COTNi invites The A Specialist to visit their facility in Malawi

Children of the Nations International (COTNi) invited The A Specialist to visit their facility in Malawi to provide food safety training to their kitchen staff.

The following blog documents this trip, which began on May 14th, 2018.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018, by Michael Cummings

We arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi at mid-day after 29 hours of travel from Los Angeles. We were met at the airport by Pike, who is in charge of the Venture program for COTN, Malawi. Pike and “Mr. Dongo” gave us a driving tour of the highlights of Lilongwe and we ended up at a small village called Mtsiliza where COTN runs a program that educates and feeds hundreds of children while the parents are in Lilongwe working or looking for work. Without such a program, the children would be without any supervision, hungry and at the mercy of the whims of life in rural and impoverished sections of Lilongwe.

Michael with local children.

Although my traveling companions and I were exhausted from rigors of the trip, we were quickly invigorated by the reception we received at the community center in the village of Mtsiliza. A chorus of young children, nearly a hundred of them in all, overwhelmed us with songs they had been learning in their day program by the COTN instructors. “Overwhelmed” is not an exaggeration — any louder and the windows, had their been glass in them, might well have been blown out.  I felt as though we were “visiting dignitaries” with the program that they had prepared and presented to us.

Following the full-throated singing of the children, a half dozen young girls performed a ritualistic dance while keeping the rhythm with wooden blocks they held in each of their hands.  As they danced, they knocked the wood blocks together, creating a mesmerizing spectacle of rhythm and choreographed movements.  It was beautiful and impressive.  When the girls were finished, a group of young boys came out to perform.  These boys too were dancers, but they danced to the sound of drums being beaten by two young men who were skilled on African drums.  Like the girls, the boys were in uniforms and the boys were every bit as coordinated in their choreography.  The dances performed by both groups were like extreme calisthenics and by the end of each program, all of the performers had worked up a sweat. 

Just before leaving the village, we looked at the two large metal vats were used for cooking the food for the children.  One vat had a rice dish garnished with local ingredients mixed in, and in the second vat they had prepared a local vegetable dish.  We spoke with the woman who was in charge of the cooking so that we could understand how they prepared the food as well as how the utensils were cleaned following the meal.  What we learned will be added to other observations we intend to make about the food operations of COTN and include our findings in our wrap-up report.   

Norman, Dale and hosts.

After we left the village we drove to the Malawi headquarters of COTN.  It is a magnificent compound, encircled by a high brick wall.  All of the bricks used in the wall and the buildings within the compound were created in a small foundry on the property.  The first thing we did upon arrival was to visit the main kitchen where snacks had been prepared for us.  Then we were shown our quarters for the night and we unpacked and did all we could wash the dirt, grime and “travel” off of ourselves.  We learned, however, that frequently the electricity goes off in the entire area.  It was off when we arrived and has stubbornly remained off for the most part up to the present time.  

A dinner was prepared for us and this gave us a chance to talk with Isaac, who prepared the meal and is studying to be a chef.  Isaac and the staff at the kitchen compound, under the leadership of executive chef, Jon _____ will be the focus of our training program coming in two days time.  This training is the reason we have traveled half way around the world.  We intend to provide the kind of rigorous training that we provide to hundreds of cooking professionals throughout California.  At the end of our training session, each participant shall have completed the same course that would give them an official manager’s certificate of SerfSafe Food Safety training.  

The meal was excellent and capped off an amazing and full day for us.  As we walked across the compound to return to the building housing us we heard the rhythmic pounding of drums close by.  We observed a large building that was lit up and filled with young people dancing.  This was not the kind of dancing you are likely to see in California or really any place in the US.  The young people, for the most part, were high school students who were getting ready to graduate, many of them going on to university or trade schools.  I thought of my own high school graduation celebrations and was struck by the differences.  I remember that many of my contemporaries had a rebelliousness strain to their celebrations.  Dancing in unison with other students would have been inconceivable.  To watch the young Malawians, who had gone through the COTN educational system, was touching and impressive.  It also speaks highly of the love and care that has been poured into these young people.

And this is from our founder and CEO, Anthony Barton:

Dear Friends,
If a picture is worth a thousands words then these 3 can be worth ten thousand. 
The A Specialist team of Michael, Norman and Dale are in Malawi 🇲🇼 this week and next week Michael is traveling to 🇺🇬 Uganda. We are grateful for their service, talents but most importantly their heart to lend a helping hand to communities that are in need.
We are doing serv-safe training with an emphasis on food handling, cross contamination, and temperature control protocols.  We are teaching at schools, orphanages, and cafeterias. We are working with chefs but also training aged out orphans in culinary food safety.  Thank you Jerry Nine and Ryan Butler Of Butler Chemicals  for donating equipment and chemicals
Yolanda and I just wanted to keep you updated on new and exciting things happening at The A Specialist.   

Grace and Peace,

Anthony and Yolanda


Michael Cummings

Michael Cummings is the Vice President of The A Specialist and heads up the Compliance Division.