Every problem has an expiry date!
I hope everyone is enjoying the gorgeous Canadian summer back home. Here in Malawi, it is finally starting to warm up once again. During the past three months here it has been “winter” getting down to as low as 6 degrees Celcius! Even though everyone told me it would be cold when I was here I really did not know how cold. It was common to put on a hoodie and pants with a scarf to walk to work then by midday you would find yourself taking all the layers off and sweating in the sun. As I come from Vancouver Island, I am really missing the warm summer days by the ocean and so I frequently park myself on the beach of Lake Malawi in the nearby Senga Bay.
The past three months have been extremely rewarding and engaging and I feel very privileged to have worked with such amazing students. I am working as the WUSC Program Assistant for the Student Refugee Program, which sponsors refugee students to resettle in Canada and pursue university education, and my main task has been to prepare the 26 students who will be leaving in August for Canada. Since May I have been leading the second half of the Canadian Life Course, which aims to increase the students’ knowledge and understanding of Canadian culture and academic life, and it has truly been the best part of my internship so far. We finished up the classes the third week of July and the following week we had a big graduation ceremony for the students to celebrate the long journey they have been on and the new journey they will start on very, very soon. The students from Rwanada did a beautiful dance, we had a drama, poem, and student speech amongst other things. In addition, I have been having personal appointments with the students to answer any questions they might not want to ask in class and giving them extra information about packing and luggage restrictions.
The SWB intern who was here from January to April did a great job of covering the basics about Canadian culture and so I was able to move on to some more in depth topics and academic skills. To give you an example of what we covered and discussed in our classes here is a list of just some of them: skim reading & summarizing, public speaking skills for presenting in front of a western audience, culture shock, typing lessons, researching their placements online, health and wellness in Canada, watching Canadian tv shows for cultural differences in humour, and Canada Day trivia.
Last week I lead a “Girls Only” session on health & hygiene, dating and sex while my JRS colleague lead a “Boys Only” session to discuss similar topics. This proved to be one of the most interesting classes we had due to the nature of the material and the major cultural differences. Every time I work with the students I am reminded of the diversity of people on this earth, all with their own practices and beliefs. That is the beauty about travelling and working with people from different backgrounds than your own-it reminds you of the fact that there are so many different ways to live your life and all have equal merit and purpose. All are beautiful in their own way. And it pushes you to examine your own beliefs and values and really think about how you want to live your life.
Monday’s and Friday’s I work in the WUSC head office in Lilongwe and then Tuesday to Thursday I drive into the camp with the Jesuit Refugee Services staff to work with the students. I really enjoy being able to have both- the head office and the camp experience. The WUSC staff are all very lovely people and it has been really amazing to see firsthand all the projects and programs they are running in the country. As a Local Committee member you only get to see a small selection of the programs WUSC operates but there are so many other wonderful initiatives running as well. Working in the camp is an experience in itself! In the camp I go with colleagues to eat lunch in one of the small restaurants run by a family there, buy local produce in the market, get clothing made out of chitenge by one of the female tailors, and try not to get blown away by gigantic dust storms that rip through the camp turning everything that isn’t already orange…orange.
Besides working with the SRP students, I have been involved with programs run by UNHCR’s implementing partner in the Dzaleka refugee camp, Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS). The Women’s Group makes many different varieties of jewelry, including some made out of recycled magazine paper. I have assisted them in diversifying their designs and have been looking into more markets for export. For the month of August I will assist with building a social enterprise model for the women to further establish themselves. I have also been helping to tutor the students who are enrolled in an online diploma program connected to American universities and assisting them with their paper writing. In August I will lead discussion groups for them in the afternoon on the material they are learning. One of the top students has been collaborating with me to start up an outdoor sports club for girls in the camp and during my last month here we will work to get that established. In addition to all of this I have been helping with the Academic & Leadership Program which is a collaboration between WUSC, JRS and the Red Cross. It consists of remedial classes for boys and girls during the holidays and leadership sessions for girls to build their confidence and skills. I have not been able to attend either session yet due to scheduling conflicts and limited transport but have been working with the Community Mobilizers who are in charge of improving girls’ enrollment. Also, for August we will be developing 3 short videos with the production and technical assistance of the JRS Media & Communication students to showcase the effect of the Academic & Leadership Program.
So the past 3 months have been jam-packed with activities and although the Canadian Life Course classes are now finished with the SRP students there will be many more new activities for me to be a part of. I feel very lucky to have some many different things to be a part of and contribute to as I know many other interns do not have as much work. I have also really enjoyed the diversity of the different programs I have been involved with and that has really strengthened my overall experience here in Malawi.
I know that this last month I have left here in Malawi will go by very fast and soon I will be saying “Where has all the time gone!” This month I will be working on the projects I mentioned above, as well as seeing off the SRP students at the airport when they fly off to start their new life in Canada. I know that it will be a very emotional day and I already know I will need to pack a bag full of tissue to attempt to dry my eyes.
As a Local Committee member for 4 years, I gained a solid understanding of the Student Refugee Program and an introduction into the challenges refugees face when resettling to Canada. It is hard to put into words all the knowledge I have gained in the past 3 short months in Dzaleka about the challenges and barriers refugees face in the camp, and I know I won’t fully be able to digest everything until long after I am home in Canada. I am so grateful for this experience and know that a textbook would never have been able to teach me what I have learned here.
The WUSC students that are sponsored to come to Canada are some of the most courageous and hardworking people in the world. I truly believed this before I came to Dzaleka, but I have now gained an even deeper admiration for these students during my time here. The challenges they have faced fleeing their home countries and living in the camp with meager food rations in deep poverty are so unbelievable that most Canadians cannot even comprehend the struggles they have been through. I know that I can’t. I have no idea how they have made it through everything with such positivity and enthusiasm- it really makes you wonder if you were in the same situation as them how you would handle everything. And now, a new set of challenges will be thrown their way very soon as they set off for Canada to start a new life with new dreams. I take my hat off to these students and feel very honoured to have been able to work with such incredible individuals.
Sitting here with one month left in Malawi, I wonder what it will be like to say goodbye to everyone I have worked with and how I will feel as I take off up into clouds on my long journey home. There is still so much to do. I will let you know when I get there!
All the best,
WUSC SRP Program Assistant