Posts Tagged ‘Go! Malawi’

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Gone to Malawi

May 2, 2019

Water is Life

Thank you to Krisanne Baker, Ecological Artist and Educator, teaches Visual Arts at Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro,  who provided this blog post. It was previously published in the Union of Maine Visual Artists Journal and again in the Courier-Gazette newspaper. You can see Krisanne’s artwork at HER WEBSITEKrisanne has continued the work that was started in July 2016, Arts Integration workshops for teachers in Malawi, Africa. If you’re interested in learning more please contact me at argy.nestor@maine.gov.

At this time last year, Medomak Valley High School art teacher Krisanne Baker took her mantra, “Water is Life,” to Malawi, Africa, where she educated teachers at the top of a rainforest about their water systems, and then made art about preservation and conservation.

I found myself waking up, in what I thought was a National Geographic magazine spread, at the top of a rainforest mountain in Malawi, Africa. Passion can take you on some funny paths. Ten years ago I could easily have imagined a safari in Africa, but not for the reason that got me there in April 2018 with my teaching colleague, Melissa Barbour, who had invited me to collaborate with her. My reason for embarking was water, the rains of Africa, and the passion to make and empower change.

My day job for the past 25 years has been as a crazy high school art teacher. I get a kick out of working with hormonal teenagers getting ready to jump into life. When people find out that I teach at the local high school, they say, “Oh, thank you!” They can’t imagine why I’d be crazy enough to want to spend all day with their kids, but they are grateful.

Teaching also funds my main job – I mean the one in my head and my heart – being a painter; and all the expensive art supplies that go along with it. Once my son was old enough, I finally had the opportunity to work on a Master of Fine Arts. I didn’t do it to become a better teacher, although it did make me that, but to get deeper into my own work. You see, I’d always felt like there was something missing.

One of the hardest and yet simplest things to put together as a research thesis in grad school was what I was passionate about. I knew it was water. But where to go from there? Twelve years ago, there were no front page headlines about climate change; Flint, Michigan; Nestlé Corporation or drought. Why water? I’d spent years making paintings of its many moods and atmospheres. But the reveries just weren’t enough. What it came down to is that I CARE about water. And when you look at the myriad ways in which it touches our lives and makes our lives possible, I thought, well, EVERYBODY should care about water!

My research led me down a road I never thought possible – one that scared the pants off of me – ACTIVISM. “Oh, no, I can’t do that! I don’t know the first thing about it… what would I say? What could I possibly do? Does that mean I have to give a performance or something? Wait, no, I can’t do that, I’M AN INTROVERT!”

All I can say is, introvert or extrovert, if you are passionate about something, you find a way to share it with people. The hardest thing I found was to stay positive and not blame or make people feel bad about all the difficult water situations. I found the most meaningful way to bring about a change is to educate people. With knowledge comes the care and the desire to do positive helpful things. Actions start small and grow bigger, bolder and louder.

First I did my work in true introvert style. I made short videos, using myself as a model, superimposed upon various water situations that need our attention. That way I could perform, but didn’t have to come eye to eye with an audience. But after my short films, I began having to do question and answer talks, or tell stories… or give a gallery talk about series of paintings I made to raise awareness of water quality, chemical infiltration and women’s body burdens.

Five years ago, I began incorporating my water awareness work into my classroom teaching. I developed the “Gulf of Maine: Endangered Ocean Creatures” curriculum and “Gulf of Maine: Dare to Care.” Students wholeheartedly engaged. When I was presented with the idea of interdisciplinary teaching in Africa to teachers in a remote area, the first thing I looked up was their connection to water. My first thoughts were the Darfur droughts and water wars between Israel and Palestine. The area where I was to go was water rich in comparison. Malawi, if you don’t know where it is – I didn’t – is just inland from the Eastern shores of Africa, and is home to one of the largest bodies of fresh water on the continent, Lake Malawi. It’s just above Mozambique.

My mission was to incorporate art and the local rainforest ecology in a teachable curriculum for the Ntchisi district teachers, in the hopes that they would implement local ecological stewardship through art and action. When we think of rainforests, we usually think “rich in resources,” which they are. Rainforests currently face major deforestation problems, not only due to removal of rare and beautiful woods, but also through exponentially increasing populations – a global problem. I hired a forest ranger to guide 12 teachers and me through the Ntchisi rainforest. We learned about the water system, in concert with the plants and animals, and how everything is connected through water. Back in a classroom, I drew global water systems on a chalkboard. I talked about how much the ocean covers the planet, and how we need to care for all waters, as they continually circulate from oceans to clouds to mountains to rainforests, and beyond. There were looks of amazement, and lightbulbs glowing in the minds of these remote educators. I was amazed that this was new knowledge to them, but in a landlocked very remote area, what else should I expect? I was grateful that they were receptive and completely engaged and passionate.

We discussed the water sources that humans use, the mountain rainforest, and how people cutting down trees for cooking fuel would eventually collapse the water system. Malawi is the world’s second poorest country. This mountaintop population of about 40 small villages has no running water and no electricity, no fuel other than wood. When I say poor, I mean to write on a piece of paper, a teacher would first divide it into four quarters before handing it out, if they had any. Children walking with me on the road between the school and the Go! Malawi compound would ask for a sweet. If I didn’t have any, they would ask me for a pencil. They are hungry to learn. Books are a rarity. A current fundraising project begun by an 8th grade student in Maine through the Go! Malawi non-profit will build the first mountain library in the Ntchisi region, hopefully in 2020. (Visit go-malawi.org/donate-online/ if interested in making a donation.)

I led the teachers to incorporate their drawings (images from our rainforest walks, talks and microscope viewings) into plans for three large, painted murals. Each mural showed the place, the cycles of water, plants, trees, animals, people, fish, phytoplankton and zooplankton. I brought a digital microscope, which we plugged into a solar inverter at the Go! Malawi compound. Each told a visual story of how we are all connected through water and how we must care for this place to protect the water. Each mural had the simple words: Water is Life / Madzi ndi Moyo.

At the end of two weeks, my teachers had become new water art activists. They had a plan to circulate the murals amongst several schools, with thought-provoking questions to spark discussions with their students. We have future plans through Go! Malawi to underwrite tree planting workshops and do-it-yourself solar cookers. Until my workshop, many of the teachers had not ever been in the rainforest at the top of the mountain. They thanked me for opening up that part of their world to them, along with the concept and practices of stewardship. I thanked them by asking them to engage their students, and left a suitcase of art supplies for them to make more murals in their classrooms as constant reminders of the importance of water to our lives. Someday I hope to meet up with one of those rainforest village children who has become a water activist.

Krisanne Baker is a Waldoboro artist, an art and ecology educator at Medomak Valley High School, a former professor at the University of Maine Farmington and an avid ocean advocate. Her work concerns water quality, availability and rights, both locally and globally. Baker’s multimedia installations and paintings are studies of the patterns of the natural world, arrangements of colors and ocean life in macroscopic and microscopic views of the “heart of the planet.”

Baker exhibits nationally, gives talks internationally and collaborates with others. She was recently a Visiting Artist in Residence at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in its world-renowned living marine algae lab. This collaboration will result this summer in a large-scale installation of phytoplankton created as phosphorescent glowing glass sculptures.

Baker’s paintings can be seen locally at Caldbeck Gallery, 12 Elm St., Rockland and online at KrisanneBaker.com.

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18 Dresses for 2018

January 2, 2018

Happy New Year

I hope that your holiday was wonderful and that your 2018 is off to a great start. Some people reflect at this time of year – looking back and considering the past year and some people look ahead and consider what changes or resolutions might be put into action. Starting a new year can be exciting!

Me? I do a little of both – professionally and personally. On the personal level, the last three days of 2017, I sewed 18 dresses to send to Malawi. Many of the Maine Arts Education blog readers know that I traveled to Malawi with Lindsay Pinchbeck, founder and director of Sweet Trees Arts and Sweetland School in Hope. In July of 2016 we provided professional development for teachers in arts integration Mpamila Village as part of the Go! Malawi program.

Last summer I met a woman while walking to the Ogunquit Museum of Art who told me about her volunteer work with Dress a Girl Around the World. Not to long after that she sent us dresses to send to Malawi in 2017. Since September we have been meeting monthly at Sweet Tree Arts and are making more dresses for the girls in the school. In addition we will be making shorts for the boys.

When I considered how to start the new year off I decided to create something and I thought why not spend the end of the year sewing dresses – 18 to mark the new year?! In addition to creating I had plenty of time to think about the last year – where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing.

We have almost 75 dresses completed, including the 13 that students at Sweetland School are making. We’ll start the shorts later this month. If you are interested in helping, here are some suggestions:

  • If you live close by Hope, join us for sewing monthly
  • If you have small stuffed animals, like Beanie Babies that you no longer want (and they are in great condition), let me know since each dress and shorts will have one in a pocket
  • If you’d like to make a donation of undershirts or underpants, each one will have those as well included for the children.

Today, we just received donations of Beanie Babies – 74 in total. (see photos). Please let me know if you have any questions or if you’d like to help!

In addition, we are looking for teachers who’d like to travel to Malawi in July to continue the teacher workshops. More information is on the Go! Malawi site about the program. Please contact me at argy.nestor@maine.gov and I’d be glad to email you an application.

Do you have any plans to create in 2018?

 

74 Beanie Babies – 76 more needed

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Arts Integration Workshop-Malawi

November 20, 2017

Lend your skills and travel to Africa, summer 2018

Are you a visual or performing arts educator or a teaching artist considering travel options during the summer of 2018? Are you interested in sharing arts integration methods in a small country in Africa? If so, consider traveling with Go! Malawi to the beautiful Ntchisi Village in Malawi to provide teacher workshops for local teachers. You might be the ideal educator to share your knowledge and make this the third summer that Maine educators have traveled to Malawi doing so. In return, you will be forever impacted by the experience.

In 2016 Lindsay Pinchbeck, founder and director of Sweetland School, an arts integrated school in Hope and Argy Nestor, director of arts education at the Maine Arts Commission traveled to Malawi and provided a 13-day workshop with 12 teachers from M’Pamila Primary School. The experience was so amazing that they are committed to continuing the program through 2020.

Go! Malawi’s mission is to collaborate with rural Malawian communities to develop sustainable programs in education, healthcare, commerce, and education. Read more about the teaching opportunity on the Go! Malawi site.

Read the documented story of Lindsay and Argy’s experience with a description of their program from July 2016. Contact us with questions or to obtain an application. Applications are now being accepted!

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Malawi Stories and Photos

May 31, 2017

Tidemark Gallery, Waldoboro

Interested in learning about arts integration work that took place in Malawi last summer? If so, Lindsay Pinchbeck and I will share stories and photos at the Tidemark Gallery in Waldoboro, Saturday, June 3, 7:00PM. We traveled to Malawi with the Go! Malawi whose mission is to collaborate with rural Malawian communities to develop sustainable programs in education, healthcare, commerce, and education.  are to In addition to Lindsay’s photographs on display will be some of my mosaics that I’ve been creating since our return in July 2016. We’ll start with a Pecha Kucha format and move from there to more in-depth stories and share a video of a Malawian classroom in action. Please email me if you have questions at argy.nestor@maine.gov. And, if you are interested in traveling to Malawi this summer to continue the work please email me ASAP. 

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Stories and Photos – Malawi

August 20, 2016

August 31 – Hope

Article from the Free Press – published this week at THIS LINK.

stories from malawi jpeg

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Arts Education and Malawi

July 26, 2016

Learning in an African country

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11 of the 12 terrific teachers who participated

I just returned from an 18-day trip to Malawi. I traveled to Africa with the Go! Malawi program where I collaborated with Maine educator Lindsay Pinchbeck to work with 12 teachers from  Mpamilia, Pondani and, Katete Primary Schools incorporating arts education into their curriculum. Lindsay is the founder and director of Sweetland School in Hope – an arts integration school for learners, grades K-5. The founder of Go! Malawi, Janet Littlefield, is a former student of mine who went to Malawi in the 1980’s while in the Peace Corps. My experience was amazing and we learned much more than the teachers we were working with did. As many said to me before I left – this experience could change your life. Not only do I return a slightly difference person but with a new perspective on the day to day life that I live here in America.

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Making hand prints while exploring ‘hopes and dreams’ – day 1 with the teachers

In a series of blog posts I will do my best to tell the story of those we met – teachers, children, Go! Malawi staff, and about the environment. We were in a location that felt like the top of the world. I watched the sunrise  each morning from the front porch of the building we slept in called “the castle”. It was an amazing site and several times I could see the curvature of the globe.

Along with Lindsay there were three other volunteers and Janet’s husband Bill. One volunteer was a 15-year old Hebron Academy student from China named Jasmine. She is an incredible photographer and is documenting some stories and photos of the Ntchisi HIV committee members. Laurie, a therapist from western Maine found joy in reading to young children and hopes to help establish a library. Meredith, a history teacher from Hebron Academy connected with teenagers while doing a photography project with them. They all made an important difference!

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End of year ceremony at the Mpamilia Primary School

Between Lindsay and I we took over 3000 photos. I will include some in the blog posts since the images alone tell a story. The landscape (including the sky at all times of the day) and people are beautiful to capture – I hope you will be able to gather that from the images. It is winter in Malawi and we were there during the last two weeks of school.

The work that Lindsay and I started in the workshop with teachers will continue from a distance by sending packages every other month and in other ways. If you’d like to contribute arts supplies, books or other items please email me at argy.nestor@maine.gov. Their classrooms have virtually no supplies or materials so anything you can send would be appreciated. As you unwrap your new materials when back at school or studio please consider contributing older ones. Thank you!

If you are interested in traveling to Malawi to work with teachers, perhaps next summer, please email me. It is a wonderful opportunity!

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Amazing sunset!

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Blog is on Vacation

July 7, 2016

Gone to Malawi

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 11.18.50 PMThe blog is on vacation. Yes, it is true – I am taking a break from the daily posts since I am on a trip to Malawi, Africa with Go! Malawi. Lindsay Pinchbeck, founder and director of Sweetland School in Hope and I are in Malawi working with teachers on arts integration. In addition, we are going to help create a summer arts camp for girls to take place in August 2017. I am sure that I will learn so much during our time there.

There is a chance that I will be able to blog from there but the connectivity is not totally reliable so I am not sure if it will work out. If it does you will see photos and perhaps stories from there. If not, on our return I will be sure to blog and include photos.

“Life’s challenges are not supposed to paralyze you, they’re supposed to help you discover who you are.”   -Bernice Johnson Reagon

Speaking of blogging my friend Rob Pheiffer spent 6 months with Go! Malawi returning this past April. Below is his last blog post after his return to Maine. You can read more of his blog posts on the site at http://go-malawi.org/category/news-and-events/.

The adjustment period goes on and I am quite surprised by the intensity. The central issues are consumption and complaining. As I reflect on the way people live in Malawi, it seems incredible how little consumption goes on day to day. They walk everywhere with a few bicycles thrown in and buy almost nothing as the barter economy works well enough to keep people alive. There are so few vehicles that the passing of one is cause for everyone to pause and note the direction, the occupants, and to hypothesize about the destination and purpose of the trip. All, and I emphasize all, movement is purposeful. For instance, no one goes out just for a walk. They are going somewhere to deliver something or pick up something and usually both. People were always curious about my bike rides as I just went and came back without a pile of firewood or a bag of corn strapped on somehow. My behavior was very unusual (no surprise to those of you who know me!). So, for a Malawian to see our huge vehicles roaring about with one occupant would be surprising and confusing. A pickup truck or a van over there will always be loaded with upwards of 20 people all going somewhere like a hospital or on a serious mission of some sort. As I sit here typing (on a full key board now. What a relief!) I have heard at least 50 cars go by on the rural road we live on. To hear that many vehicles in the hill country of Malawi would take most of six months.
 
As to the complaining issue, we here in America are masters of the art. I am thinking it has to do with all that we have and are used to using.  If our “normal” patterns are disrupted and our power goes out or the car won’t start it really throws us for a loop. When you are used to living without some of the privileges we take pretty much for granted, your expectations are lower and you just go ahead with your day. There are widespread areas of Malawi with no power and those with power have it sporadically. I would hazard a guess that only about ten percent of Malawians have access to a vehicle on a regular basis and a high percentage of those work for the government. I am left with the simplistic thought that having less might increase a happiness quotient in us that is presently tarnished with unmet expectations. I am not suggesting that we do without things which make our lives run smoothly and allow us to be productive. I am wondering if we could do with less in general and would that help us to feel more happy? The happiness of the Malawian people and their “can do” spirit in spite of everything they face daily has opened me up to a great deal of wondering.
 
I have spent portions of three days in schools here in Maine sharing some of my experiences and that has been most gratifying as the students seem to realize how fortunate we are to have what we have. The tantrums and demanding behavior I observed earlier upon my return seem to be pretty much contained within the confines of airports and grocery stores, both of which are probably high stress areas for children. I have been fortunate to have had opportunities to chat with bright motivated young people who seem unfazed by the amounts of “stuff” we all seem to have accumulated here. That is some of the news from back here in the good old USA where clean tap water, showers, and toilets are very special all of a sudden.
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