Monday, 30 January 2012

A stream of people to rival a Tim Horton's back home is what we witnessed today at the POLYMED SACCO. 

This is a very busy operation with members lined up from early morning through to closing.  Dave and Bev spent the day reviewing their operations and board governance processes.  We will continue on Tuesday morning and meet with the Board to deliver our report and recommendations in the afternoon.  This assignment concludes our official SACCO visits.  We will travel back to Lilongwe on Wednesday for the de-briefing with the national organization.

Some stories of the weekend adventures were shared today.  The animals in Majete Wildlife Reserve were spectacular because the park is pretty much the natural habitat, and we were able to get very close.  Witness this shot of a bull elephant charging us during the early morning game drive.  Yes, we really were that close.  This was not your typical Sunday morning in Canada!

The perfect finish to the weekend was a visit to the village of Chikwawa were we learned about the traditional way of life.  We saw how grain was processed for flour (and the women of the village had a good laugh when Bev tried her hand at the process and sang along with the women. We were told after the fact that the song was about the woman's husband cheating on her.)

A very special moment was when we met the oldest woman in the village who is not really sure how old she is but estimates about 90.  Bev showed her the picture of her family, including Mom Marie who is 86.  The Malawi woman was very excited to see a photo of someone near her age.  

The highlight of the afternoon was when the entire village turned out to honour us with song and dance.  Incredible experience that we will remember always!

We have indeed experienced the warm heart of Malawi everywhere we have travelled. 

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Malawi is known as the 'warm heart of Africa' and we are certainly experiencing the warmth and welcome of the people here.

The first week in Blantyre finished off with our meeting with the MUDI SACCO board of directors.  This 7 person board is comprised of professionals that work in one of the 59 companies this SACCO serves.   The discussion with them to share our findings and recommendations was very productive.

The second scheduled visit was to Bvumbe Community SACCO which is a town on the outskirts of Blantyre.  Bvumbe serves the people of the community and surrounding district.  Their manager, Pilirani Rachel Charlie, participated in the CCA Women's Mentoring Program in 2006.  For Bev, going to this SACCO was an opportunity to get re-acquainted with Pilirani.  She showed us her operation and gave us a demonstration of the Banker's Realm software that is being installed at SACCO's in Malawi.  Both Bev and Dave are well acquainted with the eroWORKS retail banking solution that is in use in the Canadian prairie region and we were really impressed with the functionality of Banker's Realm.  Bvumbe SACCO has seen rapid growth over the past 5 years - from 1300 to 5000 members in that period - so having software to help manage the member accounts is essential.

Over the weekend we made our way to Majete Wildlife Reserve and had what can only be called a Discovery Channel experience with the animals there.  More on this, and some pictures if the Internet connection here co-operates, will be posted later.

Today we are off to visit our third SACCO, which is based at the University here in Blantyre.   The final week here in the warm heart of Africa will pass much too quickly!


Wednesday, 25 January 2012

The day spent with the MUDI Savings and Credit Co-operative (SACCO) on Wednesday was like old home week for us Prairie folk. 
This SACCO has grown from their original location operating out of a 40 foot shipping container into a facility that Dave says is about the size of his credit union office in Manitoba.  The Board, staff and 2700 members are understandably very proud of this accomplishment and they have had many visitors from near and far.   Mercy, the general manager, invited us to sign the guest book that she keeps (she was surprised and pleased to learn that Bev also keeps a guest book at home).   Looking through the pages of previous visitors it became apparent that the world of co-operatives is indeed small.  We see that many people that have Canadian Prairie roots have walked through the door before us. 

This helps us to feel a little closer to home but surprisingly it doesn’t feel so foreign here.  Blantyre is a large, well established city of about 2 million people and has the city infrastructure to support it.  Shopping malls with the expected types of chain and specialty stores – including Bata shoes – are widely available here.  We certainly didn’t expect to see that.
Thursday  we are back at MUDI and will meet with the full 7 person Board in the afternoon.   This Board is comprised of professional people from the 59 companies whose employees are members of this SACCO. We are looking forward to getting to know them and sharing some insights about their organization. 

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Blantyre via Mozambique – who knew?? 

Daniel, our driver for the trip from Lilongwe to Blantyre where we will be working for the next week, collected us from the hotel for the 300 km trip between the two cities. Once we were underway, we were delighted to learn that Daniel is a wealth of information about the country and the sights that we were seeing.  He also was quite accommodating when Bev wanted to stop and take a photo, or buy a mango, or examine the fresh tomatoes being sold by the vendors.  And the added bonus is that the road to Blantyre goes right along the border with Mozambique – actually it’s only the width of the road that separates the two countries – so while Daniel was negotiating the purchase of vegetables to bring to his family in Blantyre, David and Bev walked across the street into Mozambique. It looked pretty much like Malawi at that point.  What Daniel shared with us is that during the civil war in Mozambique, there were many refugees that came across the border, and some of the fighting extended onto Malawi territory such that the defense army needed to protect the border.   It all looks pretty congenial now – the cows don’t know the difference!

The first stop upon arrival in Blantyre was at the Malawi Union of Savings and Credit Co-operatives (MUSCCO) office, and then on to the Sunbird Hotel to get checked in before our briefing meeting with our MUSCCO host.   We also walked over to the Sunbird Tourism Savings and Credit Co-operative (SACCO) where Bev enjoyed a reunion with Gertrude from the 2008 Women’s Mentoring program and we had a tour of the facilities. 

So now we are fully briefed about the 3 SACCO’s that we are scheduled to coach during our time here and we are anxious to get started tomorrow morning with our first scheduled visit to MUDI SACCO.     
Monday, January 23, 2012

Lilongwe, Malawi:   Arrival in Lilongwe on Sunday afternoon was very welcome after traveling since Friday evening.  Happy (and a little bit tired) smiles all around the team.  We were met by a Malawi Savings and Credit Co-operative (MUSCCO) staff member and were efficiently transported to the hotel in two different vehicles - which may not sound remarkable to most of you reading this blog, but is nothing short of amazing when we witnessed first hand the long line up for fuel at every gas station.  We are told that people will wait in line for 3 days just to get the chance to buy fuel.  Puts a whole new perspective on the typical Canadian experience doesn't it?

Saturday, London England

Saturday, January 21, 2012

London, England

The 9 hour layover turned into a fun day for those of us that took the underground into the center of London.  Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden and local colour were enjoyed while we waited for the flight to Johannesburg.   Did you know that French fries with Bernaise Sauce is standard pub fare in England??   It’s surprisingly good!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The part of the trip that we would have thought to be easiest - navigating our way through Heathrow Airport to find the Air Canada Arrivals Lounge - has actually been the hardest so far.  We lost track of how many people we asked for directions and got different answers!  Once here, the showers and change of clothes felt great and we are ready to face the next 24 hours of travel.

Check out the photo of the Malawi team (minus one who slipped away on us before we got the photo).  Left to right:  Rocio (Manitoba);  Garth (B.C.); Bev (Sask);  Dave ( Manitoba);  Heidi (B.C.).  Onwards to the final destination of Lilongwe!

Friday, 20 January 2012

Departure Day

Friday, January 20, 2012 - This is it - the day that the credit union coaching group leaves the Canadian cold and makes our way to the warmth of Africa.

There are 22 of us that have volunteered for this assignment that is organized through the Canadian Co-operative Association.  We are going to three different countries:  Uganda, Ghana and Malawi. 
The group is divided into coaching pairs so that we all have a buddy to travel, work and share the experience with.  We have all spent the past three days in Ottawa for orientation and are ready to get this show on the road!

This blog site will be updated by Bev Maxim and Dave Domes.  Since we are from Saskatchewan and Manitoba we have dubbed ourselves Prairie Connection.

We are assigned to go Malawi - specfically the southern part of the country.  There are four others on the Malawi team and while they will be working in different regions of the country we will all start out and finish together.  The travel route today takes us from Ottawa to London, England where we have a long layover and all six of us will be enjoying the Air Canada arrivals lounge at Heathrow airport to rest and freshen up compliments of some passes that Bev got her hands on.  From there we go to Johannesburg and then on to Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi, which we should reach about mid-day on Sunday.

During the orientation this week, we have learned that there are two official languages spoken in Malawi:  English and Chichewa.  When we arrive in Lilongwe we will greet our host by saying 'Moni' which is the Chichewa all purpose greeting.  It is customary for women to use the left hand to hold the elbow of the right arm and curtsy when meeting someone, so Bev will try to remember to do that. We understand that visitors are granted a lot of leeway with these customs.  Good thing!

We will post as often as possible while traveling over this weekend, and while we are in country the next two weeks, depending on Internet availability.  Check for updates often.

Tionana (Chichewa word for 'see you later')