Sunday, April 1, 2007

Malawi 1 - How did I get here!?

It’s 8am. On one side of me I hear traffic pass by, beyond the distant brick wall. To the other side, much nearer, is the trickle of water down a drain pipe. I’m sitting in front of my laptop in Lilongwe, it’s raining gently and I’m shivering as the cold moist breeze wafts through my shirt. It actually feels a bit like March 31st when spring comes early to Alberta.

This massive continent called Africa always seems to give me surprises. On my first day back here I ate T-bone steak in a very modest market stall, I bought my first cell phone, and I had to wear a sweater to keep warm.


Hi friends! I’ve recently departed on a year long placement with Engineers Without Borders where I’m partnered with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in my new home of Malawi, Southern Africa. I’d like to share my experiences with you. If you want to read this email online so you can see pictures, check out my blog:


How did I get here!?

If I think back to Grade 12 – 2001 - I’d say I was mostly about adventure, friends, and cars. Adventure and friends don’t lend themselves well to traditional views of a career so I went into engineering to design cars. My dream was to walk into a BMW dealership on my graduation day to take out a lease on a Z3.

But adventure wasn’t going to go down without a fight. In 3rd year university I happened upon an organization called Engineers Without Borders where someone like me could go and apply their engineering in the mountains of Guatemala or maize fields of rural Africa. Now that sounded cool.


After having my first application turned down, I discovered that Engineers Without Borders was about more than just adventure. But that application, perhaps for the first time in my life, really made me think far outside of myself by making me ask,

“What is the role of ‘first world’ individuals in international development?”

I guess I’d always known that there were people in the world without the same privilege as me – going to university in a province where the word prosperity is in the newspapers every week. But I really hadn’t given much thought to that. It’s also a tough question to which there is no one answer, and it’s one that has driven me ever since.

A little ways down the road I managed to make it to Ghana with Engineers Without Borders, and I met two people in particular that have stuck with me since. I like to talk about them so you may have been introduced to them before.


In June 2005 I wrote to many of you about Abla, the mother in the household that took me in. This incredible woman amazed me and opened my eyes to the fact that what we call poverty is about much more than not having enough food. She worked a 72 work week outside of the home as a hairdresser, in addition to cooking and cleaning for a family of 5. She got 5 hours of sleep a night. I’ll never know if she was content, but what got me was this: if she’d had a dream of getting more than 5 hours of sleep a night, I couldn’t see how she’d be able to fulfill it. What could she change?

In other ways we weren’t so different. She was two years older than me.


Dauda isn’t the richest person in his village, but he managed to be the first person to graduate from Grade 12. While going to school he was honoured with an award as the second best farmer in his region for the way he managed his 4 acres. When I visited his village I saw his campaign posters everywhere for the local elections. He didn’t get elected, but that didn’t stop him – he was driven by an incredible enthusiasm. I think I can say that he was the most good-natured person I’ve ever met and each morning he greeted his neighbours with what I perceived as a zest for life. For just eight days I joined Dauda working in his fields.


I’m realizing now that surely I’m only painting a partial picture – focusing on what I see as the undesirable parts of Abla’s life and the desirable parts of Dauda’s life. But those are what have stuck with me, and they represent the dichotomy that international development and Ghana are to me.


I recently graduated from engineering and while I can’t deny that I still love BMWs and stick-shifts, my path is driven much more by people like Abla and Dauda. And I’m still exploring that original question that I happened upon over three years ago.

I want to assist African development workers as they help create an environment where Abla can pursue a life of well-being and fulfillment. But I also want to learn a lot more about people like her. And I’m fascinated by people like Dauda.

Just like I do for Canada, I have many hypotheses about the positive and negative aspects of life in Ghana or Malawi. I’m excited about exploring these over the next year as I work with my Malawian co-workers to tackle the negative aspects that they’ve identified.


More to come, but I’ll sum up my first few weeks with this:

The GDP/capita of Malawi is the 2nd lowest in the world. The life expectancy is 39 years - less than half that of Canada.

It’s not uncommon to see “I love Malawi” shirts or hats, and a number of Malawians have told me that they love their country.

Last week I asked a friend what he saw as the good parts of Malawi. His one-word answer was this:



I think I’m going to learn a lot.

I’d like to share my experiences with you. I’ll send emails from time to time, and perhaps post on my blog more frequently. If you’d prefer I didn’t send you these emails, no prob, just send me a note.

If you’re in a communicating mood, get in touch, I’d love to hear from you. Unlike in Ghana, I actually have both a cell phone and an address!

To call me from Canada just dial 011 265 877 2512
My mailing address is:
Danny Howard c/o
IITA - Malawi
Chitedze Research Station
P.O. Box 30258
Lilongwe 3, Malawi



Stephen Young said...

Hey Danny! Great to read about your thoughts and upcoming experiences. Keep the posts coming.

Steve Young

Heather said...

Great post Danny! Thanks for keeping us in the loop.



nima said...

Hey Danny, good to hearing from you. Thanks for leting me know about your experience there. I wish you the best and hope that you be successful in making a difference:)


Hai said...

Dan, as always, your blogs are inspiring. love to keep hearing from you so keep it up. hopefully i'll get a chance to visit you once i'm in europe.

the 2.0

Chad Hamre said...

Dannnnnnnnnnnnnnny. Welcome to Southern Africa! Very cool to read your story as to how you got here. See you in Malawi in 3 days and keep the blog aliiiiiiiiiiive!
- Chad

SGSJ said...

Hey Danny!
Africa is so inspiring! I love the combination of photos and text that you used. Keep writing!

-Amanda Fung

Erin said...

yay, finally a post! I've been waiting for the day when I can bookmark your blog. I'll be reading along, so post as much as you can! Hope you're doing well,

Aaron said...

Great to hear from you Danny! I'm really looking forward to keeping up with your adventures and experiences in Malawi, and of course, your thoughts/opinions on everything :)

I'm settled in now in Montreal (have been hear for a month now), and am really enjoying things here. I'll be sure to keep in touch...


Hans Hesse said...

Hey Danny! Great to hear from you. Say hi to the ppl at IITA for me and keep up the posting! :)



AndyMurray said...

Hey Danbo,

Thanks for the much needed breath of fresh air. Whenever I get out of touch and wrapped in my work your conversations or e-mail are always there to energize.

Miss ya Bud.

Bryan said... head was spinning after reading your email!

Good to hear from you and keep us posted on your experiences over there!



Don W said...

Thanks for the note. I will share the news with the grade 8s. Had a great weekend in Edmonton with Justin and Heather. A Racecourse fundraiser and an engagement brunch with lots of ewbs and other fine folks. Keep your positive outlook and share your talents as you learn from others.
Kind regards,

Trevor Whitney said...


Great to hear from ya man. You've got me all excited about going overeas again, and also super distracted from the end of term projects I gotta finish up.

Can't wait to hear from you again. I'll be sure to let ya know when I find out where I'm goin to

Keep doin it for Dorothy!


Simon Michaud said...

Hi danny!

i'll keep reading your adventures/thoughts/stories!

thanks! you are very inspiring!


Tommy C. said...

Hey Danny boy!

I must say, after reading so many blogs of different EWB volunteers, no one person approaches their placement the same, and there is such a diverse range of writing styles!

Your writing comes across to me as one of the most relatable for the average young Canadian that doesn’t have much or any exposure to development. It’s almost as if you’re walking this journey on behalf of all those people, myself included. Your dialogue is casual, straightforward, open, good-natured, and from the heart, which is what makes it connect with ordinary university students so well. That said, I wait with eager anticipation as to the lessons, insights, and curiosities you’ll come across as your journey progresses.

Have fun in Malawi!

Your fellow ex-intern,

P.S. I see your entry is posted at 2:54am. Is that local time? :p

ian360 said...

Hooray! Word from Danny! I'll be following your blogs and thinking about you tonns. I can't think of a better way to be introduced to a continent, culture or country than through your point of view!


Christina said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dennis R ( Fairview) said...

Thanks for the update Danny. As you are aware I too had fallen in love with Africa. There is so much that us westerners take for granted and can share with the people over there. We can make a difference. Look forward to hearing more.

Aditi said...

Represent Danny!

Keep up the blog, it's great so far.
Can't wait to hear (read?) more...


Anonymous said...

Hey Danny,

I love the juxtapositioning of your two stories. I hope to read more stories about your perspective and experiences in Malawi.

I've been placed on the WA team though so next time my post will have to include more heckling :)

Sarah G.

Chris.speaks said...

Hey Danny. Thanks thanks thanks.

Love and cheers,

aaron's mom said...

Aaron sent us a link to your blog. Am I impressed or what!

In the fall, I always looked forward to reading Aaron or Dave and Andrea's travel blogs. I especially enjoyed hearing about people they met and what their life experiences involved. Getting by on 5 hours of sleep daily while working 72 hours weekly is ...well...unfathomable. No doubt people are lucky to have you and others like you workng there.

Whenever you have time to write, we have time to read.

Keep smiling,

Sandy and Doug

Mark M. said...

Thanks for sending us that workshop on you and your experiences so for in Malawi. We really enjoyed learning about your journey. And also I have one last exam of my university carreer. Good luck and we will keep in touch.

Danny said...

Thanks a lot for all the comments folks!! Very cool to hear from you here. Keep up the cool stuff you're doing wherever you are.


Anonymous said...

Hi Danny;

Thanks for the link to your blog. You are truly an inspiring young man! Jay loved Gabon and Senegal. Wasn't too crazy about Nigeria. He is in the North Sea now and probably missing the nicer temperatures. Keep up the blog ... I will keep FHS up to date with your accomplishments!
Have a Good One
Penny P

Anonymous said...

Hello Danny,

I am not sure how I received your email, but definitely glad to hear stories from compassionate individuals like you and many others in Africa, making a difference. Certainly not everyone has the courage to stop talking about how to help third-world country, and just do it. So good for you and many others.

Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

Fayaz Kadir said...

It me the brown guy from Windsor at Jesse's house.
ohhh Danny. My hands were almost itching to write something to thankyou for your amazing presentation today(24-09-08).

I was greatly inspired by you.

At first I was almost blank, had no ideas or future plans. But now, you gave me something to think about, something that is global and beneficial to everyone.

Thankyou again. Maybe i will just drop my at your Open office ;) to sip some tea. Btw, you should have brought some souvenir Cassavas :P.

"abar dekha hobe bondhu:)"

-means "we will meet again my frnd"


Fayaz said...

the last sentence was in Bengali (language of Bangladesh)

Prue said...

Good words.

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