I know that it takes time, and that actions speak louder than words, in breaking down barriers about white supremacy that are so deeply engrained. I’ve learnt too that it’s in the little things – having spare pens to give children who have come to school even though they don’t have one, getting up to help the teacher try and mark over a hundred books. Explaining something again to a learner who hasn’t understood. Bringing a football. (Oh so coveted!) Doing the painting myself rather than employing someone. Keeping in touch with Heads, asking how they are getting on, sending out helpful communications or film clips of good practice I’ve seen. Slowly slowly, little by little. God is in the small things, the little acts of love that come together to change hearts and minds, where love is about compassion, not pity, and equality, not supremacy. Where I take myself out of the equation as much as I can, so that it is not about me, but about God.
- Rains and flooding. The south of Malawi was once again hit, this time by Cyclone Gombe, which probably passed unnoticed in terms of global news. As the world’s eyes, and aid, focus in on Ukraine, it brings home the stark reality of how little response there is to disaster in Africa.
- The start of the focus visits.
- Prayer of thanks for growing friendships and the start of greater involvement in leading at Flood Church.
Leadership Skills-Share December 2021
A short film about The Malachi Project Leadership Skills-Share, 2 residential conferences for Headteachers from the Anglican Diocese of Lake Malawi schools. Watch here.
If you are a financial partner and have not as yet filled in a gift aid form, please could I ask that you do? I’ve attached it with the email, it just needs the gift aid section and your details filling in and returning to TeachBeyond. (Don’t fill in all the bank details if this is already set up.) The 25% additional money from your donation makes an enormous difference.
In the last month, life has settled into something of a pattern that seems sustainable energy-wise. I generally spend Monday to Wednesday in schools, travelling on Sunday afternoon. Then on Thursday and Friday I have my Chichewa lessons, process what I learnt from the visits, prepare sessions and resources, write reports etc.
So for this month, I have spent each day at a different school, observing teaching. They’ve generally been near the tarmac road or on a flat road from it, having had a couple of hair-raising moments in the torrential rain! Even in a powerful 4x4, there is nothing you can do to stop sliding down the hill in liquid mud as the rain pours down and the dirt track basically becomes a river. (Sadly, nowhere as appealing as Willie Wonka’s chocolate river!) However, I guess regular skidding on black ice in the UK prepared me to cope with it quite well, and the car has always managed to climb back out of a ditch, sticky mud etc.
The rainy season has been eye-opening, to say the least. There are several Anglican schools that do not have enough classrooms, and for these learners that means they are unable to attend school for extended periods of time. Even for those who can, particularly in the rural and hilly areas it is often impossible to walk several kilometres to reach school. Those who do manage to arrive do so with no coat and not enough clothing, and remain soaking wet all day. Teachers amongst you will know that trying to make children in the UK wear coats in the rain can be the bane of your life! Here, it frankly awes me what Malawian children will face to manage to come to school. Even when they arrive, the dark skies mean the classrooms are very dark (no electricity for lighting), the rain hammers on iron roofs and it can be hard to see or hear anything. Lessons are accompanied by the sound of chesty coughs, the rooms are damp and cold and it’s generally just more challenging than ever before.
But schools and communities are resourceful. There are many who have built at least one double- classroom block by moulding the bricks locally, collecting river sand for cement, sourcing timber and then building the blocks themselves. The challenge remains the roof. Corrugated iron sheets cost about £1500 to roof a classroom, and for many of the village communities, particularly in the poorest areas of all, this is an inconceivable amount of money. They might start to buy them one by one, but it can take several years to get enough. Rendering and painting the walls and a poured concrete floor are also too expensive, although dirt floors are not pleasant to sit on and of course are damp. Being able to cover the brick wall and paint it not only strengthens the building but also makes a surprising difference to the lightness of the room. But it is the roof that is key, to gain the three months of rainy season in the classroom. If anyone is interested in doing some sort of fundraiser to roof a classroom, please do let me know.
I have learnt a huge amount about the standard of Malawian teaching, as I have literally spent each day observing lessons back-to-back. At their best, lessons are engaging, with a variety of short activities, good use of questioning and ways of ensuring learners are participating, with lively presentation and a good teacher-learner/class relationship. At the other end of the spectrum, I have also observed lessons where the teacher’s teaching and/or instructions makes no sense, subject knowledge is not secure, the presentation is monotonous and dull, the learners sit there passively in silence and then they are unable to complete the work. In the older years, lessons are often more like a lecture and there is very little active teaching, just a lot of notes to write down and the expectation that questions can they be answered at the end of the lesson. There is also a lot of individual questioning, which means only one child out of maybe one hundred actually participates.
Most lessons of course fall somewhere in-between, although unfortunately more towards the lower end of the spectrum than the higher. However, it is so important to have spent time really seeing the starting point, to fit what is most beneficial in offering support in developing teaching skills. Having identified some teachers who stand well above the norm, I have also started doing some filming, to be able to share good practice in a way that is more effective than me just talking about it to others. I haven’t quite figured out how I will show these to other teachers, but I’m sure that will come! Any suggestions are welcome. It cannot involve the need for electricity.
I will then begin the focus visits, which were always the main vision of The Malachi Project. This will involve spending 3 days in one school, doing a mixture of whole-staff training and individual lesson observations and coaching. I am sure it will be an evolving concept and be honed by experience, but for now I have a relatively clear idea of the sort of training that would have the biggest impact on teaching skills. I’m also going to spend the end-of-term holiday doing some painting! I brought some giant number stencils from the UK, and am going to paint a number line in bright colours in as many infant classrooms as I can get round. This will be a project that continues and makes good use of the school holiday time. It will brighten up their classrooms and also be useful.
In the remaining two days of the week, I have four hours of Chichewa lessons. Whether it is Chichewa, or learning a language as an adult which is particularly challenging I am not sure, but I am definitely finding it hard! At the moment I mainly have long lists of vocabulary to learn, and in the coming months that will develop to forming them into sentences. I generally stay with Malawians in their homes when I am working in schools, to keep the costs down, and this means I get to practise my Chichewa and have my pronunciation corrected, as well as learning a huge amount about their way of life. They are always very excited that I am learning their language and keen to help me!
I deeply miss teaching, the magic of being with children every day and a fundamental part of their life, the whirlwind of teaching in a UK school, working colleagues and friends. I loved school. I wanted to be a teacher when I was at infant school. If you are a teacher, you will know that it is not a job. It is who you are. I still think that if you cut me through like a stick of rock, it would say “teacher”. Teaching here unfortunately just doesn’t work. The little ones just sit and stare at me and the older ones either act up, laugh or won’t respond, as they have either never seen a white person or are unsure how to respond to me. Plus, it’s not the same as building a year-long relationship with children, I’m in a different school every day/week. At times, the cost of following Jesus can feel like giving up who I am. My identity is a child of God, not a teacher, in reality. But losing who you’ve been all your life isn’t easy. This new life, always as the stranger, visiting, alone, is very different and very lonely.
The longer I’ve lived here,
the more I’ve realised that Malawians are actually quite hard work to know! There’s
a culture here of making arrangements or promises, without the intention of
doing them that we would have in the UK, or to be very vague about meeting
times/days. Communicating that you will be late or are not going to turn up,
that the task hasn’t been done (or even started!) doesn’t happen. If it is
pointed out, there won’t be any apology. It’s a difficult world to navigate,
someone who is British, reliable, intentionally punctual and who would always
inform someone if I am going to be late or need to rearrange, it’s easy to be
hurt by this, to feel alone, abandoned and not valued. Plus, to be honest, life
here can be pretty boring! There isn’t a lot to do, and nothing at all to do in
the evenings. Occasional unreliability in the UK is annoying, but here it’s the
norm and it’s hard to deal with, especially as a single person. It’s easy to
catch myself feeling angry at Malawians in general, or taking it personally
when it’s a cultural thing that is never intended to insult or hurt.
I have been struck as I never have been before by this verse: “And at the last hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” Which is, being interpreted, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)
This was the only time that God has ever forsaken anyone, and it was his own son. Jesus was carrying the sin of the world, and to allow this to happen and for him to die with it, God had to be separate from him. He did this for us. His love for us was such that he gave his only son for us. In this moment, Jesus was truly alone. He was truly forsaken, abandoned to die separated from God so that we would never have to be. He’d already faced the abandonment/betrayal of the disciples in their various ways. Now, he was abandoned by the constant source of love he had known his whole life. Jesus knew loneliness like we have known it.
Yet he went into it knowingly. Jesus knew the cost. They both knew the cost. God did forsake Jesus, his own son, because he would not forsake us, his created beings. For all that we know he loved Jesus, lived in perfect harmony in the trinity with him, how much more did he love us? He chose to forsake even Jesus, to never forsake us.
So, Jesus knew loneliness and abandonment too. At many times, humanly, but also as even the trinity itself, there before time began, was separated. He was willing to be alone to a depth we could never comprehend, so that we need never be alone. It helps my cross seem smaller, to remember that.
- - Rains and flooding. The “growing rains” have come, but they would be better described this year as “the flooding rains”. The South of Malawi was hit by Cyclone Ana, destroying homes, farming land, roads, bridges and the main power station in Malawi. For most of Malawi, this meant no power for several days, then scheduled (supposedly!) power outages every day, probably for some months to come, as the dam that produces the electricity was washed away. But for the southern region, it was devastating, and followed by a second major storm, and undoubtedly more to come. The effects of climate change are very clear to see here. Please do pray for those who have lost everything and are living in temporary camps.
- - The start of the focus visits.
- - A home. I am still looking. What I want seems to be hard to come by and goes in a second. Literally! People here are even willing to take a house unseen, which I am not, and not being in Lilongwe for the majority of the week also complicates things.
- - Developing friendships.
Please do write with your news and any prayer requests you have, I love to hear from you all. Also, if there is anything that comes to you in prayer for The Malachi Project please do share that with me. Thank you, again, for all that you do to make all this possible.
Happy New Year!
Apologies that nothing made it to you in December, it rather got absorbed in being in and out of hospital with a stomach infection and sepsis, and then preparing and leading the skills-shares.
I am making a film about the skills-shares, which will follow, but here is a bit of the background and real-life experience. The run-up to it was not easy. I was really quite ill for about 3 weeks, then there were real challenges in tying down what I believed was the right leadership team to even be in the right place at the right time, and a race against time to get everything ready. I was stressed! A few days before, at my Flood Church small group, I sat down in a prayer triplet. One asked me what I wanted the skills-share to achieve. I explained the sorts of sessions we were doing, the fact there is no leadership training etc, but to boil it down, it became to transform. I wanted it to transform the way they view leadership. To move from an understanding of managing the logistics of a school, to a calling from God to lead an Anglican school, that comes from the heart. To have a wider view of bringing faith into all that they do, as a leader, and into the life of the school, as well as to be equipped with the practical skills needed. I also spoke of how underequipped I felt for the task. My other friend talked of the fact God comes for the one. That if even one Head goes away changed, we have done our task: that is enough. I think I pretty much immediately responded with, “No it’s not!” One is not enough for me. I want it to be every one of them. I want God to be so present and so powerful that every single one of them goes away changed.
There’s nothing wrong with dreaming big, right?! Sometimes I think we are too afraid to stake our all, afraid to aim high, because we are afraid of failure. It is absolutely true that God will come for the one. But that doesn’t mean we can’t stand in trust and expectation for all. This skills-share wasn’t a wild stab in the dark. It was underpinned by ten years of other skills-shares and visiting 65 schools. Listening to 65 Headteachers talk about their leadership experience, their challenges, their struggles, their needs. Along with my own thoughts on what the needs really are, where our perception differed. The choice of sessions, the timing, everything about it, was informed, thought-through and considered in prayer. So, it’s right to aim high. It’s right to expect, with trust, that God will show up. Most importantly, it’s right not to place limits on what God can and will do. I’d arrived at the meeting feeling drained and under pressure. That moment of prayer ignited, or rather re-ignited, my passion and conviction that this was right and God was in it, and sustained me throughout the skills-shares.
I would have to say it got off to a bumpy start. My leadership team seemed somewhat unprepared and kept disappearing, and I felt that I struggled to exert my leadership over three men who are imminently more important than me. That floored my confidence anyway, but at 4pm, when we were due to start, only 6 delegates had arrived. At that point, I doubted everything.
However, by morning, all but one delegate had appeared, and a well-timed phone call had picked me up the night before. I was reassured to see some familiar faces amongst the delegates – Heads I have known for several years at past skills-shares, who knew what to expect, were positive and enthusiastic and really got involved. So, the first full day opened very differently, and it went from strength to strength from that moment really. Both cohorts really engaged with each other, sharing their ideas, discussing, encouraging and celebrating with each other. Some of my favourite sessions were those where the Heads shared their examples of good practice, including bringing along examples of TALULAR (Teaching and Learning Using Locally Available Resources) and Expressive Arts. I love the way Malawians are always so keen to offer their praise, and it was nice to see some of the quieter members of the cohort brought to the fore in recognition of the excellent examples they had brought. What I loved most though was seeing them mingle, getting to know other Heads from other parts of the diocese, sharing their experiences in school but also in life in general. To make new friendships, see that they are not alone, laugh and joke. (There was a lot of that!) It’s easy to forget that they just never get the chance to do this and it’s a privilege to get to facilitate it and see it happen. It’s also great to get to know them as people, rather than as a Headteacher when I visit the school and everything is about school life. I learnt all sorts of interesting things!
The whole skills-share was structured around the mantra, “Know the Way, Go the Way, Show the Way.” The first few sessions, on Know the Way, looked at what it means to be called to Christian leadership and to understand the role of an Anglican school. We considered the difference between leadership and management, the need for vision and examples of biblical leadership. We moved on to look at the practicalities of leadership – creating a Christian ethos, child protection, writing infrastructure proposals. We listened to the wisdom of two experienced Heads and what they had learnt in their leadership. The final strand was to Show the Way. How to create good relationships with the community, sharing good practice amongst each other on a variety of topics, the responsibility of supporting teachers’ well-being and how to lead but also serve. This is just some, I packed the program from 6:45am – 8pm! It was so hot in the meeting room by the evening though that we did have to rejig the programme for the much-needed opportunity to sit outside in the comparative cool of the evening. (It was still 34 degrees in my room at night though!) Dean Petros graciously came to officially open and close both cohorts, the final time culminating in the weather finally breaking and there being a deafening thunderstorm to shout over! All too soon, an exhausting but exhilarating six days came to an end.
For myself, there were things to learn and things I would do differently next time. Malawian culture is very different, there is a strong male-over-female hierarchy, and menial tasks are not things Malawian men generally do. As the only female, I found that whilst we each delivered our assigned sessions, every other task fell to me. I suppose in the past, when there has also been UK team, I have never really noticed who was doing those tasks, just that there was always someone who would pitch in to help, and there’s a lot more encouragement. It’s not that either way is right or wrong, they are two different cultures, it just made it rather more draining for me, and I missed having a UK team.
Still, what mattered was that from the Heads’ point of view, they received the absolute best it was possible to give them. Did it change every single one of them? According to their feedback, yes. In fact, most requested that the training become at least yearly and twice as long. (Gulp!) The sessions most warmly received and commented on were those about the understanding of what it means to lead as a Christian. There will be quotes on the film but my favourite one was from a young Head who had recently been promoted: “I know what it means to lead now.” (Accompanied with a big, Malawian smile.)
That was the whole point. When you understand Headship as a calling, as a position in which to serve God and those around you, it transforms everything about your leadership. I would like to say a huge thank you to all those of you who donated or sponsored delegates to be able to attend. Public transport (an overcrowded, dubiously-roadworthy minibus) is expensive in Malawi, given the small size of salaries. To give you an idea, the transport alone would have cost nearly half their monthly salary for those coming the furthest in the diocese. Which is just utterly impossible. So you really did make it happen, and I am so grateful. If you would still like to sponsor a Head retrospectively, please do: www.teachbeyond.org.uk
I based my final talk on Servant Leadership around the First Servant Song, Isaiah 42: 1-9. I won’t write out all of it here, but the first verse is, “Behold, my servant, whom I uphold. My chosen one, in whom I delight.”
- “Behold,” is used to indicate someone of significance being announced. It requires all to stop what they are doing, to give their undivided attention and respect. God is asking the world to stop and see his servant. To him, we are worthy of that significance.
- “My servant,” Being a servant is not generally viewed as desirable. The calling to servanthood isn’t easy. When it comes from our heads, it often leads to anger, discontent and resentment at those we serve who seem oblivious. But God says My servant. When we choose to serve, from our hearts, to look up at the greatness of the God we serve rather than the slog of the task, to serve him out of delight at how he first served us, we walk ever closer to him.
- “Whom I uphold.” A role such as being a Head in a Malawian primary school can seem like an endless, disheartening struggle. But God upholds us. When our own strength would long since have failed, if we draw on Him, he will sustain us, and he will triumph.
- “My chosen one,” We are all called to live a Christian life. But for some, God has a specific plan and purpose laid out for us. It’s an honour, to be chosen. For those of us who are, we should never forget that. To have the privilege of being chosen to walk God’s specific path for us should fill us with joy and the desire to offer all we have to fulfil that calling.
- “In whom I delight.” Sadly, the world does not delight in Education. Teachers are generally at the bottom of the pile as civil servants, and what it takes to teach is grossly underestimated and undervalued. But God delights in us. When it feels like a relentless and thankless task, with unrealistic expectations and impossible circumstances, God delights in our service, and as a teacher we get to walk very close to His heart. Teachers are creators. Their service shapes tomorrow’s future.
- The new school year has just begun, as the calendar is out of sync due to COVID. Pray that as this term begins, each and every Head will know God’s presence in their school as never before, and see the effects of this. As the Dean said at the closing of the skills-share, pray that all they have learnt and experienced doesn’t grow dusty on a shelf, but sustains and grows their leadership.
- The “growing rains” to come in Malawi. The rainy season should have started last month. We’ve had a few sporadic intense thunderstorms, but please pray for the sustained periods of rain that allow crops to grow, rather than the flash-flood sort of storms that cause havoc. For a country that depends on subsistence farming, this is a very worrying time.
- Planning and preparation for the next stage of The Malachi Project. I am spending January in schools, observing a lot of teaching, as well as getting to grips with the national curriculum in subjects that have been requested most. As I move from the familiarisation visits to the beginning of the focus visit work, please pray for good planning and preparation in establishing what will have the greatest impact and how it can work under the new government school timetable.
- A home. I am looking for a new house to rent, having to be honest long-since reached the point that I really dislike where I currently live. Living on the diocese compound is convenient for the occasional days I am in the office, but within a 5-metre radius of my house there is a very noisy church, a construction site and a functions field/events parade ground. The house opens onto a carpark and general thoroughfare, there’s no privacy and there is now the deafening noise of rains on an iron roof too, as although other diocese houses have a ceiling to muffle the noise, mine does not. It’s also not proved to be the community I thought it would be, people generally keep themselves to themselves. So, I am looking for somewhere else to live. This will cost me a lot more, (me personally that is, not The Malachi Project!) but not getting to relax and unwind and sleep-deprivation are no joke and I need to be able to sustain the work I am doing. Please pray for the provision of a home, navigating the Lilongwe rental market and agents is quite a learning curve!
This month, I’ve tried to address the need for relaxation. My goddaughter had been asking me to take her to the lake ever since I got here, and we finally managed this. I have also found a couple of hotels in Lilongwe where you can pay to be a day visitor, to escape the very loud functions the diocese compound hosts each weekend (which backs onto my house), and had a 2-night break by the lake by myself, to be able to stop, unwind and reflect. I have been taken to new places by new friends, and my greatest find has been a proper, full-length swimming pool in Lilongwe, to my great delight!
As of yesterday, I have finished the schools I had planned to visit for the time being. (68) There is one archdeaconry left, but it is one of the two particularly rural areas, and together with Oscar I have made the decision that we will leave this one until after the rainy season, which is about to be upon us and will make some of these schools inaccessible.
The process has been draining, in every way. Often, I am the first person who has come to visit who is their “superior”, in terms of hierarchy (although I in no way see it like this.) But what I’ve come to realise is that in Malawian culture, where hierarchy is very significant, this means I am the first person they feel they can unburden themselves to. The first person to whom they can voice all the worries, pressure and challenges, the level of discouragement and sometimes the sense of defeat and failure they feel. Being a Head can be a lonely place. Trying to drive a school forward, in the circumstances schools face in Malawi, is a task no one would envy. It is my job, and also my heart, to sit and listen, to provide that place to unburden, to offer compassion and just to ensure they feel heard. But emotionally, it’s draining. Often, I come away and it makes me cry, with a sense of the overwhelming task and the impossibility of meeting many of their needs. There is also the feeling of anger at the injustice, both in education internationally and of resource allocation within the country, that so little prioritises education here.
But I would never change any of it. I have learnt a huge amount, and also been able to see at ground level the varying levels of challenge the different schools are facing. This allows the Education Department, for the first time, to analyse and make comparisons, and to draw up accurate prioritisation of need. I have looked at those with the most pressing infrastructure needs – those who do not have enough classrooms even to house the 8 standards primary schools have. For two schools, this sadly drops all the way down to just two classrooms. (Although see further down for a hopeful provision for this.) I have also done a crude calculation of retention rate of learners from start to finish of schooling, as well as the teacher to learner ratio, and exam pass rates for the primary school certificate. Combining all this, as well as some school-specific factors, something very interesting happened. Two schools came out as falling into the most need in several categories, and therefore the highest priority for me to begin work with. One was far away from anywhere I had previously visited. The other? The other was the very same school where God cast the vision of The Malachi Project on me. This was a huge affirmation to me that God is right here in this, and always has been. It happened at a time that I doubted my ability to do this, and when someone very close to me expressed their negative opinion of me. So the affirmation, amongst others that came at that time, were a powerful fan to the fire that this is God’s calling and will, and that with Him, positive change can be achieved.
The next few weeks will look rather different. It has always been clear to me that leadership is a real challenge in Malawian schools. There isn’t any additional training to become a Head. Some climb through the ranks, and have experience of leadership as a Section Head and Deputy. Some however are promoted straight from being a teacher, and this is a huge change and can be overwhelming. I have met Heads with so many different strengths, and it is easy to see that there would be so much benefit in being able to bring them together to share their experiences and to learn from one another. It was always my intention to have a leadership skills-share, but I have made the decision to pull this forward to December, in the school holiday, as it is very clearly a pressing need and seems the most effective way of making the biggest impact in the shortest time.
So, every Head from the 68 schools I have visited will be invited to a leadership skills-share, split into two groups. The transport, accommodation, meals and facility costs will all be met by The Malachi Project, as otherwise it would be impossible for the Heads to attend, as well as the cost of paying key leaders and speakers. I will be leading overall, with Oscar Mponda, the Education Secretary, and Jesman Seva, an experienced secondary school Head and the Director of the Lay Training Centre where we will be hosting the skills-shares. Jesman is a visionary and gifted leader, whose continual striving to drive forward change, and his success in doing this, is remarkable. The leadership team is completed by Chrispin Dakalira, a now retired primary Head, who has been a stalwart of the skills-shares and whose wisdom and excellent leadership I deeply respect. He has led several primary schools, and his people-skills, in the compassion and support he offers staff and his ability to build good relationship with the children and community will be very beneficial for all to learn from. I also have various guest speakers for specific sessions.
I am really excited about the impact the Heads attending can have on each other, in inspiring each other with fresh ideas and solutions to problems. There will be a focus on sharing good practice and also the opportunity for “clinics” – offering the chance for those who are less confident in Headship, or have a specific challenge, to sit down with an experienced Head, ask questions, get advice and learn from those who have gone before them as they share their wisdom and expertise. The heart of all we do will be explicitly Christian / Anglican in nature, looking at the calling of leading a mission school and ways of developing a Christian ethos so that it is written through all the school does.
However… the bill is rather higher than I had anticipated when we put the budget for The Malachi Project together with TeachBeyond. It can be covered (sort of!), but it will leave no real buffer for the remaining year. It costs £22 for a Head to attend the skills share, plus their transport costs. Which when you think about it is remarkably good value! But there are a lot of Heads, and other overheads to cover. It will be extremely intensive, with a full programme from 7am to 8pm each day. We are going to pack it with everything we have! If you would like to “sponsor” a Head to attend, I would very much appreciate it if you could donate £22 to help to ease this financial burden.
https://teachbeyond.org.uk/ then go to Give on the right, and select my name.
If you would like to see the breakdown of costs, to see where the money goes, please do contact me.
I’ve rather run out of room for musings this month, but my thoughts have very much been in Matthew 13: 31-33, the parable of the planting of mustard seeds. God calls us to plant seeds. We can then water them, but it is He who will do the growing. My job is to plant seeds, over and over, and as many seeds as I can pack into the topics for sessions at the skills-shares. Then moving on to work in individual schools will mean I won’t see much of the growth of these planted seeds. But it remains my job to plant, and to plant, and to plant, over and over, and trust that God will bring about change.
Answers to previous prayer:
- Making friends in Lilongwe: At my second church, (Flood Church) I have met friendly and welcoming people who have invited me to their homes, taken me out to places and met up with me and I am finally building friendships here. I have joined one of their bible study groups, which will also help. I will still attend the Anglican Church, but I feel now that I have found a church community I can feel I belong to.
- In terms of the emotional, mental and physical energy to complete school visits, this is sort of solved by the fact I have completed the visits! However, please pray for protection from too much impact from the inevitable crash as I come down from the sustained intensity of the two months.
- I've rather cheated on the intestine pain situation, by stopping eating nsima. It has made me feel a lot better, and over time I am going to introduce it very gradually. It’s difficult to do, because Malawians are always so keen to see me eating their staple food, and I don’t like disappointing them or feeling that I might be offending. But it’s just going to have to be that way for now.
- I have got much better at chasing mosquitoes round my house and squashing them. This is a bit gross when I manage to splat one that has already “feasted” on me, and find my own blood splattered across my hands! On advice from other internationals, I have also found a mosquito spray sold in Malawi that seems to be far more effective than the ones I brought from home, even though those were much stronger.
- The leadership skills share: My hope is that every Head goes away feeling better equipped, refreshed in their enthusiasm and vision, supported, encouraged and with a new awareness of what it means to lead a mission school, as well as host of practical ways of achieving this. I also hope for a feeling of comradery, building of relationships and good participation during the skills-shares.
- My fellow leadership team: Prayer for good relationship and support between us. Due to other commitments of the leadership team, it was best to max out one week, but it will be a very intense week to lead two skills shares back-to-back with no break, from 7am to 8pm, plus undoubtedly time before and after this to prepare/debrief etc. We’ve never tried this before, so prayer for stamina would be brilliant.
- My leadership: Those of you who know me as a teacher will know that I have never had any desire to be a Head, or to hold a leadership position. I am a follower, a helper, the one who sees a need and fills it, the reliable one behind the scenes who makes things happen. To lead is not my comfort zone. This might be a surprise to you for someone who does quite a lot of leadership in different contexts! When I have led skills-shares previously, I have always been equipped, when the time comes, with a supernatural confidence and competence to lead, which comes entirely not from me. Prayer that this is once again the case would be much appreciated.
- The provision of infrastructure for the two schools in most need, with just 2 classrooms each. Visiting both these schools moved me to tears, and left me with a burning desire to find a solution to their overwhelming need. With some research, I found a charity who builds schools in partnership with the local community and operates in the specific area of both these schools. By some stroke of good fortune, (or in fact God at work!) I found myself speaking with the Global Director, who was very receptive and contacted the Malawi Director on my behalf. He has also been very positive (possibly as this was instigated by the Global Director!) Indeed, in our first meeting he said that he commits 100% to developing the rest of one of these schools by the end of 2022. Site visits and mobilisation of the community will happen in two weeks. (The community will be required to provide some building materials and labour, as well as to adhere to some principles of the charity, such as committing to equal attendance of girls and boys. Prayer that he holds to this promise, and is also moved to commit to the second school when he sees it, as this one in fact doesn’t even have any toilets, would be wonderful. It would also send a powerful message to Heads in the diocese that we do see them and we are working hard to improve their situations.
- Continuing to make friends in Lilongwe.
- Please prayerfully consider whether you could make a one-off donation of £22 to cover the cost of a Head’s attendance.
https://teachbeyond.org.uk/ then go to Give on the right, and select my name.
(If you happen to have £1500 to provide a school roof for a double classroom block a community has worked hard to build to gable height but can’t finance the completion, feel free to do that too!) There are 4 of these currently. Suggestions of possible sources of finance would also be appreciated.
If you want specific dates to pray:
Leadership skills share 1: Delegates arrive on the afternoon of Sunday 5th December and we go through to the morning of Wednesday 8th December.
Leadership skills share 2: Delegates arrive on the afternoon of the same day (Wednesday 8th December) and we go through to the morning of Saturday 11th December.
Sorry that’s very long again! I do chop a lot out, but so much has happened and so much is to come that I always want you to feel you are fully aware and involved in the process you are a vital part of. As ever, my huge thanks for your faith in and support of The Malachi Project.
Somehow, six weeks have elapsed! I started work as soon as I arrived and went in with a typical British work ethic: at full steam, setting out to visit every school in the diocese. (About one hundred.) In hindsight, starting this process at the Dowa refugee camp and surrounding schools was chucking myself in at the deep end in the extreme. (A familiar theme in my life, as you may know…!) I have visited 10 -15 schools a week, managing to see just over 60 now, which has been quite a feat. As the days went on, I came to realise exactly how emotionally and mentally draining it is to visit several schools every day, to be confronted constantly with the stark reality of life for Malawian teachers and to try to bring the same level of energy, friendliness and compassion to every visit. There is also the need to process the information in a useful way, as well as the physical exhaustion of driving along endless bumpy tracks just to get to them. It is not an easy task.
But it’s worth it. To manage to reach the most rural and inaccessible schools and to meet the Heads and teachers whose humility and sacrifice just blows me away is such a privilege. Sometimes I arrive to find a familiar, friendly face from the skills shares. (Even one from all the way back in 2011!) It’s really heart-warming to find that they speak positively of the experience and that they are excited that there will be further opportunity. Knowing that what we did helped is great. It’s also a real blessing to meet those who are new to Headship, perhaps feeling they too have been pushed in at the deep end. Sometimes the Heads are quite closed and cautious, which is totally understandable, but I’ve also had some surprisingly open and candid conversations about the very real challenges Heads face in leading Malawian schools. To be the one who gets to be the listening ear to one who has had no one else to say these things to is a privilege and the process has hugely informed the coming work I will be doing in organising a leadership skillsshare for the Heads.
Nothing about education in Malawi is easy. So many of the problems relate to infrastructure. Every school will have at least one and generally many of these problems: not enough classrooms for classes, classrooms that are too small, uneven floors with pot holes, parts of the roof missing, the whole roof ripped off, not enough pit latrines, no borehole for water, learning under a tree, using a local church as a classroom, learning in a locally made “shed” (a shelter made of rushes), walls with huge cracks or parts of the wall coming away. The list goes on and on. And those are just the infrastructure challenges. (Which is not my remit.) Then, there’s the teachers and learners – drop out, absenteeism, early marriages, lack of books, lack of training and ongoing professional development, varying responses from the community in terms of involvement. Some communities are incredible in their support. I went to one where the community had built the whole school. Yet there are others where the community is somewhat hostile, stealing from the teachers’ houses and vandalising the school, and others still where parents just can’t send their children to school. They are needed for farming tasks, to look after family members, or there just isn’t enough food to give them to manage the long walk to and from school. It’s tough, in a way we have no experience of in the UK. When I visit, I always ask what the strengths and successes are for the school, what is good about it. Sometimes, I have to help them to think of anything at all, the reality seems so demoralising to them. It’s a blessing then, to help them identify something and find a little chink of light, to build them up and speak encouragement where none has been. Generally, though, I arrive at a school to find that in the midst of what to me looks difficult, there are Heads with such a heart for education, who see beauty where so many would see ashes, and who are working hard with what little they have.
This process occupies most of my time, but I have also had the opportunity to catch up with old friends, including being kindly hosted by my dear friend Jesman and his family, who have long been my second family in Malawi. In a time where everything in my life is overwhelmingly new, to feel a sense of familiarity and being “known” means a lot to me. It’s been great to meet with other friends where you can just relax and have “real” conversations rather than the stilted ones of new encounter. I also get to stay with one of the Archdeacons, who generously invited me to be his guest whenever I need, which puts me within an hour of schools in one of the most rural areas. They are very keen to teach me everything about being a Malawian and how things are meant to be done, I get a lot of very helpful instruction and explanation.
I also get the opportunity to help at his farm. It’s up in the hills with incredible scenery and tranquillity. Aside from that, finding space in life for some relaxation and recovery is a bit of a work in progress. I am hoping to finally make it to the lake next week.
In my own devotionals I’ve been looking at the book of Daniel and his fearlessness and trust in God has struck me like never before. Daniel was usurped from his own culture, whereas I chose to be, but all the same, he is in an unfamiliar land, with a new identity, a new culture and a new role. Yet his godly character remains the same. I’d love to say I have also always achieved this, but I am trying to follow in the example I see;
He responds with wisdom and tact. I need to remind myself sometimes that just because it is a different way of doing something doesn’t mean it is wrong. It’s very easy to think that your culture is the right way because it’s what you know.
He is respectful. I quickly realised that asking questions to understand a process or custom is fine, but that my opinion or comparison are better left in my head, even if they are only meant as an observation, so they are not perceived as an insult.
He seeks to understand. I can all too easily jump to a conclusion or into immediate action. Daniel is patient and he takes the time to try to understand. I also remind myself that even when something still doesn’t make sense to me, I have gained new knowledge. (I’ve also concluded it’s important to share the love with my questions and not drive one person too mad!)
Courage to approach the king directly. It is easy to moan to others. It’s easy to want and seek out sympathy. Going straight to the source and finding out an accurate response is important, even if it feels uncomfortable. Negotiating my expectations of working with the diocese and its reality continues to be challenging.
Prayer and intercessory prayer. Daniel’s constancy in praying faithfully never waivers. His close relationship with God is what carries him through, and he has wonderful people to uphold and support him. As do I.
Answers to previous prayer requests:
- I have come to the conclusion that, for me at least, being brave is not a feeling, but a decision. It is to feel all the doubt and fear but then choose to do it anyway. I suspect that feeling brave is not necessarily something I will ever achieve.
- I have purchased a 4x4! I called him Heracles, so named because he is strong and goes on many adventures. (We’ll gloss over some of his other life events!) Unfortunately, Heracles hasn’t as yet enjoyed some of his adventures and has needed various repairs already, but in more recent weeks all has been well.
- Visiting schools has been positively received.
Remaining and new prayer requests:
- Making friends. I have many friends elsewhere in Malawi, but the situation in Lilongwe is still rather different. I have attended the church on the compound six times now, and would have to say that as yet I still haven’t found it to be very welcoming. So for the last couple of weeks I have also been going to a more international church. The fact that it was in a warehouse and they played a Tim Hughes song and other contemporary worship I am used to seemed a promising sign! (For those of you who are not familiar with Gas Street church, it is in a converted warehouse and our vicar is Tim Hughes.) This has also given the opportunity to join a small group, which I think will make a huge difference.
- Energy and judgement of what is achievable and what is too much. Reaching rural schools takes much longer than I anticipated, and even in a 4x4 the dirt roads are an uncomfortable experience. I knew that it would be intense mentally and emotionally, but I didn’t realise how drained and tired it would make me. I want to be able to bring the same level of empathy and energy to each visit and recognising how much I can do and still be able to achieve that is important, every school and every Head deserves that.
- That my intestines get used to the food! There’s a lot more white carbohydrate and a lot less fruit and vegetables and it’s taking some getting used to. Nsima, the staple food here, has a way of expanding in your stomach, which makes complete sense as it fills you up, but if you’re not used to it, it’s a bit brutal.
- If you could pray for a miraculous turn around in my life-long issue of being irresistibly delicious to mosquitoes, that would be great!
As ever, thank you so much for your support and for being part of this journey, none of it would be possible without you. Please do let me know your news too, and if you have any questions, about anything at all, please do let me know. (If they’re still about toilets, that’s fine!)
September 14th 2021
SEPTEMBER 2021 PRAYER LETTER – FROM MALAWI!
Warning: This one has a lot of narrative, it’s hard to know what to include and what to miss out to give you a glimpse of the start of my life here. Plus, I’m not a very succinct person at the best of times!
News: Greetings from Malawi! I arrived a week later than intended due to visa and work permit problems, but I’m here! (The work permit issues continue.)
Travel went smoothly and my closest friend in Malawi met me at the airport and helped me get initially set up, which was a huge blessing. Over the course of the next couple of days, I acquired various pieces of locally-made furniture from stalls by the roadside, (aside from the luxuries of a fridge and cooker!), as well as vendors who walk the traffic queues selling random things through your car window. On one particular journey home, I gained a mop, a baseball cap and flip-flops! I’m not going to lie, the week of being delayed and the initial arrival was an emotional rollercoaster and far harder and overwhelming than I had anticipated. Literally everything works differently in Malawi, and I felt very lost as to what to do, where to go, how any systems worked etc., as well as figuring out a city I know nothing about. Everything is complicated!
Due to COVID, people are much more self-contained, or perhaps just different in the city. Certainly, I expected a warmer welcome at the diocese and church and it was a rather strange and somewhat discouraging experience. My next-door neighbour and my boss’s wife have been shining lights though, and I am deeply thankful that I already have established Malawian friends who give explanation and guidance. (Mainly consisting of reminding me to be patient. Again.) I always knew that the first bit would be hard and that it takes time to build relationships, so I set my heart on being open and friendly with people I come across, taking an interest in their lives and asking lots of questions. COVID makes it tough though, as they take precautions very seriously, there is no inviting people to your house, no Malawian handshake, or even coming up to greet me, as there used to be.
I can’t say as yet that I have particularly warmed to living in Lilongwe, or for that matter the diocese compound, which is busy and noisy. My house is looking more like a home inside though and I have acquired some flowers, dug a vegetable patch and made friends with next door’s cat, all of which improve things! I’ve learnt how much longer it takes to do everything – cooking from scratch with no pre-prepared ingredients, boiling water on the stove to be able to wash, sweeping and mopping the floor, covering myself in suncream and insect repellent to be able to leave the house…
Life starts and ends earlier here, even church starts at 7am, and that’s the second service of the day! It’s by far the wealthiest church I’ve been to in Malawi. It has the advantages of: the service is in English, (which is the first time I have experienced this), it’s opposite my house, it’s a familiar Anglican structure, and has another service afterwards so it has to keep to 2 hours. (Malawian services have been more like 4 hours in my previous experience.)
arrived on Friday, I started work on the Monday and for me this was a great
improvement, as I was formally introduced to the diocesan staff (who number
just 8 to run a whole diocese!) and was doing something I am familiar with for
the first time since I arrived. I went on my first “official” engagement two
days later, to a house consecration ceremony at a school in the north, attended
by various diocese officials, including the Bishop, as well as the government
district education manager. It was a sobering realisation that the construction
of two houses is such a significant event as to warrant all this. They are
attached to a secondary school which consists of just 4 classrooms and an admin
block, bringing home starkly just how inequitable world education really is.
I am in the process of arranging and proceeding on a range of familiarisation visits to primary schools all over the diocese. Naturally, as with everything in Malawi, this is not a simple task. The schools directory wasn’t accurate and tracking people down and understanding them on the phone is a challenge. There are schools the diocese has lost touch with, as well as other schools that are Anglican but not listed. I have a feeling that the next month of these visits is going to be eye-opening in a way I cannot imagine, and I say that as someone who has visited several Malawian schools.
Musings: I have been living in Isaiah 41, particularly verse 10. ‘So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.’ In the proceeding verses God reminds us that we are His people, and particularly relevant to me is ‘I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said you are my servant; I have chosen you and not rejected you.’ I read this often, it is comforting to remember that God did indeed call me, thousands of miles, to serve him. If that is his will then all things will fall in to place, because He is in control. (Not me.) It is definitely my tendency to try to organise, lead and push things through my own strength and to have that stripped away in a country where nothing is familiar and you are on your own is an uncomfortable but deeply humbling experience.
I’ve also been reading Daniel. A man who faced huge change in his life, going to a strange country with strange customs, a new identity and a new role. I love how a book you know so well can yield so much new meaning due to your changing life circumstances. I am learning a lot from how Daniel approached the changes and challenges.
- Being brave. So many people told me how brave I was to come to Malawi, but often I don’t feel brave. I feel shy, overwhelmed and unequal to the task. I will communicate and meet with a lot of new people in the coming weeks and I pray for confidence in each encounter, particularly when the language barrier is higher.
- That each school visit is positively received and a blessing to the school and community. It matters to me to be coming as an Anglican diocese official, for the school and church to see that they are remembered, cared for and listened to. Some have not been visited officially and being seen as visible proprietors is important. Pray for positive initial encounters and that I wholeheartedly listen afresh and supportively at every school, as I will undoubtedly hear of the same challenges and the same requests for money and resources, that are so needed but that I cannot provide.
- Making friends where I live.
- The purchase of a reliable 4x4, then safe travel and not getting lost!
Apologies for the length and the unexciting presentation. I had discovered a more exciting prayer mail format, but the internet here is at best described as inconsistent and weak, and it can’t cope with it. I’m hoping it will manage to upload and send this to you all! The same currently applies to making a film, as I can’t upload it and need to investigate ways of getting more stable internet connection.
Many, many thanks for all your prayers, words of encouragement and support, it means so much to me. The main point, to sum up, is: It has been a challenging start but I am here and I’m doing it!
URGENT: Despite having four months when they said it would take one, the Malawian government still hasn’t approved my work permit, which allows me into the country. On Tuesday I applied for a visa instead, please pray that this is approved in time for me to travel on Thursday.
News: Life since school ended has been pretty hectic, with the last opportunity to serve Gas Street doing Kids Camp, lots of meeting up with people and the mundanity of plugging through the cancelling contracts/direct debits etc. It turns out leaving a country is quite complicated!
A lot of people have asked about where I will be living. Home will be in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, on the compound of houses for Diocese of Lake Malawi employees. I have 2 bedrooms, electricity and plumbing, I am very blessed! Once the project is up and running, I won’t necessarily be there that much, as I will be working at a school during the week, but it is lovely to have the provision of a place to call home.
Once I am in Malawi, I will be changing the format of these so that there are a lot more pictures, and sometimes videos to hopefully make it a bit more real to you.
Musings: I booked a one-way ticket to Malawi! A lot of my mind and heart have been on that plane ever since God first conceived The Malachi Project. But in a different context, something Tebo said recently at Gas Street struck a chord with me. It hasn’t even begun. In Isaiah 43:16, there is a reminder of all God has done for the Israelites. Parted the waves, destroyed all in their wake. He was for them, he was with them, His will made all things possible. And now He is doing a new thing. For all that is past, all the greatness and provision, there is something new coming. Something bigger. It made me stop in wonder. When I look back over the last two years, God has moved unimaginable mountains to make this happen. His will has been undeniable, unstoppable, overwhelming. It gives me so much joy and so much trust, to look back on all that has been. Now, as I stand on the brink of going, realising that this is the beginning, and I haven’t even seen yet what God is about to do but that he is already carving the way, is incredible. This is it! The Malachi Project is about to begin. To step onto the plane, knowing I have all of you with me too, is going to be the biggest honour and excitement of my life. (My life so far anyway!)
- The visa! (As it’s done in the UK, I am more hopeful about this being done in time.)
- What Africans refer to as “the travelling mercies”. Smooth travel, the correct paperwork. The luggage not being left in Heathrow like it was last time…
- The initial days – meeting a lot of new people, furnishing my house, finding a 4x4, the induction period, energy, the adjustment to Malawian pace of life.
- Thankfulness. For God’s provision so far, for this incredible team of people who have joined me in making this happen, and the excitement of all that is to come. That I have never doubted, for a second, that this is God’s will and the trust it has taught me to know.
The time has come! Thank you all so much for all your support in making this happen. Now it begins!