Saturday, November 20, 2010

Campaign Launch

The first 4 months of my time with Save the Children was spent planning for the campaign launch. For most of you at home, you may not know that every activity/event/campaign/etc. needs to have a high profile launch day, marking the official start/kickoff of the activity/event/campaign/etc.

So my sole responsibility has been to coordinate and plan for this high profile launch which is to involve the First Lady of Malawi. Because of our guest of honor, the dates were changed many times to accommodate her schedule. Anyhow, from the last blog, the launch was scheduled to be on November 12th, 2010. About a week before the 12th, her people rescheduled to Tuesday, the 16th of November and because all the partner organizations were so desperate to have her as the guest of honor (understandably so since she is Malawi's coordinator for maternal and child survival and our campaign is just that), we again changed the launch date for about the 5th time.

I also mentioned in the last post that i was in charge of the logistics committee, which meant that the weekend before the event, i was super stressed out and busy organizing the transport, fueling, chairs, tables, tents, water, etc. I worked all day Friday (normally a half day), half of Saturday, half of Sunday, and Monday was a 13 hour day... Also, on Sunday PCVs Steve Karaga and Daniel Barton came to stay with me to assist on the campaign launch. I also had my very first couchsurfer Natalie stay with me to help.

The day of the launch finally arrived... i called Janet, my campaign coordinator, early in the morning before the Save vehicle picked us up and found out that the First Lady's people called Joby (my supervisor) at 5am telling him that she did not feel well so will NOT be attending the launch. Everyone was quite disappointed but there was nothing we could do about it except have an awesome launch day.

Besides that, the day went marvelously. Save the Children staff, partner organization staff, school children, and random village people were all decked out in EveryOne campaign branded materials: t-shirts, caps, chitenje (cloth), and stickers. All in all, it was a great success.

Malawi never ceases to amaze me... despite all the problems and last minute changes... everything just worked itself out. 1 more point for Malawi =)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Since the last post, the campaign launch was scheduled for November 12th and now have been changed to the 16th. I hope the First Lady doesn't change it again or I will be in trouble! My tentative trip to California is November 21st. The request was already approved but I'm still waiting for the actual ticket from Peace Corps.

I'm really excited to go home!!! Here's my plan:
Nov 21 - leave Malawi
Nov 22-26 - Sacramento, CA
Nov 27-29 - Bay Area, CA
Nov 29-Dec 1 - Sacramento, Ca
Dec 1-3 - San Diego, CA
Dec 3-5 - Las Vegas, NV
Dec 5-7 - San Diego, CA
Dec 8-12 - Sacramento, CA
Dec 12 - fly to Johannesburg, South Africa
Dec 13-15 - Johannesburg, SA
Dec 16-23 - Cape Town, SA
Dec 23-Jan 1 - Durban, SA
Jan 2 - fly back to Malawi

Where do YOU fit in this schedule? =)

Sounds like a lot of traveling and all but I'm AMPED! I haven't flown or been home in over 17 months. So many things I'm excited for!
- Family
- Friends
- Woof woof: Poppy, Kujo, Ally, Wop
- Food (sushi, In n Out, frozen yogurt, clam chowder, Jamba Juice, dim sum, papaya salad, lobster tacos, seafood, Mexican/Vietnamese/Thai/Korean/etc. You get the picture)
- Shopping
- Las Vegas
- Maybe Mexico for real street tacos
- Traveling

It's funny. I feel like I'm on an emotional roller coaster. One day I'm bummed out and the next day I'm super JAZZED. LOL Right now... I'm JAZZED! =)

Monday, October 18, 2010


Work was fast and busy for awhile but now it’s kind of lagging. The EveryOne Campaign launch was supposed to be Friday (Oct 15th, Malawi’s Mother’s Day) but it has been postponed. We still don’t know when the launch will happen because we’re still waiting to hear back from the First Lady. I really hope it happens before the 15th of November. I somehow got suckered into being in charge of the logistics committee for the launch, ie planning for refreshments, transport, fuel, chairs, and tents. You know, the not-so-fun-stuff that no one else wants to do. I am not allowed to take my 1 month home-leave and go home-home (California) until the launch happens so keep your fingers crossed for me!

I really want, no, NEED, to be home for Thanksgiving this year. This NEED to be home for Thanksgiving is not because everyone in my family gets together and has a huge feast or anything. I chose Thanksgiving to give myself something to look forward to, a short-term goal set in September to hold onto my sanity with. I have come to the end of my mental and emotional capacity to properly function in Malawi. I have never been away from home and America for this long (17 months) without at least a short visit. I am trying everything I can to keep my cool like hiking, going to the lake, going out with my friends, playing volleyball. But everything I do is in vain because at the end of the day, I still feel discontented and nostalgic.

This homesickness is manifesting itself into frustration, agitation, impatience, and desperation. Frustrated with the people I work with. Agitated with the littlest thing that goes wrong. Impatient with the lack of progress of the campaign. All this is entirely normal for Malawi: people in Malawi work on their own slow pace, things go wrong all the time, and due to the slowness of the Malawian pace everything else that depends on them also happens very slow. So why should I be so irritated?! I know this. I am (or should be) used to this.

I feel completely desperate for anything that is American… just the other day, I overdosed on SPAM. I ate an entire can of SPAM (serving size? 6) in a span of 5 hours. WHO EATS THAT MUCH SPAM, EVER? Am I crazy? Most definitely. Don't get me wrong, especially you Anh Tu, I like Malawi and I like my job and I want to be here. I just need a breather.

Another contribution to my sour mood lately is that my best friend in Malawi, Hannah, is leaving at the beginning of November. She's finished and will be going back to Australia and probably not coming back. What am I going to do without her?! =(

This Energizer bunny needs to be recharged as soon as possible.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

New Phase of Malawi

I am terribly sorry for not updating in so long! It's been so long.. I can't even remember what happened between January and now..

Let me give you a brief highlight of January through August..
  • January- Fell into a ditch in front of my neighbor's house in the village and ended up with a cast and crutches for 6 weeks; attended an Australian and Malawian wedding (in cast and crutches)
  • February- Not much due to lack of mobility. Brought/taught/worked with HIV support group on peanut oil press/IGA (income generating activity). My English VSO (volunteer service overseas) volunteer finished his contract and left me.
  • March- Worked on Guardian Shelter project, Oil Press project and did a tree planting exercise in the village. Partied a little. Decided that I wasn't ready to go back to America in July
  • April- Went to Nyika Plateau for 1 week over Easter with 4 Aussies and another PCV. Absolutely beautiful and amazing. Spent a week in Zambia on a safari in South Luangwa with friends (French couple and another PCV). Pretty freakin' awesome (expensive but totally worth it)- Saw a lion and leopard along with the other more common animals like elephants, zebras, giraffes, hippos, birds, etc.
  • May- Had my close-of-service conference on the lake and met with Save the Children's country director and confirmed my stay in Malawi for 1 more year and working with Save the Children in Lilongwe. Decided that when I go back home, I want to get an MBA.
  • June- Finally hiked Mulanje all the way to the top with some PCVs and my favorite, Tessa! Finished up building the Guardian Shelter. Watched World Cup games at my neighbor's
July- Staying between Chikhwawa, Blantyre and Lilongwe. Looked at potential flats/apartments in Lilongwe. Went to lunch with the PRESIDENT at the STATEHOUSE which was pretty cool. My Tessa left me =0)

  • August- Waited hung out and waited for paperwork between Save the Children and PC to finalize and my triplex to be ready =0) Started working at Save the Children on August 18th.

ANNNDDDD.. you're updated! =0)

So anyways..

Right now, things are pretty hectic for me. I just moved into my new place in Lilongwe last weekend. My place is brand new so there are a bunch of issues with it that needs tending to. But overall I'm pretty excited to be living in Lilongwe and having a super awesome house with electricity, running hot water, tiles, 2.5 bathrooms, 2 bedroom, front and backyard! The place is awesome but I don't have much to fill it.. I've got 2 beds, a dresser, and 1 wicker chair. Sad huh? Oh well.. Pang'ono Pang'ono (little by little) I will accumulate them. My neighbors are really awesome.. to my left is Maureen who's 29 years old and to my right is Juliet who is 45. I'm really relieved that they're both women =0)

As for work... I am loving it! Things are so different here. Not just different but a completely 180 degrees from the village. I am now working at a 2nd floor office from 8-5 with over 50 staff members. The corporate Malawi is so different from what my Malawi used to be... I've been going to meetings in buildings where I have to go through a metal detector and/or wait in an elevator to go to the 6th floor. Thatched roofed mud huts to this..

Anyway.. the reason I've decided to stay a third year in Malawi is that I want to do NGO (Non Governmental Organization) work for awhile and this is my chance to work with one of the largest international NGOs in the world and get work experience in the field. I am still a Peace Corps volunteer but instead of working with the village community, I'm working with Save the Children instead. I am now a campaign assistant for Save the Children's Every One campaign to reduce maternal, newborn, and child mortality rates in Malawi. If you would like more information on this campaign, please visit We're currently planning the campaign launch on October 15th, which is also Mother's Day and Rural Women's Day in Malawi and also events leading up to the actual day. So from now until then, it's crunch time!

It's such a great feeling to have a set schedule again even if I'm exhausted everyday =0) A friend said to me "I've never met anyone who is as excited to go to work as you".. to him, thanks! Isn't this exactly what EVERYONE is looking for? A job/career that makes me happy and excited to go to work?! There are people out there that spend their whole life searching for that 1 job that completes them, that drives them, that makes them feel alive. I am too fortunate to have found it so early..

Big things are happening in the next few months! Now that I have fast and consistent internet, updates will be more frequent, PROMISE! Also, pictures of my new place will come as soon as I finish settling in.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Sometimes, just a small event here in Malawi results in an epiphany of life. Like today, I was sweeping out my kitchen and found a small dried dead bat on the floor. Normally, for the last 17 months at site, my neighbors or their children have always come over and taken care of the bats for me. But today was different. It startled me and I panicked a little. Thought about going to my neighbor’s house but decided not to. I mustered up enough courage and swept out the bat all by myself. I know it sounds so miniscule to most people but if you know me, you would know that I’m scared to death of mice and bats are just flying versions of.

As I reflect on my life in Malawi, I am very proud of myself for how far I’ve gone. I have had many trials and tribulations. Not just physical or exterior hardship but mental and internal. But the most important realization is that I am still here, stronger than when I came. I struggled with myself and with the fact that I am in Malawi and all that is Malawi- dealing with being called Azungu (white person), China, Japan, being stared at like a circus animal, getting ripped off for not being Black, or facing near impossible “hiccups” (problems) that Malawians manage to create all on a daily basis. I have become unfazed by life here. My skin has become thick (though not as thick as I need it to be!) but thick enough to survive here. As a note, though I always complain about the problems I face, for every 1 bad experience; there are about 100 good experiences that are unmentioned.

I wanted to give up several times in the course of my experience here. But in the end, I stuck it out (with the help of so many people I’ve had to privilege to meet and get to know) and I’m glad I did. I am finally to the point in my Peace Corps service that I love it here. Maybe not everyone gets to this point and maybe I don’t always love it here but I don’t want to be anywhere else at this moment. This may be Love. Not because Malawi is perfect or I am perfect but because we have accepted one another, faults and all. Though the cultural differences are great, I could still see myself living here. Not forever but for awhile.

I don’t know what I’ve done before to be fortunate enough to meet such wonderful people; people who not only prop me up but hold me up. I wonder if it’s all luck or just a shift in attitude. I feel that when you have a positive or optimistic view on life, things tend to go your way. But is it going your way or your positivity makes even bad experiences not so bad?

I am thankful for everyone that I’ve met in Malawi for helping and strengthening me. In the last 19 months, I have grown about a decade in wisdom and strength. I am grateful to my friends and family at home for their continued support and love. An important lesson this experience has taught me is to be grateful for everything I have. I truly lucky to have the people I have. I am happy, healthy, stronger, and more independent and exactly where I’m supposed to be.

Happy New Year’s! 2010 will be great. I’ll be coming home in about 8 months! Get ready! =0)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

On we go!

I have been at my site for about 3 weeks and must leave for my mid-service training in Dedza, central Malawi. I still can’t believe that I’ve been at my site for 1 year already and am halfway through with my service. It’s kind of a strange feeling… It’s a combination of many different feelings. I feel like I haven’t done anything in my community, things have been moving exhaustingly slow (Malawian time) and there’s just no way of speeding things up. I’m excited that I’ve survived this long and excited that I’m on my way to being home-home again. I’m also kind of sad that I will have to eventually leave this place. I also feel like time is running out to accomplish everything I want and need to accomplish before I go. Then I fall into the perpetual problem of idling, waiting for the Malawians to meet me halfway. Well, here are a few good and bad updates.

I gave Alindiyani the clothes and she fits most of them so well! The clothes stayed cleaned for about 2 minutes on her and then it was covered in dirt and snot. I gave Lumanda a thick jacket I bought from Old Navy. They were super excited and danced as I took pictures of them in their new clothes. Also, I finally know what the kids’ mom’s name is, Mary. She’s always been referred to as Lumanda’s mom. The dresses that my mom and Mrs. Shinar donated to their mom fits her perfectly. She was very grateful. The donations that were going towards this family is being planned. First and foremost, I will be having a pit latrine constructed so that they do not use the bushes nearby as a bathroom. A bath structure will also be constructed so the mother does not have to bathe at night in the dark. I am also in the process of seeing about getting her started in raising chickens for eggs and food and also a piece of land so she can farm and feed her kids. More updates on this family to come.

I arrived at my site and discovered that A, my village dog, died while I was in America. B is still around and was pregnant. She just recently (June 18th) had 1 boy puppy, C. C looks exactly like B and is the most adorable thing ever! My friend from the library committee came and helped me make a cave like hole in my backyard for mom and pup to stay. He is also helping me feed her while I’m away.

A ground laborer, Maxwell, for the health center passed away in February. He was HIV+ and was receiving ARVs from the district hospital but continuously fell ill of pneumonia, TB, and Malaria. For some reason, everyone at my site knew about it but all assumed that I knew also. Last week, I sat in the outpatient clinic and realized I hadn’t seen him in a long time. I asked Henry (medical assistant at the health center) where Maxwell was and he told me.

The most exciting update is the roof of the library is finally finished! I used some of the money that was donated to purchase building materials in Blantyre. We purchased the roofing timbers locally to help the local carpenters and also eliminate the transportation issue. My library committee told me they would replace the rest of the roof of the library on Saturday (June 20th) and they did. 8 committee members came early Saturday morning and finished at 2pm.

We never really fully understand the extent of how truly lucky we are until we live in a developing country like Malawi. So I went to visit my 2 VSOs (Volunteer Service Organization), Gemma and Andrew, in the district town. They have been building a playground for the kids in their community. The playground is practically finished, 3 tire swings, obstacle course, a soccer field, netball court, and 4 swings. Gemma and I were appalled at the fact that these kids did not know how to use the swings. They don’t know how to use their legs and their bodies to swing themselves. They sat on the swings and held on for dear life as the other kids continued to push them. I thought again at my childhood and the kids at home; all of whom if put on a swing, would know exactly what to do. It hit us that these kids have NEVER had a playground. So Gemma and I had to get on the swings and show them what to do. By the end of the day, maybe 2 kids understood and attempted the maneuver. It’s really amazing how many trivial things we take for granted.

One other thing that we take for granted is the quality of care and customer service that is available to us in America that is not available in other parts of the world. I see first hand the lack of care and customer service that the people here do not receive on a daily basis at my health center. Patients will wait for hours to be seen while the health workers sit around and talk or the nurse goes and buys vegetables or cooks her relish for lunch. It’s even worse when they’re in the labor room, being yelled at by everyone. I decided that I couldn’t stand to see that anymore so I haven’t spend much time there. But the other day, I decided that I was going to sit in on the labors. It was June 19th and the health center already delivered 34 babies. There were 4 women all in labor and it was a race to see which was going to deliver first. One of the 4 was an 18 year old girl with her first pregnancy. She was scolded by a neighbor and the nurse. Then the nurse slapped her. I have never seen anything like that. It was horrible! That may have been the last day that I will spend in the labor room. I couldn’t say anything because I was in shock. I can’t believe the nurse SLAPPED the 18 year old girl as she’s suffering from labor pains! I just could not believe it. That wouldn’t have happened in America, right? It’s no wonder many of these women choose to have their babies at home in the village. I would too!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Back in Malawi!


Just letting everyone know that I made it back to Malawi with no problems. I have not returned to my village yet as I am exhausted and jetlagged with many technical issues to take care of at the Peace Corps office in Lilongwe.

I wanted to let everyone know... I submitted a proposal for my guardian shelter project right before I left for America. When I arrived in Lilongwe... I discovered about 469,045 Malawi kwacha ($3311 US) in my bank account. I was approved for the guardian shelter project building materials!!!! How exciting!!!! I can't wait to get this project started. =0)

Also, I would like to thank everyone who has donated something towards my Africa cause. Please rest assured that 100% of what you've donated will benefit the projects and the people. Check back later for updates and pictures on what your donations have done!

I never realized how much of an American I am until I came to Africa. Now, I will never take my life in America for granted or complain about anything, especially customer service! We should realize how good things are in America and know that the rest of the world does not live how we live and does not have what we have. Be thankful!

Being in America for a month was amazing! Thank you everyone that made time to see me and for those I didn't get to see... don't worry! I will be back next year before you know it!

I am taking this week to adjust to being back to Malawi and will be going back to my village early next week. Plus, the new health volunteers are arriving in Lilongwe on Sunday and I will be going with my health group to greet them at the airport!

FYI: They have added numbers to my phone numbers:
(265) 995-502-166
(265) 884-483-258