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Africa

18 Jan

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My Malawian Home

January 18, 2011 | By |

Video Tour of Alyssa’s Home in Malawi

Hi EWB Grand River ~
As EWB African Program Staff we are strongly encouraged to take some time to experience rural life and better understand the realities of the people we are working for.  I’ve spent the last two months living in Andrea Jere Village, just outside of Mzimba Malawi.   Here’s a brief tour of my family’s home, to hopefully share a little window into my experience. 

My favourite parts of this video are the obvious improvement in commentary as my brother Andrew takes over from my bumbled attempt, and Amama’s slightly prompted, but genuinely friendly, wave at the very end of the clip.  Enjoy warming up from the Canadian winter with some warm Malawian hospitality!  Just click this wmv video link:  My Malawian Home .

21 Nov

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Farming Lessons

November 21, 2010 | By |

From Don McMurtry’s EWB  Blog  Mudzi Madzi :

Last night it rained most of the night and today the radio was saying “the rains have arrived” as they forecasted clouds and rain across most of the central and southern parts of the country. The farmers have been preparing their fields for months and will probably move into planting mode this week. In some places where it has already rained, maize is sprouting.

Over the past few weeks I have learned a few things about farming in Malawi:

Lesson #1 — Everybody farms
Well almost everyone, but with over 80% of people in Malawi depending to a great extend upon their farming income and harvest, it is the foundation of the economy. Obviously we all rely upon farmers, but at home it is easy to forget about them. Here in Malawi, farming, even if you live in one of the large cities, is hard to ignore — there are people selling domestically grown food in the streets every day. Even wealthy Malawians will frequently have some land within their walled and guarded grounds to grow some food, typically mazine (aka white corn).

Lesson 2 — Farming can be Controversial
I started this message about three weeks ago when I discovered enormous lineups for subsidized fertilizer. The photo doesn’t give a sense for the scale of hundreds of people waiting to get seeds or fertilizer. It also doesn’t show hundreds of bicycles like the ones in the foreground that will peddle and push a 50kg bag to a near-by village. The door opens at 7:30, I am not sure when the line starts forming — probably very early if you live 10 or 20 kilometers away. These lineups will continue for some more weeks as some people just received their coupons today.

A few weeks ago the lead story in the newspapers was about a large NGO suggesting the government could not sustain the small farmer assistance program and it should be stopped. The President of Malawi says and does a lot of strange things, but I agreed with his response that western nations have substantial subsidies to various industries and they have no grounds for complaining about his government helping poor farmers.

In each village there is a process for deciding who qualifies for subsidy assistance, with input coming from the village chief, a committee and the Agriculture Ministry’s local staff. Being on the list means you will receive four coupons (50kg fertilizer, 50 kg urea fertilizer, maize & legume seeds) and it seems they must come on different days for each item. The subsidized price for the fertilizer is about $3.50 vs the normal $30-$35 list price. Apparently fertilizer this year is half the price of last year. I can only imagine that someone left off the list would not be very happy.

Lesson 3 — Small change, big result
A few weeks ago a colleague from Canada made a short visit to Malawi on her way to Mozambique and Zambia to check some facts and gather some first-hand stories for a report she is helping edit. Nidhi’s contacts took us to visit some farmers who have been using a technique referred to as conservation farming.

Since I arrived in Malawi, I have watched people all across the country hoe their land into long ridges that contour the land — the standard method for growing maize. Everyone grows white corn in Malawi because virtually everyone eats it a couple times per day in the form of nsima. The conservation method creates pits across a field and they generate about 50-100% more yield for the farmers we met. The logic is that the pit holds rain water better and reduces runoff. In a dry year that is critical. The land is also not tilled every year which helps reduce soil loss and also keeps more water in the soil. Some farmers we met also inter-crop — meaning they plant other species within the pits. Beans are the classic because they put nitrogen into the soil while maize consumes it.

You can continue to follow Don’s blog at http://donmcmurtry.wordpress.com/

12 Nov

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Phone Chat With Mark In Ghana

November 12, 2010 | By |

Mark Soares has been on the ground with EWB in the Saboba Region of Ghana since late August working with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture. Join us for a group chat with Mark to hear his personal perspective on life in Ghana and working with EWB overseas.

Mark SoaresThis is a great chance to address those curiosities you have about “Just what does EWB do?” as Mark is experiencing it first hand and is always excited to share and answer questions.

Email Naomi Knischewsky at naomi.knischewsky@gmail.com with your Skype information if you’d like to join us!  If you are not currently a Skype user but would still like to join us for the group chat, we can dial in cell phones and land lines to the conversation as well.  Just send us your preferred contact number.

Date:  Sunday November 14th

Time 10:00 a.m.

30 Oct

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EWB 10th Anniversary Gala

October 30, 2010 | By |

The 10th Anniversary EWB Gala is all set to wow you. On Saturday, January 15, 2011, 2000+ people will come together at the Allstream Centre in Toronto to celebrate African humanity and achievements like never before. And we have a world class presenter excited to join us.

Engineers Without Borders is thrilled to announce that K’naan, the internationally acclaimed poet and hip hop artist, will be joining us to celebrate our 10th anniversary conference.

K’naan is not afraid to shed light on sensitive issues and address real global challenges through his music. Whether standing up to the UN, or consistently creating urgent music with a message, K’naan always makes his voice heard.

To read more about K’naan: click here.

K’naan will inspire attendees through a unique keynote address and then close the night with a small performance.

(Above text courtesy of the EWB National Office website)

Register for the exciting 2011 EWB national conference here  .

27 Oct

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News From Mark In Ghana

October 27, 2010 | By |

Update From The Field

Grand River Chapter member Mark Soares has joined the team of the District Agricultural Development Unit (DADU) in Saboba. He has been working with fellow Grand River volunteers Ben Best and Erin Antcliffe on tackling some of the management challenges found in the Ministry of Food and Agriculture that are affecting the implementation of the Agriculture As A Business Program. 

Some of Mark’s other day to day responsibilities include:

– working with staff at the office, helping them with office tasks;

– working on the EWB “ Agriculture as a Business”  program coordination and curriculum delivery;

– doing field visits with an Agricultural Extension Agent and delivering one of 10 workshops associated with the agriculture as a business program, to a farmer group in a rural village.

Learn more about Mark’s work with the Ministry of Food and Agriculture and his exciting adventures in Saboba by following his blog!

11 Oct

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Are you a Planner or a Searcher?

October 11, 2010 | By |

Update From The Field

Hello Grand River !

Reporting in from Mzimba, Malawi where I’ve been working for the past month and half as part of EWB’s Water and Sanitation Team with the Mzimba District Water Development Office (DWDO). 

The DWDO is responsible for providing sustainable water access to rural communities across the district.   This goal doesn’t just mean installing boreholes and water points, but perhaps even more importantly, it involves making sure that the water points stay functional, that communities are aware of proper sanitation and hygiene practices, and that those areas with the most need are being addressed, in order to provide reliable and safe water access to everyone.    It’s not an easy job, but it’s an important one. 

As the Grand River Chapter’s African Partner, it is my job to keep you updated with the work that EWB is doing on the ground in Malawi that everyone’s hard work and financial contributions are helping to support.  I’m excited to still be closely connected with the Grand River Chapter, despite being geographically quite far away. 

I’d like to introduce you to my blog: www.lyssintomalawi.wordpress.com, where I’m keeping track of thoughts, feelings and experiences to share with others.  We’ll also make sure that at least a monthly update appears on the Grand River Website, so you can follow along as my work progresses.  This week’s entry ‘Are you a Planner or a Searcher?’ looks at questions I’m asking as I examine my role within the DWDO.

If you have any questions, thoughts or ideas about our African programs, and/or how they can be shared with individuals in the Grand River Area, I would be happy to talk to you more.  Please use the contact form on this website to get in touch with me.  I look forward to speaking with you!

Mwenda makola (may the journey be good),

Alyssa

27 Sep

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What am I doing here? – Part 1

September 27, 2010 | By |

Update From The Field

Grand River chapter’s Erin Antcliffe, one of EWB’s hardworking African program staff, has posted a fascinating and informative new entry in her blog (September 17th 2010).  You can read it here, or on Erin’s own site “What am I doing here?   Reflections on my role in Ghanaian development.”

Alright, enough of this fluffy stuff. It’s time to get down to business. I want to finally answer the question you’ve all been asking:  What are you actually DOING over there ?

I’m going to answer this question in a series of posts over the next few weeks. I’ll start out with the basics, then dive deeper into the “what”s and “why”s behind what I’m doing here. After all, that is the name of the blog!

So let’s start at the beginning. What does it mean to work for EWB in Africa?

My work is divided into 4 main areas: Partner, EWB team, Canada connections and Personal (in no particular order – no, health does not come last in the priority list!). Let me tell you a bit more about what I’m trying to achieve in each of these areas.

Work with my Partner:

Our team is partnered with MoFA, the Ghanaian Ministry of Food and Agriculture. The purpose of this ministry is to increase food security by providing extension services to farmers, including technical knowledge, business advice and skills training.

Ghana is divided into 10 regions, each with a regional-level MoFA office, then each region is divided into several districts (the number depends on the size and population of the region), each of which has a district-level MoFA office. EWB is working with MoFA at all of these levels – National, Regional and District. I am working at the Tamale District office and also occasionally at the Northern Regional office (which is also in Tamale).

We work with MoFA because MoFA works with farmers, which is the majority of the poor rural population in Ghana. These are our “target beneficiaries”, if you want to use the development lingo. Working with MoFA allows EWB to reach a wide number of farmers thanks to MoFA’s well-established extension network. However, MoFA is also constrained by a lot of issues common in developing countries. Some of these issues are beyond their control, such as donor constraints and lack of funding. But there are other issues that can be addressed, like motivation, management skills and staff capacity to do the work.

Our goal is not to add additional programs to MoFA’s plate (which is what most NGOs/donors do – design their own programs and use MoFA as an “implementing agency”, taking them away from the work they’re supposed to be doing). Instead, we are working to strengthen the core MoFA extension work – helping farmers to improve their farms and put more money in their pockets. This means embedding ourselves in MoFA’s offices and working alongside the staff to address everyday issues, as well as encouraging them to have a long-term vision for the work they’re doing.

Work with the Agric Ghana EWB team:

The Agric Ghana team is currently made up of 6 African Programs Staff (APS) and 3 Professional Fellows (ProFs) from EWB’s Professional Chapters in Canada. We work closely together, communicating often even though we are spread out across 2 regions in northern Ghana. Once a month we come together to work as a team for a weekend. During these meetings we work on team strategy including planning, evaluating and changing our programs, work to share what we know with others, do some professional development and have a whole lotta fun! These meetings are great for keeping us on the same page as a team and enhancing the work each of us is doing. We also give and receive coaching with other members of the team to help each other set goals and grow. It’s a great environment to work in – I love this team!

Canada Connections:

Believe it or not, I actually consider it work to keep in touch with Canada! I do this because otherwise I would never prioritize time to write in my blog, or take photos to send to the National Office in Toronto. But I think one of the most important things we can do as APS is to let other people know what we’re doing. All of you reading this in Canada have an enormous amount of information at your fingertips, and a huge potential to use this information for outreach to the Canadian public and advocacy to the Canadian government. So let me help you by telling you what I know!

I am also partnered with two of EWB’s student chapters in Canada, the University of Western Ontario and the University of Waterloo (go W’s!). My job is to keep them informed about what’s going on with the Agric Ghana team and give them resources to help with their programs, from fundraising to member learning to outreach. And of course, we want to develop some awesome personal connections between EWB’s African programs and Chapters. Can’t wait to work more with these amazing guys and gals!

Personal:

Finally, I have some personal goals for my time in Ghana. These include things like health and fitness, happiness and motivation, keeping in touch with my friends and family at home and making time for personal and professional development. For example, I’m really good at building trust with people, but I need to work on how I use that trust in group situations. I’m also working to become a better manager. And of course, I’m trying to eat my 5-10 servings of veggies every day! (Though it’s virtually impossible here… man, I never thought I would miss salad!)

I hope that gives you a good overview of what it’s like to work for the Agric Ghana team. In the next post, I’ll tell you more about what I’m actually doing with MoFA. Until then, please send your comments and questions my way and I’ll do my best to address them in the coming posts. Thanks for reading!

31 Aug

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Chitsime – A Well

August 31, 2010 | By |

Update From The Field

One of EWB’s new African program volunteers, our Grand River chapter’s Don McMurtry, has started a really interesting blog.  It will follow Don’s progress and challenges during his four months in Malawi as an EWB Professional Junior Fellow.  You can read his first post here below, or on his own site “Mudzi Madzi“.

Two days ago, after a three hour mini-bus ride south from Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, I arrived in the town of Balaka. An EWB colleague who accompanied me on the 6 am departure from Lilongwe’s chaotic bus “terminal” (two tiny block sheds in the middle of a large grassless field filled with people, busses and cargo vans, recounted standing for several hours on a jam-packed coach, so our trip was far less uncomfortable than might be expected.

While in Lilongwe and again here in Balaka, I have been staying in guest houses that offer a variety of room types. The one on Lilongwe had as many as seven people; here at the Chitsimi Hostel it costs 500 Kwatcha per night (about Cdn $3.33, including breakfast) for a four-person shared room. Single rooms are available as well, but I am happy to meet others. It is my hope to soon find a family in a nearby village that will accept me as a guest and where I can still walk a convenient distance to the office.

Balaka’s District Water Office (part of the Malawi Ministry of Irrigation & Water Development) will be my base of work for the next four months. On Friday morning, my second day in the district office, Mr. Nkwate (a Water Monitoring Assistant) was asked by Mr. Mapsere (the District Water Officer, aka his boss) to take me to Utale to visit a rural health station. It was very helpful to meet some of the dozen “health surveillance assistants” who work in that area as I slowly assemble my understanding of how water services are provided in rural Malawi. It also made more clear how interdependent the Health and Water departments are, just as they are in North America.

Unlike most districts in Malawi, Balaka has a substantial gravity-fed pipe network reaching into rural areas as well as bore-hole wells equipped with hand pumps. As the district population has grown, less water, sometime none, makes it to the more remote edges of the almost three decade old network. There are other reasons for taps being non-functional as well, but I don’t yet have a more comprehensive systemic understanding at this early stage. Most of the Utale taps fall into the non-fuctional category.

Tap water in Lilongwe and here in Balaka is drinkable. Chlorine is added to the water as it enters the distribution network near the reservoir dam but one can imagine there is a drop-off of concentration in various circumstances. The scent of water from the tap is welcome.

At the health centre I learned about HTH, the chlorine powder added to water for drinking. Rural people without piped water add a teaspoon of HTH into a 20 litre container to make the water safe.

Nkwate gave me some riding instructions as we departed for the health centre on the back of a District-owned motorcycle. Twisting along dirt paths and roads, at times bumping across railway lines, was a reminder that I must spend a portion of every day doing back strengthening exercises or I run the risk of a recurrence of my lower-back disk injury. The brain-bucket (aka motorcycle helmet) EWB had me purchase while we were in Toronto for training was one of the more essential things stuffed into my bag.