(As a reminder these are my experiences. I cannot speak for a whole country or continent.)
The social norms here in Malawi are very different. I feel like I have taken a time machine and have gone back in time. The roles of men and women are simply: the women are the main providers, whether that is bringing home money, taking care of the children, or doing all of the house duties. The women are to go fetch water, get firewood, or sell the harvest. Men and women are not respected on the same level and I have experienced this first hand. For example, an older gentleman that works at the campsite asked Ernest (A fellow Malawian female) to go fetch water, since she was busy I went instead. I got about 5 liters of water,(4 really big bottles of water) which I had to walk about 10 minutes in total to retrieve the water. It was not a far walk but can become difficult due to the amount of water I was carrying. When I returned about 20 minutes later, the older gentlemen asked, “Why I only got 5 liters of water instead of the 15 liters?” This would have been a fair question if 5 other guys were not simply just sitting around doing nothing. I simply replied, “Your welcome for the 5 liters of water, and one of your other men can go get the other 10 liters.” It is seen in this culture that, fetching water, regardless of how far or how heavy it is a women’s job. I have walked into rooms and have not been acknowledged solely due to the fact I was a woman. This has made me want to flip many tables. Many of the times I am by far the most qualified person in a room, due to experience in teaching, almost fully completing a degree, owning a nonprofit, and have done lots of research on developing nations, but I have been overlooked due to my gender. This is their cultural I cannot change it I must accept it. Now I simply stay quiet and observe the people around me.
The structure of work is very different here. There are plenty of men who go to work, but this solely depends on the structure of the household. If one does not own a business, is a driver or owns a farm than the person does not work. Here in Rumphi, Malawi if you own a business you are successful. It does not matter if your business makes a profit, but you own something and one should be proud. I do believe that owning a business is something to be proud of. My only issue is when walking down the street for 5 minutes you pass 15 mini shops (usually a small outhouse looking building with the simple necessities), 5 barber shops and 15 people selling vegetables. I do not know how people make a profit to survive. This has become a systematic problem due to the lack of education. In Malawi, Primary school (1st grade to 8th grade) is free, after 8th grade, the parents must pay for the student to continue education. Parents cannot afford for their child to continue their education due to the lack of funds available. The other issue is the student cannot pass the 8th-grade exam due to constantly being out of school or having unqualified teachers. Many of the students in rural areas miss weeks’ worth of school to help on the farm or help their parents earn money to get food.
In these situations, I cannot do anything, because these are systematic problems. But what I can do is make the teachers accountable for showing up for work. I can make sure that each day I am present for school the students are in class as much as possible. I can make sure that even if a teacher isn’t present learning still continues. Education is key to accomplishing anything in life. Although going to college and university is not always the option for everyone, education is. This goes for anywhere in the world, students are our future. We want to make sure that each student knows they can accomplish anything. We (teachers, parents, friends, decent human beings) must uplift and protect our children so that they can go be Something Amazing in this world.
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Until next time