EduToy – the following steps

 After a gruelling five-hour traffic jam (during which a three lane highway was temporarily transformed into six lanes) had caused us to miss our plane, we managed to catch our connecting flight to Europe in the nick of time. We arrived some thirty hours later in our blue house, with our own bed, our stuff, on our street.

What have we been up to

Over the last few weeks Gigi and I have extensively briefed Bobbi Bear staff, its director and part of their Board. They were very pleased with the results that our research has had. The research aim to see whether or not the EduToy is applicable, effective and if there is a desire for the tool has been met. In the results that will be published over the next few weeks, all research queries can be answered with a wholehearted “Yes”.

  • “Yes”, the EduToy is applicable in other African countries (and cultures) than South Africa. Because the EduToy facilitates a dialogue between the presenter(s) and student(s) and refrains from dictating the conversation subject, students are invited to talk about what’s on their minds. As the students are living part of their culture, the EduToy with its open structure amends, and is therefore applicable.
  • “Yes”, the EduToy is effective. We wanted to research if the knowledge on HIV/Aids had improved after the presentation. A significant number of pupils who filled in our questionnaires stated they learned something new (e.g. PEP as new information). We also wanted to see if the EduToy uncovered cases of abuse. As stated in our previous blogposts it does.
  • “Yes”, there is a need for the EduToy. Not only from the involved NGO’s, but also from schools, Victim Support Units and NGO’s that did not take part in the research. The tools they currently employ do not address abuse on a larger scale or as effective as the EduToy.

Suffice to say, that the three conclusions given above are based on a first analysis of the data. In the forthcoming report all data and the complete analysis leading to the conclusions are given.

What’s next

Hope Humana

Hope Humana

In the following weeks the three statements above will be proven in a report that will be (partly) published on this site. The complete report will be shared with all in the research involved parties. We will also write a separate advisory report that will describe a few possible scenarios for implementation of the EduToy in other countries with other NGO’s. Bobbi Bear will contemplate this advice. After that further steps will be discussed in order to write a program that will bring the EduToy to other places.

Thank You

We would like to thank all parties involved in this research.

  • Our partner NGO’s for their time, warmth, energy, expertise and their fight for children’s rights;
  • The schools for the presentation that was held on their premises, their plight and concern for their students;
  • The police for their cooperation and follow-ups of cases;
  • Social Welfare for sharing their knowledge;
  • Other NGO’s for their time and mutual care for children’s rights;
  • And all others such as: campsite owners, people we met, listeners, advice givers and followers.


Thank You,

Dank u,

Zikomo kwambili,


Yewo chomene,


Geartsje (Gigi) & Dennis.

Nissan Patrol "Robbie"

Nissan Patrol "Robbie"


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Hope in Ndola: collaboration with Hope Humana

Leaving Mfuwe was kind of hard as we knew the hundred-or-so kilometres of tracks leading to paved roads were as pothole infested as South Luangwa was with hippos. After a long and bumpy road we managed to reach our campsite at Mama Rula’s only at dusk. We prepared for the cold night and a long drive to Lusaka in the morning.

After filling up our tank and two 20 litres jerry cans in Chipata, we headed along one of Zambia’s freeways towards Lusaka. What had disappointed us in Malawi, surprised us in Zambia: a huge forest area hugging the Southern border for mile upon mile. Although we had read about Zambia’s vastness, we only experienced it whilst driving through it. Yes, it is larger than France, England and Ireland combined. And so, it took us much more time to get to Lusaka than expected. For the tenth time we had broken our own rule never to drive after dark in Africa. After some inquiries we managed to arrange for a sober and overpriced lodge and vowed to get to a better place first thing in the morning. Next day that priority changed with our car refusing to start, yet again. Miraculously, it started after getting stuck in a tree and many heroic kick- and jumpstarting. We decided to drive directly to the lodge we had selected and get into contact with Shepherd: our friend and owner of Robbie (the car). Shepherd immediately sent Chanza (a friend of his) over to help us out with the Nissan. Robbie got his operation the next day in some dodgy area of Lusaka. We can safely say it was successful.

Now, we will not bore you too much with Lusaka. We got our visa for Mozambique quick enough, we stayed in three overpriced, sober lodges and met up with the two nice Irish girls who we had met previously in Chipata. We had some nice Indian food and were happy to leave the concrete jungle behind as we left for Ndola.

The road connecting Chipata with Mfuwe was bad, but you recon it’s not a major road, so it´s okay. The same cannot be said for the road in a major city like Ndola with 300,000 plus inhabitants.  The roads were as bad as or even worse than those towards Luangwa. Sometimes it felt like navigating in a storm on a rough sea. After some faulty chart reading, we anchored our ship at the harbour of Hope Humana (HH). We were pleasantly received with a cup of coffee and tea by Andrew and Sheily. Andrew his schedule for the forthcoming week was based around the EduToy in order to give the collaboration between HH and Bobbi Bear full priority, which was excellent, to say the least. Andrew is project manager at Hope Humana and his responsibility is big, as HH supports 80 support groups of around twenty persons per group. It also services Ndola district with its 200 schools and thousands of inhabitants in urban and rural areas. Hope Humana deploys positive living programs for HIV patients in which they are taught how to live long and as healthy as possible with their disease, they combat prejudices concerning the disease, and provide HIV testing and counselling. HH operates under the wings of DAPP: Development Aid from People to People. This is an international organisation with branches all over the world. In the Netherlands they are well known for their clothing programmes. Maybe some of the clothes you have donated, have found their way in one of DAPP’s many second hand shops.

Mama’s and Healers: Hope Humana’s Support Groups

Hope Humana has several field officers: enthusiastic volunteers who visit, advise and assist between two and four (!) support groups per day. Only their transport money and lunch is provided by Humana Hope. Next to that, they can make use of bikes to get from one project to the other. These men and women form the backbone of the organisation. We had the privilege to work closely together with a few of these stars and visited two support groups. One was a group of twenty women who cared for one another financially and spiritually. HH’s network of well doers provided a place for them to work, make plans and grow the chickens they piled up money for some time ago. After some time they are now able to sell two hundred chickens every three months, buy new food and chicks and save up for their next investment on the bank account they share as a communal entity. This is self-induced micro financing at its finest! Geartsje and I were very impressed with their togetherness, and a strategic, positive vision for their individual and collective futures. Oh, and they are also operating a sewing shop. Their outlook on life and can-do attitude is having an effect on their surroundings as well. They speak out on subjects as abuse, for instance. They will report when there is a mishap in their community, which would normally be covered up in silence. Yes, they lead by example and they do it themselves. HH is doing a marvellous job just supporting.

This is self-induced micro financing at its finest!

The other group we met was one of traditional healers. As we are somewhat prejudiced towards the South African sangomas, we were prepared for the worst. But talking to these men and women was quite enlightening. They despised  the mishaps -or outright criminal behaviour- of some of their so called colleagues, calling on their clients to sleep with children or to kill in order to break a curse. Traditional healers are now unionised and have a code of honour as well as a set of rules, which if broken by a member will cause their membership to be withdrawn or worse. Ofcourse, they’re not there yet, but it’s a promising start nonetheless. Traditional healers such as the ones we spoke to are actively seeking collaboration with modern doctors. This is a good development as traditional healers command respect in their communities and are, in most cases, the first sick or troubled people look to for help.

A school and a sewerage

Together with our friends of HH we visited a primary school in one of the townships or compounds as they are called in Zambia. A very bumpy road led to a quite handsome collection of buildings. A sturdy wall surrounding the school thus providing security, classrooms which housed around 50 students per teacher, enough chairs, boards and toilets. But, although the school was in better state than the ones we visited in Malawi, looks were deceiving. Because, during rain season, the school is flooded by one to two and a half metres of water: sewerage from the surrounding compound. The school was built with total disregard to the surrounding environment: it is situated in a natural bowl that collects much of the water in the region. There is also a water shortage and half of the toilets do not flush and/or are open and dangerous latrines were one unmindful person might accidentally fall into. It was at this school that four presenters of Hope Humana held the EduToy presentation in front of a group of 50 students. The same enthusiasm and professionalism they showed at the training day was repeated in threefold during the presentation. Geartsje and I saw four experienced presenters who were educating and entertaining the students (and themselves!). After the presentation the combined team of HH and Bobbi Bear were given a big “thank you” by the students in the form of a short play, which showed their take on HIV/Aids.

The school was built with total disregard to the surrounding environment […]

In the aftermath of the presentation two abuse cases were picked up. One of the girls who attended the presentation came up to talk about her three year old sister who had been sexually assaulted by her sixteen year old neighbour. Geartsje and two field officers were directly on the case . As the abuse had happened within the vital 72 hour window period we wanted to act immediately and go to the hospital and get PEP medication in order to prevent a possible HIV-infection. As Hope Humana usually refers these cases to Asaza (A Safer Zambia), this organisation was involved quickly. Asaza is on the case at the moment, whilst HH is keeping itself and us informed. And, ofcourse, they’re keeping the pressure on. The other case we picked up was one of severe neglect which had happened some weeks previously. Because Andrew and I wanted to make sure the boy’s situation was, indeed, improved, we paid a visit to his home. It turned out the situation had changed: the abusers had been kicked out of the house by the boy’s aunt, who was now taking care of him. The abuse undoubtedly still had its effect on the boy, so we made a referral to social welfare, whilst Andrew is keeping track on the developments. Although, we ‘only’ picked up two cases, the responses and questions by the students were testimony of many more things below a seemingly calm surface. One of the preconceptions stated by the students was that once your boyfriend and girlfriend you have to sleep with each other. We heard the same thing uttered in Malawi. Also, one of the students wanted to ask more questions on HIV testing, because there was much reason to believe he was infected. All involved parties agreed that a follow up was needed to give the students more opportunity to talk and ask questions.

At the evaluation day we were once more surprised by the field officers and their future goals. In a short period of time they had made an educational film on HIV/Aids, because –according to them- it would magnify the effect of the EduToy presentation. They suggested that maybe, in the future, a complete day can be organised during which students can chose to attend one or more films, the EduToy presentation or interact in a play. In the forthcoming months we will share part of the film they made with you through this and other channels!

After a busy week in Ndola we took the road to the biggest, wettest waterfall in the world. In Livingstone, at the Vic Falls, we met up with Saapke (Geartsje’s sister), who had been working as a  doctor in a South African hospital for the last eight weeks. Together we went out for a short but very sweet holiday in Zam, Zim and Moz!

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If you want a girl, you go to Heim Secondary School

Together with Youth Organisation GEMACCADET we did the EduToy presentation at a secondary school in Rumphi, Malawi. About 75 students in the age range of 13 up to 18 years attended and we were again surprised with the effects of the EduToy.

GEMACCADET is an organisation run solely by young adults. The director of the organisation is Tinku: a young man of 22. Compared to MVO and more specifically Yoneco, GEMACCADET differs. It operates from a single, small, rented room, has only one computer to work with and receives no funding. Undeterred, it has ambitious future plans. About twelve GEMACCADET volunteers are working hard to educate the youth in Rumphi district on HIV/Aids, provide their target group with sports and leisure, inform prisoners on the risks of blood to blood transmission, share ideas and methods on positive living (such as small scale farming) and much more. They have also stated that they would want to work on abuse cases, particularly after the presentation day at Heim. For them to remain anonymous, I’ve named the school Heim in this blog post. The lack of funding, means, but also the fact that GEMACCADET is a young organisation, poses challenges. Again, GEMACCADET remains undeterred. Indeed, these challenges did not stand in the way of an interesting EduToy presentation.

Heim is a private school with boarding facilities. Around 900 students are enrolled and about half of them make use of boarding. As Rumhpi is a rural district and villages can be quite remote, most of these students live for three months in a row on the school premises before they visit their family homes for a week. They sleep in halls that in the Netherlands aren’t even fit to house emergency shelters and are being watched by no more than two matrons and two patrons for the girls and boys respectively. Tinku and Geartsje had visited the school two days before the presentation. Even during that visit and a short talk to some of the Heim girls, they had noticed that under the surface much was going on. An ominous remark by one GEMACCADET staff  member prepared us for worse things to come: “Everyone knows, that if you want a girl [to have sex with], you go to Heim”.

They sleep in halls that in the Netherlands aren’t even fit to house emergency shelters […]

One critical look at the school lay out and one already notices the dangers that Heim students are exposed to. As at Bolero Primary, just about anyone can walk in or out the school premises. Walls around the main buildings circle only halfway round, the other half was never built. Heim is situated close to bars, clubs, shops and the inner city of Rumphi, so finding a non-student on the premises happens more than often. The quarters for boys and girls are separated from the main buildings by a street and have no fence whatsoever. As matrons and patrons cannot always keep a close eye on the students, boys and girls stay out for the night, get visits by older men and mingle (and not always with right intensions). During the presentation the students were attentive, but it wasn’t until the presentation was finished, that questions were asked and revelations were reached. A lot of the queries were on the subject of sexual education. A few mishaps that were mentioned are “They put a liquid on condoms which causes cancer” or “We tested condoms by filling one up with 2 litres of water and hanging it out for a day. Water was leaking through the condom at the end of the day. Therefore, condoms do not work”. We can add these to: “Sex in the water prevents the contracting of HIV” and “Circumcised men cannot get HIV positive”. Geartsje came across another mishap. Having a boy- or girlfriend means that you have to, nay, must have sex with one another. Apparently,  relationships and abstinence are considered a contradiction. We came across another, even more harrowing matter as we were told of the things that happen between teachers and students at Heim. As these matters are of such a nature that they need to be followed up by experienced parties, I will not disclose them through this medium. Suffice to say, that we are happy GEMACCADET and the social welfare office are there to do follow ups.

Apparently,  relationships and abstinence are considered a contradiction.

As mentioned in a previous blog, in Rumphi we stayed at Matunkha. A NGO that also runs a lodge and campsite. During our stay at Matunkha we befriended Amon, an employee of the NGO, and his family. They live on the premises of the NGO and invited us to eat beans and nsima, a local dish, with them. What started with one invitation, soon became four evenings during which we felt at home within this family. One night we just enjoyed watching the stars together, as electrical company Eskom had decided it was time for one of their weekly blackouts. It was one of the few times we thanked Eskom for their ‘wonderful’ service.

But the power cuts by Eskom were the tooth fairy compared to the malfunctions we have had with Robbie: our I-will-not-start-demon-of-a-car. We cannot even remember the first time Robbie broke down, as it is lost in a misty plethora of vague malfunctions and hoarse curses. What we can vividly remember was the night Robbie got overheated and we had to pull over in the middle of nowhere on a pitch black night. Fortunately, the car soon got surrounded by drunken Malawians on their Friday booze night. As we are used to the horror of the South African carjackings, this committee didn’t give us good vibrations. But, fortunately, and I’m not being sarcastic when I say: fortunately, Malawians tend to be rather friendly and helpful. In fact, they helped us reach Geartsje’s birthday destination, the fabulous beach lodge: Ngala. After a night of peaceful sleep, we woke up and were wrapped up in a blanket of luxury. We soon forgot all about Robbie’s troubles and decided to extend our stay by a day. Monday morning we faced Robbie’s wrath. The road back to Rumphi was tedious. The fuel shortages that have been hammering the country for the last months almost detained us halfway, but we came through and were able to finish our program with GEMACCADET. Now, I could go on to produce a Tolstoy weight novel on Robbie, but I won’t. Let’s just say that in one week, Robbie broke down six times. ‘Nuff said.

[…] the car soon got surrounded by drunken Malawians on their Friday booze night.

The road from Rumphi to Lilongwe takes you through some very depressing areas. Not depressing in the sense of financial poverty, but that of natural poverty. Kilometre after kilometre took us through an area that used to be a massive forest area of hundreds of square kilometres. Nowadays it has been completely stripped and deforested. It leads up to Malawian capital and from then on it’s only a hundred kilometres to get to the border with Zambia. Unknowingly, we had overstayed our visit in Malawi by one day. This caused major problems at the border, as this is considered a criminal offense. I kid you not. If we had known beforehand, we would have done everything to prevent this violation from happening. Luckily for us, we got some help at the border and were able to negotiate our way out of a tight situation.

After our borderline situation and two very intense, hectic weeks with two NGO’s in Rumphi, we decided it was time for a short holiday. So we drove to South Luangwa, which according to wildlife experts, is one of the best parks in the world to spot game. The herd of elephants that greeted us when we arrived at our campsite at the beautifully situated Track & Trail site, agreed with those experts. The grazing hippo at six metres from our car whilst our diner approved as well. Although his presence made us finish our meal in the car, it was still a nice experience to share diner with a 1,000 kg beastie. Although, the next day we didn’t see that many game, the meandering Luangwa, the campfires and the great variety of birdlife we saw, provided us with a lovely stay.

Luangwa also provided us with enough energy to power through to Lusaka and the capital of the Copperbelt, beyond. Here in Ndola we are currently working with Hope Humana. But, more on that later.

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Abuse in northern Malawi – Scratching the Surface

 On our trip from Zomba to Rumphi we stopped for a short, but very relaxing, interlude at the Chintheche Inn on the shores of Lake Malawi. Our two nights there were especially magical, because we got to put up our tent directly on the beach and saw a complete lunar eclipse over the lake. We spent two nights at what must be one of the nicest lakes in the world. Refreshed, we continued our journey north following the winding beach road into the mountains that lead up to Mzuzu and eventually Rumphi.


If an African version of “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” is going to be made, we have found the right location. Rumphi is a Western. Very dry, very little, very dusty. Maaike Batist, founder of the next NGO collaborating on the EduToy research (My Village Organisation or MVO) advised us to put up camp at Matunkha: an eco lodge, camping and Community based orphanage set up by a Dutch couple over 15 years ago. Just beyond Rumphi, Matunkha is a massive project encompassing a community hall, bakery, primary school, lots of houses, restaurant and so on. All operated by locals. They also run several community projects on HIV/Aids education and the empowerment of women and youth. It turned out that in preparations for our journey I had been in contact with Jorrit, a new  manager at Matunkha. He and his family are friends of a former colleague of mine. We explained the aim of our research and Jorrit and David (field manager community work) responded enthusiastic. It is very stimulating to receive these reactions from experienced NGO’s like Matunkha.  This can also be regarded as a result in itself: our research reached another interested NGO besides the ones we contacted beforehand.

Rumphi is a Western. Very dry, very little, very dusty.

In Rumphi we have been working together with two NGO’s: MVO and GEMACCADET. We will explain more on the latter in a forthcoming blog. As previously mentioned, MVO is an organisation started by Maaike Batist. Since two years it has been run by locals spearheaded by Peter Gondwe. The organisation focusses on HIV/Aids education, empowerment and support of vulnerable youth and women in the rural areas of the Rumphi district. In one of their projects they help assess HIV patients and support them by providing information on how to live with HIV, but also by providing them with a means to support themselves. Rabbits and goats are key in this aim. HIV patients are given a couple of rabbits or one or two goats that help them produce meat (and in the case of goats meat and milk) and thus get by. They also battle the stigmas concerning HIV and Aids. After a warm welcome by the entire MVO board and management in Bolero, we had a rather special and regal audience with the King of the Tumbuka tribe. He gave us his blessing and with that we were ready to proceed with the research.

[…] we had a rather special and regal audience with the King of the Tumbuka tribe.

Peter had arranged to visit a primary school in Bolero which would be participating in the research. So, before we had the training and the presentation itself, we had an interview with the headmaster and his deputy. After an introduction of the Bobbi bear and the EduToy we had time to ask headmaster Nicolas questions regarding his students and school. More than 1300 students attended Bolero Primary. The biggest challenge in his opinion is the lack of resources. And this became more than evident when he gave us a tour of the school grounds. There was no fence and just one guard. On a big campus as his in the middle of a town where a police office has only been established since 2006, this means that anyone can get in or out. Into the toilet building for instance. The toilet building has no doors, no locks, no lights. It is two sanitation blocks for 1300 students but it is also being used by the surrounding community. The smell was bad. The classrooms were not much better. For the most part, it were temporary buildings without floors. In the rainy season students would sit, with as many as 90 to 100 students per teacher, in the mud as there were no chairs or benches. The temporary buildings had been temporary for three years now. Government money is not reaching Bolero Primary. And we thought the secondary school in Zomba was bad […] Bolero Primary is far worse.

In the rainy season students would sit, with as many as 90 to 100 students per teacher, in the mud […]

The training we had on Tuesday the 21st was far bigger than the one we had in Zomba. With MVO, GEMACCADET, delegates from the police, social welfare, a primary and secondary school and three students from Mzuzu University there, the total amount of people was nearing 30. The training was very successful and engaging; especially so for the discussion group that Geartsje led. It was a good opportunity for all stakeholders to catch up and share the problems they encounter when working with (sexual) abuse. Police, university, social welfare, ngo’s and schools are not facilitated to have these sessions and all stated that they helped strengthen relationships and share knowledge. Also, the training that I led for the future EduToy presenters of MVO and GEMACADDET went well and had some interesting results. For one, it told us that translating the EduToy presentation from English to the local vernacular does not come easy. For certain English terms there just isn’t  a correct Tumbuka equivalent. Of course, one could stick to the English terms but MVO was doing the presentation at Bolero: a rural district, and at a primary school; both not contributing to the understanding of the English language.

The performance [by MVO] was brilliant to say the least

The day after the training MVO took the stage in at Bolero primary. The performance was brilliant to say the least. We said to one another that if Jackie Branfield was in the audience she would have been astounded by Geniuwe, Vincent and Peter of MVO. It is safe to say, that they were naturals. Their performance played a big part in the enthusiastic and forward reactions from the crowd of 50 seven to eleven year olds. Obviously, we will present the full results later. For now, we’d like to share that 12 of the 50 children were identified by the observers or came forward themselves with cases of abuse. These ranged from (severe) neglect to child labour and rape. The latter happened to a seven year old girl, who was raped by a fifty year old man […] unfortunately, the story gets worse. This man had raped a thirteen year old girl three months previous to our case. The first offence was quietly settled by the man’s mother and went unreported. This fact contributed in a huge way to the second rape of the seven year old. If only the first case was reported to the police. If only. It gets worse though. The man was married to three wives. One of the wives is chronically ill: an indicator for HIV in these regions, as you can imagine. So the chance that the seven year old contracted the disease as well worried all of us massively. Peter (MVO), Henry (police) and Geartsje went and talked to the mother of the child. Fortunately she agreed to report the crime. Fortunately, because a lot of these cases go unreported, as families opt to choose for financial compensation instead of justice. The girl also got tested for HIV. She tested negative. She will have to go for a second test in three months. In the meantime, the police are idling. They chose to use the second HIV test as an excuse to do nothing in the meantime. As if the case of rape can be neglected. Apparently, it can. This led to the flight of the perpetrator. At the moment, the police are still looking for him. Or so we hope. MVO is ‘on the case’ and knocking on the police’s door daily to find this man.

[…] a lot of these [rape] cases go unreported, as families opt to choose for financial compensation instead of justice

With the 50 out of 1300 plus students in just one school in one area, we are just scratching the surface of the mountain of abuse in Malawi. This is frightening, but also encouraging to do something about it. MVO, GEMACADDET and Yoneco have stated that the EduToy has really opened their eyes concerning child abuse. It is a mountain of work, but as Jackie Branfield always states: “we’ll eat this elephant one bite at a time”. And, eat it we will.


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First results at Yoneco

It’s about a week ago since we left Zomba and Yoneco with pain in our hearts. In a short time we’ve learned much from the people there through sharing their expertise on HIV/Aids, child-abuse and rape-cases. They’ve given us much useful information about specific cases of abuse they’ve dealt with, the way some cultural practices and believes lead to severe child-abuse and rape  and how difficult it can be to sensitize communities about the importance of reporting these cases in time. Because (child)abuse and rape are subjects which are covered within a ‘culture of silence’ and in many cases are perceived as something that is ‘normal’ within the communities, the staggering numbers of prevalence might just be touching the surface of the actual size of the problem in Malawi. It’s not difficult to imagine the long-term consequences: a large group of young children that grow up traumatized and believing that what is happening to them is just part of life, and many of them becoming HIV-positive due to the abuse they have to suffer. In a later post we will further elaborate about worrying numbers and facts about sexual reproductive health and rights, sexual abuse, behaviour, morale and beliefs in Malawi.

(child)abuse and rape are subjects which are covered within a ‘culture of silence’ and in many cases are perceived as something that is ‘normal’ within the communities

We also got the opportunity to get some ‘field-experience’ on dealing with a case of neglect and getting acquainted with the way the civil services like the public hospital and the local victim support unit of the police deal with such matters. Many of the civil services seem to be insufficiently equipped with enough numbers of trained and expertized staff to effectively deal with the increasing numbers of vulnerable children and abuse-cases. This makes it extremely difficult for them to handle each case the right way. This eventually leads to distrust of the community in these services which makes them reluctant to report. Furthermore, it also leads to many cases that are reported being dropped even before they go to court. Hence, the importance of organizations like Yoneco and Operation Bobbi Bear. From what we’ve seen here so far, Yoneco faces very similar challenges in dealing with cases of abuse here in Malawi, like Bobbi Bear does in South Africa. Both organizations have yet developed in different ways and can learn much from each other’s specific expertise.

One of the differences between both organizations are the methods that they use in assessing individual cases of (sexual) abuse and educating and assessing larger groups of children and youngsters on matters of HIV/Aids and abuse. For this purpose, Jackie Branfield, the director of Bobbi Bear, has developed the bear for individual cases of abuse and the EduToy for groups. Even though the latter is the focal point of our trip and field-research, much interest has been shown in the bear here in Malawi. Yoneco, as well a different individuals who are in the same line of work and people from civil services, have identified the bear as a means that can fill a gap in methods that are available now in getting a clear story in a child-friendly manner from a victim of (child)abuse. The same goes for the Edutoy, which covers a much broader spectrum of issues that make HIV/Aids and abuse such complex problems to tackle. And while the bear is used in most cases when a child has already reported about the abuse, the EduToy makes it possible to pro-actively approach the target-group, educate them about HIV/Aids and abuse in a comprehensive manner and motivate them to report when something is happening to them. When used by Bobbi Bear In South Africa this leads to many reports on abuse and rape after the EduToy presentation and in our first ‘test’ of the EduToy at a secondary school in Zomba, together with the wonderful people from Yoneco, it turns out the effect in no different here in Malawi!

After some practising, and with a little assistance here and there from us, everybody was more than ready

The days before the actual presentation in Zomba, we’ve had some very intensive days of preparation. It all started with an introduction in the organization and the area where the Yoneco head office and Zomba district office are based. We made an inventory of how Yoneco deals with cases of (sexual) abuse, how they encounter such cases, who they work together with and which challenges they face in effectively dealing with such cases. We also had an introduction with the headmaster of the particular school to discuss what the EduToy presentation and our field-research is about. The headmaster of the Chilunga secondary school welcomed us and Yoneco warmly to his school and provided us with enough time, space and even 2 teachers of his staff to do the first try-out of the EduToy at his school. And if you would look at what he has available to run his school and educate his students (3 tiny classrooms for 300 students, a huge shortage of (qualitative) textbooks for mandatory subjects of education, no place or equipment for physical exercise, no budget to enable underprivileged children to stay in secondary school when they cannot afford the school fees being just a few of the problems he has to deal with every day), the ease with which he provided all of this for us was admirable.

Next, we had  a long day of training and preparation with all the people involved: 2 field-officers from the Yoneco Helpline, 2 managers from the Yoneco drop-inn centres, 2 Yoneco (district)managers and 2 teachers from Chilunga. Furthermore, Neil and Matthias, international volunteers from Yoneco also engaged in the training. The actual training in the use of the EduToy at Bobbi Bear takes 3 days, so you can imagine it was quite an intensive day. Mercy and Richard, two field-officers from the Helpline stepped forward as presenters, while the rest of the group were appointed as ‘observers’ during the presentation. After some practising, and with a little assistance here and there from us, everybody was more than ready for the actual event on the coming Friday.

And what a day that was on Friday! There was group of about 175 students in the ages of 12 to 21 years old waiting for us under the large trees outside of the school. After an introduction of all the people  present and some prayers, Mercy and Richard took off. The students were very engaging and enthusiastic and came up with some interesting responses to the toys. Some of them being very similar to the responses children show in South Africa, and some of them which were new to us. One ‘new’ thing was the association with witchcraft that the students made with the ‘germ’ and ‘angel’ toy. Witchcraft is a huge thing here in Malawi and many vulnerable children, like the ones from child headed household, are prone to the dangerous practises that stem from witchcraft-believes.

After the introduction of the body-fluids and the story about ‘a friend who was abused’, the explanation about the human immune-system and the effect of HIV on that was received with great interest. The questions that were asked afterwards in the group and during personal conversations were remarkable. Some of them were addressing huge misconceptions about HIV/Aids  (‘I always thought white people could not get HIV-positive’) and sex (‘I want to use a condom when I sleep with a boy, but I don’t know what it looks like or how it is used’), and some of them were just  difficult (‘How exactly does PEP work in your body?’) or sour (‘Is PEP also available if you have made a mistake’ [a ‘mistake’ being: having unsafe sex deliberately and the answer being: no] ) to answer. During the personal conversations afterwards 8 cases of sexual abuse were reported that had not been reported before. The experienced people from Yoneco will take care of a proper follow-up on these cases and counselling is offered to these children.

During the personal conversations afterwards 8 cases of sexual abuse were reported that had not been reported before.

After the presentation a short questionnaire was administered to measure if the EduToy had learned the students anything new about HIV/Aids and what they liked about this presentation. Dennis and I were processing them yesterday, during which we ran into some very interesting answers. To give you a few examples:

Boy, 18 yrs old, on the new things he’s learned: ‘when ever we have abuse, especially when some one is raped, he/she can rush to the hospital for treatment within 72 hours’ and ‘I like much about the presentation because I will be able to advise somebody who is not aware of what I have learnt today since I have learnt much about HIV/Aids.’

Girl, 17 yrs old: ‘I have learnt how a virus of HIV/Aids can work in our bodies(…) and how the CD4’s help in your body to fight against diseases.’

Girl, 16 yrs old: ‘I like this presentation because I am learn different things from this day which I didn’t learn in my whole life.’

Boy, 18 yrs old: ‘Presentation was unique in the sense that the use of characters made me to understand well about issues of HIV and other germs that enter into our body.’

Girl, 16 yrs old: ‘What I liked most is that every one was free to talk and people had no shyness.’


I’m guessing it is safe to say that the first results on the effect and applicability of the EduToy in Malawi are positive and encouraging. We are ready for some more of that in Rumphi!    

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Case description ‘Who’s responsible for Happy?’

Yesterday we went to a social function in Zomba organized by Yoneco. The main focus of the gathering was on the soccer matches between local children’s teams. Enthusiastic fans of the playing teams had gathered all around the sandy soccer field. To make the scene even more alive, there were performances by the Yoneco children’s band and the cultural troupe, who addressed issues like HIV/Aids and abuse through dancing and singing. During the afternoon Dennis ran into a young boy; let’s call him Happy. He was amongst a little group of children who were very keen to pose in front of our camera. Happy didn’t particularly stand out in the group; just like the other kids he wore ragged clothes, looked quite sandy and didn’t speak English very well. Happy was one of the many kids who came to the soccer match without a grownup or guardian. He insisted on doing ‘Bruce Lee’ poses for the pictures.  A little later, Dennis saw Happy hanging around our car and started a conversation with him. They played a game of Bawo together and Happy beat Dennis royally within a minute. Dennis came back to the tree where I was sitting with a few Yoneco members to tell about his defeat. Happy also came over to introduce himself. I asked him about the bandage around his ankle, which looked very dirty. With the translation of Michael, the manager of the women and children’s programmes of Yoneco, I learned that the bandage had been on his ankle since Thursday. Happy told us that he got injured with an axe when he was chopping wood and that it didn’t hurt that much. Since I had clean bandages in our first aid kit in the car, I asked him to take the bandage of. Without even twitching his face, we saw him ‘tear of’ a big piece of greenish flesh which was stuck to the nasty bandage. The removal of the bandage exposed a deep and pussy flesh wound, which hadn’t healed a bit since the injury came to be. You can only imagine what horrible infections Happy could have suffered, had the wound not been treated. And from the sight of him (dirty clothes, no shoes and an almost cracked skin) it was not difficult to conclude that it would be impossible for the boy to keep this wound clean himself.

We decided to take Happy to the public hospital in Zomba. Michael came with and explained to us it might become quite difficult to get help there, since it was a Sunday. “They only deal with acute, life-threatening cases on a Sunday. Besides, a lot of the staff only work here for the paycheck at the end of the month, not because they want to help people”. Having dealt with this sort of attitude amongst civil servants in South Africa more than once, we said we wanted to give it a go anyway. During the trip to the hospital we learned that Happy’s parents had deceased and that he lived with his older brother in a shack about 5 kilometres away from the place we had met him. His brother was away for work. Happy told that this happens often. On such days he had to provide for his own meals and it would happen on a regular basis that he would go to sleep without even one meal in his stomach. Happy also told us he didn’t go to school anymore. Once we got to the hospital, Michael’s fear about the attitude of hospital staff became evident. They were reluctant to even take a single look at Happy’s foot. “You know you are not supposed to come to the hospital on Sunday, but on a Monday”, they addressed the boy. “That’s according to our schedule and you have to stick to our schedule”.

Considering all of the above, it is clear to me that Happy is being abused and deprived of his rights. But by whom?

Let’s first take a look at Happy’s caretaker(s). They are the first people to look at when you are talking about Happy’s right to grow up in a safe and caring (family) environment, his rights to food and water, medical attention and education. You can wonder why a boy of Happy’s age and size was working with an axe in the first place. Was there not an adult around to monitor the child while he was using such equipment? Why would a child be given the responsibility to chop wood?  Why isn’t his caretaker making sure that his wound was attended to and that he goes to school every day?  How can it be that a child of his age has to provide for his own food? Visiting his home today, we learned that Happy has been living with his older brother Matthew (not his real name) since 3 months. Strictly speaking they are cousins (their respective mothers were sisters), but in Malawian cultures they are considered brothers because their mothers have the same blood. Matthew gave us much information about the current and past living situation of Happy. They live in a small house/shack together. To be honest, you cannot call this a proper house.  It’s a dark, small building with hardly any furniture or living utilities. They sleep on ragged mats on the floor and there’s no kitchen or bathroom (since there’s no running water or electricity in the house). Reasoning from my Westernized point of view, it’s a place where you wouldn’t even put animals in to live. Seriously, if you would keep pigs or goats in such a place in Holland, you would get fined for animal abuse. Yet, here in Malawi, this house apparently should be sufficient to raise a 14 year old boy in.

Matthew is battling to keep his head above water. He is taking his responsibility for Happy seriously. Coming from central Malawi, he was send to Zomba by the family because Happy’s older sister– who looked after him after their mother died in 2006-  had problems with him, being that she accused Happy of associating with witches and witchcraft. Witchcraft is huge problem in Malawi and people have an intense fear for it, which is pretty understandable if you consider consequences as children ending up killing their own parents and children losing their private parts.

Matthew shows a loving attitude towards the boy. Yet he has very few means to provide him with everything he needs. With his job at the water department, he has to work at least 6 days a week for a paycheck of 5000 Kwacha per month (about 25 euros). Considering the prices in the normal supermarkets here, which are of almost an European level, it seems impossible to feed 2 people of that wage. When addressing that, Matthew admits it happens regularly that they only have 1 small meal a day, or sometimes none. The neighbours are generally not keen to help them out on such days. Matthew also gave us the worrying news that Happy was born with HIV. He does make sure that his CD4 count is examined regularly and he presented us with the health passport that the clinic uses to update his health-status. Happy is still healthy enough to stay of ARV’s. It is therefore extra important that Happy upholds a healthy lifestyle and has access to nutritious foods and a clean living environment.Concerning the issue that Happy does not go to school anymore, Matthew comes up with a number of reasons. He can’t buy the needed textbooks, Happy doesn’t have proper clothes to wear to school, he has to walk a long distance to get there.

Now, aware of all this background information, can we state that Matthew is abusing Happy? In my opinion this is a no. At least, he’s not deliberately abusing Happy and denying him his basic rights for food, a safe living environment and education. If you would look at the older sister that used to care of Happy, I think you could answer the question differently. By publicly accusing him of witchcraft and therefore refusing to take care of him, she did not only deny her responsibility to look after him, but also condemned him to public humiliation and stigmatization and possible life danger. On the other hand, I believe that Matthew can do more to fight for the rights of the child in his care. Michael has agreed with Matthew that he will go and talk to the headmaster of the school, to make sure that Happy will enrol a.s.a.p. in the standard where he ended in. He also agreed with Matthew to take him to the clinic every day, to have his injury looked after and the bandage changed. Furthermore, he will have to make sure that when he is away for work, Happy is looked after as much as possible and provided with food.


Now, what role is there to play for people living in the same community and the local chief? Can you call on their responsibility if they leave a neighbouring child to starve, while most of them have the greatest challenge in making sure their own children are fed every day? Child-headed households are on a huge rise in Malawi, one of the reasons being that (extended) family members are more and more declining to take up children of deceased parents or siblings as their own. I understand that things are never so black and white and that, because people are dying by the minute which is creating insane numbers of orphans, it’s not always evident that people willingly take the responsibility for these orphans. That being said, it is still difficult to comprehend what is going on in these communities and how adults sometimes seem to act as if children are responsible for themselves. Children are being treated as adults and given the responsibilities of adults. Driving and walking through Jali, a rural area outside of Zomba, we saw 4 year old kids walking on the side of the road with 1 year old or even younger siblings on their backs, just like a mother would. They would buy groceries or kill rats in the fields to eat them for dinner, with no grownups to be seen. Another 10 minutes driving down the road it became clear that most of the adults in the area where hanging around a beer-hole, dancing, singing and getting totally wasted. It’s quite common to have young, dressed-up girls from the age of 8/9 years old hanging around the entrance of such places to attract male customers.  It makes you even more worried what will happen to the children, who are left alone during the day, when their drunken parents, brothers and/or neighbours come home in the evening and sleep in same room as the child.

Within such communities, the local chief has a huge say in everyday-life issues. They often have more authority than a police-officer would have. You can imagine that due to that authority, these chiefs can have a huge influence on people in how they manage their household and treat their children. Unfortunately, when addressing this possibility to improve the situation of children like Happy through the existing cultural structures, the stories that are most prevalent are about chiefs ‘settling’ sexual abuse cases with the perpetrators family giving the family of the victim a goat or something or advising parents to punish their disobedient children by burning their hands or feet. I believe that there is a clear responsibility for communities and their (informal) leaders all over the world to look after the children that live amongst them, especially when the parents fail to do so. A community has a shared responsibility to provide these children with love and care and opportunities, rather than just leaving them figuring out their lives on their own. Children need adults to learn from them and to provide them with safety and care.


You can also call on the responsibility of the hospital staff, whom we had to convince into treating Happy’s injuries. Salient detail: a few meters away from the receptiondesk, there was a Unicef poster on the wall describing different forms of child-abuse, one them being negligence of the medical needs of a child.What about practising what you preach? As we were told before, many people in these kind of jobs are only in it for the pay check at the end of the month, not because they are passionate about helping people.This became painfully obvious when you looked around in the wards of the hospital. The floors and beds were flooded with sick women and children, but nowhere around was any hospital-staff to be seen. Six nurses were sitting behind their reception desk, chatting, reading and listening to music, but not looking after the patients in the hospital. Medical supplies laid all around in a big mess and the wards looked like they had not been cleaned in ages.  Fortunately for Happy, there was Ernest. While Dennis and Michael were discussing with the staff about whether they were going to help Happy or not, and I was about to burst out of my skin with anger, Ernest approached me and quietly told me to get Happy and walk with him to the examination room. Ernest turned out to be a very pleasant exception amongst the nurses and treated Happy’s injury professionally and with a warm and caring attitude towards the young boy. Ernest made sure that Happy’s rights for medical attention were met that day!


Maybe we should call on the responsibility of the (local) government and council who allow children to grow up under such harsh conditions. Like I explained before, the house that Matthew and Happy live in isn’t contributing to a safe and protected living area for Happy. It’s even impossible to lock the door of the house. Why isn’t social welfare intervening? Why isn’t local government making their services to improve their living situation more accessible for Matthew? We asked Matthew if he had ever called on the help of civil services, but he declined stating that he has no knowledge of any help whatsoever being available for them. While there is an option for him to, for instance, apply for a scholarship to finish his secondary school and therefore improving their livelihood. Should local government state and enforce a stricter policy about the minimum (safety) requirements for houses people live in?Or would this only contribute to even more people living on the street? In a perfect world you would expect the local services to help the people who are not in a position to meet such requirements, but unfortunately daily life in Malawi is far from perfect. Regarding the government’s budget statement for 2011/2012 earlier this week, vice-premier Banda concluded that the government is as good as broke. The government intends to raise taxes on daily groceries such as food and dairy and wants to lower the tax-free income from 12.000 Kwacha to 10.000 Kwacha. According to Banda in today’s newspaper, these measures will mainly effect the poorest of the poor. That means households like that of Matthew and Happy. Additionally, president Bingu is getting on the bad side of international donors, such as Great Britain. After the leaking of critical opinions about Bingu’s policy and government of the country from the side of the highest British commissioner in Malawi, Bingu had him escorted out of the country. Leading to the withdrawal of the financial aid of the British. Since Bingu is convinced that Malawi is capable of dealing with its problems on its own, this does not particularly attract big international funders to invest in Malawi. Even Madonna, who adopted 2 children from the country and has been an active ambassador for aid in Malawi, has stopped her investment in an academy for girls (although honestly that wasn’t Bingu’s fault). Looking back at the living situation of Matthew and Happy, Malawi is clearly in no position to deal with the problems of families like theirs on its own. Does this not imply that Bingu and the government are obligated to actively seek and welcome every help they can get to improve the lives of Malawi’s citizens?


You can also wonder which role we ourselves, as an international community, can play in improving the lives of children like Happy. While Happy is worrying whether if he will have a meal that day, children on the other side of the world are worrying if they will get an IPad2 or the newest type of shoes. Is that the kind of world we want to live in? Shouldn’t we screaming out in anger and demand that this is NOT the way we want children of our world and kind to grow up. A well-known saying from the great Madiba himself states that there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than by the way its children are treated. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that he is only calling on the responsibility of the particular (impoverished) communities that children are living in. We are all responsible for the way children all over the world are treated. So, for instance, if we decide we are ok with buying a shirt which was fabricated through child-labour just because that shirt is cheaper than one that was fabricated in a more sustainable way, we are all contributing to the fact those children are deprived of their natural born rights! Don’t be ignorant and don’t close your eyes for the role you can play yourself in improving the lives of children like Happy.

Happy never asked to come into this world. He didn’t ask for the horrible disease he is carrying in his body and he never asked to grow up without his parents. Neither did he ask to live under the harsh conditions that he is living in now. If Happy had a loud voice, which of the parties mentioned above could he turn to and hold accountable for the way he is forced to lead (or maybe you could even say ‘endure’) his life? The possibilities to make his life a happy and healthy one are there, but is going to provide this for him? Who should he turn to for help to improve his life? Who feels responsible and acts on it?

I applaud and admire people in organizations like Operation Bobbi Bear and Yoneco who have decided, without being asked to do so, to take up a responsibility to improve the lives of children every day. Every single day they give everything they’ve got to fight for the rights of these children and give them a voice. They enforce and assist all the parties that are mentioned above in taking their responsibility for children like Happy. If we would all try and take a little of the courage, passion and love that these inspirators show every day, and use that to open our eyes and really see children like Happy, I bet the world can be a totally different place.


Note: Dennis and I have decided we’re going to support Happy and Matthew. For a total amount of about €250, we can send Matthew to school, improve his opportunities and therefore the livelihood of Happy as well as Matthew and his future children. The people from Yoneco will keep us updated on their progress. The reason why I am adding this to this blog is because I want to ask to you to think about the great things that you can do with just a little effort/money/time! You can support organizations like Bobbi Bear and Yoneco (look on their respective websites to see how) or go and volunteer in a country like Malawi or South Africa, to see, feel and hear it yourself. I promise you it will never let you go! If you feel inspired and you are looking for suggestions on how to do this in Malawi, South Africa or anywhere else for that matter, inbox me on or post a message on my facebook.

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The road that took us from Blantyre to Zomba took us past lovely sceneries in which trees got bigger and bigger, up to the huge ones that line the last patch of road before the former British capital of Malawi that is Zomba. It still has an imperial vibe about it: large, commanding structures, huge, planted trees but also the place where staying in at the moment. It’s a B&B in a collection of late Victorian buildings. Around these buildings of former glory, shacks are sprawling with the poor and under aged.

On the outskirts of town the head office of Yoneco, or YouthNet and Counselling, is based. Yoneco is the first of five organisations we will be working with on the EduToy. Yoneco has been up and running since 1997. MacBain Mkandawire is the founder and can be very proud of his organisation as it is well developed and tackling a plethora of problems in the whole of Malawi. With its seven district offices Yoneco provides for the whole of Malawi. Due to healthy relationships of Malawi with its neighbouring countries and a good (phone) network coverage, Yoneco also provides assistance to these. Assistance to neighbours is mostly done through first line assistance via the Helpline and subsequent reference to partner organisations in the respective countries (NGO’s, social welfare, and so on). At the head office we met the whole staff and the people manning the Helpline. The Helpline is a toll free number that children can call on all sorts of matters such as (sexual) health, abuse, relationships and the like. This call centre is operable from 6 in the morning till 10 at night, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Closely cooperating with the call centre are the field workers who follow up on cases that are being picked up through the Helpline. Here a lot of similarities are brought up between Operation Bobbi Bear and Yoneco: Yoneco provides first or emergency counselling to the victim, dispatches a driver together with a Yoneco employee on field duty, gets the police involved, go to the hospital for examination of the victim and PEP, help the police with the statement, do follow ups on the case, counsel the victim and so on. What is a great development, is that Yoneco is actively participating in a monthly meeting Sexual and Gender Based Violence Committee that attempts to streamline services to youth, women and men battling with sexual and gender based violence. Parties committed are social welfare, police services, the ministry of health, the judicial system and members of the civil society (e.g. Yoneco)

With its seven district offices Yoneco provides for the whole of Malawi.

The problems that arise in Malawi society are also quite similar to those encountered by Bobbi Bear in South African society. The civil services are not keen on helping out, as a lot of government employees are just at their jobs for the money. Not to help others. Ownership towards cases amongst officials is therefore not high. Civil services are understaffed, underpaid and underequipped. In such a way, that in rural areas one teacher may teach up to three classes of 150-200 children each. Next to that poverty is rife. HIV/Aids and other diseases are rife. To such a degree even, that complete generations are wiped out, so that child headed households are not uncommon; they are actually on the rise. Another big matter standing in the way of development is ignorance. The level of illiteracy is high and the number of people going to or finishing secondary school is way too low. So on matters concerning their rights, health and general access to information, the Malawian people are lacking behind.

[…] that in rural areas one teacher may teach up to three classes of 150-200 children each.

Seven days a week, 365 days a year, Yoneco is battling on the battlefield described above. At the drop in center young people can come and play, hang out, but also make their homework, learn about lifeskills and HIV/Aids. The Bobo film and Family Matters and LOVE.check game by the are used for just this matter. It is shown or played first, with a discussion/question round afterwards. At the regional office afterschool primary classes are given by government teachers employed by Yoneco to anyone willing and needing to enrol. HIV/Aids patients are given food supplements and advice, as counselling is given to victims of abuse. Yoneco does not just wait for people to come to them. Through outreach programs like sports days they engage people to change their lives.

[…] kids roaming the fields in search of rats to kill in order to supplement their diet.

Program manager and genuine nice guy, Charles Banda, has shown us around the last few days. He was so kind to let us interview him for “hours on end”, and also took us to the various Yoneco locations in the Zomba district. What was very inspiring was the outreach program we went to on the 5th of June. At a huge primary school a football match for girls and boys was held attended by many onlookers. Yoneco has a studio for several bands made up of street/underprivileged children. These were providing the match with entertaining music. Next too that messages of HIV/Aids prevention were spread by the cultural troop of Yoneco in musical form. One other thing we went and saw were the living conditions of children in the rural areas. Think about kids roaming the fields in search of rats to kill in order to supplement their diet. Think about three or four year olds looking after one or two year olds. Think about too many drunkards on the streets. Ragged clothes. We are sorry to say that there is not a lot of positive imagery to be brought other than that these children are very eager to learn. If given the right basics and stimuli they will grow into a great new generation. If only they would be looked after better.

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First impressions of Malawi

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. In financial terms that is, because in friendliness it is quite rich indeed.

At the moment we’re based in a small backpackers in Blantyre: a city in the South of Malawi. The moment we got off the plane we were struck by the beauty of the country: softly flowing hills, lots of greenery and flowers with mountains in the backdrop of it all. And it was hot. More especially so because we thought it was going to be around 23 degrees Celsius.. Better turn those numbers around. Better put on some shorts.

“Malawi is very close to the equator, friend”, was the reply I got when explicating my general be wonderment of the heat

So the city life is not representable for Malawi, as 70-80% of the population live in rural areas. We are told Malawians are laid back and so far we can confirm. It is also a very safe country, with people doing their utmost to help foreigners. Driving around with car windows all the way down, is something we wouldn’t do in South Africa. But here, the flow of wind in your hair whilst driving a formidable big *ss Nissan is the way to go about. There I’ve struck two important points: we have got a car and it’s formidable. Not only the state it is in, but also the service and genuine friendliness we have enjoyed from its owners who rent it to us. Be sure to rent a car from Shepherd when you’re in Malawi or its surrounding countries.

As we’ve been coming to South Africa for the last couple of years, so to compare that country and our own to other African countries is an exercise worth making. General, everyday things strike you first. The prizes of food, fuel and household things are the same or higher than in the Netherlands. How on earth do Malawians manage, when most of them earn 1-3 dollars a day. No wonder a large percentage is malnourished. Another striking matter. In Malawi there aren’t that much white people compared to South Africa or the Netherlands for that matter. What’s very different from SA, is that there’s not a lot of racism. Next too that fact being explained to us by Nkosi (Shepherds wife), we get that from small things, such as people just going about their business when you walk by. In SA you feel you are noticed and that in dealing with white people a lot of black people react as though they were subjugators.  In Malawi it’s just as back home: everybody’s equal. Well, not everybody. Some people get a bit more than the rest. Especially the president as we are told.

Nkosi was a peer educator, teaching people in rural areas about HIV/Aids. Her brother-in-law, Shanty, lives in Harare, Zimbabwe, and has seen a lot of HIV/Aids presentations. They were both very excited about the EduToy, mainly because of its different approach and appeal to the visual. Most presentations, Shanntly said, are like one or two hour lectures. Totally boring. People see them once and just tune out after a few minutes.  Next time a presentation is around, they are shunned. So people do not learn much about the virus. The EduToy has entertainment value, without losing its educational goal. Besides, they also stated there is a huge need for addressing issues like HIV/Aids and abuse, since it is becoming more and more prevalent amongst (young) children. We feel very much encouraged by Nkosi and Shanntly’s reactions and hope we can accomplish the same elsewhere.  Thursday we will be driving to Zomba for our co-op with YONECO.

Most [HIV/Aids] presentations […] are like one or two hour lectures. Totally boring.

Last thing for now, was the question: “Why aren’t more people coming to Malawi?”. There are volunteers coming from the Netherlands, US Peace Corp and Japan, but normal tourists, what’s keeping them away from Malawi? It can’t be the friendly people, beautiful surroundings and good climate. Or the distance. Europeans go en masse to South Asia. Maybe it’s the unknown. Well, we’ve all got Google. So Google it! Maybe, we will see you here.

Warm greetings,

Geartsje & Dennis.


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Research update


We have just updated our site: A shortened version of our research in Southern Africa and a list of the NGO’s we will be visiting is now readable and downloadable as a pdf through the following link.

Warm greetings,

Geartsje & Dennis.

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Getting closer!

E-mail Central

As the start of our trip to Southern Africa is getting closer, Geartsje’s e-mail box is getting fuller. Introduced by the Dutch organisation the WEB.Foundation, Geartsje has been in contact with several very promising projects in Malawi, that already make us regret the limited amount of time we get to spend in that country.

Malawi: getting there

Blantyre is a city in the South of Malawi where Air Malawi will take us on the 30th of May. Once there, a man named Shepherd will pick us up from the airport and show us to our car. Not just a car. A Nissan Patrol, whose previous string of owners took it from Europe to South Africa and back again. Several times. Shepherd bought the car of Michel from our befriended Dutch organisation Be More. He actually drove the car from Nijmegen to Cape Town last year. Since this flat tire ridden trip Shepherd has totally checked and updated the car for us. We will drive it to nearby located Zomba shortly after our arrival.

Responses from Malawi

The WEB.Foundation has truly opened doors for us, not only in Malawi, but in other Southern African countries as well as in the Netherlands. So far, getting in contact with organizations has been easy. Specifically so, in Malawi where in Zomba YONECO is situated, our first project organisation. YONECO is a nationwide NGO, focussing on social injustice and sexual and reproductive health issues concerning youth, women and children. More on YONECO can be found on their site ( We will definitely post more information on this organisation (and our experiences there) as our field research advances in the forthcoming months. The professionalism YONECO has shown so far made quite an impression on us. They are fast in their response, setting up future staff meetings focussing on the Edu Toy method and are already busy making us feel very welcome, indeed. Apparently such a great response is not an exception in Malawi. My Village Organisation in the Northern Rhumpi area, as well as GEMACCADET give us the same positive impression. So positive that, in fact, we cannot wait to arrive in a country we have never been before, but already feel at home in.

Lots of boxes

Lots of boxes have been delivered at our house lately. A Swiss army knife, Maglite, self inflating mattresses, and what not, have been waiting on our doorstep. Next to the extensive mailing and planning, ordering stuff is also part of preparations. The day before yesterday I got a Norwegian knife and our friend Oivind taught us some bushcraft with it. It is save to say that we can now gut a fish and make a sharp stick out of a branch. Out of a branch, people! Something growing in nature, turned into a tool, with which we are able to grill life essential marshmallows in the fire.

Hopefully we will be able to fit everything in our suitcases. We will get you posted on that matter as well. As for now, till the next update!

Geartsje & Dennis.

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