Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
It was so interesting driving from the airport to the hotel yesterday. I have to say… it was comforting to see pedestrians have the right away when crossing the streets! The drive was also sort of weird. It was weird to not see people everywhere. In Malawi, it feels like there are people EVERYWHERE! People walking in the middle of the roads with large objects on their heads; little kids herding goats and playing in the red dirt on the side of the road; people walking alongside their bicycles with firewood stacked 6 feet high. Even in Canada’s largest city, in the most central point of the city, the amount of people walking in the streets doesn’t even come close to the amount of people walking around in Lilongwe and Blantyre. It is odd to come back and see things so… so… organized and structured. Perhaps I’m experiencing a sort-of culture shock (or perhaps REVERSE culture shock) coming back from Malawi. I remember going through this same sort of thing last year. While two-weeks in Malawi is a very short period of time, I think it is long enough period of time to learn and apply the societal rules. I think culture shock sets in when those rules change. I see “reverse culture shock” is on our agenda for today’s meetings! I’ll be sure to share what I learn…
Last night, Team Malawi and Team Uganda met up for dinner and some drinks at an Irish pub near the hotel. We shared stories, ate and called it a night. Airplane rides and jet lag really is exhausting!
This morning we will be meeting up with a couple of CCA staff for day 1 of our 2 day final briefing sessions. We will likely share stories with each other, laugh, cry and hug-it-out… probably not… regardless, it should be a couple of good days with everyone. It’s sad to see this program come to an end for me. I’ve really come to enjoy the company of Brad, Bruce, Dennis and Nicky over the past two years. Anyways… the meeting starts in an hour! Time for a coffee!
Monday, March 8, 2010
Saturday, March 6, 2010
Last night, Sylvester, Dickson, Fumbani (sp?) and Kingsley took us out for dinner at a golf course near our hotel. We had chicken gizzards for a starter and I had what will likely be my last Malawian Chambo meal for a while. The whole MUSCCO executive is an awesome bunch of guys!
Well… Today has finally come. I can't believe today is my last day in the "Warm Heart of Africa". I think I'm going to go walking around, take some photos and take in the last of the 25C weather.
Our almost-2-days-worth-of-flights start at 1:15pm this afternoon.
Blog ya in Toronto!
Friday, March 5, 2010
Paul and I made it back to Lilongwe. We took an AXA Coach from Blantyre to Lilongwe, and the bus ride took about 4.5 hours. The distance between Lilongwe and Blantyre can't be greater than 350Km, but because of the road conditions (POT HOLES!!!) and road side police and immigration stops, it takes a very long time to travel on the highways. At the one immigration stop we encountered, two officers came onto the bus and demanded to see the passports of all foreign visitors. We showed our passports and I explained we were down here volunteering with MUSCCO and visiting SACCOs. I was asked to provide some piece of documentation I had never heard of, and got a little concerned… The officer told me to get the document in Lilongwe. A girl sitting behind us was questioning the officer's decision to see passport's for foreigners. I have to say, it is pretty odd to have to produce a passport to ride on a bus… The only thing I can think of is that the country may have an issue with immigration (ie: illegal immigrants).
We met up with Bruce, Brad, Dennis and Nicky at the hotel restaurant last night and shared stories with each other. It was nice to see everyone again and it sounded like everyone had a good time once again this year.
We're meeting with MUSCCO this morning to review our findings, have the afternoon off and going out for our final dinner with MUSCCO later this evening! It's hard to believe my time in Malawi has almost come to an end…
Thursday, March 4, 2010
First of all… I made it back alive and well from the markets yesterday. I think I got some good deals. It takes time to get a good deal, but with time (and patience…) I was able to string together a couple of deals with "my friends".
Paul and I made our presentation to the MBC board this morning. I think it was really well received. The Chairman thanked us for our work and our recommendations, and told us that he thought there were a lot of good recommendations in our report. Paul and I requested to visit a school this afternoon, and informed the MBC staff and board that we would like to make a financial donation to a government school. The government has changed from offering little financial assistance to the education of Malawians to now offering free education for Malawian primary and secondary schooling. While it is free for children to attend school, the resources for these children have declined over the years. We were told by one of the board members that years ago, when the government did not offer financial assistance, parents would pay a small fee for their children to attend school, and they were given a text book, writing tools, etc. Today, the schooling is free, but the student:text book ratio was 5:1. It's difficult to differentiate which system is better for the students…
The school we visited in Dilonde (same area as the orphanage we visited last week) had 5,400 students. There were 62 teachers currently working at the school. That is about 87 students to 1 teacher at the school. Crazy! Paul and I made a financial donation to the school we visited. Abigail converted our cash, asked the school head master what supplies he required and sent her staff out to buy school supplies with our funds. We then presented 40+ text books and a variety of miscellaneous school supplies (pens, pencils, scribblers, pencil sharpeners, etc.) to the headmaster of the school. In the big scheme of things, our donation was not extravagant, but the school staff sure made us feel like it was! There was a very formal reception, in which the a representative of the ministry of education attended, to receive the gifts. The media showed up and interviewed Paul. It was way too much for our simple donation, but everyone we spoke with made sure we understood that great things can come from small donations.
Abigail and the board vice-president took us out for lunch afterwards. We went to a pizza joint close to where we were staying. Yes! Pizza in Malawi! Awesome! The lunch was great. Abigail presented us with some gifts after lunch and we bid her farewell. She has been so great to us and I am really happy we were able to meet her and work with her at her SACCO.
Tomorrow… We will be catching the 7:00am bus to Lilongwe, and get to catch up with Brad, Bruce, Dennis and Nicky. I'm looking forward to meeting up with everyone (and… looking forward to telling them the prices Paul and I were able to negotiate in the markets. I think there is a bit of a competition going amongst all of us to see who can get the best deal… J haha!). The great thing about the markets is that even if you feel like you have gotten a good deal, you haven't… you've been taken for probably 2 to 3 times what the actual price is… but the sellers will never let on that that is actually the case!
Enough blogging for one day! I hope you enjoy the photos! Blog ya in Lilongwe.
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Paul and I spent our second day with Abigail and her team at the MBC SACCO. I've included some photos with this entry so you can see what the branch looks like (both inside and out). The branch shares the premises with two other organizations: The MUSCCO Regional Office and FINCOOP's Blantyre branch. If you recall, Paul and I worked with FINCOOP, in their main branch in Lilongwe last year – so it was cool to poke our heads into this branch and check things out. FINCOOPs corporate colors are green (similar to Servus!) and similar to the green painted on the outside of this building. The MBC SACCO branch is in the corner of this building. In one of my photos, you can see a brown door in the upper right hand side of the building – that's the main entrance! A single teller (or cashier) station is posted at the entrance, and the members queue up outside of the building waiting to process their withdrawals, deposit or loan applications.
The branch has a cashier station, an area where the accountant works, Abigail's office (which houses the entrance to the cash vault) and a large board room that doubles as a back office room. The branch is a decent size, relatively speaking, but the layout of the branch is a little awkward. Paul and I worked our way through a mountain of documentation today (financial statements, policies, procedures, meeting minutes, etc.) to learn more about how MBC SACCO operates and to try to identify some areas where we could make recommendations to assist them. While there are some similarities between Canadian Credit Unions and Malawian SACCOs, there are some major differences! I think the biggest thing we, as coaches, need to be cognizant of is that the business rules that we follow in Canada are drastically different than the rules in Malawi. Paul and I had to learn how these SACCOs provide banking services to their members before we could make recommendations. I think I have a pretty firm grasp of how business is done now, and I hope that our recommendations to the MBC SACCO Management and Board are well received. We have a good start on our report and I'll finish up the typing either tonight.
In Canada, Credit Unions compete head-to-head with Chartered Banks and offer a very competitive banking solution to members that are being underserved by their Chartered Bank. In Malawi, the SACCO movement started off has a niche-banking system, with a very specific target market – the poor. Chartered Banks were not interested in banking the lower income class of society because it is not a very profitable sector and the risk associated with this sector was deemed excessive. The SACCO target market has changed to some extent and some SACCOs are trying to break this stigma of being the "Banker to the Poor" and operate as a real alternative to the Chartered Banks. The SACCO movement within Malawi truly is alive and well, and it is encouraging to see and hear about growth in SACCOs across the country.
The first Wednesday in March is "Martyr's Day" in Malawi, which happens to be a National holiday. Martyr's Day is a day to celebrate those that fought for Malawi's independence from the United Kingdom. Last year, Martyr's day fell on one of the days Paul and I were in Lilongwe. I recall going to the markets for the first time, and coming back to the hotel mentally and physically exhausted. I read on Brad's blog that the sellers are even more aggressive than ever this year… I hope he means aggressive with their pricing and not their selling techniques (although I have a bad feeling this isn't the case…). Paul and I will probably hit up the markets for round two tomorrow. If I don't get a blog out tomorrow, it's because I'll likely be curled up in the fetal position in my hotel room, repeating "no thank you… no thank you… no thank you…". I've included a couple of quick photos I was able to get off of the markets the last time we were there.
Walking around Blantyre is pretty cool. We haven't been able to do a lot of walking around, because of the rain; but we've made the best of our rainy days! According to Abigail, we are right in the heart of downtown Blantyre. There are people everywhere! People walking on the sidewalks. People walking in the streets. People stepping out into open traffic to cross the streets. Oh man, I just thought of a hilarious story. In our first few days in Blantyre, Paul and I did a little walking around. There is a cross walk very close to our hotel and we decided to use it to cross the street. Being laid back (and perhaps naïve…) Canadians, we waited patiently at the cross walk for traffic to slow so we could cross. 2 or 3 minutes passed, and no one slowed down. Finally, someone else needed to cross the street, and he just started walking in front of oncoming traffic, and they sort of slowed (but didn't stop) and dodged him. Classic! I could see the minibus guys pointing and laughing at us, and I felt like a complete idiot. I have used cross walks to cross the street ever since I received a ticket for my first traffic offense (j-walking… not kidding…) in Red Deer. After 8 days in Blantyre, I doubt I'll use a cross walk again…
I took advantage of our hotel's "1 hour free internet" offer, and surfed around the net this afternoon. I noted a couple of cool things:
- It looks like the CCA is streaming my blog! Awesome! Thanks John, Kati and whoever else is responsible at the CCA! They are also streaming Charlie Collura's blog (Uganda) and Brad Hopfauf's blog (Malawi). http://www.ccaafrica.blogspot.com
- I checked out Brad's blog this afternoon, and saw a lot of familiar sights. Paul and I worked with the same SACCOs Brad and Bruce are working with this year. Brad has some great stories and pictures on his blog – you should check it out! www.BankingInMalawi.blogspot.com. I also noticed that Brad posted some pictures of Davison – the General Manager of DWASCO. I miss that guy! He was such a nice guy and took Paul and I all around the Dwangwa Sugar Cane Estate to show us stuff.
- I also noticed that Anna, one of the CCA employees working in Malawi last year, had commented on one of my entries. As I have no idea how to contact her, I'll try via this blog post… "HI ANNA!". Anna was working with MUSCCO and their SACCOs, assisting them in developing gender and HIV/AIDS policies to incorporate within the SACCOs. All of the SACCOs Paul and I have worked with over the past two years (DWASCO Employee SACCO, FINCOOP, Sunbird SACCO and MBC SACCO) have these policies incorporated into their policies and procedures. Anna also showed us around Lilongwe a little, taking us out for the infamous "loooooong lunch" at Summer Park! Heh heh! (They say you shouldn't drop inside jokes in blogs… Meh, what do "they" know!)
PS: Today is my little brother's birthday. Happy B-Day Dan!!!
Monday, March 1, 2010
The weekend is over!
We spent our first day at the MBC (Malawian Broadcasting Corporation) SACCO today. We were greeted by Abigail – the MBC SACCO General Manager. She welcomed us and we met in the morning and afternoon discussing her SACCO.
Unlike the Sunbird SACCO, the MBC SACCO is a common (or open) bond SACCO, meaning that it welcomes more than just members from a single institution. If you recall, the Sunbird SACCO is a closed bond SACCO, as it only offered membership to Sunbird Hotel employees. The MBC SACCO was originally a closed bond SACCO in 2008. They opened their bond when the merged with another SACCO in August of 2008. They have done very well as a SACCO, considering the size of their membership (about 900 members). Abigail had participated in the CCA Women's Mentorship Program, which gave her an opportunity to visit Canada. She stayed in Manning, Alberta with her host at Horizon Credit Union. She also got to travel to Peace River. I told her that I felt sorry for her, having to travel hours upon hours to get to Northern Alberta! Haha! She did have to travel a very long distance to get there (Blantyre to Lilongwe to London to Ottawa to Calgary to Edmonton to Manning = MANY HOURS!!!) but she said it was worth it! She had a great time and really enjoyed the snow.
Paul and I worked for the day, and walked back to the hotel in sunshine – a rare occurrence in Blantyre during the rainy season. We will work with Abigail and her team tomorrow, take Wednesday off (National Holiday!), present our report to the board on Thursday morning and visit a school on Friday. It's hard to believe that we've been here a week all ready! Time flies when you're having fun!
No pictures today! Sorry! I hope to post some of the Sunbird staff and the MBC staff tomorrow.
PS: Paul and I watch the BBC religiously, hoping that sports highlights will come on. We saw that Sidney Crosby scored the game winner for team Canada yesterday! AWESOME! We also highlights of a drunk guy in a bar getting interviewed. He said "eh" 20+ times and started a "Go Canada Go!" chant midway through the interview. CLASSIC! Hahahahaha! With all of the controversy the Vancouver Olympics has seen thus far (death of the luger, no snow!, etc.) it's nice to see Canada win a THWACK of gold medals!