Friday, July 27, 2007

Civitas Malawi: “The Warm Heart of Africa”

The Strong Character and Culture of the People of Malawi

To understand Civitas Malawi properly, one needs a deeper insight into the circumstances—sometimes quite humble—that shape the character of the people and the country. In international circles, Malawi is popularly known as “The Warm Heart of Africa,” because, the people are renowned for their warmth and friendliness; and, weather-wise, it is almost always warmer here than in other parts of Africa. The following pictures depict cultural dances, people at a party, one of many outdoor markets; and, people mingling, walking freely without fear of anything or anyone.

On the other hand, it is also a well known fact that debilitating poverty is rampant in Malawi. Almost everyone lost a loved one or friend in the famine of 2001-2002. Widespread poverty is illustrated by poor living conditions and scarce resources for most of our pupils and their schools in the poor rural and urban areas.

As a result of this poverty, many women and children, instead of continuing their education, bear the burden of the labour needed for the daily tasks of fetching water and firewood for cooking and cleaning, primarily because electricity and water plants are unavailable or undependable. Women and girls do this and all of the other labour-intensive jobs needed to keep the home running, as well as endure the same kinds of devastating sexual discrimination and harassment other women and girls face around the world. Many of the uneducated or untrained men try to earn some form of cash as hired manual workers such as in construction, cutting and selling firewood or coal, setting up their own small business (micro-enterprise), however, the work is usually temporary, scarce or seasonal. When parents can’t find work or there’s too much work at home or the farm to keep it running well, even some of the best most deserving pupils, frequently girls, have to drop out of school to work at home or earn money for the family. We at Civitas Malawi are doing what we can to help children stay in school which we know will be their only chance to find productive work as healthy adults, build a happy life and strong communities, and become active, effective democratic citizens. Towards this goal, future Civitas Malawi efforts will also focus on building partnerships with university departments and students, as well as community leaders, to explore and discover what can be done practically and soon to improve the status of the poor in Malawi.

Still, abject poverty and the lack of basic resources in Malawi—a young multi-party democracy—stands in paradoxical contrast with the natural beauty and warmth of the landscape and the strong character and culture of the people. Look deeper into the dreams and aspirations of the people, especially the young, and you will find enormous potential and a richness of spirit that, if nurtured and guided by extraordinary experiential educational programs like Project Citizen, will carry Malawi forward to a more prosperous future. If given a proper chance, as only a good democratic education can provide, the young people of Project Citizen Malawi will fulfil Dr. Elias Chakwera’s pronouncement that they, indeed, are the “hope of Malawi.”

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

History of Civitas Malawi's Project Citizen

“Project Citizen Malawi is part of Civitas Africa, which is a cooperative program of civic education between organizations in the U.S. and organizations in a number of African nations including Malawi , Senegal , Ghana , South Africa , Mauritius , Nigeria , and Kenya . Funding is provided by the U.S. Department of Education under the Education for Democracy Act approved by the U.S. Congress. This program provides African and U.S. leaders in civic education the opportunity to learn from and assist each other in implementing and improving education for democratic citizenship.

“Civitas Africa is part of Civitas International, which is an international civic education exchange program which aims at strengthening effective education for informed and responsible citizenship in both new democracies such as Malawi ’s and established democracies around the world. Civitas operates on the basis that no democracy can adequately function without the support of its citizens who understand the foundational ideals and practices of democracy. Civitas operates on the assumption that without good civic education, new democracies such as Malawi ’s cannot flourish. That is, it takes good civic education to ensure that democracy develops and flourishes through an informed and engaged citizenry.

“Students and teachers who participate in Project Citizen Malawi learn how monitoring and influencing public policy can improve the conditions of their individual and community lives. The culminating event of Project Citizen’s curricular program consists of Student Teams of 16 students making formal public presentations to their schools and invited guests made up of their fellow students, families, community leaders and public policymakers. Based on the quality of their responses and their team’s written work, the judges decide which Team’s project merits the highest honors.”

(Thomas LeBlanc, June 04, 2007, Education Team Leader, USAID/Malawi, Letter to U.S. Ambassador to Malawi, Alan Eastham.)