My work week in Lilongwe

For those of you who prefer chronological presentation of information, brace yourself….this is all about Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of the past week!

Wednesday June 10

Patricia and I were taken by WUSC to each of our partner organizations. As we began the day by taking Patricia to YECE, so I had the chance to meet the people she will be working with before heading off to COWLHA.

At COWLHA, my main contact, Daphne Gondwe, President of COWLHA, was not there as she he had to go to a funeral. Daphne was at the funeral of Mildred Sharra who died tragically as a result of a car accident on June 8, 2009. She and 12 others riding in a minibus in Mzimba were killed. Mildred Sharra was with ActionAid Malawi and was a key supporter of Daphne and Victoria when they started COWLHA three years ago.

As a result, I met the other member of the COWLHA staff, Victoria Kalumba at the COWLHA office. While I was there that afternoon, other members of COWLHA — Maureen, Monica and Agnes — who volunteer to staff the organization dropped by to meet me.

I did a bit of reading and chatting with Victoria to try and get a feel for the organization and the work I might be doing with them. Around 4:00 p.m., we ‘knocked-off” and I headed for ‘home’ for the first time…on my own on the mini bus. Mini bus riding in town can be a bit of an adventure. This time, I found myself squished in the front seat with a very large woman on my left and the gear shift at my right. It was just a bit funny as the woman beside me had packages that took up most of the floor space so my knees were drawn up. She was concerned that my dress was showing my knees, so this motivated her to find space so I could put my legs down and pull my skirt over my knees!

Thursday June 11, 2009

After breakfast, I walked to the WUSC offices nearby to run an errand for some materials to take to COWLHA and then headed into Old Town via mini-bus to go to the COWLHA office. (The mini-bus ride is MK 80 …or about 75 cents…per trip.)

Most of the day was spent reading materials I had tracked down and waiting for other business to be completed. At Daphne’s request, I also read through a a draft report, ”Huairou Commission AIDS Campaign Assessment and Perspectives on the Way Forward”. She wanted my comments. I completed this and also read material Victoria provided to me concerning a study and extensive report prepared by the Leitner Centre. Leitner researches worked with COWLHA in 2008 to prepare background information and some preliminary advice on advocacy – particularly at the local and individual level.

Daphne was not around too much due to other meetings. We agreed at the end of the day to focus on the preparation of our workplan on Friday.

At lunch on Thursday, Victoria took me to the neighbouring restaurant. I had Nsima  for the first time – corn maize (sort of like a set-porridge) with beef, stewed rape (a green leaf vegetable) and kidney beans. The Nsima had little flavour but was good to sop up the gravy on the meet and it’s very filling.

I keep working on learning some basic Chichewa….but it’s slow going. Interestingly, I suppose because my brain realizes it’s learning a new language, I start responding in French when I’m stuck. So bizarre!!!

The mini bus ride was eventful, per usual!! The van would not start until 3 (arguing) men pushed it to the incline about half a kilometer away from the Shoprite pick-up point. Quite an adventure seeing this van being pushed along in the midst of the rush hour traffic…. I got home anyways!

Friday, June 12

I didn’t have to take the mini-bus into work this morning as I was offered a ride by the YECE staff who came to pick-up Patricia. (Patricia works in Area 25, a part of Lilongwe that can take quite a while to get to when traveling via mini-bus.) They dropped me in Old Town where I ran some errands at Shoprite and then I walked to the COWLHA office, buying a paper on the way. No one was at COWLHA when I arrived so I had some time to be in the sun and read the paper until Victoria arrived.

I worked on a first draft of the work plan and talked with Victoria to learn more about the organizational structure of COWLHA. I played her some Blue Rodeo music to give her a taste of Canadian music. I am so happy I brought my laptop with me as otherwise, I would have to share a very aging computer with Victoria and Daphne. At least with my own set-up I can keep busy even if they are working on other things.

Daphne arrived part way through the morning after she had run some errands and she was accompanied by another COWLHA member. I was introduced to her and we chatted a little bit before the conversation turned to Chichewa, and then I went back to my work.

There were a few other visitors in the office in the morning, including a consultant, James, who works with COWLHA quite often. He helps them write proposals for funding.

Daphne, Victoria and I had lunch together, eating food from the same restaurant on the campus of the Ministry of Agriculture, where our office is located. (The Ministry offices are very old and they rent out some of the less useable space at very reasonable rates to various NGO’s.)


Everyone continues to try to help me with my Chichewa….but I am progressing only slowly. My mind just doesn’t seem to hold the new language. I am getting frustrated with myself….maybe it’s too many changes all at once. I’ve managed thank you (Zikomo) and how are you (muli bwanji)….but even these get tangled on my tongue and scrambled in my ear.

Daphne gave me a copy of the COWLHA Strategic Plan. It has a major element related to advocacy setting out the general framework for activity by the organization in this area until 2011 – including at the national and regional level.

I adapted my initial draft of the work plan to reflect the fact that COWLHA already has a basic framework for advocacy. This means we can focus on development of an implementation plan for the framework that exists, perhaps using Daphne’s desire to influence changes for the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act as a beginning.

I showed Daphne what I had drafted…..and then she showed me another document that they had prepared for COWLHA under the auspices of ActionAids. This had a preliminary workplan – now dated – that pre-dated the strategic plan. We have agreed that I will work on migrating the initial work into a format and approach that ties directly to the advocacy elements of the strategic plan. This will be a key deliverable of our work together.


We finished off the work plan and agreed that I would take it to the WUSC office for review. I headed home around 2:00 p.m. …on the mini-bus…..this time we had to stop to refill the tank with a bit of gas to be able to make the rest of the route through to Area 11, where I am staying…. Always an adventure!

Patricia and I shared stories about our day/week and then we went for dinner in Old Town at Don Brione’s (Kaboka Hotel) and had a very nice meal. I had a Malawian beer – Kuche Kuchie – yep, that’s what it’s called!



  1. Hélène Fournier says:

    I am so proud of you! You switched to French! That is so rewarding for your French teacher.
    Zikomo means “merci” et l’autre expression veut dire “comment allez-vous?”.
    Very soon you will be trilingual. Félicitations!

    Bon dimanche.

    Hélène Fournier

  2. Allison Hodgkinson says:

    Aunt Vicki!
    Your trip so far sounds very eventful!
    Those mini buses sound worse than brampton transit!
    Do you think you could post a pic??

    I hope your having a good time! the language barrier sounds really confusing! but I’m sure you’ll pick it up in no time!

    can’t wait for more updates!
    love youuu!


  3. Uncle Peter says:

    Hi Vic
    Thanks for the birthday wishes. Your dad even admitted that I’m younger than he.Must be old age or love. We had a great time.
    It sounds like you’re keeping busy and enjoying a different lifestyle and work environment.The local buses give you a real idea of the people.
    Congratulations on your efforts . We’re proud of you.
    Lots of love
    Uncle Peter and Aunt Shirley