Student Testimonial about Fighting with The Poor program
24month Pedagogy and Fighting with The Poor program in Malawi
Juri Manko, Estonian
- Why did you choose this program?
I worked all of my life in social areas and I was fed with seeing so much business in the social area, people talking more than doing. I saw and heard a lot about Africa but nobody was going there. Then I found this program and felt it would be good for me. I chose DRH Lindersvold because of the program about pedagogy – I think education is very important. We can spend money on many things, also to support NGO work, but it is not good enough to only give, give – we need to use education as a tool so people learn how to do things, how to solve problems and create their future. When I saw this possibility to be a teacher, it was just what I was looking for. As a DI in the project I was working a lot with pedagogy.
- What do you do now and what practical skills did you gain from this program to prepare you for this?
I am working with Humana People to People Berlin, as a Manager in a second hand shop. What is special for me is that I am earning money for a purpose – when I touch second hand clothes I feel the life in those clothes. The clothing is not wasted but is sold and the profit is used to support projects and people. One of the problems I see is that in the world today, the fashion industry is all about making profits – selling clothes cheap or expensive, for a specific season but many clothes come from countries with low salaries and unsafe conditions. I am part of selling clothes that have been worn several times and thereby creating a trend out of something interesting.
What I learned in the program is to be aware of my actions and what is happening around me. Before I was wasting my life, wasting money, wasting garbage, wasting plastic and I didn’t think about it. I lived in a bubble – in safe country where the consequences are not hard.
I was prepared well for the project period in Malawi whilst at DRH Lindersvold – I spent 1 year in Denmark in teaching practice, and studying about peace, war, economic crisis, the gap between rich and poor, what poverty does to the life of people. But when I came to Malawi I was shocked – I saw the back yard of colonisation and what we, Europe, did there. I was shocked for the whole first month and I had to adapt to the reality. During the programme I learned to put more emphasis on the importance of many more things… about sorting garbage, the life of plastic, how I use water, not wasting it. During the programme, I learned how to make investigations and to use the scientific method of research. This is important because in our times there is fake politics, fake news and fake life – so we each need to investigate a lot about what is really going on. I learned a lot by simply doing it – going somewhere, doing something, learning it. This has all led me to where I am now in my profession.
- What would be an important moment, event, achievement or person you met during your time in the program?
I saw the quintessence of the colonialism whilst in Malawi. I was a Core Group Teacher at a Teacher Training College in Malawi with Humana People to People. One day I was out walking with my students on investigation and we saw a small girl having an epileptic attack. She lay there malnourished – nobody helped, they just passed by. We started to speak to her and she told the story of her life and family. She was the oldest of three kids – 7 years old, begging money to bring food home. Her mother was an alcoholic. I wanted to give her money but one of the student told it would not help, that the mother would take it for alcohol. I felt powerless. In the end we bought food for the family and brought her home. But I felt we could not make any meaningful impact in that moment, and that we have to fight for something more. In Malawi, it is a general problem that so many people are without food, shelter or hope, among other things. Later I cried – it was a difficult situation. In this situation and many others, I learned that I am not fighting against but I and we need to build something. Many people fight against but the more you push a wall, the more it pushes you back. One of my students in Malawi told me “you don’t need to be like water, you have to be water”. I realised the need to fight with and stand for something. That was important for me.
It changed me when I entered the class or bus whilst in Malawi and saw so many faces of the students, happy and eager to learn. You come into the bus and all started to sing with you… I never thought I could sing – it was priceless.
Many of the students come from different villages in Malawi and when they had a task to set wishes after 5 years, I was surprised that many wrote “I want to get fat”. I found out this is a symbol of wealth in Malawi. When out on investigations, the student did not want to spend money on programme but on food and I understand it is from a lifetime of being hungry. But we needed to spend money for program eg visiting museums or making cultural events. In Namibia they did not want to visit the oldest desert in the world – but I managed to convince some of them. When they reached this wonder of the world that belongs to Africa and to them, and that is something incredibly beautiful, they understood and felt rich inside. I saw this transformation of the students not only experiencing the village when they grew up but understanding that the world is big and they are part of it. It makes them be and feel rich.
The work in my programme with a preparation has been very important for me. I was not going to Malawi as a god to bring knowledge to people who do not know anything. It was an experience of sharing. You learn, you give, you exchange and it makes us all rich.
- Has your work as a Development Instructor influenced your decisions for your future?
After I finalised the program I lived in Sweden with my girlfriend but it was like living in a bubble, in a matrix. The programme woke me and I could not allow myself to live that life – wasting my life. That was a decision. I decided that I would like to do something with this life. I built that foundation during the programme. For me it is not enough to donate €10 on Facebook – this does not save Africa or a whole community of people. It was so important for me to be a Development Instructor – I cannot see another way of how I could have got to the point where I am now.
By Juri Manko, from Estonia