Wowzers long time no post, sorry for the delay everyone I’ve kind of been moving around all over the place and haven’t really had the time to sit and type something up. That being said I wanted to start this off by letting ya’ll know what I have been up to as of late. For the most part I have been compiling and analyzing my research in an attempt to draw up some ideas or thoughts on some pilot projects we could run after the JF mid-summer retreat. The retreat is just something so all the JF’s can meet up for a day or two half way through our placements and discuss what is working for us and what some of us find challenging. At the same time since we are all together we can have more specific meetings and group discussions with the people working on the same project as us so we can throw ideas at each other and decide where we want to go in the next two months as a group work wise. The hope is that at these meetings we can look at the data everyone has collected over the past two months and think of a bunch of pilots we can run. From there each JF in my project will be assigned like 5 or 6 pilots to try and implement and study over the next two months. I realize I have been using pilot project and not once explained what it is. An example of a pilot project in my case could be based on the theory that fund collection in communities is too hard to stay accountable for when it is done on a monthly basis so we could try fund collection once a year so people don’t have to ask for money as often. So using this idea we could go through the list of communities I visited and see which ones would be fit for testing this idea. After selection I would go visit the same communities again and pass these ideas by them, see what they think, how they feel it would work, possible problems in its implementation and so forth. Another example of a pilot could be the collection of rice or maize instead of money. We would go through the same steps to see which communities would fit and try it out. Some of these projects are short term and some are long term but the goal is to have come up with some idea that could be tried for every community that is struggling with community finances.
So that is still my main project however over the past couple days I have also been dabbling into some real data crunching with Excel and WP data from all over Malawi. Using this data I have been playing with Visual Basic programming in Excel to try and find all these random statistics. An example of this could be that WP data is usually given with GPS co-ordinates and WP name, so I would try and create a program that goes line by line and compares each and every water point to one another to find its closest pairing, how far the distance is between them in meters, and from there try to analyze how many pumps there are within a 500m radius of that pump. Organizing the lists in terms of that allows me to single out some outliers and try to understand why certain places have so many WP bunched together. After this I could pass some of this info on to other APS (African Program Staff, long term EWB volunteers) who could go to these villages across the country to try and better understand how decisions were made in these communities and why they were given so many boreholes while other communities with no viable WP were ignored. It’s basically all in the name of trying to better understand the decision making process that occurs when siting WP’s and how those decisions could be influenced with the help of readable and accessible information.
So yea that’s what I have been up to over the past little while work wise. On the personal side of things I am pretty used to life here now. I have been in the main city of Lilongwe for the past couple days for this data work but for the most part I have been chilling in the village with Ben and what is now my permanent family. I have been feasting on rice and beans twice a day with spicy curry sauce to give it that Indian touch. It’s actually very good and amazingly peaceful to live out here, everyone wakes up by 6 AM and everyone is asleep by 7. It all really just works on the sun since there is no power out here. Anytime my phone dies I give it to my little brother Akulemba who takes it to school with him at 6AM and brings it back with him at 12PM when he finishes school. In my spare time I try and read, yea that’s right, I try to read. For those of you who know me well, you know I never read books, I detest them but out here I gave it a try and found a couple good ones. When I’m no doing that I try and walk around the community and talk to different people just for the sake of a good conversation and ill occasionally throw out some ideas I have on community finance. They will usually ask me a lot of questions about Canada, the most common of which is “What is the biggest difference between Malawi and Canada?” To which I respond, “The People”. To this day I have not met one angry person, seen someone who is stressed out or even someone who is sad. I’m not kidding when I say that it feels like all the people here are happy all the time. Then I think back to how life is in Canada, where we have all the opportunity in the world. Where we have this abundance of resources, this great infrastructure, life is supposed to be amazing. But when I think back I see people who are constantly stressed, complaining, negative, depressed, and so forth. Now don’t get me wrong, a lot of people are not that way are usually happy, positive people. My only thought is how come everyone isn’t like that. I say that because I know I fall into that group a lot of the time as well, where I forget to look at what I do have and instead focus on the things I don’t. Then I come over here and I meet intelligent kids who are being held back by cost and limited spacing in universities so they have no other choice but to continue on farming and making the money they can. Even though their family spent all that money putting them through high school, so they could have the chance to break out and really become successful, they are held back by the limitations of where they live and the lack of opportunity. It genuinely hurts to have a conversation with a 21 year old who is still aspiring to become an engineer, had the grades and all a couple years back when he finished high school but just couldn’t get into university because there weren’t enough spots in the 4 universities (one of which is currently shut down) in the country for 17 million people. Add that to the fact that none of these schools are like UofT that has over 10,000 students, I doubt there are that many in all 4 universities combined. Now I can’t provide reference for these stats up because of the shoddy internet but I’m sure you all get my point. Who am I to complain? That isn’t one unique story either; it’s the case for many up and coming students. That conversation was a nice, cold slap in the face and a serious wake up call to realize that I have every opportunity to thrive back home in Canada, I shouldn’t take that for granted, none of us should.