A Travellerspoint blog

In to Africa

sunny

Two weeks have passed since our last entry so we will have to cast our minds back...

The lake was wonderful. As predicted swimming, snorkelling and doing very little dominated proceedings, with some eating and drinking thrown in for good measure. Maya burnt her legs, and I learnt to play Bawo from a couple of the local touts. We also met Josh (from London, Manchester United fan obviously) who is on a long backpacking trip and provided good company to watch Newcastle v Sunderland with a couple of Kuche Kuche’s (a nice light local beer) on Sunday afternoon. Until, of course, the power went out after about 60 minutes, with us a goal down but all over them – I find out on Monday that we drew, Shola scoring in the 92nd minute... Worth mentioning that we get much better premier league coverage here than in the UK – virtually every game is on DSTV (satellite) which has 9 sports channels – Maya is loving this.

So back to Blantyre and back to work. James and Alison (from CU’s UK office) arrive on Monday and it’s great to see them – especially as James has brought a chunk of cash out for us. The difference in being able to change foreign exchange (forex) instead of using cash machines is extraordinary. From the machine is at the official exchange rate of course, which is 265 Kwacha (MK) to the pound. However the black market rate is around MK400 to the pound, therefore our money is suddenly worth almost twice as much. Whilst good for us, the impact of this on the economy here is crushing, costs have spiralled in recent months, businesses aren’t investing, and people are struggling to afford basics (the price of bread has doubled since September). There are constant fuel shortages and long lines at petrol stations. We’ve heard talk about the devaluation of the Kwacha since we got here, and asked a few knowledgeable people about if this might happen and what would be the effect. They explained that there doesn’t seem to be political will to devaluate, as it may be seen as a sign of weakness. Also that if there was, then prices would probably rise to compensate – so it seems like Malawians won’t be much better off under any scenario. More research and understanding of economics 101 is needed for me to fully grasp all this – something I aim to learn while we are here!

Village, Chikhwawa

Village, Chikhwawa

With the visit of UK staff we take the opportunity to join them on some field visits, and have our first experience of rural villages here in Malawi. Like the INGO workers we are, we roll up in our 4x4’s, and are greeted with singing and dancing from huge gatherings of local women and children (check out one example here: http://tinyurl.com/7j9694s). We are then ushered to a row of seats under a nearby tree (the locals sit on the ground) and the speeches begin. This is in line with my other experiences in Africa - lots of formal speech making, greeting visitors and talking about how CU has helped their community. This will all be very positive comments, with nothing negative ever raised, only requests for more help. If we are lucky we are then treated to a local dance or two, one of which I filmed and will post on bookface (follow the duck to see!). We are then shown examples of CU’s work in that area – carefully pre-planned (and perhaps even practiced?) demonstrations and talks from selected community members. In three days we saw a huge range of work, from boreholes to solar panels to successful small scale local businesses. With such a packed itinerary we saw a huge amount, so will relate each day in order – coming up very soon!

Posted by TattoodDuck 15:47 Archived in Malawi Tagged travel volunteering economics concern_universal devaluation shola_ameobi Comments (0)

The lake and a bit about work

Cape Maclear, Saturday March 3rd

sunny

My view as I write this

My view as I write this

We feel like travellers again! Writing this sitting under a thatched roof on the beach, looking across Lake Malawi, drinking a huge pot of coffee and slowing waking up (it’s around 7am).

The last week was quiet to begin with –staying in the Blantyre office until Wednesday we began to feel conscious of the fact that after two weeks here we haven’t visited the field. Classic NGO workers perhaps sitting glued to laptops in front of fans? Hopefully not and we will avoid this trap!

At this point I have to ask you to forgive some use of ‘development language’ in this next section – I felt it is time to write a little about what we are doing so either bear with me, or skip through the next couple of paragraphs...

Anyway, things picked up on Thursday when we had a workshop in Ntcheu (about two hours drive north of Blantyre, during which I managed to get stopped by the police and fined for speeding) with around 20 Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Coordinators, Project Managers, senior managers and Robin (the country director). This was to finalise a new M&E framework for CU Malawi, in order to better understand what the impact of our work is. Often NGOs focus on the ‘inputs’, ‘outputs’ and ‘outcomes’ of their work, and stop there. So for example an organisation building schools would look at the materials and labour needed (the inputs), the output would be a school, and the outcome would be that x number of children could now go to school. What we now want to understand better is the impact of that – the ‘so what’. So in this example the impact may be that a families food production drops as the children are no longer working the land – i.e. alongside the obvious positive impact there may be negative impacts that an NGO would not be aware of.

Another example could be where a family has received help on improving the productivity of their land, e.g. through an irrigation scheme. What we have seen happen here in Malawi is that other members of the community can become jealous and that family has been ostracised, there has been a significant negative social impact on their lives. This is a key point – to look at social as well as economic impact. Traditionally NGOs are focused on economic benefits, understandably as this is what donors are interested in.

So to come back to Thursday. Robin is keen for CU Malawi to become a leader in the field of measuring our impact, and to be open about reporting when interventions are unsuccessful as well as when they go well. People working in development will be very aware that often annual reports, impact reports etc are simply a list of stories saying how great that organisation is. This is understandable in a competitive funding environment, however perhaps doesn’t always tell the whole story. What Thursday was looking at then was how do we aggregate all the information we are gathering at project level, and what more do we need to do, to fully understand what difference our work is making overall against our objective of “Creating opportunities for lasting improvement in people’s lives by empowering people to reduce social and economic vulnerability and inequalities”. That is probably enough for here – there is a lot of detail in all of this and if anyone is interested in knowing more then leave a comment and I will happily go into more depth!

At the end of the day we head to the Balaka office, about 30km away, and meet Seamus and Maurice, two Trinity College students who have been conducting research on fuel efficient stoves and attaching thermo-electric generators to them. This is very interesting as there is the possibility for electricity to be generated as the stoves are being cooked on. This is then stored in a battery and can be used for lighting, charging mobile phones etc. (see CU’s facebook page for a pic of Seamus and Maurice with one of the stoves). Five test stoves had these attached and have been used since December, with a unit also taking data readings every minute, measuring the temperature inside the stove, the power generated, the power stored and discharged (i.e. being used). This also shows when and how long people are using the stoves, which is interesting to see in terms of if they are using less fuel that a traditional three stone fire, or in fact because it generates electricity are they using it more therefore burning more fuel.

A pleasant evening then passed, with, you guessed it, a few greens to wash down the day. Worth noting as well we had our first (and last, hopefully) tasting of Chibuku – locally brewed beer. This comes in a milk carton, and the best description is that it is lumpy, and tastes rather like sour milk.

Motoring to Cape Maclear

Motoring to Cape Maclear

So Friday then, and we head to the Lake. Maya drives the whole way, with duck sitting on the dash enjoying the typical African scenery. And that brings us here! A beautiful place right on the beach, delicious fish for dinner, and another lazy weekend ahead with reading, snorkelling and swimming for the next three days – the hard life...

Rich

Duck's first African paddle

Duck's first African paddle

Posted by TattoodDuck 09:15 Archived in Malawi Comments (5)

(Entries 9 - 10 of 15) « Page 1 2 3 4 [5] 6 7 8 »