A Cry from the Wetlands of Africa

By Anthony Kadoma, PhD Student and SFA member

Wetlands oh wetlands! Here we are, the wetlands of Africa, hear us on our World Wetland Day - https://www.worldwetlandsday.org

God created us to serve the needs of humans and their surroundings. We meet almost all their needs: Fresh drinking water we give, food we give, clean air to breathe we give. This enables them not only to live healthy, but happily as well.

We have given that and more forever, diligently and without complaining. But humans seem not to value and appreciate the goods and services derived from us.

‘Why, why?’ we ask ourselves.

Humans started by encroaching on us because they wanted to expand grazing land for the domestic animals, and we accepted. We supported seasonal vegetables such as cabbages and rice which do well in our fertile soil and conserved water, now we have been over-harvested over the years. We have endured the shame of being stripped naked until it’s too much for us to bear. That was not enough to satisfy the needs of human beings: Oh, who will ever satisfy human needs?

Because of your need to expand housing and factories, we have become the first victim and now we are being denied our original role and reason for existence; you are filling and dumping  in us soil and other debris as if there are no other places left for that. You don’t show any care or respect to us!

With your increased greed you have now decided to eliminate us! Completely ignoring the rights of the other peaceful and harmless organisms that live in us by directing your industrial wastes to us which chokes us badly. Oh, what did we do to you to deserve this?

Because of the pressure and burden you have placed on us, we have had to let go of some of our functions such as controlling floods, and now humans are crying that we no longer care. Harmful weeds and pests have occupied us because we can’t fight them as our capacity has reduced to fight for ourselves. However, we are blamed for that as well and some even suggest to completely do away with us in order to protect humans from vectors that cause disease, especially malaria.

We still want to exist and serve you as we have done before – you and your generations to come. All we are asking is that you show some care for us, help us to regenerate and use us wisely. Do not over-harvest us and leave our surrounding environment bare as this makes us too weak to defend ourselves and to support you well. Help us to restore and we will forever be your obedient servant, offering you your essential goods and services. Hear our cry, oh humans of Africa.

 

Anthony Kadoma is a University of Glasgow PhD student focusing on Environmental Sustainability and a member of Sustainable Futures in Africa Network.


FROM LILONGWE TO GLASGOW: CRAFTING A CAREER PATH

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, SFA Co-Director

Stewart Paul had just finished college when he attended the 2017 SFA Symposium in Botswana. “I graduated on Wednesday, and on Sunday I flew to Botswana,” he recalls. “It was my first international trip”. In fact, he’d applied for an express passport in order to attend. Having missed two international trips while studying for his undergraduate degree, he was determined not to miss this one. “During the Symposium I could sense that there was a lot of excitement,” Stewart says. “Here was a group of people from various backgrounds, from various disciplines, from various geographical locations, from various academic and professional backgrounds, coming together to discuss things that affect Africa.”

He had heard about the SFA Network through Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, co-founder of Abundance, an organisation Stewart volunteers with. She nominated him to get invited to come to Botswana and make a presentation on environmental degradation, particularly deforestation, and Malawi’s potential in that area. Stewart prepared carefully for his presentation, the first he’d ever made to an international audience. It was extremely well received, but Stewart insists the credit should go to Dr Pullanikkatil, SFA’s co-director, and Dr Boyson Moyo, director of the Malawi hub. “I came in with some input and made the actual presentation, but I would say 90% of the input came from these two. I can’t thank them enough for giving me the opportunity, and I’m glad it went well. It was good for my confidence, and to receive such feedback was a morale-booster for me.”

Later that year, Stewart’s SFA involvement led to a role in a study conducted by Dr Nader Karimi of the University of Glasgow. The project examined the types and amounts of biomass energy available to rural and urban people in Malawi and Kenya. Together with Renew’n’Able, a Malawian NGO, Stewart and his Abundance colleagues collected data throughout five districts: Lilongwe, Dowa, Dedza, Machinga and Zomba. The findings showed that firewood was the most commonly used energy source, followed by charcoal. Both fuels emit dark, carbon-heavy smoke, posing a health risk; most of the respondents reported respiratory problems. As well as a health issue, Stewart explains that this is a gender issue – most cooking in Malawi is done by women – as well as an environmental issue, with pressure being placed on communal forests and bushes to provide fuel. Stewart says that this “contributes to the degradation of land as a resource, as well as the forests and the bushes and the entire ecosystem.” Throughout the study, respondents consistently expressed a willingness to switch to alternative sources of energy, but they report having no alternatives. The findings from this study forms the basis for a proposal that is being developed to impact positively and provide solutions to the energy crisis Malawi faces.

His work on that project had benefits for Stewart’s personal and professional development. By managing a team of researchers, he says he was able to exercise his leadership skills “on a new level”. He also had to interact with district council officials in order to gain access to the communities. “It took some time to convince them,” he recalls. “I told them that it was not a one-off thing, but the data we collect will be used for further research and activities that will ultimately help to bring a change in people’s lives.” He ultimately succeeded in gaining access for the team, playing a key role in the study.

Stewart later on had the chance to take up the position as Malawi’s SFA hub administrator. Through this position, he learnt to handle domestic and international communications on a daily basis and deal with finance and administration. “I’ve gained new skills,” he says. “Just this week we were working on proposal-writing for funding for projects.” He recently participated in a Research Administrators Workshop in Tanzania, organised by the University of Glasgow by where he named communications, financial management, budgeting and costing as areas where he learnt new ideas.

He hopes these skills will help him in his coming adventure as a student at the University of Glasgow, where he will earn his Master’s degree in Education. Through an SFA proposal submitted to Global Challenges Research Council, Stewart will be Glasgow bound in a few months’ time! His independent research will explore the implications – for access, inclusion, and attainment – of international educational policy and aid on local and place-based pedagogies.

As he prepares to head to Glasgow, Stewart remains busy with his work as hub administrator in Malawi. “I am challenged continuously to do the best that I can,” he says. He’s quick to attribute his success to the help of his colleagues: “Through the never-ending support that I receive from my hub director, Dr Moyo, as well as other local and international partners, we are able to move forward, achieve our objectives and be better. I think that the future of the SFA network can never be as bright as it is now.”


Population, Health and Environment Nexus: Discussions at Mbando Village

By Bosco Chinkonda, Deepa Pullanikkatil, Helen Todd, Boyson Moyo and Stewart Paul

The environment has been degraded and the population is growing at higher rate. Because of high birthrates leading to high population growth, resources are depleted and people have no option but to go cut trees and burn charcoal up the hill.” These were the words of Chief Mbando at our meeting in Mbando village in April this year.

Chief Mbando had quite simply articulated the links between population growth, competition for resources and their impacts, including environmental degradation. On 9 April 2019, seated under a mango tree, about 35 people from Mbando village talked with visitors from the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) network about the nexus of “Population, Health and Environment” (PHE) by focusing on a micro level: their village.

Discussion under a tree in Mbando village on the Population, Health and Environment nexus

The discussions were facilitated by Art and Global Health Center Africa (ArtGlo), a non-governmental organization which harnesses the power of the arts to nurture creative leadership and ignite bold conversations and actions in many sectors, including health. Here in Mbando, they used music and drama to provoke conservations. They were introduced to the community of Mbando community by Abundance, a small non-profit that has been working in this village since 2016. Both Abundance and ArtGlo are members of Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA), an international network which believes in a multidisciplinary and integrated approach to development. Abundance has taken and advocated for an integrated approach to development. However, developmental and environmental projects have historically taken a sectoral approach, without integrating key aspects that shape the lives of the communities the projects aim to serve. Through the PHE discussion at Mbando village, many insights were revealed on the deeper relationships between population, health and environment.

The population of Malawi has grown from 4 million in 1964 (when it attained independence from the British) to almost 19 million in 2017. The villagers of Mbando understand that some of the challenges they face stem from high population growth. “We are facing challenges because of high fertility rates. This has contributed to environmental degradation,” says Chief Mbando. When Abundance began working in Mbando in 2016, there were 95 households. “Today, hardly three years later, there are 105 households in the village,” said Moses Phulusa, Abundance’s Community Coordinator in Mbando. Family planning initiatives are present in the community, but there is high resistance to uptake, especially among the men, due to societal expectations and religious beliefs.

With increased population, the available farmland is shrinking, which the community observes is leading to food shortages and nutritional challenges. In addition to increasing pressure on land due to large numbers of people, the village faces extreme weather events. The community mentioned the recent Cyclone Idai and the heavy rains that followed, which caused many rice and maize fields to be flooded. Mbando village is near the shores of Lake Chilwa, Malawi’s second largest lake. “Lake Chilwa has been drying because in the past years we have got less rainfall. But still there is nothing good over there. Even catches of fish are very rare. Only a few species are available,” said a resident. “This is leading to malnutrition. As you know, there are proteins in fish,” said another resident. ArtGlo encouraged Mbando villagers to act out the challenges they face; some of the acts highlighted that Lake Chilwa is silting, a problem the community attributed to poor farming practices and deforestation.

Malawi’s deforestation trends are worrying: a rate of 33,000 hectares of forest lost per year. Chief Mbando pointed towards the Chikala hills, which border Mbando village. Due to unemployment and the lack of livelihood options, residents are resorting to making charcoal to eke out a living. “In the Chikala hills, trees are being depleted due to charcoal burning activities as a livelihood means. Times are so desperate that women are also burning charcoal.

Dramas were then performed to depict what the future might look like. ArtGlo facilitators pointed to a young child and provoked discussions about how the environment and human development status would be when that child is an adult. The participants said that there would be a strain on the public resources such as medicine in the nearby health facilities due to the large population increase. Others said Mbando would be a community without herbal medicine due to high levels of deforestation (many herbal medicines came from forests). They also pointed out that it is always the most vulnerable members of the community who are affected the most, such as the elderly. Some feared they would be abused due to the scramble for land – attributed to deforestation. They predicted high levels of deviance and crime due to increased population and a lack of resources for economic functions, which could cause increased conflicts. “The habitats of animals would be depleted”, said another participant.

The same community that listed the challenges were asked to create solutions and act them out in drama performances. Solutions included sensitizing the youth about these issues, starting in primary school. Two people who were part of this meeting were from a local drama group and took the lead to create dramatic performances to create awareness amongst the youth. “The adults in the community, they have experienced the better times and could be an inspiration for the younger ones to take initiative. Chiefs hold the authority over the community and can lead some of the initiatives,” said participants. They recognized the need for various sectors and players to work together to achieve greater synergy and be able to address the interconnections between the sectors. They also said that there is need for frequent community gatherings, as engaging the community to come up with solutions is the way forward. “Coming together regularly to discuss issues such as deforestation, drought and population growth would help the village recognize the urgency of solutions as simple as tree planting”, said one participant. “Even in terms of family planning, you could see that men were opposing it. So if men took part in family planning initiatives, population growth could be put in check”, said another participant. Ultimately, the key message that came out of this meeting was that Population, Health and Environment have many links and that all stakeholders need to engage in discussions and cooperate in an integrated manner.

The meeting ended with a brainstorming exercise, where the villagers listed NGOs that implement projects in their village. They included Safe, an NGO which built the Community Based Child Care Centre and engages the Chief and elderly on projects; the Family Planning Association of Malawi, which works with youth clubs on family planning and Sexual and Reproductive Health; the One Acre Fund, which works on reforestation; Goal Malawi, which works on reforestation and family planning; and Abundance, which works in a variety of areas including education, literacy, trainings, skills development, support for health services and environmental conservation. It was agreed that these institutions need to work together so as not to duplicate efforts and to facilitate greater synergy. This is the essence of the SFA network too: greater engagement with and within communities, working together for the greater good and locally driven solutions for a greater understanding of the complex nature of community development and sustainability.

To view Chanco TV – Malawi on the Rise coverage of the event, click here.


Photo Essays – Public Spaces in Malawi

By Elson Kambalu, Deepa Pullanikkatil, Boyson Moyo and Stewart Paul

Are you curious about public spaces, what secrets they hold, how they are used in Africa? During Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil’s visit to Malawi hub in April 2019, the team visited public spaces to create these 4 photo essays showing the different “layers” behind use of public space.

ZOMBA BOTANICAL GARDEN

LIZULU

LUPASA

MEETING UNDER A TREE


Personal Reflections on SFA Co-Director's Visit to Malawi

by Stewart Paul

The SFA Malawi hub was honored to be accorded a visit by the Network’s co-director, Dr. Deepa Pullanikkatil in April this year (2019). From Lilongwe to Mzuzu, back to Lilongwe and then Zomba and finally Machinga. It was a fulfilling and exciting journey. This visit couldn’t possibly come at a more opportune time, as our hub was named to host the next SFA Symposium in 2020. Aside from facilitating development of several grant proposals, Dr. Pullanikkatil substantially led the development of a photo essay on public spaces as well as the introduction of the SFA Network to diverse key and potential new partners and members. This piece reflects on the fruitfulness of this visit by highlighting the major achievements accomplished. You can watch a short documentary of our journey here.

Lilongwe

Deepa’s engagement with us started with our visit to UNICEF Malawi head offices in Lilongwe. This meeting was set up to brief UNICEF about our Network, both local and international, among others. In the end we made new connections with 8 UNICEF staff members working in various disciplines. Further e-mail communications led to SFA Malawi hub linking up with the Drone head at UNICEF which we hope will engender a collaboration on SFA Malawi hub’s upcoming Drone Project entitled Placing Communities at the Heart of Humanitarian and Environmental Drone Use: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities”. Funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), the project has many collaborator institutions and organizations such as Abundance Worldwide (NGO), the University of Glasgow (UK), UNICEF’s GIS and Remote Sensing Center, Malawi Civil Aviation Authority and Malawi Department of Surveys.

Next was a 2-day workshop on grant proposal writing which was held at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), where the Hub is based. During the activity, three proposals were developed, to be submitted shortly. This was followed by a presentation on a recent paper (about the tree Faidherbia albida)written by Deepa and the Hub director Dr Boyson Moyo. Students and staff from LUANAR attended the seminar.

Mzuzu

We had a different programme for the Northern part of Malawi. First, we held meetings with Mzuzu University and University of Livingstonia (UNILIA). At UNILIA we met with the Vice Chancellor, and they showed interest to join the SFA network. We also met with Moses Mkandawire, director of Church and Society which is a governance desk for the Synod of Livingstonia of the CCAP Church. The goal of these meetings revolved around introducing the Network to these institutions and personally inviting them to join the Network. Our engagements in the “green city” of Mzuzu further involved one of our Hub members, Elson Kambalu, of Art House Africa. His project was to take photos for an essay on Public Spaces, which together with outcomes from discussions with users of such spaces will soon be published.

A final activity was a visit to Chintheche on the beautiful sandy shores of Lake Malawi. More documentation of public spaces was done. Most importantly, Dr Pullanikkatil and Dr Moyo made final edits on the Faidherbia albida paper which was submitted for publication later that day.

Meeting with University of Livingstonia top Management (Vice Chancellor, Registrar)
Group photo after SFA Malawi hub’s meeting with Mzuzu University

Zomba

Upon arrival in Zomba we headed to Sunbird Kuchawe for a dinner meeting with the mission director for USAID in Malawi. This happened to be a very successful encounter as we held discussions on a wide range of topics. We found a contact for a staff member of USAID working on drones and hopefully should be very valuable in our future endeavours. Dr Moyo agreed to have an audience or give a talk to the head of USAID Agriculture section and his team. Our Public spaces photo sessions extended to Zomba Botanic Garden which was created to promote agricultural enterprise by displaying an experimental area for newly introduced plants. Since the DC for Zomba was engaged with other pressing matters, we delivered our letter of introduction to his office. The final engagement in Zomba was a meeting with LEAD who explained their projects, including one with University of Southampton on drones.

SFA Malawi team visiting ArtGlo’s offices in Zomba

Machinga

The climax of our journey across Malawi was our visit to Mbando village to explore the Population Health and Environment (PHE) nexus within the community. Using role plays and facilitated discussions, we were able to capture informative feedback from the community and ArtGlo has produced a report on this. Chanco TV covered the event and two documentaries were later beamed on their TV station.

SFA members later visited the E-Learning centre that was established by Abundance with funds raised through Global Giving. Relying entirely on solar energy, the centre has 8 laptop computers that are connected to the offline learning resources through a device called Rachel. A video link to a documentary about the centre is available here. We also met with Machinga District commissioner. At the end of our fruitful meeting, an opportunity arose to extend the drone project to the human-wildlife interactions at Liwonde National Park and surrounding communities. Consequently, the DC invited SFA to present their projects and updates at the District Executive Committee (DEC) meeting.


Cyclone Idai: Reflections from Malawi

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, Co-Director of the SFA network

Recently, I visited the Malawi hub of the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network to offer my assistance. With Hub Director Dr. Boyson Moyo, Research Administrator Stewart Paul and other hub members, we developed research proposals and visited many institutions including UNICEF, the University of Livingstonia, the University of Mzuzu, an NGO (Church and Society), a local government institution (Machinga District Council), a sustainable organic farm (Tikondwe Freedom Gardens), and a think tank (Leadership for Environment and Development). Several organizations joined our network and others expressed interest in collaborating with us. At Mbando village, we had fruitful discussions on an integrated approach to development based on the population-health-environment nexus. It was a busy and productive two weeks, but what touched me most were the impacts and aftermath of Cyclone Idai in Malawi. I want to share some reflections on this.

Aerial view of Nsanje district, Malawi (Source: UNICEF)

It was just two weeks after Cyclone Idai hit, that we had a chance to meet with Mandere Bester, the District Commissioner of Machinga District, southern Malawi – one of the 15 districts affected by the cyclone. Cyclone Idai was one of the worst tropical cyclones on record to affect Africa and the Southern Hemisphere, causing widespread damage and loss of life in Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe. Bester explained to us that 29,000 houses had been damaged or washed away in Machinga District alone. The scale of destruction in Malawi, although less than Mozambique, was devastating, with many thousands of people relocated to schools and churches that became relief camps during the cyclone and its aftermath of floods. Malawi declared a state of disaster and the media reported that 868,900 people have been affected by the floods, with a reported death toll of 59.

Bester described a particularly moving aspect of the disaster. He said that of the 29,000 houses damaged in his district, 19,000 were women-headed households. According to Bester, men in Malawi need to be encouraged to financially support their families and advised against abandoning them when they migrate elsewhere in search of income opportunities. Listening to him, we realised that understanding culture, power, vulnerabilities and gender inequalities in rural settings is necessary in times of disaster.

The SFA team also had a chance to visit the village of Mbando in Machinga District. As we drove to the village, we could see burst stream and river banks and unusually high silt load at bridges and culverts, the aftermath of the floods. Moses Phulusa, the Community Coordinator of Abundance, explained that 105 households make up Mbando village, where 26 pit latrines had collapsed, 8 kitchens had been damaged, roads and rice fields had flooded and several trees had fallen down. The destruction of crop fields is akin to the destruction of human livelihoods in Malawi, where over 85% of people dwell in rural areas and practice farming, with the majority (95%) living off subsistence farming. The farmers and residents are now waiting for the rainy season to end so they can begin rebuilding their damaged assets. “Many farmers’ rice fields were affected, even mine. What can we do?… Ah, but God will provide”, said Moses, inspiring me with his smile, which reflected hopefulness even in this time of despair.

As we discussed the situation with the staff of UNICEF in Lilongwe, it was clear that humanitarian agencies in Malawi were very busy providing relief to displaced people and addressing the health impacts of this disaster (cholera cases were on the rise). The Government of Malawi had established approximately 60 internally displaced person (IDP) camps in the two southernmost districts which were the hardest hit: Chikwawa and Nsanje. A friend working for a private sector logistics company in Lilongwe said that they were remodelling their trucks to become mobile clinics to support communities in the affected areas.

For now, the buzz of relief work happening in Malawi was reassuring. However, it is scary to think of what the future could hold, with climate change predicted to increase the frequency of such storm events. Sadly, it’s the poor and vulnerable who are most affected, and they are the ones who have least contributed to climate change. Cyclone Idai was not just a natural disaster; it was a storm made worse by climate change, a regular occurrence worldwide. Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe recorded a combined death toll of over 1,000. Cyclones know no borders and require both a regional and continental approach to response and preparedness. In light of this sobering thought, the SFA team reflected with concern on what we could do. We agreed that reducing the vulnerability of communities and enhancing both their resilience and the landscape’s resilience to such extreme weather events is key. Collectively, the members of SFA have so much knowledge; surely it can be of use to serve communities affected by such disasters. Certainly we can strive to make our scientific work more relevant and enhance our understanding of hydrometeorological disasters and how best to prepare for them, so that we minimise loss of life in Malawi and beyond.


Malawi Stories: Mapping an Art-Science Collaborative Process

Three SFA partners – Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil (Co-Director), Dr Boyson Moyo (Malawi hub Director) and Dr Brian Barrett (Glasgow hub Director) co-authored this open access article as part of SFA (published in the Journal of Maps in March 2019).

ABSTRACT

This paper outlines a project drawing together an artist working on creative GIS, a geomatics scholar, an NGO leader, a rural geographer and soil scientist, an environmental geochemist, and a political geographer. With a shared interest in the social and physical processes affecting people’s lives in Malawi, and the possibilities for interdisciplinary collaboration, the team engaged in practice-based mapping of our data sources and respective methodologies. The project relates to two sites in Malawi: Tikondwe Freedom Gardens and the Likangala River. The paper details our practices as we shared, debated, and repurposed our data as a means of situating these practices and data. Using paper and pen, whiteboard, PowerPoint, and web-design software, we note here our effort to map a ‘space of experimentation’ highlighting, and reflecting on, our diverse disciplinary orientations, training, instrumentation, recording, and reporting procedures, as well as bodily practices that enable and give animation to these factors.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17445647.2019.1582440


SFA Documentary: Cultural Practices and Perspectives

By Elson Kambalu, Art House Africa

On the 17th January 2018, the Sustainable Futures in Africa hub in Malawi held a workshop on “Exploring the role of Arts in Development Projects” held in Lilongwe at the beautiful Child Legacy International premises.

Helen Todd of Arts and Global Health Center Africa (ArtGlo) introduced the World Café method of participants working together and developing ideas. Sitting in mixed groups of artists, development practitioners and academicians and brainstormed on sustainability topics and how arts can play a role in such work. Elson Kambalu, Lilongwe based artist created the below documentary on some of the work that SFA partners in Malawi do.

For more information about this event, read SFA Malawi’s Research Administrator Stewart Paul‘s reflection on the day here:  https://sustainablefuturesinafrica.com/2018/04/11/art-and-development-walking-hand-in-hand/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UZad8ucmvQ&t=2s


Success for Abundance Fundraiser; eLearning Center secured for rural Malawi!

Abundance graduated from the GlobalGiving Accelerator program, becoming a regonised partner, through successfully raising $5,538 from 60 unique individual donors in 18 days in June 2018 to support their project, "Build an eLearning Center in rural Malawi!".

eLearning provides many benefits to rural community, as through this they can stay up-to-date with information that can help improve their lives. Abundance therefore sought help through GlobalGiving to fundraise for setting up an eLearning center at the village we work in. Donations were received from USA, UK, Canada, Malawi, Singapore, South Africa, India, Qatar, Swaziland and many more. Sustainable Futures in Africa network  partners also donated to support this. The funds received will be used to purchase solar panels, Keepods, keepod-ready laptops, furniture and for holding training sessions at the eLearning center.

GlobalGiving is the first and largest global crowdfunding community that connects nonprofits, donors, and companies in nearly every country around the world. Having participated in the June 2018 Accelerator program, Abundance has been vetted and approved and are now recognized partners of GlobalGiving.

Here is the link to Abundance’s project: http://goto.gg/33386


Reflections from Glasgow

Reflections from Glasgow

by Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil

I believe it was serendipity that lead me to work at the University of Glasgow this year. Two years ago, an unexpected e-mail from Mia Perry, a lecturer and leader of many projects at the University of Glasgow came into the mailbox of “Abundance” a non-profit organization in Malawi which I co-founded with some friends in 2016. She was searching for organizations working in Malawi and had stumbled across our website. Since then, Abundance became part of the “Sustainable Futures in Africa” network, an inter-disciplinary network of academicians and practitioners in UK and Africa working across disciplines for making research more relevant for the developing world.  Through this network, I got an opportunity to do a secondment at the University of Glasgow for a few months early this year, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

The time I spent at Glasgow was filled with interesting meetings at the University. But I also could enjoy some solitude, which gave me a chance to reflect on my experience. During my reflections, I jotted down five things I learnt and I am happily sharing them with you:

  1. The leap of faith

I was fully aware that to some extend I was jumping into the unknown as I agreed to take up the consultancy and residency at Glasgow. I was to connect researchers at Glasgow with organizations and researchers in Africa and also shape their research to be more development oriented and appropriate for the developing country context. While I had worked in Africa for over 17 years, I had not done this kind of consultancy before. However, when I looked within, I had faith and the work “felt right”. I became conscious that this is the work I love and am passionate about, so saying “yes” was easy. Furthermore, the opportunity came through Mia, whom I trust. The work went smoothly, particularly because I was working with a fantastic colleague Lynn McCorriston who went out of her way to ensure that the work and meetings went smoothly and that my stay was super comfortable. I feel satisfied that I made a contribution and I learnt that it’s okay to take the leap of faith.

  1. The power of networks

The networks I have made in my professional and personal life have always supported me over the years. Because I spend so much time in my work, I find that my professional colleagues become my good friends and mentors. The LEAD Network is one such network where I have mentors and friends in Malawi and around the world. Indeed, during the consultancy, I linked the University of Glasgow with former colleagues, organizations such as LEAD Southern and Eastern Africa as well as members of the LEAD Fellows network, who, as a result, would be undertaking collaborative projects with the University of Glasgow in the near future. In some of the projects, I am involved too, hence I would get a chance to work with people I love, what an amazing blessing from networking!

  1. Making most of the circumstances

The period I was resident at Glasgow, I witnessed a once in 33 years snow storm called “The Beast from the East”. Some reports said it was the coldest month of March in 100 years in the UK. I had hoped to see some snow, but being snowed in for three days was not exactly what I wished for. It would have been easy to brood and indulge in some self-pity or cabin fever, especially for someone like me who is used to the moderate and sunny weather of southern Africa. But, I decided to embrace the situation and following the hourly weather updates, I took a chance to step out when it was safe and soak in the beauty of the snowy cityscape. As a result, I got some stunning photographs and videos. Lynn and I braved the cold and visited the People’s Museum and Botanical Garden, which was just spectacular surrounded by snow all around.

  1. Change work routines

At Glasgow, I got a new routine of walking about 40 minutes to work every day, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Leaving a bit early from my apartment to explore a new route every day, I got a chance to appreciate the architecture and the many historical buildings in Glasgow. I also enjoyed people watching at Kelvingrove Park which was en-route to work. The cute dogs are taken on walks by their owners, the students cycling, school children rushing to school, elderly taking strolls and, the statues and fountains made this a wonderful morning routine to cherish. The University of Glasgow staff were extremely friendly and helpful. As the campus is big and many departments were spread out and a bit distant from each other, we held meetings at café’s which were located conveniently for colleagues. I felt we got a lot of creative ideas and discussion flowing more freely when we stepped out of the office for a bit and enjoyed a coffee and a light meal, surrounded by cutesy artsy café décor. I enjoyed the chats over coffee and meals about research projects, art, politics and philosophy with many colleagues including Lynn McCorriston, Mia Perry and Carlos Galan-Diaz.

  1. The power of technology

Not to sound like a gushing fan of technology, I do have to say that it touches my life on a daily basis. I walked to work every day guided by Google Map’s navigation lady’s voice. Through Facebook, I connected with a Glaswegian friend and attended her birthday party. I also connected with a classmate of mine after 20 years through facebook and booked my bus tickets online to spend a weekend with his family at Aberdeen. For travelling within the city, I used Uber and an app that allowed me to buy bus tickets online. Most of my meetings with people outside the UK was through skype or Zoom or Go-To-Meeting. During the snow storm, we continued to work and had skype meetings. I don’t know what I would have done without my daily evening video chats with my family through whatsapp. Not to mention the many minutes I save every day from doing simple things like checking in online for flights, or ordering gifts online and planning my day according to the weather forecast. As much as technology has its problems, I realised that we can’t do without it and it makes our lives so much easier.

The beautiful city of Glasgow, its museums, café’s, friendly and humorous people and the rich intellectual atmosphere at the University of Glasgow was an inspiring experience for me. Through this serendipitous connection with the University, I have made new friends, new connections and become part of new and exciting collaborative projects. There is an old African saying, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. I thank the University of Glasgow (Lynn, Mia and Molly in particular) for this walk together and making me feel part of a bigger team and a greater vision. Looking forward to the journey ahead!