A World of Creative Thinkers


As most of you know, I’ve been involved with Engineers Without Borders for more than 4 years now. I worked overseas with EWB in 2010 and I was the President of the MUN chapter in 2011 and 2012. I originally created this blog to chronicle my experiences in Malawi. I’ve learned so much through my work with EWB and have been given so many wonderful opportunities. I’ve been inspired by the people I’ve worked with in Canada and in Malawi and by the movement that EWB has been creating. Every year, EWB does a holiday campaign to promote its overseas programs and raise money to support them. I’ve decided to dedicate this blog entry to EWB and to share with you why I’ve given more than 4 years of my life to this organization! I hope you’ll take the time to read this and consider making a donation. I’ve posted the link to my campaign below.

Thanks, Maria


2036: the year a baby born in 2012 will graduate with a university degree. This is the theme of EWB’s campaign this holiday season. What do you imagine the world will look like in 2036? What’s your dream for the future? My dream is that the babies born this year, whether in Canada, England, or Malawi, all have the opportunity to be who they want to be and believe in the power they have to influence the people and the world around them. I want to see a world of socially aware individuals and thoughtful, responsible leaders. I have been so privileged in my education and in all the support I’ve had in my own personal development. I believe the children I met and lived with in Malawi deserve the same opportunities and support as children growing up in Canada. I believe in engaging students in global issues and fostering their personal and leadership development. This isn’t just my dream – It’s EWB’s dream too.


I joined EWB as MUN’s “School Outreach Director”. I went to schools and community groups and spoke with young students about global issues and their potential to do something about them. In Malawi, I worked with local leaders on developing their skills and increasing the effectiveness of the work they were doing. As Chapter President, I tried to build leaders by helping people realize their potential. Engineers Without Borders believes in building incredible, critical thinking, innovative, inspiring leaders – both in Canada and in Africa. They believe in questioning the status quo, in challenging our Canadian leaders about the effectiveness and transparency of our foreign aid, and in building strong African leaders, capable of striving day after day to improve the country in which they live.

EWB has had a profound impact on my life and the lens through which I view the world. They’ve inspired me to dream big and then to work hard to accomplish those dreams. They’ve invested in me as an individual and as a leader, supporting my personal development and enabling me to grow. As I soon put my undergrad behind me, I believe it’s now my turn to invest in EWB. This has been my passion for the last four years and inspires me as I move on to the next chapter of my life.

YOU have also inspired me. Thank you to my friends, family, colleagues, mentors, and all who have supported me throughout my degree. I greatly appreciate all that you’ve given me; the advice, prayers, words of support, and words that were sometimes harder to take. It has all helped me to grow as a person. I hope you’ll consider making a donation to EWB in support of both my dream and theirs. Funding is what enables our programs, so please donate, and donate generously. Then, after you’ve donated, please go out and realize your own dream; I believe we’re all capable of creating positive change and I would love to support your dream!

With love, Maria




Last Thoughts

Today is my last full day in Malawi; I’m leaving tomorrow afternoon. I can’t believe that 4 months have gone by so quickly! I’ve had a very eventful last week though. On Monday I went to live in a remote village that’s about 2 hours away from the Boma. I stayed in a small brick house with a thatched roof with a 17 year old girl. The village was a big change for me because there was no electricity, no private tap, I slept on the floor, and the latrine was a little bit sketchy (and was inhabited by giant mutant grasshoppers at night).

I enjoyed living in the village though; my Chichewa definitely improved and I had the opportunity to get out to the farm to plant maize and groundnut. I had a particularly eventful night when I woke up because rain was dripping down on me through the thatched roof. So I was resituating myself when I looked right and saw  this huge cockroach right outside my mosquito net. So I was like, “hmm…I think I’m going to kill that”, so I turned left to look for my shoe and found myself staring at a snake as it crawled up my wall. So my priorities changed a little bit and I woke up my roommate and we killed the snake by whacking it to death with a piece of wood!

Unfortunately it rained the entire time I was in the village and I learned a very valuable lesson; Never go to a remote village during rainy season when you are on a timeline (needing to get back to Lilongwe for my flight). A truck was supposed to come and pick me up on Thursday, but it was really delayed because of the rain and didn’t get to the village until 8:30 that night. I wanted to stay in the village and go back in the morning because the roads were really slippery, but the guys who came to pick me up really wanted to get back, so we decided to brave the hilly, slippery, Thyolo roads. Bad Idea.

Trying to get back to the Boma was pretty much the biggest nightmare of my life. I can kind of laugh about it now, but at the time it was awful. Lets just say my car ride back to the Boma involved lots of night time slippery driving, running out of fuel in the middle of no where, accidentally driving into a ditch, and having the starter motor give out while we were trying to get out of the ditch. So yeah, around 1:00 that night we gave up on getting home and I slept in the back of the truck in the middle seat between two guys. It was so uncomfortable. In the morning we had to hire some villagers to help push us out of the ditch and to come with us to the Boma so that they could get out of the truck every time we had to go up a hill and help push the truck up. So we basically walked the truck halfway back to the Boma. 70 kilometers and 14 hours later I made it home.

I spent the rest of the day saying goodbye  to everyone and spending time with my family. I was quite sad to say goodbye to my family. Over the last 2 months I really feel like I’ve become a part of their household and my 3 sisters have become an inspiration to me. They motivate me to continue working hard in development so that they can maybe grow up to live a better life. One where they will finish school and grow up to be whatever they desire. My family gave me a Chichewa name on my last day there and told me that I was always welcome back in their family. My Chichewa name is Chimwemwe Nzengo; Chimwemwe means Joy.

I arrived in Lilongwe on Saturday and I’ve been spending the last few days clueing up some stuff. Yesterday I went and visited the Village of Hope. When I was 14 I helped to fund the building of a house for  orphans that would be built as one of many houses in a village in Malawi. The Village of Hope was one of my first experiences with development and it was what got me really interested in working in Malawi. It was nice to end my trip by the going to  the village that inspired me in the first place. I got to see the house that was built in 2004 and meet the children that live there. I was also surprised to find out that all of the houses (12) that are currently in the village have all been funded by Newfoundlanders! The houses were all named after Newfoundland communities like Lewisporte, Grand Falls, Gander, Port aux Grave, etc, and they flew the Canadian flag in the middle of the Village! It was a special experience for me.

And so here ends my Malawian adventure. I wish I could put into words what this experience has meant to me. I feel so privileged to have had the opportunity to live with Malawians and to be able to learn, and start to understand, their culture. I’m happy about what I accomplished here, and my co-workers were very thankful for all I did. I feel though that the people here have taught me so much more, and have done so much more for me than I could ever do for them. I’m very sad to leave but I am excited to come home and continue to share my experiences. Thank you to everyone who has followed along with my blog over the last 4 months and to everyone who has offered me support throughout the last year. I really appreciate all the support and prayers I’ve received over the last few months and I’m looking forward to seeing you all again soon.

Love, love, love

Nearing the End

Well I am now officially finished my work with the District Water Office. It’s weird to have finished everything up and to be in a position where I actually feel comfortable walking away from the District. I feel really good about the way everything has clued up; if you’d asked me three weeks ago about how I felt my placement was going, I might have told you the whole thing was going up in flames….

We spent September and October in contact with the Environmental Health Officer for Water and Sanitation from the Health Office. However when the Water Office finally got all their forms for data collection copied and brought them over to the Hospital, the DEHO (Head Health Guy) completely shut us down saying that we shouldn’t use a separate form for Water and that we should combine all the data on the one form Health was already using.

Now this is a much better way of collecting data; because the Water Office is so small, it is really good to have our program embedded in Health’s. My problem was that I didn’t put a whole lot of faith in the Health workers actually modifying their form to suit us and all I could see ahead of us was a long battle between Health and Water, both trying to collect and share data from the same forms. However, it would appear that I didn’t give the District enough credit and things came together really well.

I met several times with the two guys from Health who are responsible for managing the data. These guys were awesome. We had a quick excel training and they were whipping together pivot tables and graphs in no time! They had been trying to create a database for Health in MS Access and were having a lot of trouble. They were really excited to try modifying EWB’s database. So we sat down for a few hours and set up a database for them, modified the current Health form, and now all Water has to do is copy and paste their data into the Water database! We even managed to get our hands on data that was collected this quarter and so the Water Office is diligently working away on data entry.

So in the end it all worked out better then I imagined it could. Because the whole thing is embedded in Health it should be a lot more sustainable because now Water (who is significantly less funded) won’t have to be copying forms and tracking down the forms from Health. I was also quite happy to see communication finally happening between the Water, Health, and Planning Offices. They all agreed on a WPM protocol and on roles and responsibilities. They actually go back and forth to each others offices now to talk about stuff. Might not sound like a lot, but believe me, it’s progress for Thyolo.

The Water Office will still continue to need some support every now and then from a long term volunteer and I’m not sure how long they will remember their training about using data to make decisions, but I’m pleased with their progress. So that is the conclusion of my work in a nutshell. Thyolo District finally has a Water Point Monitoring System up and running and they have hopefully gained some useful skills.

I guess some of you are probably wondering now what I’m going to do in Malawi for the next little while if I’m finished work. I just returned from Senga Bay (the Lake!) where there was a retreat/team meeting with the Malawi Watsan Team and the Zambia AVC team. It was my last time at the lake and I quite enjoyed it. I’m back in Thyolo now and tomorrow I am going down south to stay in a rural village for a few days. I want to stay in the village so that I can really understand what it’s like to live in a remote village in Africa/Malawi. I’m pretty excited for it. I’m a little bit ashamed of how little chichewa I’ve learned, so this will be a good time to learn a little bit more seeing that no one in the village speaks english.

After that I’m dropping back to the Boma for a day to say goodbye to my family and my co-workers. Then it’s back to Lilongwe to catch a flight back to Canada! I’m staying in Toronto for three days when I get back to debrief and I arrive in St. John’s at Midnight on December 18th. So yeah, that’s my schedule for the next two weeks. I’ll make a post after my village stay and then I’ll see you all in a few weeks!

Much love,