Returning home

Written by Amelia Birch

Well, 10 days in Malawi has come and gone, in no time at all. I write from the plane between Nairobi and Amsterdam, as I listen to music, unable to sleep, and reflect on our trip. Of course, anytime in returning home, there are many mixed emotions and thoughts: what went right? What was disappointing? I’m excited to see my family, friends and loved ones! I’m sad for leaving my friends and contacts in Malawi! Did we accomplish what we aimed to do? Or, are we leaving with little effect?

I can say “yes!” To all of that… Every single one of those things are true. 10 days is a very little time, to experience such a influx of thoughts, emotions, and times of learning.

These are the facts:
– we spent 1/3 of the trip travelling, 1/3 meeting with organizations and learning, and 1/3 of the trip relaxing/doing tourist activities.
– we had our most negative experience with a white European, not with any Malawians.
– most likely, the most disappointing aspect is that we were unable to actually set foot in the village that WHEAMS, our partner, has established their programs.
– in total, we met/visited with one American run and Malawian staffed orphanage program, one Malawian run, Malawian staffed, multidisciplinary program for children and youth, nurses at Kamuzu college of nursing in both Lilongwe and Blantyre, one man who is Canadian by citizenship, (but has only ever lived in Kenya and Malawi) to be mentored in partnership initiatives, one American run short term Christian mission training program, and visited/toured the primary psychiatric hospital in Malawi.
– we spent countless hours building relationship with and learning from Rodrick Banda, the founder and director of WHEAMS (our Malawian partner).
– we learnt and were challenged.
– we provided financial, human, and intellectual resources for WHEAMS to take a step forward in their growth.
– we learnt about the difficulties that WHEAMS has experienced in maintaining projects in Thukuta village.
– we did not get sick with any Malawian infectious disease, nor for we experience any unsafe or uncomfortable conditions. No one cried, ever.
– we uncontrollably laughed a number of times.
– we updated our “about us” page on the website, and reviewed current projects.
– we leave Malawi committed to maintaining partnership and to returning again in the future.
– we left books, IT supplies, clothing, and other small tokens with Rodrick to use as he sees fit.

This trip was a realistic view of what is currently happening in Malawi, with WHI/ICC’s primary partner, WHEAMS. Of course, there are many ups and downs of the trip. The aim is not to be tied into the “emotional” side, but rather to take an objective look at our time there, in the days, weeks and months to come. The main question is how does this trip contribute to the growth and development of small community based organizations in Malawi? How does this trip lay a foundation to the work that WHI/ICC is currently doing in Canada?

I leave Malawi with optimism and renewal in my heart.

It seems to be that a theme that we frequently experienced in conversation was the need for patience, persistence, and on going dedication. The need that when things are tough, or when grassroots organizations take “longer than planned” to achieve goals, that the western partner does not “give up and go home.” Creating change is neither quick nor easy. Influencing, mentoring, and obtaining knowledge does not happen over night; is that obvious? I think so… But sometimes it is very easy to forget!

For me, the main this is that this trip re-confirmed the thoughts that I have about that nation. That it is indeed a place that had strengths and bright aspects that can be built upon. That Malawi has citizens that are welcoming, committed and interested in the growth of their own country. And that I am happy to be committed to those citizens.

So, I ask you: how can you also be impacted by this trip, even if you were not there? What do you want to learn, and experience from WHI/ICC?


Seeing Malawi through a first time Visitor

Since we have not had much times where we have had reliable internet connection, we have not had much opportunity to upload recent blogs.  Today, we post a reflection from Jacinthe Dion, an 18 year old student from the Eastern Townships (Chambly) in Quebec.  It is her first time visiting Sub-Sahara Africa, and she is on this trip to observe, learn, take notes for us, and negotiate how to contribute to WHI/ICC in the future.  This reflection is from after our third day in Malawi.


Earlier in the week, we went to visit an orphanage called “Rainbow’s Community”. To reach this community, we had to drive through the countryside of Malawi, out of Lilongwe, the capital city where we had mostly been since arrival. Truly, when you step out of the large cities, is when you really see what Malawi is all about.

In the big city, I witnessed a different culture with different ways of life and customs. I saw mothers carrying babies on their backs held by fabric, women carrying fruits, beans, rice branches of wood; basically anything they carried was on their head. I saw in the city street beggers but I didn’t make much notice of them as there are also a lot of them in Montreal. I smelled charcoal of the nearby fires and it was in the city that I ate my first Malawian meal: Chambo (type of fish), with chips.  On the other hand, the suburban areas of a city reflect the daily lives of the majority of the civilians. This life in Malawi is very different than the suburban life of Montreal.  Although I did have an idea of what that lifestyle was, to see it is something totally different:  Small homes that are breaking apart, no electricity, no washroom, no playgrounds, no toys. Barely any clothes, barely anything really.

What I expected to see in association with this poverty were sad faces on children and discouraged expression on their parents’ faces.  Although I have not yet been in a village, this reflects what I have seen from outside and and with the children walking to their village, I have been surprised to see the opposite.  Children have smiles widespread on their faces, caring about their younger siblings and showing them the way, mothers are hardworking doing laundry, drying clothes or cleaning and taking care of their little homes. Regardless of the hardships of their daily lives, Malawians find things to be about and still find the motivation to take care of what they do have.

Afterwards, I reflected on what I have and imagined myself to have nothing of it. Would I have that same glow I see here in the children? Would I be as dedicated to working hard like those women? Honestly… probably not. I would be so tempted to just fold my arms and give up. So why don’t they? Help is always said to be given to those deserving of it and here, in Malawi, I could not meet more deserving people.

I want to bring them my help more than ever before but now that I am here, it seems harder than ever. What do they really need? Is my being here really helpful? Malawians are bringing so much to me, and it is now that I am questioning: am I really bringing them anything? How is my presence her making a difference?

The most disappointing thing for me would be to go back home and realise: whether I am there or not, has it made any difference?

I am not on the board of WHEAMS, nor am I on the board of WHI. Yes, I am travelling with two board members of WHI who are here to continue their charity’s mission and progress.  Am I an addition to their team or just a weight?  Do they see value in me being here?

I want my presence here to be useful. This trip has already brought me so much that it has already been worthwhile for me to be here. Now, the focus for the remainder of the trip will be on what I can give and how can make my presence worthwhile for everyone else.Image

Raising a Child in Community

~Written by Elizabeth Johnstone

Most people will have heard the famous quote: “it takes a village to raise a child.”   Growing up, I saw my own parents, along with their family friends, take this quote and bring it to reality, leaning on each other and making sure I had 3 extra set of parents to turn to.  Currently, I work in a High School: we pride ourselves in aspiring to be a safe “village” for children to learn in. In my understanding, research may suggest that schools which succeed in retaining students, and pushing them to succeed are schools that provide opportunities for students to form attachments to the adults in their building. “It takes a village” seems to imply that raising a child involves that child forming positive relationships and several relationships, intergenerationally, with adults in the community.

Perhaps I could explore this further with some questions that I have reflected on during the first three days in Malawi.

Why more than just one relationship?

No single person has all the answers to a single problem, and it is better off that they don’t. Individuals offer different life experiences, and make different choices: good or bad, a person can speak from those lived experiences. In addition, people are not always on their A game. I know that I am not always able to be patient and listen to someone. Hopefully, in that moment, If someone expected wise counsel from me, they wouldn’t just turn around but would also seek advise from someone else. It is too much responsibility for one person, nor it is healthy to be exclusively dependant on one person.

What consists of healthy relationships?

It is obvious to say that relationships though are between people. The people in relationship are the ones to define what it looks like, and what they need. As a Canadian, my definition of healthy relationships may be different than someone coming from a Malawian village. Indeed, the definition may be different from one village to the next.

This understanding shows that, as long as the relationship does not contain abuse or using another person for personal gain, then third party intervention is not neccessary unless requested. Unless asked for, interventions will not be received, and will not be useful.

How does this relate to village life in Malawi?

It takes a village to raise a child…” Part of the push I had to travel to Malawi this year was to experience and learn from people who live by this quote. I hoped to take back some more life lessons from their wise counsel.

Instead, I am saddened to see that the very philosophy of the village raising a child has been disintegrating because of Western involvement in Malawi. To help care for an orphaned Malawian child, for generations, westerners have removed the child from the village to give them “better education,” “better nutrition,” and “better health care.” In this case, one must reflect on the message that westerners are sending: the basic capacity of a village to raise their own child is inadequate, and they are not equipped to take care of their own children. In turn, the child may come to believe that their own community is not able to take care of them, or that the community may have even asked Westerners to remove them because he is a burden. The child’s identity as a community member, and their very self worth, is altered.

Therefore, in moving forward, our question must then be…

How do we, as Westerners, equip, encourage and empower a village to be a healthy community to raise a child?

It must be, that it is in allowing Malawians to be active participants in building their own definition of healthy relationships. That people like ourselves ought to take a patient role in the background, as Malawians re-establish their identify and sense of self-concept. That our role on the “back bench” is to be available, and provide ongoing support for building on strengths that already exist in communities; strengths that have been stripped for generations in colonial and other, albeit well-meaning, authoritative practices.


Elizabeth Johnstone is the Eastern Canadian Director, and co-founder of WHI/CCC. Currently, she works as a High School Counsellor on the South Shore of Montreal. Her views expressed on this blog are not those of her employer.

Day of departure!!

If you dont already know, later on today, Liz, myself, and a young student frm Montreal’s eastern townships will be embarking on a 10day journey to Malawi. For Liz and I, it will be our first return to the country since 2011.  3 years ago, I spent 4 months in Blantyre, Malawi, studying nursing at Kamuzu College of Nursing.  During that time, I also meet Roderick Banda (the founder of our partner project, WHEAMS), and fell in love with his project and vision.  I can’t speak for Liz, but, in many ways, my heart feels like it is returning home.  This happens every time I go to sub-Saharan Africa. Boy, what an exciting time to be going back!

As a community and public health nurse by profession, I know the essential link that exists between health and education.  Education enables people and populations to know about health practices.  Health enables people and populations to access ongoing, sustainable, education.  It is this simple link that the ” Comprehensive Student Health” framework bases its foundation.  The program enables schools too have healthy classrooms through 3 methods:

  1. Relationships and environments,
  2. Teaching and learning,
  3. Community partnerships,
  4. School policies.

My home province of BC has adopted the framework as well for its healthy schools program; you can see a small video about the framework at the linked YouTube Video.

While I am in Malawi for the next 10 days, I want to remember this framework.  How can our work at Warm Heart Initiatives/Initiatives de Coeurs Chaleureux encourage, equip, and empower our partners to develop a sustainable, healthy, community education project?  How does our 10 day trip contribute to this vision?

Our trip has three main components.  First, to network with other NPO’s and see what they are doing, what is going well, and what continues to be barriers.  Second, to see the WHEAMS project, and spend time with the educators, women, and children.  To use a strength based, collaborative method to contribute to the groundwork of the project. Third, to meet the WHEAMS board in its entirety and do business collaboration around finances, webpages, and partnership.

We will attempt to blog as much as possible while away.  Keep an eye on this site, to follow our journey!

If you would like to contribute to the work of WHI/ICC and their partner in Malawi, feel free to donate via PayPal, or send us an email [ warmheartinitiatives at gmail dot com] for more information.

Amelia Birch is the Western Canadian Director, and co-founder of WHI/CCC.  She is a graduate of McGill university’s direct-entry Master’s degree in nursing; she studied Global health, with a particular focus on North-South educational partnerships in Nursing. Currently, she works as a community nurse in East Vancouver. Her views expressed on this blog are not those of her employer.