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Jasper writer shares her experiences

Former Jasperite and McEwan  University instructor Roberta Laurie never imagined she would end up in Malawi, Africa.

“I had absolutely no interest whatsoever. I know a lot of people that are interested in Africa or Saharan countries, but this was never something I dreamed about,” she said.

Roberta Laurie began research in Malawi after hearing the story of Memory Chazeza and her dreams of opening a school for young women in her region. Submitted photo

Roberta Laurie began research in Malawi after hearing the story of Memory Chazeza and her dreams of opening a school for young women in her region. Submitted photo

That all changed several years ago when a fellow Canadian told her about Memory Chazeza, a Malawi woman on a quest for education with hopes of building a school for young women.

Chazeza is now the director of Atsikana Pa Ulendo secondary school for girls in rural Malawi, improving the lives of hundreds of other young girls.

“When I heard Memory’s story and the story of some of these other Malawian women and the depths of their determination and the challenges that they faced every day, I felt like that was something worth telling people about and that’s what attracted me to Malawi,” Laurie said. “These stories are incredible and people need to know about them.”  

Hoping to share Chazeza’s story, she took off to the African country for the first time in 2007, meeting Chazeza and many other women who eagerly offered their stories of personal struggle and a desire for an education.

“This became so important to me not only because I love Memory’s story, but because I love the tradition of storytelling and passing on these stories as a way to understand the world around us and connect with other people whose experiences might be significantly different from our own,” Laurie said. “Story allows us to connect on a personal level with issues other people might be facing.”

Laurie returned to Malawi in 2008 and 2009.

“I went intentionally to do research for a book, but I didn’t know what I was going to find. I didn’t know if I would actually find a book once I got there,” she said. “After that first trip I was starting to know that this was going to happen, but I also knew that I needed a lot more information and understanding before I could finish the project.”

By 2015 she had compiled years’ worth of stories into a book, Weaving a Malawi Sunrise.

Now Laurie is coming home to Jasper to talk about her book and share stories about her time in Malawi on Feb. 22.

“I’ll be sharing a lot, but I’ll be discussing the general theme of the book, which is the importance of education for young girls,” Laurie said. “I’ll explain why I wanted to tell this story and why I wanted to bring it to a North American audience.”

The author will also share some of the things she learned about herself during her travels.

“When I went there the first time I came to understand the depths of my ignorance and how much I had to learn before I could write the book,” she said. “My first trip was an enormous culture shock. Everything was different. Absolutely everything.

“I remember looking at the night sky and realizing even the stars were different and it was very shaking for me to be in such a place that was so disconnected from my own personal experiences.”

The author’s talk will be held at the Jasper Library and Cultural Centre on Feb. 22 at 6 p.m.

Kayla Byrne
reporter@fitzhugh.ca

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