Its been a busy few weeks since I arrived back from Malawi. I have spent time sampling and testing ideas from the knowledge I gained over there. Using materials I now know are accessible and sustainable I have been working towards refining these samples for my final collection.
Whilst creating my samples I have constantly been thinking about the level of difficulty in which it has taken to make them. I have set out to create products which look effective and have an interesting craft quality to them, yet would be easily made by the group in Malawi and be suitable for their level of craft ability. This is something I which I will need to get the balance right with. I do not want to create products which look to simplistic yet I cannot make the difficulty level to hard as I need to make sure the products can be made correctly and to a high standard by the group.
Here is a potential final piece which I have recently been working on…
Thursday was my last day working with the group since the long easter weekend was approaching. I taught the group how to sew, including techniques such as applique and reverse applique. Making patch squares all individually personalised we decided we would sew these together to create one large piece, which they decided could be put up in the room to remember the time we had spent together.
During the day the youth centre near by had loud music playing. Some of the group got up and started dancing. I could tell how much they were enjoying themselves. I got out my camera and started filming. Turns out this then meant I had to join in! They started cheering and clapping when I joined in! It was so nice to see them all so happy and a lovely way to finish the time I had spent with them.
At the end of the session they presented me with gifts which they had made. They were so nice and I really wasn’t expecting anything. A beautifully crafted textile elephant, giraffe, malawian lady. A hand knitted scalf, crafted bracelet and a chitenje as apparently I made a good malawian and needed another! They also sang me a farewell song!
I was sad to say goodbye to them all. They have been so keen to learn and many even came when they felt unwell. I said my goodbyes but I’m sure I will meet them again in the future. I knew from spending this time with them that projects like Tikondane do work and it is certainly something I want to continue with.
Wednesday was a fun day of weaving with an array of exciting materials! I had previously asked the group to bring in any grasses, leaves, string or any materials they might be able to get hold of which otherwise might not be used. I asked if they would then show me what they had managed to bring. I was so excited with how much they had found. Banana leaves, maize cob leaves, grasses, palm leaves, knitting wool, wire, scrap material and much more.
I showed them how to do a basic weave on the cardboard looms, I had spent all the previous evening making! (My fingers still tingling from cutting them all out) I then told them to use any of the materials they wished to make their piece as exciting as possible. The room was quite as they were all so engrossed in the weaving. The results were exciting although when many were taken off the looms the pieces were very fragile. I showed the group how to make their weaving stronger and they attempted a second go. This time I instructed them to make any weave pattern they wished and to create a really interesting piece.
When dinner time came the group were still busy weaving. I asked if they wished to leave for dinner and they said they wanted to continue! They are all so keen to learn, its so nice to see. I left them to it over dinner and was please to see their outcomes once I returned.
They had created much stronger woven pieces the second time around. Many deciding to use knitting wool in the malawian flag colours! They began sticking them around the room and showing eachother what they had created.
After lunch we had arranged to have a discussion were they could share their experiences of having HIV in Malawi, to allow me to understand. It was so nice to see that they could share their stories and open up to me. At points it was very emotional and I had to put on a brave face. I could not believe what some of these people had been through.
After an indepth discussion they really helped me to see why having such a group had helped them. I knew then that my project was worthy. People really do benefit from belonging to a group and sharing problems and experiences. This group had saved many from what was turing out to be a lonely life. The motivation this gave me to succeed in this project was huge.
Monday and today we have spent making braids using handmade cardboard kumihimo discs and strips of material.
On Monday we decided on the colours we wanted to use. I based these on the OffBeat (A/W 16/17) trend I am loosely following for my project. Showing the group a selection of colours I am working with we decided as a group which colours they liked the most and chose four. Two of the group members with bikes then went off to the nearest town to buy the materials with a small amount of money we had been given.
Yesterday we mainly spent prepping discs and cutting the material into strips. Today we began making the braids. I decided it would be best to work in pairs on this. It started slowly and I wasn’t sure the group had grasped the technique. I decided after a while to start asking them what they thought the next move was. They began discussing and slowly started shouting out back to me what they thought was the next move. It was so nice to see them working together and discussing what they thought was right. By the end of the day I wasn’t even needed!! They were managing to work it out all together! I was over the moon that I had managed to teach them so well even with that small obstacle of different languages!
Yesterday also brought a smile to my face. A lady came in looking slightly unwell. When asked why she had come in she said she wanted to come as she didn’t want to feel lonely at home and she had really enjoyed the previous session. This is what I had hoped running these sessions were all about so I was glad to see they were achieving what I had aimed to.
So my weekend in Malawi consisted of going on a short hike near the Mulanje mountain seeing some amazing views and having a paddle in the waterfall. Attending palm Sunday Church service and being invited to stand up at the front of the congregation to introduce myself! A swim in the medical directors pool and a walk around the tea fields! Oh and a couple of gin and tonics! (Malawi gin is highly recomended here) Pretty good weekend!
Yesterday was my first day of working with the group. We had arranged to start at 8am. When I turned up there where only a small number of people waiting. The rest came in dribs and drabs an it wasn’t until 8.45am that we decided we should make a start and anyone else who comes can join in. Apparently this is called ‘Malawi time’ something I need to get used to!
As I began setting up a lesson it soon dawned on me that Tikondane have literally nothing as a group. No money in their pot to buy any materials or resources. All I had to work with was one pair of scissors a small dark, hot room and chairs! No desk working space. This was going to be a challenge!
I had asked the group previously if they could bring any materials they had to help get us started with our macrame workshop. We had a very small pile of scraps. Nothing much which would be workable! We even found it hard to source plastic bags! Luckily I had managed to get hold of some plastic bags myself.
With one pair of scissors between 20 I began cutting strips which we could use. When I had eventually got enough I began teaching them a basic pattern. With little space to work I decided we would have to sit on the floor and attach our macraming to the chair (since we had no desks).
The group picked up the technique fairly quickly. I went round and helped those who needed it. It was slightly difficult with a language barrier however by showing them and saying less they began to pick it up!
During my time working with them that day a man working in the hospital came into see us. He told the group that they had just been given enough money to buy a bottle of water between them all for the morning sessions and afternoon session which I would be working with them. They all clapped and cheered and there faces lit up! It really dawn on me then how little these people had. I was literally holding back my tears. After this my motivation to help this group had gone up even more! I have to help these people earn a living for themselves. If they cannot even buy clean water how will they buy materials to create products?!
After the session the group told me they had really enjoyed today and found it very useful. Ethel told me many of them come in unhappy but today they had all left with a smile on their face. I was so thrilled!
I would love to donate some money into the group to help set them up. I would really love your help in doing this. If you could help me raise this by the end of the week then I will be able to hand this money over to them before I have to leave. Anything would be so helpful. You cannot understand until you have seen it but take it from me they would be so greatful and together we can help so many families 🙂
Thursday I got round to meeting everyone at the Hospital. I was given a tour around and was pleasently surprised at how well set up the hospital appeared. There where so many different deparments and everyone was very welcoming in showing me around their department.
I was then introduced to Wyson and Ethel. They are in charge of the Tikondane group which I will be working with. I showed them my ideas for the project and they seemed very excited about it all.
We then went to meet Tikondane. I walked into a small dark room full of people singing and dancing. I had a chair put out ready for me to take a seat. I felt very welcomed once again!
Wyson and Ethel discussed what I had planned for the group and I passed some of my sample ideas around which they all took time to look at very closely. We then discussed what times they would like me to come in and work with them. There was a lot of translating going on! We finally decided they would manage to come in from 8am everyday minus the weekend. They said they wanted to make the most of me being here with them. I felt really please that they were so keen and couldn’t wait to get started teaching them some new techniques for products.
I made it here!! After a long tiring journey consisiting of two car journies and two flights I finally landed on malawian soil! It was a lonely journey across and still couldn’t quite belive what I was actually throwing myself into.
Whilst waiting for my second flight in the airport from Addis Ababa to Blantyre (via lilongwe), a guy approached me and asked ‘excuse me are you Charlotte’s sister?’ I was so shocked! Someone else from Driffield was catching the same very plane to Malawi! What are the chances!
As I stepped off the plane in Blantyre the heat struck me straight away. Hot and humid. I collected my baggage and walked out the airport (one small room with only one bag collection point) and looked for my driver who I had arranged to collect me. Standing with a sign ‘Melissa Martinson Mulanje Mission Hospital’ I knew I had the right guy. I’d always wanted to get off a flight and have someone waiting for me with a sign, well thats something to tick off!
The driver took me to a supermarket which to my surprise was quite similar to those back in the UK. I still paniced about what to buy though! We then continued round town picking up various people who worked at the hospital before taking the long hour journey to the hospital. Driving to Mulanje there was so much to take in. People everywhere! Swerving to avoid many.
I knew we weren’t far off when I could see the Mulanje mountain in the distance. The views were amazing! When I arrived at my accomodation there were three other UK medical students there. They had tea cooking for us all which was so welcoming!
So as some of you may know I have been working towards setting up a project in Malawi for HIV/AIDS patients as part of my Final major project on the Textile Crafts course at Huddersfield University. For those of you who may not know much about my project have a quick look at the ‘HIV/AIDS Project’ page for a small insight.
Well the day has come and I am on my way to the airport today to set upon my jouney to Malawi! Yes I know, I can’t quite believe it either!
Nervous, apprehensive, worried, yet under all of that I’m so excited about making my project become real!
I will be doing my best to keep you all updated on what I get up to while I am out there so please keep checking my blog and follow my journey with me.