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The Nursery School Project and It’s Lessons

Written by CorpsAfrica/Malawi Volunteer Ms. Tusayiwe Sikwese

In my very first blog, I told you all about a Nursery school project that I was helping Village X with. We had just started the construction at the time.  I didn’t know much about constructing buildings. I knew what a foundation was, but I didn’t know how it was constructed and all that… I didn’t know what a point was. I knew a few levels. But now I know plenty!

Anyway, aside from learning the actual construction things during the project, I also learned a lot about understanding the social dynamics of different individuals/ communities/ committees and the importance of perceived values. We might know these things but I just want to share with you all how these two concepts helped me get through the final stages of this project and how these concepts are going to help me with my own projects in the coming months… And maybe help my fellow Volunteers.

But first, I’m happy to say that the Nursery School was finally completed the week beginning 15 May 2016 and handed over to the community on 20 May 2016.  Michael Buckler, the CEO of Village X was there to grace the ceremony, which made it extra special! Of course Myson, the Project Coordinator was there too, after missing in action for the entire project but he was supportive through it all. I definitely would have cracked if he had left it all to me. And Sarah (CorpsAfrica Volunteer in Zomba) came all the way from her site, on SHORT notice, which was really really nice of her. Katherine (CorpsAfrica/Malawi’s project coordinator) was there too, warmed my heart ♥. Lastly Chief Maluwa (my community’s chief) and other surrounding chief’s, as well as a few members of the community, were also at the ceremony. Seeing all these people there, all happy and thankful for the project was very satisfying. There were songs and dances that spiced up the ceremony. Even I sang and danced to songs I had never heard before (Lol! check out the super short video and pictures) but it felt so right and it was so much fun!

As it is with all handover ceremonies, speeches were given. I gave one too but I really didn’t want to, my levels of shyness were high and I really didn’t have much to say to be honest. Anyway, the one speech that stood out for me was the Chiefs speech. In his speech, he said “nditamuona koyamba mtsikanoyu ndinkangomuona ngati okonda zamanyado, koma ayi ndithu ndi munthu olimbikira ntchito, ndipo atithandiza” (When I first saw this girl, I thought she was all about socializing but no she is hardworking and she will help us). Why did it stand out for me you might be asking? Well, it’s not the first time I have heard something along those lines. I am certainly not proud that this is the first impression I give people of myself. And so I had hoped to change that appearance about myself when I first came to my community. That obviously didn’t turn out well. The Chief then went on to thank me for working hard, committing myself to work the way I had been working and that I should continue committing myself in that way. At this point, I was happy that the Chief and the community members had finally seen me for what I am capable of doing. It was a proud moment for me. I think they gave me a tiny bit of the benefit of the doubt.

And the truth is, I am far from the very social and slacking person my appearance sells me out to be. 🙂
So the ceremony was absolutely amazing, and I would do it over again if I could but the work itself was no walk in the park. There were days/weeks I felt like the people didn’t want my help, I felt like they were undermining me (my petite self kind of causes that sometimes) and working with men only for the most part was hard. It was tough. I cracked once, I told Myson I couldn’t do it anymore, that I was done. They weren’t listening to ME. So I thought. I was frustrated. I withdrew from the work for close to two weeks. Things weren’t working out. I thought it best to focus on MY mentoring project and assisting at the secondary school. I talked to Katherine about it, I talked to my family about it. Talking it out helped, a bit and for a bit. The word social dynamics came up along the way. I ignored it. I told myself I didn’t have time to understand this concept. I just wanted to get the work done. It was already long overdue. I needed to get on with assessing the communities other needs. “I this and I that”. It was all about ME, what I wanted. Life is hard I thought. Tired of withdrawing and talking to people outside my Community about it, I finally decided to understand the social dynamics of the community, Village X committee and the other committees I thought I was having difficulties with. The first step was to talk to them. As I did that I also took time to understand their perceived values.

At this point I realized that it’s not that they weren’t listening to me, but they had something they valued more at the time I had asked that we do certain tasks. Harvest season!! They love their nsima but I obviously didn’t even consider that as a highly perceived value. Maybe because the project was long overdue. So, it was time to engage in a positive exchange of values. After reading up and a little bit of consultation, I learnt that social dynamics cause disputes within the community which then affects people’s perceived values as people do not want their values getting in the way of their relationships with their community members. For example, I like to communicate both when things are working well and when they aren’t. Now, they’re some committee members whose perceived value  is the same as mine, however because of the social dynamics regarding power and the like, the committee members failed to fully exchange their perceived value with mine due to fear of disputes. They keep  in mind that  I’m an outsider and I will leave at some point but they will have to face their community members anyway, and so my work slowed down and things came to a stop. In the end I got frustrated because I didn’t take time to understand this and I simply withdrew. This kind of withdrawal does not yield anything positive if it goes on for too long or without any positive action being taken. So instead of mopping around, feeling sorry for myself and stressing I decided to talk to one of the members to find out what the problem was. And they explained to me, right there, how the community’s and committees social dynamics were greatly affecting their work. This helped me a lot and I wish I had asked from the get go but I’m also glad I didn’t because that was a strong learning point, it was enlightening and it strengthened me.. My patience and perseverance levels have gone up a great deal.

Someone recently told me  to “be very observant of what people do and how they fit in their system so that you acclimate yourself to it, while bringing change where it’s necessary in an acceptable manner”. I couldn’t agree more. If I hadn’t taken time out to start over by observing and asking questions, the project wouldn’t have been completed by now. It’s very important  to step back, observe and listen when things aren’t going according to plan. It will lessen your frustrations and create an amicable working environment for you and your community. And also make your Volunteering experience exciting. It’s certainly turned things around for me. Village X has surely helped me in understanding more about my community and their  committees and I believe this will help me undertake successful projects.

Time to wind out this long post… We might have handed the Nursery School over to the community but that’s just the beginning. I have a lot of work to do together with the Village X committee over the next two weeks. Kids are  bundles of joy, despite the endless and sometimes weird questions that they ask but their inquisitive nature needs to be nurtured and shaped. There is no better stage in shaping a child, than their early childhood. So I am looking forward to seeing them in their large numbers at the Nursery School pretty soon. I know it’s going to be tough but I’m always up for a challenge!
Oh, the name of the school is Chimwemwe(Joy) Nursery School, just in case you were wondering .

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