Crafting community and change through books and pads: The Tikondwe teacher’s project in Domasi, Malawi.
Paper presented at the International Conference of Education, Research, and Innovation, Seville, Spain. ICERI2016 Conference Proceedings
Since 2004, U.S.-based college students and faculty, partnering with Rotary clubs in North Carolina, have collaborated with teacher leaders in three rural schools in Domasi, Malawi, on participatory action research projects (PAR) designed to save the lives of children and youth through education. In Malawi, one adult in five, and one child in ten, test positive for HIV/AIDS. The only correlate of remaining disease-free is staying in school, but multiple oppressions involving poverty, language, literacy, gender, and a lack of teacher empowerment operate to severely limit access. While many initiatives have addressed needs determined by teachers as critical, our paper focuses on how the arts operate as tools for tikondwe – freedom – in the Domasi context. Malawian teachers now author culturally-congruent texts in the languages their pupils speak, so they can learn to read and write. U.S.-based graphic design students then craft illustrations and layout for these teacher-authored books, and raise funds for printing classroom sets. In response to the needs of older girls, another project gathers them in the afternoons to sew their own sustainable feminine pads so they do not miss a week of school each month. Our aim in this work has been to knit together those whose expertise can be brought to bear on problem-solving with diverse others, and in that action, expand the moral circle and facilitate leadership development through side-by-side engagement. This paper explores the potential for Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire’s (1970), conscientization -- or tikondwe -- of heads, hearts and hands within this trans-global community.
A goal of development is to increase a community’s social capital or networks of engagement (Saxton & Benson, 2005). Community development methods range from diagnostic to participatory perspectives. Participatory development engages the community, and involves a long-term focus on transformation and self-reliance. Through participatory development outsiders and insiders facilitate and mobilize resources to co-create long-term change (Ewert, 1991). Sustainable community building can include three components: asset mapping, connecting assets, and creating a compelling vision (Kretzmann & McKnight, 1993). According to Hargreaves and Fink (2006), “Sustainable leadership reaches out to communities. It invites direct engagement; two-way, jargon free communication; and meaningful participation” (p. 262).
Our outcomes are both impressive and sustainable. Absenteeism has been reduced in girl learners, and the number of girls has increased at this school. The mother tongue literacy class and book-making has brought about creativity and critical thinking in both learners and teachers.In 2004, only three of 65 learners had scored high enough on the Standard 8 exam to apply to secondary school. Eight years later, 40 out of 66 made the needed score. The next year, 67 of 67. Then 75 out of 75, with the difference all in females, followed by 85 of 85, the difference all females. Now through the combined arts of storytelling, writing, graphic design, and sewing, Domasi teachers craft cutting edge knowledge about how to level the playing field for learners with linguistic diversity, and female students, in their part of the world. In the side-by-side of being with each other and worrying together over time as global teachers and learners, freedom is realized and power gets generated.
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