I have just returned from Malawi where we have received the first volunteers at our new community volunteer programmes in Mangochi and the projects have got off to a great start and been warmly received by the local community. The projects focus on 3 primary areas: health, education and sport and Katy, Tara and Jeff the first volunteers have been involved with each of these areas respectively.
Katy, a qualified nurse, has been dedicating her time to the medical outreach areas of the programme, imparting knowledge about key topics to the Home Based Care and HIV/AIDS support groups in the afternoons and accompanying the local community volunteers on home visits to people who are chronically ill. This aspect of the project can be a real eye opener and emotionally challenging, especially with the feeling of helplessness that is often experienced, due to the serious lack of medical resources and care available in the rural areas of Malawi. However, these experiences are balanced by the enthusiasm of the groups to learn, the warmth of the Malawian people who we are trying to help and the genuine need for the help that the volunteers are providing.
Katy has also enjoyed spending some of her mornings at a nursery school for children aged 2 to 5 years. The nursery is regularly attended by between 100 and 150 children and seeing their huge grins and the joy that simple things, such as balloons can bring to their lives and the benefits of preparing them for primary school is a happy contrast to some of the tougher trials that are a part of day to day life in rural Malawi.
Tara has previous TEFL experience and Jeff completed a TEFL course prior to travelling to Malawi and both of them have quickly settled in and started assisting the teachers at the local primary school. They have partnered up with the teachers from the respective standards in which they have been placed and are either assisting, or leading lessons in subjects that they are more confident with. This close co-operation with their partner teachers is providing the children in the very large classes more personal attention. The kids are clearly enjoying having them there; chants of “Mr Jeff Chu” are often heard as you walk through the village and it seems that the attendance of some less enthusiastic, but curious students has improved a little.
Tara has been instrumental in helping to establish a proper library at the school. Working in the afternoons with small groups of children she has undertaken the mammoth task of sorting a mountain of books that had been dumped in a pile in a disused classroom. She has also been organising the cleaning, removal of graffiti and painting of the room allocated to be the new library. The Naturally Africa Foundation has provided funding to refurbish the room, including repairs of doors and windows to make it secure, roofing materials and plastering to make it weather proof, paint, shelving and tables. The library should provide an excellent resource for students at the school and base for afternoon activities organised by the volunteers.
Jeff, in addition to teaching in the morning, has been actively involved in getting sports activities going. His main focus has been on sports activities at the primary school, where clubs and activities have become a little dormant in recent months. A keen volleyball player, Jeff has coached volleyball on two afternoons a week, which has proved very popular. He has also coached football, the most commonly played sport in Malawi, but one which he is maybe less familiar with, on a further two afternoons. Both sports have been well attended.
The local junior village football and netball teams that train closest to the volunteer house have also approached us, eager for volunteers to coach them and are looking forward to more sports volunteers arriving in the future. In the meantime we have been lending them a ball for matches and some training sessions, as these are expensive in Malawi and often junior teams do not have one, which prevents them from playing.
The volunteers have also been making the most of their free time as well and are enjoying the beautiful setting that they are based in on the edge of Lake Malawi. They have paddled out to the island on the kayaks, hiked up a nearby kopje (hill) for the great views and a sundowner, or sat around the fire by the lake of an evening. At weekends they have explored some of the local highlights of Malawi, including Cape Maclear and Liwonde National Park this weekend.
The hard work, motivation, flexibility and co-operation of the first volunteers have got the project off to a very positive start and we really appreciate their help in doing so. Our in-country team look forward to welcoming future volunteers to the project and to the continued growth and success of the programmes for the communities that we are supporting.
We will be bringing you further updates on developments and hopefully contributions from the volunteers on our blog in the near future.