Friday, 14 December 2007

Bye Bye London

I am relocating from my London office to another office in Malawi where I will be starting work within the next few days. This is a big move from the comfort and luxury of an office on the third floor in the centre of London with a good view to my ordinary office in Malawi. Infact its probably not right to say I have an office in Malawi as I spend most of my time in either Eye clinics, Wards or Theatre managing Eye patients and I rarely have time to sit down. In London I was mostly sitting in the office and spending a substantial amount of time on the computer and reading reviews and journal articles and was being paid good monies for that . I also had 24 hour internet access (both at home and at work) where as in Malawi (with dial up connection) I will definitely have internet only at the office and certainly not at home. If lucky I may be able to check emails for an hour per day (when the speed is good) otherwise I may have to stay days without checking my mail. Having been used to writing blogs and emails every day I am a bit scared of how I am going to be coping in Malawi without regular internet. I now sort of understand why Malawians and many other people do not want to go back home after being exposed to the so called high tech life.
But as for me there is no point of staying in London and I am living within the next few days; and will spend my Christmas where there is no electricity ,telephone and running water but people are still happy. London may be a high tech place with lots of monies but it has lots of gloomy faces ( and indeed it’s true that money cant buy you happiness). My face has become more gloomy since being here. That’s why I am going to Ezondweni, Mtwalo, Mzimba , Malawi where people always smile at you (despite being poor) and I am expecting to have a memorable Christmas. And the focus is not so much on competition and setting long goals as it is here in London; because there in the village we live one day at a time .We are going to eat Chicken and Rice ( a delicacy even though people here take it as normal food)on Christmas day and drink some fanta. I don’t have to worry about what to write next so unfortunately you will not be reading more stories from me. Bye Bye London.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Zanzibar Trip

Having gained a lot of experience working as an Eye doctor and eye care manager I did not think there would be major challenges in undertaking eye related assignments anywhere. So when I visited the Zanzibar primary Eye care programme I was expecting it be like any other programme I have visited before. Reading the terms of reference for my intended one week visit, I noted that I was the only one undertaking the assignment. So in order to prepare myself I decided to find out a bit more information about the health system in Zanzibar. What shocked me was that Zanzibar was not a single island I was taught to believe a few years ago; but its composed of many small islands which collectively are called Zanzibar. The two big islands are Pemba with a population of 400,000 and Unguja with a population of around 600,000.The islands are accessible by boat and also by air .But I had only arranged one trip to Zanzibar, so where was I going to go? Anyway I ended up only in Unguja basically because there was a clinical officer there who had trained in Malawi a few years ago.
The people of Zanzibar are predominantly Moslems.
During that week we ended up visiting many health centres to see how their eye care programme was. I was very impressed with the organisation systems that are in place and the dedication of the staff.
Most health centres are situated along the coast, so I had plenty of time visiting the sea.
There were things that I did suggest in my report that could be improved for their programme; but most importantly there were also many things that I learnt that are being used for our Eye care programme in Malawi.
Overall I had a wonderful week in Zanzibar.

Staff parties

Christmas is here; and it’s is a common tendency for management to organize parties for their staff. Apart from the celebrations and drinking that are associated with such parties, it is a good time for the senior management to know their staff.After all how often do you see nurses and the other health workers dressed in their normal causal clothing?They are mostly dressed in uniform and parties give a chance to see staff in other clothing styles.If a good party is organized; usually staff will loose their inhibitions after a few drinks and start talking about how good or bad the bosses or line managers are. And if you are a manager this can be a good opportunity for you to listen to how juniors view you in your leadership role. It was interesting for me to have over-heard staff at one party saying that juniors were afraid of coming to my office because I was always seen as being more serious and they preferred seeing the top boss himself (my boss) because he had a relaxed attitude.
Now that more parties are here again, I am looking forward to observe the new dancing steps. But I will make sure that other staff are covering the work that needs to be done while the rest are partying; otherwise patients will complain that they are being neglected.And I know I will be blamed again by junior staff for forcing them to work during party time;and ofcourse that's something I have to leave with.
Unfortunately there isnt a 13th Cheque for the staff.
I am looking forward to enjoying the next party at the eye Department of Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre ,Malawi and I am sure I am not the only one.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Graduating without Family support

Are you a graduate; or are you intending to be one soon?
A graduation day is supposed to be one of your happiest days in life. After having worked so hard during your studies and gone though numerous assignments and examinations; this is the time you are recognised and rewarded for what you have achieved. Most importantly graduates look forward to getting their certificate so that they can present it to their prospective employees for a job.
A graduation day is supposed to be a time when family, friends and colleagues come together and cheer you among the many when your name is called.
However, when it comes to the day of graduation, how you wondered what happens to many foreign international students who have studied at an institution, gone back to their country immediately after competition of studies but need to come back for the graduation? In my experience most examination results come out within a few months of sitting; however the graduation ceremony takes place after at least 6 months of knowing your examination results. By that time most graduates would have gone back to their country and started a new job and it’s unlikely for them to come again to their school within 6 months due to the high financial implication costs. So in reality most foreign graduates do not attend their graduation day and celebrate(certificates are posted to them). As for the few who can afford to get a ticket for graduation its usually the graduate himself without family members accompanying him or her. And when you finally get there on that day all your classmates (now alumni) have many family friends and are busy having numerous photo sessions and you are on own and rely on your classmates to help you appreciate this important day. And when your name is called there is usually no applauding in comparison to when your friend’s names are called. The important thing is for you to be confident and know that you are also greeting the same Qualification even though there is no family to witness. And if you can manage to study and graduate within the circle of your family; it is much nicer; because you will have better memories and good pictures of that graduation event.
I am planning to have my next graduation in Malawi; where my family and friends will be available to witness. The previous graduation ceremony at the University of London was a lonely one for me as can be seen from the pictures.

Friday, 7 December 2007

A rare encounter with the Donor

When the personal assistant to my Director asked me if I would be interested to go out for an organised event in London on Thursday night where someone from UK was going to talk about experiences concerning their visit to some blindness prevention programme in Africa, I said well, why not? after all I am in the blindness prevention field and this is what I do most times in Malawi and now that I am about to go back to Malawi soon to spend my Christmas in the village (Mzimba, Mtwalo, Ezondweni) this is an opportunity to see another building in London. Unfortunately I did not bother to ask more details of what was required and who would be there. I just got the address of the venue (Haberdashers hall, London) and said I will be there.
After being lost a few times in the streets of London, I finally got there late and in casual wear (sweater) only to notice that everyone is dressed formally and that this is indeed a very formal event.
The receptionist at the Hall asked for my name and gave me my name tag and said " puts this on your sweater and I will take you upstairs where the guest of honour is so that you can meet him". I say to myself o god! Why didn’t I ask for the dressing code?
To cut the story short I finally had a rare chance of meeting the top most senior staff, trustees and donors (individuals who support) of Sight Savers International, a UK based NGO that has been dedicated to fighting blindness all over the world for more than 50 years. Their current work stretches in over 30 countries throughout Asia, African and the Caribbean. Of most important to me is that Sight Savers International (SSI) began work in Malawi in the early 1960s and today supports programmes which cover the whole country. All the good eye work that I have been writing about in Malawi is to some extent supported by SSI. For an Organization of such a big magnitude and with its World Headquarters based in the UK, the probability of one local doctor meeting such top management is very small. But I was privileged to have met all of them.
In the first picture I am with “Lady Jean Wilson” in the middle and a colleague from Nigeria. Not only is she the Vice President of Sight savers International; but also Sight Savers International was founded by her late husband Sir John Wilson almost 50 years ago. I will have to write a whole blog about this amazing lady later.
In the second picture to my left is “Lord Nigel Crisp” (wearing a red/black tie) and to my right is a strong financial supporter of SSI (proceedings from his company go to SSI).
All the doctors and other health workers who have migrated from Malawi to UK should know who
Lord Nigel Crisp is ; previously known as Sir Nigel Crisp ;unless they have not heard of NHS (National Health Service ) where he has been the Chief executive for years. He is the chairman of board of trustees of Sight savers international. He knows so much about the Health issues in Malawi that I will have to write about him later.
Lastly I am with Dr Caroline Harper, the Chief executive of SSI .And I also met other many more senior SSI staff and talked lots and lots about the support they give us in Malawi. Honestly this was a rare meeting with the donor themselves; rather the supporting partners-as they prefer to be called.
I have posted two pictures indicating SSI assistance-among the many resources that SSI gives to Malawi to support Eye care.
And yes this was a good outing.
What do you think?
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A tribute to Kerri Ferguson

Today I have the opportunity of writing about Kerri Ferguson, who was my mathematics teacher at Mzimba Secondary school in Malawi about 20 years ago. She and the husband came as Peace Corps from Canada to teach for a few years in Malawi. She was a mathematics teacher and the husband was a physical science teacher. Imagine she made sure we had finished the form 4 syllabus for mathematics by 1st term of form four. She introduced me to additional mathematics (calculus and trigonometry), a subject which was not part of the normal form 4 subjects but was a GSCE subject which was being taught at Robert Blake secondary by other expatriates. I ended up sitting for this subject and got a distinction not only in this subject but also a distinction in the normal Mathematics, and Physical science. I am talking about the 1988 form 4 MANEB examinations. The couple returned to Canada before examination results were out so they never celebrated the results with me. But I did write to them later that year when I joined the University of Malawi and they sent me a scientific calculator to use at Chancellor College. Fortunately the whole of the first year Bachelor of Science Mathematics course was what I had already learnt in additional mathematics and so I did not have to attend most classes but I still ended up excelling in all examinations.
I have never heard of the Fergusson’s since 1988; I know they are somewhere in Canada; and I am hoping that one of these days they will come across this blog and get back to me; then I can explain to them how that teaching of 1988 changed my life from being a mere Mzimba secondary pupil (from Mtwalo, Ezondweni, Ekwendeni) to an academic person-in the medical career -a long process indeed. If they look at these pictures of me today they will probably not recognise me as being the same student.
Thank you for being such good teachers.
If you come across this blog and by any chance you know where they are
Email me!

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

The students we teach: Leaders of tomorrow

I have been a clinical ophthalmic lecturer for the last five years, and have seen several students pass through my classes; some very keen, hard working and others very lazy- just aiming for the paper/qualification. Of most interesting apart from student doctors and post graduate students at the College of medicine in Blantyre, Malawi; are the diploma ophthalmic students from all over Africa who come for one year training at the SADC Ophthalmic training school in Lilongwe, Malawi.
I keep on wondering what happens to them after they graduate and return back to their home countries. Are they successful in their career? Do they get promoted in their jobs?
During my trips/visits to neighboring counties I have met in Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique past students who trained in Malawi during the last five years.
And recently I met one of my past students in London at the London school of Hygiene and Tropical medicine who used a diploma qualification obtained from Malawi to gain entry for a degree programme .I was very proud of myself as this bright colleague( Yes he was no longer my student) was telling everybody that I taught him.
I am sure there are many other graduates out there who say good things about what I contributed to their life; but I am also very thankful to the many teachers out there that taught me to be a doctor. Then I did not understand what it was meant by saying that “students of today are the future teachers of tomorrow”.
Till then the journey of knowledge transfer continues. These pictures of the students I have taught are an obvious testimony.

Mzuzu ,a shining city for North of Malawi

A blogger from South Africa who happened to have visited my sight liked the pictures of Mzuzu so much that he asked me if I could post more.
The central of the north, Mzuzu is the main stopover town, and turning-off point for all areas north of Malawi.
The people of Mzuzu are friendly and they speak Tumbuka.
My village is 48 km from the city of Mzuzu; along the neglected M1 road (Mzuzu –Mtwalo-Kafukule-Mzimba road).
The trip by road from Lilongwe to Mzuzu takes about 4-5 hours.
By air, flight from Kamuzu International Airport (Lilongwe) to Mzuzu only takes 1 hour.
And if you have a camera on board you can take pictures while descending to land at the airport in Mzuzu. The view is fantastic.
Look at these pictures; they are lovely; and they were all taken by me while above the ground.For those who know Mzuzu you can see the arch at Chimaliro which is written welcome to Mzuzu.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

No permission Granted

I have been waiting for her to give me permission to write about her, but haven’t been lucky so far. So what should I do?
As a matter of respect I have decided that I am not going to write anything about her at all. Yes I will not talk about my low profile lovely wife but I have decided that I will post her pictures , and I am sure she will not mind.
And yes I am not writing anything about her but I am just mentioning that she is a Malawian professional (a qualified chartered accountant) who studied in the UK.
If pictures can tell her story ,then let them do so.

Good old days .Were they really good?

Imagine it is about 22 years ago (1985) when I was posing for these photos. It only looks like yesterday .Time does really fly.
The first picture I am standing next to the radio and I am wearing a hat. Next to me is the brother, Steven Kalua who is based in Botswana as a musician. The picture was taken by a cousin at home in Mtwalo, Mzimba in 1985 when he came back for holiday from UK where he was studying as an architectural studies. Imagine this picture was developed in the UK and sent back home (and it’s not of good quality)
This next one I am with Emanuel Kacheche (am holding my hands on the waist) and we are standing behind the physical science laboratory/classroom at Mzimba secondary school. Emanuel was a good friend but he didn’t make it to University after form 4 (year 12) so I haven’t seen or heard about him for 20 years now.
The other photo I am in the middle with two other friends (Anderson Soko and Robert Kumwenda) and this is in 1986 and still at Mzimba secondary school.We are standing behind our hostel (dormitory ). Anderson is working in Lilongwe but I have no idea where Robert is. In the other picture I am alone sitting just behind the hostel facing Mzimba primary school. I am wearing a hat and a robin- hood shirt (these were in fashion in those days).This is also in 1986.
The last picture was taken inside Chancellor College (University of Malawi) library when I was a first year doing a Bachelor of Science degree course. I am showing off the books (pretending to be hard working!!!).
Those were the good old days; as some people say. At that time I didn’t even think of what I wanted to do in future . I was just a hard working student at school and accidentally I found myself where I am today. Yes is this really me?
What is left are the memories; and there are here to stay.