Lakeland College

Malawi Blog

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Lakeland College M.Ed. Program

December 22, 2015 In Malawi Blog

On December 7 and 8, 2015, the first nine graduate students in the Lakeland College Masters of Education program defended their thesis projects to members of the college faculty. Then, on December 9, they donned their caps and gowns and marched down the aisle in the presence of families and friends at Ufulu Gardens in the capital city of Lilongwe to receive their diplomas. What follows are some impressions of what transpired.


Professor Jeff Elzinga reports that the thesis defenses went well. There were five defenses on the first day and four on the second. While some of the students live in or near Lilongwe, several had to make long journeys by bus to get to the capital city.  Dr. Mehraban Khodavandi, Chair of Lakeland’s Graduate Education Program, participated in the defense meetings from his campus office via Skype technology. For him in Wisconsin, it was the middle of the night, with the first defense beginning at 1:00 in the morning, Wisconsin time. According to Professor Elzinga, Dr. Khodavandi's electronic presence added something especially meaningful to the entire process, connecting the group back to Lakeland College in a direct and palpable way. Everyone was thrilled to see their teacher and advisor again, even if only via computer screen. As Elymas Tembwe said, "I was very happy to see my research lecturer face-to-face on Skype since we had parted in June."


Ndamyo Mwanyongo said that she felt nervous before her defense, which seemed appropriate to her, given that she knew she would be facing a discerning panel. "But," she wrote, "when I was welcomed by Professor Jeff Elzinga, and seeing Dr Khodavandi on Skype, the nervousness was driven away. I felt very confident after explaining my topic and how the research went on. The experience was somehow what I anticipated." Phillip Nachonie also reported feeling nervous beforehand. "But came the day," he said, "it was not as hard as I thought. I was very confident because it was about something I had been doing myself. Responding to questions was not a problem anymore."


About 65 people attended the December 9 graduation ceremony. There were representatives from USAID, the Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology, principals from the Teacher Training Colleges, and many other friends and family members of the graduates, including Dr. Brian Frink, Professor of Chemistry and Chair of Lakeland’s Interdisciplinary Studies Division.  According to Professor Elzinga, the event was every bit as lovely as one would wish it to be. "The venue was beautiful," he said. "Brian and I wore our graduation gowns, as did the students. Brian read the names of the graduates and I handed out the diplomas.  We even piped in the same music we use on campus, along with the Malawian and US national anthems."


Ndamyo took special notice of the music. "When the music started for us to begin marching in, it felt like we were at Lakeland. I said to myself, 'This graduation was well planned for, and we've been honored.'  Having my family there, including my husband and kids, made me feel fully supported." Phillip agreed that the presence of his wife, relatives, and government officials made the experience a truly great celebration, "one of my most memorable days," he said.


The journey that began for this group of nine in June 2014 has ended. They have successfully attained their Masters degrees after 18 months of intense work. But, if one were to ask any of them, the real journey—to enrich and expand early grade reading instruction in Malawi—has only just begun.


Cohort 1 graduation lighterThe graduates stand on the steps at Ufulu Gardens accompanied by (back row, left to right),
Lakeland Professor Brian Frink, Mr. Douglass Arbuckle, Mission Director at USAID/Malawi,
 and Lakeland Professor Jeff Elzinga. In the front row is Ms. Chrissie Chisamba, Lakeland graduate
of 2008, who served as the students' research mentor in Malawi from June to December 2015.


This post is written by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.

December 3, 2015 In Malawi Blog

One of the important services Lakeland College offers its international students is the opportunity to be connected with an off-campus host family. A host family provides friendship and the occasional meal or other experience to the student, particularly at holiday time, when the distance away from home feels most acute. These exchanges offer a chance for the international students to learn firsthand about holiday traditions in America, while the host families learn about life in other parts of the world. There are several host families who have been involved for many years, welcoming Lakeland students such as the Malawians into their homes. Here are two recent stories.


Aleme Chitanje spent Thanksgiving with LC alumni Fred and Barb Seefeldt, both class of 1960, at their home in West Bend.  Thanksgiving is a special experience for an international student because it is a holiday where our tradition of families coming together and expressing their gratefulness for each other and the previous year is keenly felt by someone far from home.  The host families especially help students feel connected during the holidays.  Aleme wrote of her experience:


"The Seefeldts are my family in the USA. I helped with making food on Wednesday. I made pumpkin pies from a late aunt's recipe. There were 16 people on Thanksgiving day, their children, grandchildren, uncle, nephews, nieces, and a few friends. All these people brought something to eat or drink. Dinner was served at 4:00 p.m. They served turkey, mashed potatoes, mashed yams, purple cabbage, stuffing, Jello, and of course pumpkin pie. After dinner the women played a game called spoons, while the men watched football. I really appreciate the hospitality and thank the Seefeldt's for bringing me into their home." 

aleme and spoonsBarb Seefelt '60 at far left with Aleme and the women after the Thanksgiving meal. 


Geralyn Leannah and her family have hosted many Malawian students over the years. This year, they are hosting Mavuto Chiwale. Here is what Geralyn shared about his Thanksgiving visit to her home:


"Mavuto came over to a full house for Thanksgiving festivities that included our traditional wearing of the turkey hat among other costumes. He was caught wearing an upside down ice cream cone in this picture. Nine of my siblings were in attendance with all of their children (30 in all), but Mavuto was not intimidated. We found out he is the exact same age as my eldest son.

FB IMG 1448654638384Mavuto in the "ice cream" hat with family and friends on Thanksgiving. 


"Seeing our lives and culture through the eyes of a Malawian student is both enriching and rewarding. Mavuto is curious, humorous, and circumspect. He inquires respectfully about many things, from keeping a dog indoors to college life on state university campuses. He is very interested in visiting other places, near and far. 


"This past August we took him on a tour of EPIC, a premier healthcare records corporation in Middleton, Wisconsin. Mavuto participated in a "Lanterns for Peace" demonstration with us in Milwaukee and tasted frozen custard for the first time there as well. I am humbled and proud to be a host mother for the Malawians. They are extraordinary individuals who provide an inspiring model for perseverance, courage, intellect, and grace."


Ryan Opahle is the Lakeland staff member who helps connect international students with host families. Anyone who would like to learn more about becoming a host family to a Lakeland College international student should contact Ryan at .


This post was prepared by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.

October 28, 2015 In Malawi Blog

On Saturday, October 24, the Malawi students joined teams of other Lakeland students from thirteen countries to take over the kitchens on campus and prepare international dishes for one of the most anticipated student-led activities of the year: Lakeland's annual International Food Festival. This event is another example of the many activities outside the classroom that the graduate students from Malawi are experiencing during their year in the U.S.

kitchen 2Aleme Chitanje stirs nsima, with mandazi cooking on the front burner.

The Malawi M.Ed. students began their kitchen duties at 11 a.m. on Saturday morning. Together, men and women prepared nsima—a corn meal dish similar to grits or polenta—white rice, beef stew, cabbage relish, and fried bread balls called mandazi. I asked Frank Mbwana how the day of preparation had gone. "Long, and a little tiring," he said, but he was smiling, as was everyone else on the Malawi team.

When the doors to Bossard Dining Hall opened at 5:35 p.m., a long line of excited guests quickly filed in and spread out to the different stations, where international student chefs and servers awaited them. Each station was decorated with the flag of the country represented, as well as signs describing the food that had been prepared. Several students were also dressed in traditional clothing.  The food was offered free-of-charge, although donations to the Global Student Association (GSA) were accepted. The hungry diners included students, faculty, staff, alumni, and members of the wider Sheboygan community. What everyone found was a diverse array of delicious food to sample from several corners of the globe: Brazil, Kenya, Taiwan, Italy, the Hmong tradition, Honduras, Germany, Japan, Malawi, China, Greece, Sierra Leone, Peru, and Nepal, each dish lovingly prepared by the students themselves.

As Malawian Mike Kumwamba put it, "It was a nice experience! I tasted food from Brazil, Kenya, Japan, just to name a few. Apart from tasting food from other countries and cultures, I liked the cordial interaction between students and people from the community. Usually, students don't [have time to] interact on campus due to busy schedules. This event took us off the books and assignments and brought us all together."

group resized

The president of the Global Student Association, Karen Lerindo, a junior from Kenya, said that GSA began planning the event at the start of the school year. "It's amazing," she said, "It was fun working together. Everyone had a great time."

Behind the Malawi steam table, many of the students wore matching red African shirts as they served up food from home. At the front of their table was a sign that said, "Welcome to the warm heart of Africa."

From the smiles on the faces of all the international student servers to the lively conversations at every table, the warmth of this special evening was palpable throughout the room.  Staff advisor to GSA, Ryan Opahle, noted, "I think this is truly a great tradition, a great opportunity to share the many cultures of Lakeland with the entire community. Dining Services helps tremendously, and the students do an incredible job." I don't think there was anyone at the meal who would have said otherwise. Click here to see many more photos from the event. 


This post was prepared by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.

October 7, 2015 In Malawi Blog

As the Malawian graduate students continue to settle into the routines on Lakeland's campus, they also make it a point to get off-campus to experience a variety of activities and events. When they break from their studies, the students do things like participate in the faith communities of local churches, meet with their host families for meals and outings, and seek out opportunities that provide professional development and cultural exchange.


Recently, Mavuto Chiwale, Margret Mandala, MaryFlorence Mzama, and Yowasi Nkhambala  rode the college shuttle into town so they could attend an event called 100 Thousand Poets for Change (100TPC). This year marked the fifth anniversary of 100TPC, which is held annually, all around the world, always on the last Saturday of September. On this day, poets, musicians, and artists come together to share a vision for making the world a more peaceful, just, and sustainable place.  It’s a day for planting seeds of change through the arts.  This year, groups participated in nearly 600 cities scattered across North, Central, and South America, Europe, Africa, and Asia.

IMG 2103MaryFlorence Mzama and Margret Mandala share at the open mic.

The Sheboygan event was held at Deland Home Park on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan. The M.Ed. students joined an audience of about 85 other people who participated in the open mic event. For those who are not familiar with the open mic concept, it’s an opportunity for anyone who attends to stand before the other members of the group and offer his or her thoughts, observations, songs, or spoken creative work.  Against the crisp blue backdrop of the lake, poems and songs were shared by people of all ages, from high school students to senior citizens.

Mavuto Chiwale participated by helping read a poem that was translated by Cohort 1 student Ndamyo Mwanyongo the previous year into Chichewa, the native language of Malawi. This year, Margret Mandala and MaryFlorence Mzama shared short poems in English that they had learned when they were children in school.

IMG 20150927 035648Mavuto Chiwale prepares to share the reading of a poem.

On Facebook, Mavuto later wrote, "It was an educational, entertaining, soul touching, and beautiful event." And Yowasi Nkhambala said simply, "It was great!" The day devoted to 100TPC in Sheboygan was a testimony to the fact that poetry and music really can bring people together, and in so doing, create ways to plant seeds of change.


This post was prepared by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.

October 1, 2015 In Malawi Blog

A couple of weeks ago, I asked each student to pinpoint something that he or she had learned in a recent class, something that was particularly resonant. Aleme Chitanje shared an idea she had learned from Tim Hurson's book, Think Better, which the students are reading in Professor Karl Elder's class, Means for Mastery of Reading Pedagogy. I saved her comments because I wanted to devote at least one post specifically to the Hurson book.


"One thing I learned," wrote Aleme, "is to let go of patterning, or  'Breaking the Elephant’s Tether' [as Hurson calls it]. Patterning refers to making decisions or doing things by following routines without making inquiries about whether the old way really works or not. This is one of the problems that we have as teachers [in Malawi]. Often times, we follow and use teaching strategies that we clearly know are not helping our children learn, but we follow them anyway because 'it says so in the book,' [or] 'that’s how I learned it in college,'[or] 'the principal or the head teacher said so,' or 'everybody else is doing it that way.'"

IMG 2135

As he did for Cohort 1, Professor Elder has introduced the graduate students of Cohort 2 to the book Think Better. In it, Hurson talks about how to let go of old ways of thinking, and he lays out a compelling plan for how to solve problems better by using "productive thinking." Similar to last year, the book is creating a stir among the students and is the basis for some very interesting discussions.

A week ago, the students were asked by Professor Elder to bring 25 "itches" to class. An "itch," as Hurson describes it, is a problem that has been bothering someone for a while. It is something that has proven itself to be difficult to solve. This week, Professor Elder had each student look at his or her 25 itches and pick five that were the most "itchy." From those five, each student selected two to put up on the chalkboard. The list included problems from "large class size" and "lack of creativity in teaching" to "lack of parental involvement." The 22 items were then categorized in three groups: economic issues, professional issues, and administrative issues.

In the coming weeks, the students will continue to work on their combined list of "itches," seeing how some problems are linked to others and which problems teachers in Malawi might have some control over, even in the most challenging of teaching conditions.

As Aleme wrote, "If [we] can learn to think better and be focused on what we are doing and the effectiveness of our ways of doing things, I believe we are going to achieve great results and things are going to change for the better."

IMG 2137MaryFlorence Mzama captures all the "itches" identified by the group.


This post was prepared by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.

September 16, 2015 In Malawi Blog

It is mid-September and Lakeland students, faculty, and staff are a few weeks into the 2015-2016 academic year. The Malawian graduate students, like others in the campus community, are beginning to settle into a regular routine of classes, study, and more study. Every other Friday, the graduate students meet with Professor Jeff Elzinga to share how things are going for them, solve any glitches or challenges they are facing, and learn about upcoming events on campus and in the wider community.

At the most recent bi-weekly meeting, there was discussion about logistical matters: where to print documents on campus, how to change computer passwords, the schedule for the shuttle van that goes into Sheboygan, and the need to provide medical records to the school nurse. Professor Elzinga also talked about the Global Students Association (GSA), which is a campus organization that serves the needs of international students. Some of the Malawians were familiar with the group and had already made contact.

group meeting

Professor Elzinga explained that there are two main events sponsored by GSA each year. One is the International Food Fair, which will take place this year on Saturday, October 24. For the Food Fair, Lakeland's Dining Services staff helps groups of students from different countries join together to prepare traditional dishes from their homelands. The Malwaians typically make nsima, rice, fish, and either beef or chicken, along with a cabbage relish.  More than a dozen dishes from around the world are prepared by international students and then sampled by other Lakeland students, faculty, staff and area community members for a small fee.

The other major GSA event each year is International Night, which is staged in April.  International Night is a performance-based evening that showcases the singing, dancing, and other artistic talents of Lakeland students from around the world. Both of these GSA experiences are among the most popular events on campus each year, and students from Malawi have participated in them for more than ten years.

During the most recent bi-weekly meeting, Professor Elzinga encouraged the M.Ed. students to consider joining a campus organization such as GSA, or, for example, choir, if they like to sing, or band, if they play a musical instrument. Mike Kumwamba mentioned that he had joined the choir when he was an undergraduate at Lakeland and had a great experience singing with the group and traveling on choir tours in the Midwest. Lakeland offers many organizations that benefit students by providing extra-curricular opportunities to learn and engage with others.

After the recent meeting, I asked the students to share with me some things they are finding surprising or interesting about life in Wisconsin. I received answers like "American students wear caps and short trousers in the classroom during learning time," "people here observe time strictly," and "there is [free] Internet Wi-Fi in every room on campus."  I also heard about new and exciting ideas the students have been learning in their classes, but I’ll save those comments for another blog post.

Regarding host families: Anyone in the surrounding community can serve as a host to "watch over" an international student and occasionally invite him or her to experience a dinner, family gathering, or off-campus event, especially during the holidays. If you are reading this blog, live near Lakeland College, and have an interest in serving as a host family to a student from Malawi or anywhere in the world, please contact Ryan Opahle, Assistant Director of Residence Life at .


This post was prepared by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.

September 1, 2015 In Malawi Blog

On August 10 and 11, Lakeland College hosted a pair of workshops at Ufulu Gardens, a new conference center in Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi.  Two Lakeland faculty members were in Malawi to facilitate the workshops, Dr. Joshua Kutney and Dr. Brian Frink. While Dr. Frink had been to Malawi twice before, it was Dr. Kutney's first trip to the country. He offered these observations of the experience through an email interview.

Ufulu Gardens Aug 2015 GroupStanding left to right: Elymas Tembwe, Benjamin David, Elias Lyson, Michael Simawo, Joshua Kutney, Bertha Singini, Margaret Mulaga, Ndamyo Mwanyongo. Kneeling left to right: Patrick Tembwe, Phillip Nachonie


LV: What was the purpose of the workshops?

JK: The primary goal was to provide the first cohort of Lakeland graduate students with information about current efforts to improve early-grade reading instruction in Malawi. In turn, we hoped that the students would learn about some of the ways that their newly developed expertise might be used to improve literacy among Malawi’s youngest school children. 


LV: What transpired during the workshops?

JK: On the first day, students met with Mr. Douglass Arbuckle, Mission Director of USAID in Malawi. Afterward, they enjoyed a thoughtful session on Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA) with Dr. Paula Green and her colleagues at RTI International, a non-profit institute that provides research, development, and technical services to government and commercial clients worldwide. On the second day, the students heard presentations from an important cross section of stakeholders in literacy development, including NGOs, educational institutions, donor governments, and the government of Malawi. At the end of the second day, the students had an opportunity to discuss their graduate work, with the aforementioned attendees commenting on avenues for integrating this work into the existing framework of approaches and initiatives.


LV: What do you think was the biggest take-away for the Lakeland students?

JK: The students learned a great deal about the different types of literacy initiatives that are operating in Malawi, including instructional approaches and resources, efforts to improve community involvement, and changes to teacher training materials and procedures. As a result, the students are better informed about the ways that different stakeholders are attempting to address the early-grade reading problem. The students have a better understanding now of the challenges confronting stakeholders as they navigate issues of assessment, school attendance, and resource availability.


LV: What lies ahead for the students of Cohort 1?

JK: The next step for Cohort 1 is to run their research studies and to complete and defend their theses. That is their primary goal at this point.  From there, the students will need to continue to work closely with their respective TTCs to improve the way teachers are trained in reading instruction. I think our students will be able to provide valuable input in suggesting ways to evaluate the impact of that training.


LV: What did you take away that might impact your work with the students in Cohort 2?

JK: I think it is very important for Cohort 2 to be aware of the various initiatives to improve early-grade reading. We plan to communicate our findings from the workshop to the cohort and, as much as possible, any materials that attendees were willing to share with us we will pass along. There is an exciting landscape of work happening in Malawi that our students need to become familiar with as they begin to strategize how to improve literacy rates.


LV: In what ways were the workshops successful in meeting their goals?

JK: The workshops introduced our students to many of the stakeholders in the early-grade reading movement. The students also had an opportunity to share the details of their training with these stakeholders. The dialogue was rich, leaving our students with a much clearer sense of how they might help to improve reading instruction in Malawi.


LV: What did you take away overall from your first visit to Malawi?

JK: As this was my first trip to Malawi—and to Africa—I learned a lot simply by undertaking the journey. It’s a long way to Lilongwe. I am extremely grateful to Dr. Brian Frink and Mr. Patrick Tembwe for their guidance throughout the trip. I know much more about the culture and customs of the country as a result. In fact, by the end of the trip, I had perfected the Malawian handshake and was slightly more practiced in the etiquette for eating nsima, a maize-based porridge traditionally eaten with the hands. I still remember the surprise on the students’ faces when I first tried to eat nsima with a knife and fork.

Frink Malawi take 2Left to right: Patrick Tembwe, Dr. Brian Frink, and Phillip Nachonie


I also experienced the kindness, generosity, and sincerity of our colleagues in Malawi. It is clear how invested they are in improving literacy in the country. There is a great deal of work to be done, but based on the workshop sessions and our visits to the TTCs and Mzuzu University, I am optimistic about the future. I was impressed and proud to see what a superb reputation Lakeland College has developed in Malawi. 


This post was prepared by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.

August 21, 2015 In Malawi Blog

This week, we complete the introductory profiles of the Malawian graduate students in Cohort 2. Meet Nancy Nyirenda and Yowasi Nkhambala.


Nancy Nyirenda (LC '09)

IMG 1758Nancy Nyirenda began her teaching career in Karonga in 1991 at a primary school. In 1997, she was assigned to work at the secondary level and earned a teaching diploma from Domasi College along the way. In 2006, Nancy came to Lakeland to pursue her bachelor's degree in general education.  Very soon after graduating and returning home, she was posted to the Teacher Training College in Kasungu. She worked there until her departure this year for the Lakeland M.Ed. program. When she returns home a year from now, Nancy already knows she will be heading to a new post, this one in Chiladzulu, where a new TTC has just opened.

Nancy is excited to be back at Lakeland and finds that the campus does seem different to her. "It’s better than ever," she said. She finds the new front entrance especially beautiful and appreciates all the upgrades in the dining hall and the campus center.  Nancy had three choices for graduate programs earlier this year: Nottingham in England, Chancellor College in Malawi, and Lakeland. She said it was easy to choose Lakeland for many reasons, but mostly because of the high quality of the education and the support provided by the USAID grant.

Nancy was widowed in 2001. When she left her three sons at home in 2006 to come to Lakeland the first time, her boys were ten, eight and five. At that time, they were supervised by her siblings. Now the boys are grown up, ages 20, 18 and 15. When Nancy's sons heard she had the opportunity to return to Wisconsin, they encouraged her whole-heartedly. She recalls them telling her, "Mum, go to Lakeland College. We will stay quite well even in your absence because God is with us. He was able to take care of us when were very young when you went there. Since God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, He will continue the precious work He started with us. So use this chance!" She is glad to be back at Lakeland and glad to know that she has the support of her loving family.

Nancy is keen on working with other teachers and administrators in Malawi to incorporate reading through all the content areas. "Even in mathematics," she said, "there are words to be read. We need to collaborate with our colleagues and spread the word. We must focus on one goal, to improve early grade reading." Nancy's goal for herself while at Lakeland is to "improve my teaching skills. I will really be a teacher who will make a difference."


Yowasi Nkhambala

IMG 1763Yowasi Nkhambala lives in Blantyre with his wife, who owns a clothing and cosmetics shop. They have four daughters ages 25, 23, 18 and 15. Yowasi teaches now at the Blantyre TTC, but he began his teaching career 25 years ago in Thyolo district at St. Joseph Primary school. He taught there for five and half years before being posted to a secondary school where he became head teacher, the equivalent of principal. He went to Domasi College at that point to obtain his teaching diploma, continued to teach at the secondary level, and eventually went to Domasi for his bachelor's degree.

Even prior to receiving his degree in 2009, Yowasi had served as head teacher at several secondary schools: Makapwa, Lipho and Luchenza. He said "I am hard working and have leadership skills, so even though I was not fully qualified at first, I was trusted by the administration." Yowasi was pleased to report that because of high scores in learning outcomes in languages when he was working there as the lead teacher, Luchenza School was selected in 2006 to participate in a study that was examining best practices in teaching languages. "What I learned from that experience is that working hard really does pay. It was an honor to have our school recognized for its examination results and it motivated the entire school to stay focused and someday, hopefully, achieve even more."

Yowasi said that he'd heard a lot of excellent reports about Lakeland College before he came here. Now that he is here, he says that what he is experiencing far exceeds his already high expectations. He remarked in particular about the commitment of the professors, the quality of the instruction and the exposure to new teaching methods. "My wish," he stated, "is to acquire all this new information [offered by Lakeland College], so I can truly make a difference in our educational system in Malawi." 


This post is written by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.

August 13, 2015 In Malawi Blog

This week, we meet Mary Florence Mzama, Henderson Ngwira, and Margret Mandala. 

Mary Florence Mzama

IMG 1751Mary Florence is from Blantyre but now works at the Teacher Training College (TTC) in Lilongwe. She has five children; two girls, ages 16 and 17 and three boys ages 14, 5, and 13 months.  Mary Florence began her career in teaching at Lilongwe Girls Secondary School in 1997, and from there went on to the Montfort TTC where she worked for four years. From Montfort in 2002, she moved to the TTC in Lilongwe.

Mary Florence first heard about the Lakeland Program, "a long time ago," she said. "After finishing my degree in secondary education, when I went to Montfort, people were [already] talking to me about Lakeland College." In fact, when the opportunity arose to apply for the first graduate cohort in early 2014, Mary Florence applied. "But, I was about to give birth to my fifth child, so it was not a very good time to leave for America!" 

Now that she is in Wisconsin, she is excited about her studies and eager to learn new ways to keep teachers motivated and engaged in improving learning outcomes for their students. "Sometimes, things fail because of the curriculum," she said.   "And a lot of times, things fail because of lack of materials. But there are teaching methods and strategies that can help teachers when they are up against so many challenges, and I have come here because I want to be trained in these strategies. I am glad to be in the pioneer group."

Henderson Ngwira

IMG 1747BrighterWhen Henderson began his work as an elementary teacher in 1994, he actually had been preparing for a different career, one in the military. He expected that his time teaching was going to be temporary. But, the military option did not pan out, and in 1997 he sought additional training at the TTC in Kasungu.  By 2001 he had moved to teaching at the high school level. Eventually, he received a scholarship to complete his BA at Domasi College. In 2009, he was posted to work at the TTC in Karonga, where he lives and works still. He and his wife have six children, two boys and four girls.

Like Mary Florence, Henderson applied for the first Lakeland M.Ed. cohort in early 2014, but he realized that his computer skills were not up to par. Instead of being discouraged, he used that first application process to guide his efforts to improve himself so he could apply again for Cohort 2 and be successful. His efforts paid off. "Lakeland is a good place to get an education," he said. "It is quiet, there are no city distractions. I like this place and I know I will learn a great deal while I'm here."

Like his colleagues, Henderson notes that in order to improve early grade reading instruction in Malawi, much needs to happen in terms of the curriculum, the reading pedagogies used, and the training of teachers. "Another thing is that there must be involvement of parents, teachers, and community leaders to support reading. There has to be a kind of civic education, to bring the community together." 

He also was clear that there is much to learn this year.  "You have to know what you don't know," he said.  For example, the research skills he will learn at Lakeland, he believes, are going to be a huge help to him and to the greater community.

Margret Mandala

IMG 1760Margret began teaching in primary school in Dowa, the place where she was born. She moved to Salima with her husband and four children and taught there until 2001. In 2002, she began her training to become a secondary school teacher, completing that diploma in 2006. She was first posted to Zingwangwa Secondary School and taught there until 2008. When offered the opportunity to get her bachelor's degree, she jumped at the chance. She graduated in 2010 and was posted to the TTC in Blantyre in 2011, where she has worked ever since.

Margret knew about Lakeland College because many of her colleagues talked so favorably about it. "It is a place where people [who want to learn about teaching] go," she said. "Bertha Singini [from M.Ed. Cohort 1] kept encouraging me to apply. 'Don't give up,' were her words. I'm very grateful to Bertha."

As far as what needs to happen in Malawi to improve early grade reading instruction, Margret said, "We need to introduce strategies that are effective. Teachers know about the strategies, but don't always know how to use them. We need to promote a culture of creativity in teachers. The moment we graduate and become qualified, we [tend to] relax. We have reached our goal. But, that is the very time to push our creativity, to do even better."

Margret looks forward to completing her studies at Lakeland and then to go home with new energy to implement creative new strategies that will lead to positive outcomes. "When I go back, I hope to be an effective agent of change. At times," she added, "a person dreams of change. One must learn to be effective in that dream."


This post is written by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.

August 3, 2015 In Malawi Blog

All of the graduate students in the current cohort know someone who was a student in Cohort 1 because they all work together at Teacher Training Colleges (TTCs) throughout Malawi. In fact, some of the students in the current cohort were even trained by someone from a previous cohort. Also, there are individuals from the very first cohort at Lakeland in 1999 who have had a lasting effect on the students who are pursuing their master’s degrees now.  Who knew that these first individuals, who came to Lakeland more than 15 years ago to receive their bachelor’s degrees, would play such a lasting role in the development of Malawi’s corps of teachers? Two of the four current students who received B.A. degrees at Lakeland are Alemekezeke Chitanje and Elizer Kalilombe.

Alemekezeke Chitanje (LC ’12)

Aleme resizedAlemekezeke Chitanje (Aleme) graduated from Lakeland with a degree in general education and two minors, one in history and the other in gender and ethnic studies. She lives in Lilongwe and is employed at the TTC there. Her husband is a chaplain for the Malawi Prison Service and was recently transferred to Blantyre. They have one fourteen-year-old son who is in boarding school in Lilongwe.

Aleme began her teaching career as a primary school teacher in 2000. During her eight years in the field, she moved around a lot because of her husband’s changing work assignments. She told me about her first teaching post. “It was in a rural area,” she recalled. “It was challenging. I was employed as a temporary teacher. I had a two-week orientation and then I was sent to teach. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. I would look at the teacher guides at night and try to figure it out.” She was fortunate to have manageable class sizes in standard 3 (the equivalent of third grade), but most of the children could not read. “I was not trained to teach reading at that time. I used the books and tried to do the best I could.”

She knew she wanted to improve her skills as a teacher, so she pursued her certification at the TTC in Kasungu, where she was trained by Ndamyo Mwanyongo (a member of graduate Cohort 1 and ’08 LC grad) and her husband, Andy Mwanyongo (a member of that very first Malawian cohort in 1999). When the opportunity came to apply for a bachelor’s degree from Lakeland College, Aleme jumped at the chance. “Andy was a very big inspiration to me. He and Ndamyo both were.”

When Aleme graduated from Lakeland in 2012, she remembers wishing that she might return someday to pursue a master’s degree, although she wasn’t quite sure how that would happen. “Lakeland College is like my second home. Being here again is a dream fulfilled."

“My goal,” she said, “is to be equipped with strategies to teach second language acquisition teachers to teach children how to read. I have high hopes that [what I learn here] is going to work."

Elizer Kalilombe (LC ’11)

ElizerElizer Kalilombe lives in Blantyre and works at the TTC there. She has three children: a boy who is 18, a daughter 13, and the youngest, a boy age two and a half. Elizer taught primary school from 1997 to 2006 at three different schools in Malawi’s central region. She then entered the bachelor’s program at Domasi College of Education, but after her first year there, she learned that she had been awarded a scholarship to come to Lakeland. She arrived on campus in 2008. Upon returning home, Elizer started teaching, first in a high school in Blantyre and then as a teacher trainer at the TTC there in May 2014. “When I graduated in 2011, I hoped I would come back to the U.S. for my master’s degree someday, but I did not imagine it would be at Lakeland College.” She is very pleased to be back at her alma mater.

Like Aleme, Elizer talked about the inspiration provided by Andy Mwanyongo, especially because of his incorporation of music into the TTC curriculum. In addition, she referred to another important Lakeland alumni mentor from that long ago first cohort, Dr. Sellina Kanyerere-Mkweteza. “She taught me at Kasungu TTC,” Elizer shared, “and the way she was teaching, the way she spoke, she was the best. Her methods, her manner.” Then Elizer added, “They both inspired me and encouraged me. I try to model myself after them for my students."

When I asked what she feels needs to happen to improve early grade reading in Malawi, Elizer said, “After finishing just our first two courses here, I can see that it is reading strategies we need to work on. I can see now that one problem in Malawi is that we do not do content-based reading. We must incorporate reading strategies into every subject area. We also need to work on assessment. We need to know [and monitor] the reading levels of our learners."

Elizer and the other women faced quite a challenge during their first week at Lakeland. A cooking fire started in their kitchen, and despite their best efforts, the fire quickly got out of control and destroyed the residence hall. Thankfully, everyone got out of the building unharmed, although Elizer did have burns on her hand and ankle, and they lost all of their personal possessions, including new laptops and textbooks. I asked her how she was feeling about all this.

“We are adjusting. We ask ourselves, ‘why did this happen?’ but there is no good answer. It happened. People have been very kind. We have learned a lot about the goodness of people in America, and here at Lakeland College. They are very supportive. When a person is in trouble, the faculty, staff, and students, everyone comes together to help. We are very grateful."

In closing, Elizer said regarding her hopes for her time at Lakeland, “I will work hard. I will make sure I bring the best things back with me to improve reading in Malawi."


This post is written by Lisa Vihos on behalf of Lakeland College. The program is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this blog are the responsibility of Lakeland College and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID or the United States Government.

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