4 weeks since returning to Canada. Its been an interesting ride for sure, but mostly an alright one. I’ve done this kind of thing before so I have at least some semblance of a general idea of what to expect. (See: Stan in Brazil, 2006)

But now its reflection time and before I dive head first into the wonderful and only a little ridiculous world of fourth year nursing lets take a detached/big picture look at the past 4 months.

And then We were done.

The last week of Malawi-de-brief-travel-more-de-brief-more-travel was a blur. I barely remember the last days, just a mess of noise and discussions and reflective regurgitation of the frameworks and projects I created while in Dowa.

The less than gentle reminder that we were here for work so what did you do Stan? What did you do?

I have been getting a suprisingly large amount of “How was Africa!?” since getting back. Its a very reasonable question. Considering that four months away is a heck of  a long time for anyone to try and broach the subject of. Nobody knows where to start, so we start at the top.

So how the heck was Africa?

Dusty, cold, frustrating, but ultimatly and overall intensely fullfilling.

But I am happy to be back home. Canada is beautiful. Even the collapsed industrial city I call home has a charm which I can’t really define but makes me feel good about being home.
Maybe I am excited about the work I will be doing with the AIDS Committee here in town, or the fact that I get to restart all my friendships and see my girlfriend again. Either way, I never really bought into the fantastical world/concept of “Africa”. Yes, I met some great people and I love the country and the culture, but Dowa is not a very pleasant place to be, its cold and isolated and in the rainy season nobody can go anywhere since the roads get washed out. People are living in sub-human conditions, and they know it, and so does the government and the people with the power to demand fullfillment of basic human rights for the populations they serve.

But that isn’t happening, or it is but not at any reasonable rate, or not to the standard I am used to as a fast-paced westerner.  As much as I was told that things go slower in Africa, I still can’t wrap my head around the lack of upward critisism of projects and programs. And when things don’t happen, or happen too slowly, people suffer and die.

For Example

I finally got money reimbursed for the cash I fronted for my training program. I received this cash a few hours before I left Malawi and I was short about 10,000MK, about half of the money I was owed.

“Why?” I asked,”is this money still missing? its not like the budget was inflated or missing anything, I included everything that should have been and got it checked over by at least three different people in the office”

What I was told is that the District Health Officer, The District Environmental Health Officer and the Account Clerk wrote themselves into the budget for a total of 5 days worth of overnight allowances, totaling 10,000MK (about 70 dollars, or one fifth of the average years wage of the country).

“Huh” I said, “But they weren’t involved in the project at all, in fact they did more to kaibosh the implementation than anything else, why are we paying them the same amount as we are paying our facilitators who busted their asses helping me realize this project”

Apparently the higher us get written into budgets for things they had no part of all the time and then take home a fat bonus for doing nothing. It isn’t not so much the corruption that gets to me, I got used to that the first 4 times the bus driver bribed the cops to let a bus full of refugees get to and from the capital, but  it was the sense of helplessness I felt coming from my coworker who was explaining this all to me. It is easy for me, as an outsider, to yell and kick and scream about the injustice, but when you rely on this broken system for bread and water it is a different story and your motivation to speak up about theft and corruption diminishes.

So what do you do? How long will it take for the people in power to actually give enough of a shit to change THEIR behavior so the people they are supposed to represent get the life they deserve.

Big questions which I don’t have answers for which are born out of my own anger and frustration with  a broken system which relies on the assistance of governments and donors to survive.

I am hopeful though, there is a lot of work that needs to be done on all fronts, but I know that eventually things will change.

Slowly though, too slowly to keep graveyards empty and that is a tough pill to swallow.

Malawi was incredible, life changing, eye opening, mostly just challenging. There is so much that can change for the better and I hope one day I will return and join in the fight again.  Until then I am fighting an incurable virus in a depressed south western Ontario city and that will keep me pretty busy.

Take Care of Yourselves Folks! Thanks For Reading! I will continue to update this blog, about once a month or so so Stay Tuned!!!

CHALLENGE QUESTION!!!! (yeah! not done with these!)

What do you think the biggest challenge you would have coming home after 4 months out of your comfort zone? ow would you cope? What would you miss the most?


Stan finishes up his work.

Steps into his field boots.

Dusts off his jacket.

Tips his hat.

And closes the office door of the Dowa Environmental Health Office for the last time.

This is it, the last week/half week of work. It is a sneaky week, full of reports and typing and rain and blackouts.  Mizek and Joseph are in meetings in Lilongwe and Blantyre respectively so I’ve been left to my own devices here, trying my hardest to paint a picture of what I did here for the staff at the hospital and the District Assembly.

Make Like Merry Poppins and…

Fly away as soon as the wind changes. The weather is changing here in Dowa. Last night was unusually warm and windy, a sure sign of rain. I think. I am certainly not a meteorologist but it rained all day. Classic Canadian November Weather (CCNW) Cold and wet, down to the bone.

Also the dust immediatly turned to mud. Everywhere. Now I know how the Ghana team feels.

So now what is left, writing reports for my colleagues I am leaving behind, getting phone numbers and mailing addresses, thanking everyone who helped make my stay here a little easier than it probably should have been. Also to thank you for keeping up with the blog for all this time, I have gotten over 2000 hits over the summer!

All thanks to YOU!!!! Yep I’m talking to you!

Probably my last blog post from Africa. I have a few days left in the village then next Tuesday I am packing up and leaving Dowa for good, taking a few days to go to Zambia, see some big waterfalls and then fly home on the 24th.

But first, lets give some final thoughts on what happened over the past hundred or so days here.

Development: What it is and what it is not.

(That is a shout out to all the nurses in the crowd)

Development. Its awkward. If I could describe my stay in Malawi as anything it would be first dusty, and second awkward. Trying to work in a hospital where I am not even really a staff member, attempting to implement projects, trying to give feedback. Trying my hardest to do all of the above in some sort of measureable way so that I can tell the long-termers what’s up in my small district north of the capital so that maybe over the next year there will be some sector-level change happening.

EWB is small fry compared to some of the other players here in Dowa so it was both a pleasure and a curse to be representing a non-donor NGO while surrounded by the biggest names in AID since The New Deal. Not being from a donor allowed me to work very closely with the implementation staff but it also hindered my ability to try any implementation of projects. But I knew the JF program was half-exploratory, half-practical focused so that wasn’t a surprise.

But we try. We are learning and we are growing, both in size and in smarts.

Development work, it’s a strange middle ground between civil service and humanitarian action and a lot falls between these cracks. I could complain about beurocrats and impotent and blind NGOs for pages but I am not going too. Find me when I get back, I’ll buy you a beer and we can chat all night about the chasms between donations/planning and implementing of projects which are intended to help the poor and suffering people.

Malawi! I will miss the rust colored sheen you left on my jacket after a long day on the bike, I’ll miss the fresh sugar cane, the powdered milk and simple and tough life of the village.

Oh Canada!

I return to the country of my birth in a week and a half and to be honest I am excited. I have done all my work here so I am now ready to head home.  I am trying to figure out how I can package all the stories I have for the folks back home so that I can bear witness to what I saw here and have people not just think, “Man, Africa is messed up!”

At the end of the day, people are people are people. There is much less separating Canadians from Malawians than we think. People in my village, despite walking 8 or 10km a day to the Boma and back, still like to go for leisurely walks at twilight to kill some time, chat with their husbands or just enjoy the nature.

Sound familiar?

I don’t want to talk about how warm or kindhearted Malawians are, that’s ridiculous. People are warm and kind hearted, and those people happen to live in Malawi. Geography has nothing to do with personality. People here have tried to steal from me as well, or fight me or lied to me. Happens back home, happens here too. I think that is the biggest take away from all this. As much as I would like to lump Malawians into a big cluster of “Nice,Warm,Friendly Africans” I can’t. In nursing you work with people at their most vulnerable and most intimate levels, so the moment you start grouping and pre-judging groups is the moment your potential to make real connections goes out the window.

Malawi calls itself the Warm Heart of Africa, the same way Canada is the Great White North. But I am sure Norway has some snow too, and from what the UN tells me Norway is pretty great, so what gives?

Anyways, I am rambling, I have met some fantastic people here, and I will meet fantastic people everywhere I go, no matter what colonial boundaries box them in.

I feel that this is just the beginning. Every ending is really just a beginning that you are on the other side of. In 3 weeks I am going to begin fighting HIV/AIDs in a midsized, economically depressed North American city and that will be another adventure worthy of blogging about.

Like I said, I probably won’t post again until I get back to the western hemisphere, so in the meantime I have one last CHALLENGE for you from this side of the Atlas Ocean.

Not a question, I am dopne asking questions right now, now it is time for YOU to ask me questions!

I want YOU dear reader, to ask ME a Challenge question! Or a bunch of questions. Big, pressing issues, little trivial factoids, whatever! It is your turn to CHALLENGE me! You can use the blog, email me at stanmoll@ewb.ca or write it down and track me down in person, doesn’t matter!

Take care of yourselves,


Last week we implemented my training program in Nalunga health center, testing out a different way of approaching the training of HSAs by having the extensions workers go through a triggering themselves. The idea being that those who are triggered themselves will make better facilitators of CLTS. I was expecting a certain amount of problems both logistically and with the structure of the training itself. I guess surprisingly the training itself went almost flawlessly, granted we had some minor issues with booking villages which cut our time short on a few days but those were overcome quickly and rescheduled. The real big problems came from the severe lack of support from the higher-ups of the district. And without support or at least some sign of solidarity, the implementation of a program such as CLTS in an area as remote and hard to reach as Nalunga is doomed to fail.

So we are still waiting. And the longer we wait the less impact our 5 days will have on the HSAs of Nalunga. It has been a frustrating time but there has been some measurable change happen on account of me being here and that is something nice, I guess. Drops of water in a fire storm but drops of water none the less.

State of Failure.

Recently Malawi has been declared a Failed State, alongside such notorious players as Somalia and the DRC. However there is a definite lack of violence and chaos happening here, no gangs of armed thugs cruising around in machine-gun mounted Toyota hillux trucks, raiding aid convoys. There is no UN intervention force. I was chatting with a soldier on a bus a few weeks ago and Malawi has been sending, not receiving, peacekeepers for years.

So why the ominous moniker of Failed State? I can offer one hypothesis: Reliance on aid money to support the most basic social programming such as health care. Without big donors like UNICEF or The Gates Foundation the health care system could not operate. The government systems have been flooded with donor money and with that comes donor influence on programming i.e the donors get to chose who coordinates and implements and since the hospital is reliant on these funds to operate, the donors can pretty much implement whatever they want.  There are 3 different groups funding CLTS in Dowa and none of them work together. The Red Cross is very ambitious but lacks experience and staff. UNICEF is paralyzed by beauracrats and the health office at the hospital is having trouble getting the funds to even retroactively fund a relatively cheap training program so that the hospital doesn’t have to waste resources trying to implement CLTS with only 2 or 3 trained staff members.

It’s kind of like when someone collapses in a crowd and everyone rushes to help when really all you need one, maybe 2 people skilled in first aid.

Even without the NGO congestion, most of the money budgeted to the hospital comes from donors to the government, (a budget which was recently slashed by about 1/3.)

I am surprised I was able to get anything done. I chalk it up to a bit of skill, some hope and a whole lot of luck.

State of Grace

Like I said, its been a stressful week. Everyday was a kind of battle of wits, trying to get funding, trying to not be too late getting to the field. Having to buy spare parts and black market fuel (which they cut with kerosene, those bastards!) on the fly. And still ending up without funding and the crumbling façade of district support.

So in this situation I had a choice. Do I get angry? Do I yell and kick and scream and shout? Or do I find another way?

Oh don’t get me wrong, I spent a good amount of time stewing and broiling. But somehow either Mizek or Joseph was able to bring me back down to earth.

“Stan, don’t worry, I can see that you are frustrated. You don’t have to be. Such is life you know?”

Such is life indeed. Patience is probably the biggest thing I am going to be bringing home with me.

Joseph came into the office last week and said to me:

“Stan, now I have a challenge question for you: since coming here what have you done, what have you accomplished?”

I told him to ask me again in a week. It has been a week and here is the answer I have so far.

Because of me being in Dowa, Malawi for the past 2 and a half months, there are now about 10 health extension staff who’s capacity to empower communities to be accountable for their own sanitation and water is increased to the point where they can now effectively prevent diarrheal disease in their catchment areas. Over the next 3 months that will, barring continued fallout of support from the district, translate into improved sanitation for the population of Nalunga, about 14,000 people.

Don’t break your arms patting me on the back just yet, I’ll feel good about it when we start seeing decreased diarrhea-related morbidity and mortality in Nalunga.

Still need to aggregate some data, still have to write my final report for the training and work on maintaining sustainability. But I could go home now and feel at least OK with my stay here, that maybe I broke even with the resources I spent and the resources I created.

But hey, I’m not coming home for another 4 weeks so let’s kick some more ass.

CHALLENGE QUESTION: What does the words “Failed state ” mean to you? What implications do you think that kind of title has on international relationships as well as the impact on the population within the country? Is this a good index or does it create more barriers?

P.S Here are some photos from the field!

Headin' to Nalunga!

Dusty dusty.

Triggering and mapping session with the HSAs of Nalunga

Teaching Mizek the essentials of computing.

Half finished super structure of a pit latrine.

Vaccines and Syringes for the Measles Campaign!

So EWB.... You guys build bridges and stuff right?

Enjoy your week Dear Readers, Time is winding down and I will soon be wrapping up the Malawian portion of this blog!! But I will be continuing the blog once I return.

Four weeks left, I thought I would stray from the path on this post and give you a more personal update. I have been talking a lot of shop lately and I bet at least a few of you want to know how the heck I am doing. I am going to use the check-in format the architects of this program have been using since we began. I like it and it’s easy to understand.

Shall we?


Is how I am thinking.

Good. I feel like I am past the disillusionment phase and well into the get down to business part of these kinds of things. I feel less like the work we are doing is to satisfy the emotional needs of a bunch of western cavaliers and more like a partnership formed to help address a very real and pervasive issue. I am at the idle-banter level of chichewa but I don’t see it getting much farther than that. It is exciting to think that there might actually be some tangible impact from my 3 months here, that Dowa district will be better off and not suffer to the same level the massive attack of enteric diseases which plague the area in the rainy season.

That gets me by from day to day. There is still 3 months from my leaving to the rainy season for things to revert to their previous state. Mizek and Joseph are really keen on keeping my training program sustainable and that makes me feel good and hopeful.


Is how you are moving.

I’ve been blessed with good health since arriving. (Knock on wood). It has been cold enough to kill most mosquitoes before they got really bad. I eat relatively well although the change in diet and daily 4-8km hikes have caused me to lose just over 10% of my body weight. Sleeping is amazing, back home I usually never get to bed before midnight, here I am asleep usually before 9pm and wake up around 6 or 7am.

Lariam is a malevolent baroness who can strike anywhere with a kiss or a whip. Lariam (or mefloquine) is the anti-malarial drug I am on to prevent the spread of the disease from my liver to the rest of my body. It is like a wire brush to your emotions. But I haven’t got malaria yet so I guess its working.


Is how you are feeling.

I think I fell in love with this place about a month ago and am only now just starting to realize it. Like when your pen explodes in your pocket and you don’t notice until the ink starts bleeding through your shirt. I’ve gotten used to a lot of things which used to unsettle me or annoy me and gotten unsettled by or annoyed with things which I used to think were novelty or interesting. I’ve noticed that it isn’t so much the fact that situations are new or intense or crazy in nature, but that it is my reaction to a situation which I have experienced back home many times but when presented to me here I think it’s something new. Like when the women of my house clean the dishes and cook the meals and the guys and I sit inside, not speaking, listening to the radio. Sexist? Backwards? Maybe. Maybe I’d like to be able to think that so that I can continue with the façade that Malawians are the ones who need to change. But how many times have I been in the situation similar back home? Dinner is finished and the uncles and fathers start watching the golf game or hang out by the bar while the aunts and mothers finish the dishes. Wouldn’t think twice about it back home so why does it irk me here?

Kind of like how I’ve never felt white before coming here and now I am perpetually reminded of my skin colour wherever I go.

But I also feel good, I miss home, I miss my family and my girlfriend. I miss pine trees and apple cider. I miss my goofy housemates and mariokart. But that will come, sooner than I think all of those will converge and coalesce into the life/style I had before I came here so I am not worried.

One thing I have come to realize is that working for money will never be a priority for me. People is where I want to put my energy and love so that’s where I will be. I cannot abide being a deaf, mute and blind witness to human suffering. Health and nursing are how I am going to try and accomplish that and I could have a worse setup I think.

No challenge question this week. If you want, run yourself through the check-in tool above and see where you are at.

The longer I stay here in Dowa and the more I learn and understand about the way things are run and operated and addressed the more I am reminded of our bike.

Yamaha 175 aka Mr. CLTS.

Take a look at our dirtbike. A tool necessary to maneuver the paths and dustways of Dry Season Dowa. A quick glance will tell you the essentials. Two wheels, a seat, handle bars. A closer look will show you that there are brakes and gears; the black oil mixed with ochre soil around the rear axle shows you that it is well loved.

If you don’t know bikes very well and you turn it on, you probably won’t notice anything off.

Spend a little time with it and you soon realize that the fuel consumption is massive, due to loose piston rings. The kick-start is busted off and it requires hill/push starts. It leaks oil, the back tube is punctured four times and one of the mirrors is missing.

By now it is too late to get a new one, so you are, in essence, stuck with it. What you gunna do?

This is where the extended metaphor falls apart: you can hire a mechanic to fix your bike, but rare is the mechanic who can overnight fix the machines of government and policy.

The bike is CLTS, a tool of the health system of Malawi. Delivering improved sanitation and community accountability across the nation. From afar, it looks great, perhaps even a little fun to take for a spin. Get up close and you begin to understand the parts but maybe not how they work.  Turn it on and take it for a ride and you soon begin to see that problems arise. Funds are promised but only delivered halfway, fuel is short, human resources are few or many but poorly trained. What’s the point of having a dirt bike if you don’t know how to drive it?

How can I make this machine run smoother, cleaner and longer than it is now?

The Rub.

There is a lot I could do here; there is no shortage of need of assistance with projects and gap-bridging. But I have grown fond of the field and thus that is where I am going to focus my efforts. The training program is taking more shape daily and I have been speaking with the DEHO (the district environment health office, aka Boss’s boss’s boss) about it. He likes it. The has been many triggering in the district but not a comparable number of ODF villages, so the fact that I am focusing on creating health center oriented ODF action plans bodes well with him. A lot in fact. He spoke to me about district wide scale up, which is intense, especially at this point. The potential impact of that is overwhelming (over 400,000 people live in Dowa) so I try not to think about it, but I never really stop thinking about it.


Mike left me some fantastic questions last week and to answer the first: No I have not seen any signs of the classic model of sanitation aid. Fortunately it seems most NGOs have learned the give a fish lesson. I was chatting with a deputy from the Malawi Red Cross Society who was monitoring a triggering in Thonje. I asked him about subsidies and he told me that the MRCS was long done with latrine subsidies and was extremely excited about CLTS. What that excitement translates to can be wholly different from the intention but it is a step in the right direction. In terms of core facilitation competencies, the one which continually come up is adaptability. A good CLTS facilitator can adapt to the varied situations he/she will encounter in the village meetings and know which tools and skills to use in those circumstances. If someone gets insulted by all the shit talkin’, they will know what to do when they storm off. If a potential natural leader is voicing her contempt for eating shit, the facilitator will know how to support that person. Seeing that CLTS is a tool box to approach village sanitation rather than a formulaic method is in my eyes, the lynchpin of good facilitation.


Ashley also asked some great questions last week concerning incentivization.  Framing CLTS as re-training of old village sanitation health promotion strategies is what I am looking at. CLTS is not extra skills, but replacement of old methods with new ones. I am looking to give allowances to the HSAs for the 4 days of training only. As they will miss work and need to travel all over the catchment area so I feel that is only fair. I volunteer for free with EWB back home in Windsor but I wouldn’t have come to Africa if they didn’t give me a stipend. Doesn’t mean I am any less involved or dedicated, just means I got to eat too.

CHALLENGE QUESTION: What are some examples of the divide between planning and implementation of programs back home in Canada? If a system is flawed, should we go with it until we figure out something new or wait for the innovation to come before implementing?

Things are picking up speed at the Dowaboma Health Office.

It is amazing how quickly access to funds can give momentum to projects.  The Red Cross has also started to pick up on the CLTS bandwagon and has promised to provide funds and fuel for the triggering of villages in Dowa. With the Gates and Clinton Foundations also implementing projects in the area, Dowa is quickly becoming a hotbed for development projects and the  white Toyota land cruisers with project and organization stickers emblazoned on the doors are ubiquitous.

So we now have funds! Money is the great lubricant which greases the wheels of  intention and action. In the world of development and Foreign Aid any project with enough funds will be implemented. Good, bad, small or large a project with funds will be implemented.

That being said, this infusion makes my job a lot easier.  The money is for fuel and the daily allowances for the HSAs to come to the training and be able to eat and travel. There is also funds for follow ups and triggerings after the training has occurred.

So what am I doing about it?

I am hoping to ride this new momentum at the district. I have just spend about 5 days in Nalunga (the catchment area where I am based) gathering information and trying to paint a picture of how the HSAs feel about CLTS , how they percive the project, and what they think it will take to implement it.

Each of the 13 HSAs has chosen a village in their catchment areas and over the next two weeks they are going to collect the sanitation data of those villages. (# of pit latrines, # satisfactory/unsatisfactory pit latrines, pop. under 5, pop under 1 etc). Since the HSAs have already seen a triggering and from my conversations and meetings with them most have a good idea of the theory behind CLTS (the Ask, don’t tell approach) however they are still lacking the skills and techniques in order to effectively trigger their villages.

So I am working on a training program, focused on building these skills as well as emphasizing the need for good facilitation and consistent follow ups. We recently has our JF mid-project retreat and in a conversation with Trevor Freeman, the JF Supervisor, he asked me “What is the most important part of Triggering?”

The answer, in our opinions, was good facilitation. From good facilitation comes the behavior change needed to bring a community together to tackle their shitty problems. Good facilitation comes from good training and this is where I come in.

Over the next week I will be working with Joseph and Mizek and the other staffers at the Dowa Health Office to figure out what that looks like. Nice.

In Other News.

In Nalunga, I am also helping out with the under-five growth monitoring and vaccination clinics. Measles is still a problem and has been killing children in droves so the push to vaccinate is very large.  My health education has become increasingly useful in connecting with the HSAs and the fact that I can help them slog through the inoculation of hundreds of women is a nice individual change I can make. (There was a fire in one of the MSF storehouses for the measles vaccine in Lilongwe which destroyed around $250,000 USD worth of the vaccine so there has been setbacks)

In Msochi, My host mum had to spend a few days in the hospital because her blood pressure spiked and she was having palpitations, she is back in the village and is feeling better. A large contingent of family and friends have been staying in the home so it has been quite a busy place! They are going back to Lilongwe and Blantyre today. I am going to keep an eye on her blood pressure over the next few weeks as well.

In Salima, We had our JF retreat! It was 3 days of  planning and work-shopping and next-stepping. Gathering ideas and opinions, feedback and stories on our projects.  We are acutely aware of the fact that we don’t have much more time here so it also did a bit to lend a little bit of motivating stress to our psyches.

CHALLENGE QUESTION: How do you feel about money incentives for training? Should more qualifications mean more salary?

Step One: Take a seat

Step Two: Try to grasp the fact that you live in the upper echelon of human society both in access to money, ideas, education, health care, material things in general and that billions of people are more hungry, oppressed, harder working and more alienated than you.

Step Three: Convince yourself that you need to do something about it, join or start an organization, garner support using your honed public speaking ability, charming wit and intimidating physical presence.

Step Four: Plow headfirst into your first real attempt at solving the issue of your choice; as you have had the option to choose which form of human suffering you want to fix.

Step Five: Stumble awkwardly around like you are wearing shoes eight times the size you need, making attempts at Impact. Get support from friends, family.

Step Six: Get knocked flat by waves of disillusionment and dissatisfaction with the misuse of your  over-powered ego and un-fulfillment of your emotional needs to feel like you are a hero of the poor.

So you can see why I got you to sit down.

Some of you might notice that I took down the photos from my last post. I am not trying to censor myself or hide the images of suffering in Dzaleka, but after a few conversations with an old friend I decided that it was in their best interests to take down the photos. Even though they were taken with permission with full understanding of their use I don’t think I was doing them any justice or  favors by posting their images on the internet in that way. If you want fuller stories with names and context, just let me know and we can chat.

I have been thinking a lot  about what I represent to my coworkers and the people I stay with and meet in the villages. What does it mean that a white, wealthy (despite what I say to myself, I live a life of luxury, afforded to me by my culture of upbringing, gender and education to name a few factors) male working in the context of sanitation in rural communities in a culture which people who look like me but aren’t me oppressed and dominated for a few hundred years, ending no more than 46 years ago.

On the same stretch of road I can have a conversation in English about sedimentation and flocculation of the Boma’s water supply with the water supply engineer working at the pumping station down the road, greet women carrying children and water and sweet potatoes in Chichewa and sit on a bus and chat in french about the recent world cup matches with my friend Frank  while traveling to Lilongwe for meetings.  What I hope is that one thinks I am someone interested in water treatment, one wants me to buy their potatoes and the other sees me as a friend, albeit a friend from another world.

The Double Edge of Photographs.

“How would YOU like it if someone took a picture of your suffering and put a cheeky caption with comments about your body?”

Development workers in the 21st century take thousands of photographs of the people they work with and work for. We take these back, post them on our blogs, blow them up and frame them as reminders of how lucky we are, how much suffering is in the world and as nostalgic reminders of life changing experiences we had. They are evocative and powerful tools of persuasion, adding legitimacy to stories, context to case studies and reference points for lectures and lessons.

They also can work against the people in the photographs. I was asked the above question about my last post and it really hit me, I wasn’t thinking about what was best for these women and men of Dzaleka, I was responding to my own emotional need to Tell Their Story.

Thus the bane of development photography begins. Take a look in the album of most people who have or are doing my job and you will find a picture of them with a group of local kids, maybe dressed, maybe smiling, framing the smiling westerner. We don’t know who’s children these are, but we know one thing, they (probably) aren’t white and they definitely (if you want any “development street cred”) are not from a reasonably well off family.

How would you like it if some visitor came to your town when you were 6, took some pictures of you and her/him together and then posted them on their favorite social networking site without permission, consent or context? Feel pretty awkward wouldn’t it. Would you be able to get away with that with a group of Canadian kids from a YMCA camp? Would you even want to?

Perhaps I am being too harsh, but I am starting to think that if you are serious about empowerment and serious about ending Big Issues like poverty, pain and suffering, you need to put the power back into the hands of the people who are suffering. Re-distribution of power can start with me, but will require some intense evaluation of my position in the world and what it really means to bring up people from suffering and oppression and I know it certainly takes more than impotent attempts at Telling Their Story.

CHALLENGE QUESTION: How can we create the opportunities of storytelling? How can we avoid disrespectful and prejudiced lenses when showing photos and sharing stories of the people we meet and work with?

Sounds like an interesting Friday night doesn’t it?

Lets start with the first one. For the past 2 weeks the district water office has been paralyzed due to a lack of funds coming from their big donors, namely the headliners of the WASH program (WASH stands for Water and Sanitation and Hygiene, we make these acronyms work sometimes) WASH oversees and funds all district CLTS and Water-point (aka where people get their water from) creation, monitoring and maintenance.  For six months neither the District Assembly or the Water office in which I work has received any funding, this money is used to pay for fuel and maintenance of the dirt bikes we know and love

No Bikes, No Triggerings, No Sanitation. And with the outbreak in Cholera in Salima (the neighboring district) the need for prevention is paramount.

Medical Science Time.

Cholera is an opportunistic bacteria which lives in water sources which have been contaminated by human feces. The treatment is simple: Oral Re hydration and/or IV fluids. But if these are not delivered in time than cholera can kill with great speed. and it is neither a clean nor dignified death. Modern Medicine has nearly wiped out cholera in the western world but there are still outbreaks and deaths in the developing world. My friend and mentor Ashley Raeside told me once over a meal of  fried and salted sweet potatoes that “CLTS is really just cholera prevention; if you are having trouble describing CLTS to anyone, say Cholera prevention and they will know exactly what you are talking about”.

People here know what cholera is and are frightened of its consequences. The HSAs are trained to deliver IV fluids and medications, but access is still defined by transportation and transit is defined by cashflow.

Suffice is to Say.

I’ve gotten a lot of my office work done. But this vehicular paralysis is not altogether a complete block for effective impact and change. Joseph and I have been hard at work trying to create a mapping system and database for the district so that we can track and measure the level of sanitation delivered to each area of the district.

Cuz’ good medicine is nothing without good documentation!

So we have finalized the data-gathering sheets, we now just need to deliver them to the different health centers in the district, wait for the HSAs to fill them out and return them to Joseph at the hospital.


There is also a measles outbreak in the district, 11 children have already died and the limited number of human and material resources will stretch. Mizek and I are traveling to all the eastern Health Centers in the district to pick-up spare vaccines and bring them back to the hospital, as they are running dangerously low here. We have a new bike, a Yamaha 200. Bigger, faster. Hopefully fast enough to not compromise the cold chain. *fingers crossed* (Cold Chain: Many vaccines, such as Polio, BCG (that is TB for all y’all non-med folks out there) and measles need to be kept between 4 and 8 degrees Celsius.  The cold chain the the chain of transportation of the vaccine from the laboratory to the patient. If it compromised at any point then the vaccine is rendered useless) So this, ontop of WASH, CLTS and the implementation of a new maternal health program (which uses elements of CLTS! like triggering and mapping) the hospital is very busy.

That and it is kick-off today. Mexico versus South Africa.


In Chichewa it means “I will never do it again”. Errily ironic the name for a refugee camp, it was the name of the prison which stood at the site before the camp was established in 2000 to house refugees from conflicts in the DRC, Mozambique, Burundi and Rwanda. It now houses around 11,000 people from 9 countries.

We visted the place to get some roasted meats and fanta with the guys from the office. In Canada, you would go out for a beer to the closest facimile of an irish pub and have a beer and wings, maybe even nachos. Here, we head over to the local refugee camp and get skewers of goat liver and tepid-but-delicious Fanta Orange.  A Surreal Experience if I’ve ever had one. And my parents will tell you I am never one to eat liver but this was really tasty stuff.

A Wonderful World.

I wanted to talk to some refugees so I tracked down some people who spoke English. I soon drew a crowd of folks from all over the continent, all of them telling me their stories of desperation and escape. Of beatings and rape and running away.

My head was spinning, trying to get everyone’s photo and hoping my rough notes would be enough to do them a modicrum of the justice they deserved. Thanking people profusely, lending them as much strength I was able across the huge divide between my world and theirs I stayed as long as I could before my colleagues finished up at the health center and we had to be on our way.

I was all tied up in knots when I got back home to Msochi, I immediately started typing out what I saw and the stories I heard.  This post is too long so I’ll try and find another medium to display them.

I am still trying to figure out the situation in my head. Strange, surreal, heartbreaking. These people have gone through hell to get to a paralytic limbo seeking some semblance of safety which is as fragile as the houses they live in.

This is going to be my last post for two-ish weeks, so I thought I would diverge from the shop-talk and share some photographs. Some are fun, others are meant to make you think. So enjoy them! Laugh at them, and be critical of them. -Stan.

A Child from Nyemba Village.

Safety is Always First in Msochi.

Some of the Sanitation and Health powerhouses of Msochi.

Los Muchachos

My Evening Commute

Manson, Mcgyver-ing our dirt bike.

Ever wonder what happens to the clothes Goodwill can't sell?

Welcome home? We haven't even left!

Florence Nightingale!

Storm, somewhere over Angola

Group shot from the Agric-Photoshoot.

Evening Commute 2

CHALLENGE QUESTION: What is the first thing you think of when you think of Africa? When you think of Development Workers? When you think of African children? Where do these ideas come from and why do they exist?

Phrases are starting to come out now, no longer limited to short smatterings of language, but I can now slay this Bantu derived language in a whole new way. Trying to stick to the present tense as much as possible, until I get more verbs down. Either way, the dirt bike is still precarious and language barriers are still the most awkward thing I deal with these days. I also find myself defaulting to Portuguese, which is hilarious.

That and the waiting game. I am still transitioning between living spaces and workspaces so it is hard to get a grasp on what my impacts will be at the present time. Officially anyways, when I’m not buzzing around on a dirtbike or writing blog posts in the hospital (where the office is, I am safe and un-injured!) I am in Msochi, haning out with the Chisika Water, Sanitation and Health Committee (CWSHC).

The CWSHC, Boreholes, and The Problem with Old-School Aid.

The CWSHC is a team of 6 volunteers who live in Msochi and its surrounding villages (Moya and Nchozi). Their mandate is to carryout and monitor the process of becoming Open Defecation Free and their goal is to be ODF by June 30th. Currently they are working to get hand washing stations (ie a bucket of water, covered, and a cup in it;s basic form) next to all pit latrines. So what if the water you use is itself contaminated? This is where things start to cascade.

The Village of Msochi had 2 working boreholes (a borehole is a hand-pumped well covered with a concrete slab) which provided the community of 108 households with clean and safe drinking water. These boreholes were installed in 1999 by Action Aid but broke in 2006. Msochians became reliant on the nearby river to gather their water. This river is an extreme risk for contamination due to the sewage and grey water runoff from villages upstream. there are many reasons why the community was not prepared for this happenstance. One could blame it on the attitude of Aid agencies that drilling wells = water access and coverage to a community. You could also say that it was a lack of capacity for the community to handle the wells in the first place. Either way, they broke and nobody had the cash to fix it and Action Aid was nowhere to be seen.

Clean water is key to sanitation, anyone will tell you that. Water borne disease is a major killer and is easily preventable. In the race to “Help the worlds poor by giving them stuff” of the past 30 years of Aid, this circumstance is becoming more and more common. A borehole, given as a gift from sympathetic, well intentioned people, without any sort of long term planning involved in its building. And wells arn’t cheap either, it costs  between $4000 and $10,000 to build boreholes.

Now think in your head how many times you heard the words “Digging wells in third world countries” or something of the sort in the past 2 months. Probably more than you heard, “Increase a communities capacity to provide water for itself”.  Now lets see how much it would cost to fix Msochi’s well, according to a local mechanic who took it apart for me and analyzed the parts.

$96.70 CAD, and that is rounding up. And including labour.

Less than a hundred dollars could fix their first borehole! Holy pants! That is almost pocket change for me. But after talking to the CWSHC, these farmers would struggle to make a surplus of that in a year. Now this is an interesting conundrum.

Do I just give them the cash? or find another way; some way that can both help them get water fast, but also create a way for the Msochians to be independent of donors and Old-School Aid agencies to provide for them.

Something to mull while hopefully assessing your  vast riches (thats means you, folk back home).  I am opting for the second option, so stay tuned!

CHALLENGE QUESTION!!!- What can 96 dollars buy you back home in Canada?

I will post photos soon! or not, internet connectivity is reliably unreliable.

Glossary of Acronyms

EWB- Engineers Without Borders

CLTS- Community Led Total Sanitation

JF or JFID- Junior Fellow of International Engagment

OVS- Overseas Volunteer

NO- National Office

OD- Open Defecation

ODF- Open Defecation Free

HC- Health Center

HCCA- Health Center Catchment Area

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