Reflections from some of our field workers...

The following are stories from some of the local enumerators who were hired to conduct research on the first phase of our Pedal Powered Hope project in Zomba District, Malawi.

Deborah Mhango’s Reflections
By: Deborah Mhango

Whenever the word or phrase “helping others” came my way giving out money was the meaning I attached to the phrase. Little did I know that helping means a lot than giving out money. When people approached me asking for help all I could do was give out the little money that I had with me in my pocket. It was like this until 2006 when I discovered the true meaning of the word help.

It was a Saturday when I and some few friends of mine went to visit some orphans at Umodzi orphanage in TA MWAMBO area in Zomba District. It was my first time visiting an orphanage that had a lot of orphans. As we were charting with the orphans, a girl aged 12 approached me asking me to help her. Having it in mind that helping others means giving out money, without wasting time I took a twenty kwacha from my pocket and gave it to the girl. All I expected was a simple thank you or a smile on her face. To my disappointment the girl’s face gave me a picture that the twenty kwacha I gave out was not what she wanted when she asked for help. I looked at her and then asked her what she wanted only to hear that all she wanted was someone who could give her an ear.

After spending some time with the girl I came to realize that all she wanted was to talk to someone just to explain the problems she was facing. In short this girl was being forced to get married by some elders that surrounded the orphanage. The elders told this young girl that being an orphan meant facing a lot of problems and that the only way out was getting married to a rich man who could provide for all her needs. The only thing that this girl wanted from me was a piece of advice. After she told me her story I felt bad and I was ashamed at the same time. This is when I realized that there was more to the word helping than what I thought. I spent some time with the girl giving her advice. The little time and advice I gave her meant nothing to mean but it meant a lot to her. After the chart the girl took my address and we left.

After a year I got a letter from this girl explaining to me her plans after writing her standard eight examinations. I was so shocked when she wrote that all she wanted to do during her holiday was to spend time with the girls at the orphanage in order to encourage them to work hard and not to be pressured into marriage. She told me that the little advice I gave her meant a lot and motivated her to give time to others as well.

This incident made me realize that helping is not in terms of giving out money only but it can be done in so many ways like giving out your time to listen to people talk or give out advice. This encounter also made me realize that there is a seed that one plants unknowingly in the person being helped. I saw that the little help (advice) I gave to this young girl acted as a seed that eventually matured. Since then I find it interesting giving an ear knowing that it is another way of helping and also that it is a way of sowing seeds unknowingly that eventually matures in the same way or differently.

Help comes in different ways. Some ways may be noticed by all people while sometimes not all may see something as being helpful. For example when I was offered an opportunity to work as a numerator at Bikes without Borders Organization I thought Bicycles may not be of any help to me all my society because in most cases I see a lot of people using them as an alternative mode of transportation or for pleasure and maybe this is the view that a lot of people who have access to cars or other modes of transportation also have. Working with this organization (BWB) made me realize that bicycles are also crucial and that in some places they are the most reliable mode of transportation. After talking to some people from remote areas about the modes of transport that they think are very crucial to them I was also shocked to hear that bicycles play a big role in their daily lives and they are the most commonly used mode of transport. This is the case because in most case bicycles are readily available than cars and that bicycles go to places that cars cannot. I was so amazed to even hear that these bicycles are used as ambulances that transport patients to hospitals since there are no ambulances readily available. This also gave me a picture that the things I take for granted may be of great importance to other people.

All in all, I have learned that things that are seen as not helpful to a particular person turns out to be very helpful to other. As such let us not stop doing little things that seem not important to some people of a setting because there are some people who benefit directly or in directly from such kind of this.
— Deborah Mhango

Deborah Mhango was one of ten Chancellor College (located in Zomba, Malawi) graduates from the International Development program hired to conduct research.

Sitithana Kasapila’s Reflections
by Sitithana Kasapila

Feelings, Revelations, and Experiences in the Field

I am Sitithana Kasapila one of the members that worked with Bikes Without Borders. This is a Canadian based non-profit NGO which helps the less fortunate in developing countries by using bicycles as a toll for empowerment. Bikes without Borders performed a survey of transportation needs which took place from 18thMay to 2nd June 2010 in Zomba district, Malawi. It was really interesting to learn that I was one of the people who made up the team. After comprehensive training, we were off to do our fieldwork. Although I like working with the rural people, I was skeptical about going into the villages. I had mixed feelings of what the people would be like. It was even difficult for me to imagine what the situation would be like meeting people who were total strangers. But I was confident in the fact that Malawians are probably the most friendliest people I have ever met.

The day we started field work, I was relieved to hear that we were going to begin by meeting the health care workers in the Health Centres and the cyclists in the Market places. With this, I realized that the task was much easier and not tiresome as it is when it is door to door. In the villages, the people were very friendly and so willing to talk to us. It was even easy for me to build strong relationships with the respondent because they were more open. It was very interesting for me to reflect and feel mixed emotions. I was feeling sorry most of the times we were leaving the villages because I had learnt so much about their hardships.

The field work on its own was an eye opening experience. Apart from funny answers mostly from the cyclists, we shared lots of knowledge and experiences with the rural people. I came to realize that these people have knowledge and they know some things that I never knew before. Apart from the shared experience and knowledge we all together open up to new knowledge that we all never knew. Working with Bikes Without Borders was really one of the most wonderful experiences I have had in my life.
— Sitithana Kasapila

Sitithana Kasapila was one of ten Chancellor College (located in Zomba, Malawi) graduates from the International Development program hired to conduct research.

Tawonga Msiska’s Reflections
by Tawonga Msiska

When I first got the job of being an enumerator/researcher for Bikes for Borders, my thoughts were of how easy the job would be. To enumerate-to simply list down what others would be telling me was just going to be easy money. Little did I know that my first week as an enumerator around Zomba would turn out to be surprisingly different from what I had expected.

Likangala Health Centre turned out to be such an enlightening and humbling experience. The CBOs are very hard working and are devoted to helping the people in not only their villages, but neighboring ones as well. They give so much of their time and energy by counseling others and giving out medicine to those that are sick in the villages. Sometimes, they even help in bringing those that are urgently sick to the health centre using any means of transportation that is available at the time.

A fifty seven year old respondent smilingly told me of how he visits people in the villages around the health centre by foot. He walks for miles on end providing advice on health, soap and sometimes medicine to those that are sick but cannot reach the health clinic. He has been doing this for over 12 years. Having had his bike spoiled years ago, he has no choice but to walk. Despite this fact, this man is still willing to help in spite of his situation and age. I found this to be quite humbling for a man who has almost nothing to be able to give almost everything.

Chamba Health Centre turned out to be almost as astounding as the one before. With so many volunteers helping out at the health clinic in serving the people that are sick by travelling such long distances of sometimes even fifteen kilometers from the health centre using oxcarts, bicycles and sadly sometimes by foot.

As it turns out, bicycles are such a major part of the transportation system in Malawi. A lot of people rely on riding a bicycle in order to carry out their errands and business’ allowing them to reach the most essential and remote places. One of the cyclist respondents that I met in Mpyupyu, Zomba, travels to Chinamwali market everyday, a distance of over 12 kilometres, in order to sell fruit for his livelihood. As I approached the man with a friendly and informative greeting about what why Bikes Without Borders wanted to talk to him, he was eager to participate and answer my questions. I was polite and friendly but informative about the intentions of BWB. He listened attentively and answered each question with careful consideration since the topic of transportation concerned him greatly. By the end of the interview, I had not just met a respondent but made a friend as well.

This experience has taught me how much there is to learn not only from the respondents but from the people I work with as well. Our leader Kristen has encouraged me to grow as a person and with her and the other enumerators help, this survey has proven to be a very informative process of how people in Malawi are living their lives while improving mine as well.

All in all, my experience with BWB has really been a great one!
— Tawonga Msiska

Tawonga Msiska was one of ten Chancellor College (located in Zomba, Malawi) graduates from the International Development program hired to conduct research.