On May 4th 2017, when we lifted the trophy on the stage of the Helix Theatre at the Concern Debates Final we thought our debating journey was coming to an end. We soon discovered that it was only the beginning. Armed with the information we had gathered throughout our debating experience, we set off on our field visit to Malawi with our principal, Ms. Ann Marie Brosnan and two Concern staff members, Jessie Maguire and Joanne Arnold. What we experienced in Malawi will stay with us for the rest of our lives. We had an action packed week with new discoveries and adventures at every turn.
And the journey begins
Our journey began on July 22nd from Dublin Airport onto Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and we finally arrived at our final destination in Lilongwe, Malawi on July 23rd. Looking back we had no idea what was ahead of us. On Monday morning, our first field visit to Mchinji, we visited Naomi, a farmer from Kachinaka. Naomi has partaken in numerous Concern projects, most recently the Kitchen Garden Project. This project saw Naomi grow more nutritious crops while increasing her yield. Naomi was an inspiration to many other local farmers in the area and her thirst for knowledge and her willingness to learn inspired us as we continued our journey. Naomi travelled with us to her local village .
Photo's of our visit to Kachinaka
The welcome we received at this village of song and dance is indescribable. The warm welcome and happy faces that greeted us, cemented our belief in the work Concern does. While in Kachinaka, we saw a village saving and loan group and a mothers group meeting in action. The professional manner these meeting were carried out in, mixed with some traditional Malawian custom was certainly an experience! It is evident how beneficial these schemes are to the community.
TA Zula: Skillz Girl
On Tuesday morning, we visited the Grassroots soccer programme, co-ordinated by James, who was clearly passionate about his work. Grassroots soccer is a programme implanted by Concern to inform to adolescent girls their rights, sexual and reproductive health and how to address gender based violence. This was done in a fun and interactive way that appealed to these adolescent girls. The programme was carried out as extra curricular activity that combined soccer skills with classroom based learning. The participation in the classroom astounded us and openness at which they addressed these issues inspired us to follow their lead. We finished our day with a visit to Mua Mission, a UNESCO cultural heritage site to learn about the tribes and customs of the Malawian people.
On Wednesday, we visited an education project in Kalinde, Phalombe, where we met with star circle groups and fathers groups. We also watched a production by Theatre For change, who works alongside Concern to promote school attendance, to inform girls of gender based violence and educate communities on human rights law. The star circle and fathers group worked to bring children who had dropped out of school for various reasons back to full time education. These reasons included child-marriage and child-labour amongst others. We learnt that over 50 children have been brought back to full time education since September in one village alone.
Visit to education project in Kalinde, Phalombe
On Thursday, we visited Mbembembe Primary School, Phalombe. Here we met with the Student Council and the Girl’s Club. We split into 2 groups and sat in on a meeting that usually takes place every 2 weeks after school. The Girl’s Club is an initiative to keep marginalised girls in full time education. The meetings we sat in on were discussing the issue of peer pressure influencing girls’ school attendance. Again the participation and interest in the topic being taught provided an amazing atmosphere in the classroom. The student council focused on marginalised pupils that showed leadership qualities and how to harness those qualities and help other students in the process.
Mbembembe Primary School,
On Friday, we travelled to Mangochi where we visited the post-emergency livelihoods programme. This project was targeted at an area which had experienced severe drought. We visited a village in the Mangoch district where we learned about the different farming techniques such as mulching and crop rotation. We witnessed first-hand, the works of an innovative irrigation scheme, introduced by Concern where they use the troughs to control the water supply which in turn provides the crops with enough water. This field trip was really interesting because we witnessed the physical change Concern had made to so many lives.
Visit to Farm in the Mangochi area
After our exhausting and overwhelming week, we made the journey back home. We came back enlightened, empowered and inspired by what we had seen. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Concern for opening our minds to new experiences, ideas and concepts. We would also like to thank Concern Staff members, Joanne and Jessie for their support, guidance and kindness on the trip. To conclude, in the words of Concern’s Country Director of Malawi, Caoimhe DeBarra, ‘After this trip, you will return home, agents of change, empowered with the knowledge you have gathered and inspired by the people you have met.’