Timonene (hello...in Chitonga!:)

Back in the saddle this past weekend! Having missed the previous week’s swim due a head cold, this week’s swim was a two’fer, both Saturday and Sunday. Funny how you can become accustomed to process and regularity; having only missed one week, it felt like I hadn’t been in the water in ages!

Both days were pretty chilly: 34 and 25 degree wind chills Saturday, and 24 / 11 degree wind chills on Sunday. However, each day had light winds and abundant sunshine, making for some enjoyable cannonballs off the dock. Frozen hair Sunday? You bet.

Part of my focus in this week’s report, goes against the very notion of focus and how a wandering mind can often lead to innovative thought. For me, running is an opportunity to allow my mind to wander, without life’s constant distractions. Whether you choose to run with music, other people or on your own, running is all about…you: a time of reflection. Come to think of it, that pairs nicely with Reflections for RIPPLE!

Allowing your mind to wander is almost an archaic action these days. Who has time to wander? Between multitasking, super-computer cell phones, tablets, and media an ever-growing constant, there simply isn’t time.

Even Tim Brown, Mr IDEO himself makes light of the value of this trait, namely through keeping a journal close-by at all times. Writing stuff down? Oh-so important.

RIPPLE Africa allows volunteers in Malawi the chance to write for their weekly blog, ‘Mwaya Mondays’. Earlier this week, their recent post really hit home on this idea of ingenuity in the field, with a direct and measurable outcome.

Tine Westerdahl, a doctor from the Netherlands shared a very powerful story about a young Malawian boy born with congenital brain damage, making it very difficult for him to walk. At first, Isaac was using a small cane to take his first steps in training his muscles and developing motor skills in his legs. However, improvement was slow and ultimately very difficult for him to master.

Tine’s story of ingenuity and what was constructed for young Isaac is a tale best left in his own words. Quite simply, it is a beautiful story, and poignant reference to ingenuity and the power of our minds. If you’ve read this far, then please read the following excerpt from Tine.

This is why I jump in the lake every week. If only to make you, the reader, aware of stories and the power of good in this world. Read it. Live it. And let your mind wander.

This week’s Mwaya Mondays blog is written by RIPPLE Africa volunteer Tine Westerdahl, who is a nurse from Denmark

I have now been at Mwaya Beach for six weeks – it is unbelievable how quickly time flies by and yet, on the other hand, I feel quite at home. I have a busy weekly routine, and I think that has helped me settle in so quickly to Malawian life.

My work alternates between the clinics in nearby villages helping at “under 5” clinics, outreach clinics, malnutrition clinics, etc. In between these clinics, I teach first aid and other health related subjects – I have even started to do a few computer lessons as well.

Once a week I go out with Collins, the RIPPLE Africa Senior Healthcare Coordinator, who visits clients in the community on his motorbike. Collins has a vast number of clients, and they all have an amazing story that deserves to be told.

Isaac is a five-year-old boy with congenital brain damage, which results in problems with the use of his legs. The main problem is his balance but, after a lot of practice, he can now walk with a stick. When using his stick, however, he is still unsteady and needs more training of his leg muscles and his balance to be able to walk more effectively.

To make it easier for Issac to train his muscles and balance, we decided to try to build a walker for him. I enrolled the services of our day watchman Arnold, who is very good with his hands, to help me construct the walker. I found some plastic tubes that were not too heavy for a little boy to carry and then the creative work began. We finished constructing the walker… well, when I say “we” I mean Arnold was working with the plastic tubes and I was trying not to get in his way!

 Now the walker is finished, Collins and I needed to see if it would work. We took the walker to Isaac, and it only took him a few minutes before he got the idea of the walker and he started immediately to walk around the area. In the beginning only walking slowly straight forward, but after a few minutes he began to make turns. I have visited Isaac twice before today, and it is the first time I have seen him walking so much – I was afraid that he would actually have sore leg muscles that evening.

With so little resources available to the local people here, it is quite amazing how adaptable and creative they can be. The material to make the walker equated to about £2, and it just took a bit of creativity and determination to build it. Issac’s family would never be able to afford to buy an aid such as this walker, so it is purely down to the resourcefulness of the community to help solve an easy problem in the developed world but here is a constant challenge.

The lovely thing here is that everyone wants to try to help and takes great pride in it. When I came back to show Arnold the picture of Issac with his walker, he was so pleased to see his creation in action…he wanted to name it the “AB Walker” standing for “Arnold Banda’s Walker”. We will see if it makes patent!

Donation Links here:



Alas, no swim for this Canuck this past weekend as a common head cold set in mid-week. Fear not, however, I’ll be doing double duties this weekend (and possibly this week – as we’re approaching summer weather of 40+ degrees).

Despite my congestion and hacking (I do feel better now, thanks for asking), I managed to get out each night for a good sweat and run, concentrating on my breath and not over-exerting my lungs. It felt great.

Running with a cold seems counter intuitive to recovery, though we all know our own bodies the best and for me fresh air, deep breathing, sweating out toxins, elevated heart rate and zen-style consistent breathing are imperative to a quick turnaround.

My time spent with RIPPLE Africa was the healthiest I’ve ever felt in my life. I’ll stand by that saying for the rest of my life, said here in my 2012 Volunteer Story on RIPPLE’s website.

I thought I’d share some snip-bits of how I came to such a statement.

Fresh Air

Volunteering with RIPPLE Africa means you have fresh air for your entire stay. No recirculated or inside air, ever. The volunteer chalets all get great breezes off the Lake, while your day is usually spent outside at various sites. You know that feeling from recirculated air on an airplane? Think of the opposite.

Alram clock’less

Other than waking to catch a taxi for a flight, I never used one…and always woke up on time. That’s because you’re afforded a fresh-air sleep, and a sunrise to wake you every single day. And if it’s raining or cloudy, you have birds chirping at dawn.

Volunteering with RIPPLE allows you this luxury, found almost nowhere else on earth; the ability to get into consistent sleep cycles dictated by the sunset and sunrise. There would be nights where I’d sleep for 11 hours. I’ve never felt more rested in my life.

Knowing you’ll wake up to a rising sun, instead of an iPhone alarm clock is mind blowing.

The Lake!

If you haven’t gathered already (…maybe you’re a hunter?-joke), I love to swim. More importantly, I love the sensation of being enveloped by fresh water. While in Malawi, I swam every single day (usually 2 or 3 times).

After a sunrise wake up, I would head down to the lake for a morning swim. Talk about a way to wake up! Almost like a daily baptism, the lake’s morning tranquility isn’t just found in Malawi, but in all lakes. What a blessing to have in such close proximity.

Cold Showers

At the time I volunteered, we didn’t have any hot water for showers. However, you quickly realize that your body can become acclimated to the water temperature quite quickly. Morning showers consisted of an accelerated scrub, though afternoon heat made a cool shower quite enjoyable.


Drinking water

I’ll also stand behind saying that the best water I’ve ever tasted came from Malawi. RIPPLE Africa has a bore-hole well drilled into an underwater aquifer hundreds of feet down, that provides drinking water for volunteers, staff and local community members. No iodine tablets, no bottled water. Maybe it was a state of mind, but that water was so very delicious.


Good Sweats and Sunshine

Every day affords you a hard-working sweat, and usually plenty of sunshine.  I applied sunscreen almost every day, and never once had a bad sunburn. Gotta have big respect for that gaseous ball we all orbit!

Whenever sick, I always find it helpful to simply stand in the sun. Not for that great bronze look we all crave, but for Vitamin D, and its natural warmth.  In Malawi, there’s plenty of sun and sweat to go around for all!


The Food!

RIPPLE Africa is located in the Northern rural region of Malawi. Here there is no real transportation infrastructure, so much of what is consumed is from subsistence farming or sold at local markets. If you’re eating a vegetable, chances are it was grown less than a mile away. Akin to organic farming, it’s a model of nutrition that is simply unavailable to more developed countries, as we rely on economies of scale to truck-in food.



Volunteering in Malawi allows you an opportunity to unplug from our very connected world. Even though cell phones and calls to America are only a dial away, life doesn’t revolve around said technologies. The irony of it all being you feeling more connected in a less connected environment. Oh what a paradox.

All these example add up to a day-to-day experience that is becoming harder and harder to find in our world. It’s not necessarily primitive; it’s more of how you (your body) choose to embrace your surroundings.

The healthiest months of my life! Gosh, feeling better already.

Another week of dock plunging cannonballs was upon us last Sunday! Gardner and I suited up for a run that would prove to be our chilliest yet.

I'm always keen to follow the weekend forecast, and had decided to opt out of our normal Saturday routine for what was thought to be an equally warm Sunday.

A snowy Saturday made conditions ripe, and though Sunday's forecast promised identical conditions, we were instead met with a cooler high pressure system with NW winds of 10-15mph. Checking the temperature upon returning: 18 degrees with a 4 degree wind chill!

One of the coldest swims we've had so far, though no shivering of course. If you look closely, most of my wet hair is frozen, as was my base layer shirt as we ran home!

11 weeks in we're still only about half way through our weekly winter swims; so lots of time for you all to still make donations to support RIPPLE Africa projects in Malawi. We've been receiving a good bit of publicity as well: CBS News 2 video is up online (link here) (also on home page, and to your right:) and is a recent article that was published in SunCoast Living in Florida (link here). Thanks to Kay Yoder, RIPPLE Africa's USA director who resides in Florida.

In any case, I encourage you to enjoy both the video and article in better understanding the impact we can have through donating to RIPPLE Africa, and how these weekly swims are not only invigorating but oh-so pertinent to a higher ideal of helping folks in Malawi.

Donation Links here:



Welcome to Reflections for RIPPLE weekly updates! If this is your first read, then you’ve got a lot of reading HW to ketchup with. And if you’re a regular reader, put some pep in that step and some mustard on that dog and donate already!  If you’re on the fence, I’d relish the opportunity for you to read on. Go get it, hot dog.

This past Saturday proved to be a monumental swim, not only in weather conditions but in exposure. Kay Yoder, part of RIPPLE’s US operations, had passed a lead on from CBS 2 Chicago’s Mike Krauser, a local reporter and familiar voice on 780AM.

With Mike meeting us at our swim point, my brother Colin and fellow future-swimmer Doug Baker were also present to enjoy Saturday’s wintery weather. Suffice to say, we weren’t in our Sundays best.

For a winter swim, conditions were close to ideal. A fresh 3-4 inches from the night prior, fluffy flakes, lake effect snow and an air temp of 28 made for a pleasant ramp-up run before our swim. As is now typical protocol, Gardner and I ran past our swim point to double-back in order to have some wind at our backs. The added sweat was well appreciated.

With three gents waiting for us at the end of the dock we had a good 150 yard run out to collect ourselves before cameras were rolling and trepidation silenced. Even at this moment, there’s a sense of tranquility to be had.

To a bystander, it would make sense to quickly unclothe, hop in, hop out, and get running ASAP. Quite the contrary however. Even getting out of sweaty layers needs to be done with a sense of aplomb.

Cannonballs offer a much more instantly enveloping ‘knock the wind out of your lungs sensation’ opposed to the gradient found at the beaches. Best to take a deep breath prior to!

Your reward, as explained in our video interview, is that you exit the water with a renewed sense of winter air warmth. It’s a paradox so innately deconstructed, that you begin to wonder how you lived without it. Kind of like a cold shower. Let’s bridge the gap, shall we?

Enough about me. Let’s talk about you. Try this. Standing under a hot shower, start turning to cold and see how long you can stand the cold 50-degree water before returning to heat. Blah! Uncomfortable!

This swim is immeasurably more exhilarating, and infinitely more gratifying in the snap-second sensation afforded by the water temperature. And like all things in life worth working for, you’re the recipient of a warm breeze in Chicago’s harsh winter months. Relativity check straight from Malawi!

None of this is about me, however. It’s for the people of Malawi, and the positive impact RIPPLE Africa has proven it can achieve in the community. If I’ve harped on you to make a donation, it’s for this reason only. So put your hard earned dollars to work as efficiently as possible. You know the drill.