A month ago I was approached by George Nedi, projects coordinator at the Nancholi Youth Organization (NAYO), to produce a short video presenting their community-based programs related to youths and HIV/AIDS.
Among their many projects, one I remember most is the construction of a clinic in Mchokera, a village located about three hours walking distance from the downtown Blantyre, in order to ease the access to health services.
The beauty of NAYO is that most of their employees, including George himself, are volunteers devoting their free time for the development of their own community.
When I first visited Nancholi I was by myself and I rapidly realize that even though I could help, the potential of that project was bigger than me taking a few hours of my personal time to realize a ten minutes long video.
Working in media development, you often come across the question of effectiveness and sustainability of your work. How could I combine my work as an rights media educational officer and help NAYO all at once? That’s when I decided that I wasn’t going to do that video: Instead, I would train several of Malawi Institute of journalism (MIJ) students in documentary filmmaking and have them, with my supervision, produce the documentary from the script development to the video editing.
Seven students signed up to join the project where their time and investment were offset by a transportation & lunch allowance given by NAYO. After a week of production I had to admit that I could have never done this project without them.
Never could have I spoke to a woman digging a canal to irrigate a community garden where maize, cabbage, egg plants & green pepper will be plant in order to sustain Nancholi if it wasn’t from my students. On the other hand, never could MIJ students film and produce their 1st video work if it wasn’t from me and never could NAYO have gotten this video for their potential donors if it wasn’t from us. Exchange. I like to think this is what development work is all about.
One thing I didn’t know then that I know now is that by agreeing to take in charge this project, I also paid myself a one week long VIP pass into what I know now to be the “real” Malawi.
Above the language barrier created by my practically non-existing knowledge of Chichewa, I also realized that despite the fact that I’ve been living in Blantyre for almost five months now; I am still a novice to Malawian culture and an outsider to the rural region where 80% of the population is located.
I remember many of my Malawian colleagues at MIJ telling me: “If you haven’t been into the villages, you haven’t seen Malawi.”
I now know they were right: You haven’t truly experienced Malawi until you’re in a village, dancing to the sound of the drums or sitting on the floor eating Nsima with your bare hands. This was last Monday. Like one of the student told me on that very same day: “Ndiwe, M’malawino.” I’m a “Malawian” now.