April 22, 2008
I have been interested and involved in social justice issues my entire life in small ways and more recently in a big way. I am happy to say I am one of the founding members of the new Social Justice Chapter of the CCA. My involvement with this began because of my work in Malawi, Africa. It was my personal experience in Malawi that inspired me to work with Dr. Ron Lehr to initiate the Social Justice Chapter.
In regards to Malawi, allow me to elaborate on the work I have been involved with during my four trips. I originally went to Malawi as a volunteer teacher with the Canadian Teachers’ Federation sponsored by the Canadian International Development Agency and the Nova Scotia Teachers Union. I worked in this capacity during the summers of 2004 and 2005. When I completed my assignment in 2005 I extended my time in Malawi to do research on HIV/AIDS, death and bereavement. I lived and worked there for a total of five months at that time.
I became acquainted with a group called Tigomeze AIDS Support Organization (T.A.S.O.) who greatly inspired me. It is a group of volunteer workers who are living with AIDS and who have dedicated their lives to educating others about HIV/AIDS. Tigomeze means “We Shall Have Hope” and they do a phenomenal job providing hope to thousands of people in their community. I play a small role by providing them with much needed support through donations.
Through my research I learned that although there are countless charitable organizations working in Malawi, there are many groups of people still not receiving the help they desperately need. I questioned how I could possibly make any difference in one of the poorest countries in the world that is being devastated by HIV/AIDS. It came down to being overwhelmed and doing nothing or choosing a focus. I chose the latter and worked with three local women to found Titemwane Orphan Care Group. Titemwane means “We Shall Be Loved”. We started by helping 20 children and today there are 60 children in our group between the ages of eighteen months and fourteen years.
I returned to Nova Scotia in December of 2005 and started speaking to different groups about my work in Malawi. Through that process I managed to accumulate approximately $8000. I borrowed money to return to Malawi with the donations in July of 2006 and continued working with T.A.S.O. and Titemwane. During the six weeks I was there I managed to accomplish more than I had anticipated. It was no doubt the hardest work I have ever done, but also extremely rewarding. It is amazing how far $8000 will go when there is someone like me working at the grassroots level to make sure it is not misused.
I am grateful to know that the children of Titemwane are being fed twice a day, have blankets for the cold nights and are learning things to improve their lives. T.A.S.O. has also benefited through receiving food supplies that they use to help some of their neediest members. Some of the women of the group have also been able to start a small soap making business. I returned to Ekwendeni again during the summer of 2007 to continue this work. I am happy to report that we have been able to provide eight members of T.A.S.O. with piglets, which they will raise, breed and redistribute to benefit even more members. We are planning to continue these types of self-sustaining projects to benefit more and more individuals and their families.
There are some very specific short and long term goals I am trying to attain. One urgent goal is to keep the children of Titemwane fed and in school. I am also involved in a Community Development Project in Ekwendeni, Malawi. With the help of a local foundation in Nova Scotia, phase one of the project has already been completed with the construction of a small complex for Titemwane to meet, share meals and learn skills. It is also available for T.A.S.O. members to have a meeting place sheltered from the hot sun. The next phase of the project includes the construction of a maize mill and a livestock feed mill, which will provide income for the project. The final stage will be the construction of a vocational training center where people can learn income-earning skills and services. Once built, the timeline is that over a period of five years it would become self-sustaining. In one of the poorest countries in the world, developing projects to promote abundance is a major goal because poverty directly affects all other negative issues within the country.
It would be an understatement to say that it has been a very steep learning curve to undertake such an initiative. Obstacles such as language barriers, working with chiefs and village headmen in a male dominated society and dealing with the ongoing devastation of poverty are just a few of the daily issues. But, I wouldn’t give it up for a moment. Malawi is known as the Warm Heart of Africa and I can say from personal experience that it is exactly that. It has captured my heart and become my second home. I am dedicated to completing what I have started and I know I will always be connected to this beautiful country long after my goals have been accomplished.
The wonderful thing about becoming involved in social justice issues is that you can do that in far away places or right here in your back yard. I try to do a bit of both. There are countless ways to help in this world, you just have to be brave and follow your heart.
*Christie is a middle school counsellor in rural Nova Scotia. She is a single parent of two sons. For more information on Christie’s work you can visit her new website at www.novascotiamalawiassociation.com