Malawi – Wednesday 10th March

So I was too tired to write yesterday. I delivered my first training – a full day on “Dealing with the Media”. The group of 10 was very engaged, and the feedback suggests they found it really useful. The venue was Mzuzu, one of the main towns of the north of Malawi. Because much of the media is based in Blantyre and Lilongwe not many of the NGOs have direct media experience. They went away resolving to do more media work, and to encourage their colleagues to think more about how they can use the media. A reasonably successful event.

Eva, who staffs SCVO’s ‘Malawi Office’, was doing a course on project management. The media course finished slightly earlier, so I was able to see the presentations on project management. Most of the groups seemed to have chosen water and sanitation projects – which reflects the urgent need to improve these facilities. The presentations were really quite impressive, given that the group were doing this for the first time. Again, there was a resolution to incorporate the lessons learnt into their everyday work, and to spread the learning. A very successful event.

We went for dinner afterwards at the Mzuzu Golf Club. Which is nowhere near as salubrious as it sounds. They hadn’t anticipated having a vegetarian, so I was offered Chambo – a fish speciality from Lake Malawi. I politely declined, and much to the bewilderment of the kitchen staff and the bemusement of my colleagues agreed to rice, beans and vegetables with the ubiquitous home cooked tomato sauce. It was delicious. The chillies cooked with the carrots gave the whole thing a splendid piquancy. Afterwards I slumped off to bed, and was asleep by 9.30. The regular morning starts at 6.30 are tiring and this is exacerbated by training all day. I got a good night sleep. I’m grateful that Mzuzu is cooler than the south, as a result of being at a substantially greater altitude.

On Monday evening Eva and the CONGOMA team collected me from Korea Gardens and we drove up to Mzuzu, the tobacco harvest is ripe and being collected, and the end of the rainy season means that the landscape is very lush. Malawi has quite dramatic hills, but the extreme poverty is obvious as you pass through settlements on the way. There are a lot of houses that look unsuited to the very heavy rain and little evidence of electrification. The training has focused on the need for bore holes in rural areas. I’m always astonished at the level of deprivation for so many in a world of plenty. The case for changing the way we organise the world economy grows greater every time I see the grinding reality of poverty faced by the global majority.

Three CONGOMA staff are helping during my stay: Symon, the very intelligent and articulate driver; Ronald, the programme director who stayed for a while in Portobello in 2007; and Mariam, who is the finance officer.

Ronald was facilitating a regional meeting in Mzuzu this morning. It was an interesting experience. Particularly the Representatives from the Regional Assembly who came along to tell the collected NGOs that their role was to ‘compliment’ [sic, I assume] the activities of the Regional Assemblies. He went on to say that there were real problems with the governance of NGOs, and that they needed to be more transparent.

I’m sure many of you will be thinking that the approach of government to NGOs in Malawi is similar to that in Scotland, even if they’re a little more direct about how they say it.  I was very surprised that there wasn’t more objection from the organisations in the room, especially given that many rely on foreign funders rather than local government to support them. But we did eventually get to how important the independence of NGOs was, and how they were actually governed rather better than Regional Assemblies in many cases.

I’m off to the Lake tomorrow. And I’m really quite excited about this. Apart from people the thing I miss most is good media. I haven’t seen TV news since Monday – which is real drought for me.  The TV stations we’ve got at the lodge are all either Nigerian dramas (Nollywood is a new phenomenon to me) or football. So even if the live games are too late to watch to the end, I do get to see more English football here than in the UK…


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