Good bye, Ndapita!
My boyfriend, Tim and I resigned from our jobs in late January and left London behind for our southeast African adventure. After a 3-week holiday, touring and exploring the delights of Southern Malawi, we found ourselves by the breezy lakeshore of Lake Malawi (the Calendar Lake – it’s 365 miles long and 52 miles at its widest). Lifuwu, our new home for the next 5 weeks, a small and rural fishing village and a beautiful spot right on the shoreline set between two rocky escarpments. Our timing (the wet season) meant for lush vegetation and a picture postcard setting that conforms effortlessly to the stereotypical image of tropical Africa. So we both felt lucky to be here and ready to get settled into village life with help2kids.
Why Malawi you may well ask?
Well, my mum and ultimate role model spent four years of her late childhood growing up in Zomba, the former capital city and over the years she’s recounted many colourful and exciting tales to me. Malawi became her home as my late and beloved grandfather moved to work in Malawi from Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) in 1966 joining the Ministry of Finance. So my primary reason for choosing Malawi as our volunteer destination was to visit this place that has quite often received a lot of conversational airtime at family get-together’s over the years. Also a land that is cherished and part of my family’s very recent history and therefore somewhere I wanted to understand.
On the Monday morning after a brief visit to the nursery school that help2kids assists, we headed to Kazembe, a short stroll from the guesthouse to meet with the headmaster and to observe some of the lessons. On this walk our first realisation dawned on us, that being here was almost like being a local celebrity of sorts. The kids wave and scream at you incessantly. At the school, we were greeted by the teachers and lots of very loud but polite children who stood up as we entered the classrooms. After day one we were struck by just how much help this school needed. In terms of resources, they have very few supplies. Children sharing pens, pencils and books was unexpected and also very disruptive to all lessons. And then the lessons themselves, I (even for an English speaker) found them complicated with the use of complex vocabulary for children who are yet to grasp the basics of the English language. Unfortunately, the next few days of teaching at the school were affected by a national teachers strike and meant that there were no lessons for us to assist with which left us feeling quite useless as we had yet to bond with any of the children and didn’t know how to fill our time.
The following week we started to find our rhythm and to fit into slower paced African village life. We assisted with English lessons in the mornings at Kazembe (standards 5-8) and started to run our own ‘after- school’ English classes in the afternoons. We might have 20 kids on a good day, or 5 on a bad one, but we definitely have our favourite kids who turn up every session and we’ve enjoyed getting to know them. We decided to take our lessons back to basics firstly as they are for a mixture of ages and abilities but quite honestly that is what these children need. They need to be encouraged to speak basic conversational English and to fully understand it. We’ve covered areas such as ‘About Me’, ‘My Best Friend’ and ‘My Daily Routine’(my personal favourite) and we hope some of this stays with them until well after we leave. Friday afternoons are for the football tournament and we’ve set up a league with girls and boys of mixed ages. It’s nice to see the girls joining in even if most of them are scared of the ball! It always surprises me, that no matter where on this earth you may end up just how much boys love football and the boys here are fit and can run very fast.
One shock we faced during our time here was the sudden arrival of exams – it meant that all teaching came to a halt whilst the students sat their mocks. Feeling a little short of action, Tim (who works for a TV company in the UK) and I started ‘Lifuwu News’, a programme of short news items from around the village, the school and the lake. We worked with standard 7 to deliver this and although challenging (some lines took 20 takes! Even with me acting as an autocue…) it was great fun and I hope has helped the kids grow in confidence at talking. The result is definitely worth a watch for past and future volunteers.
Apart from our efforts with the kids at Kazembe, every Tuesday for the last 4 weeks I have assisted the staff of the local medical clinic on their outreach project. This program goes into remote villages to ensure that the children living in these villages are monitored from a development perspective (weight and height) and also get vaccinated against the key diseases found in a rural African village (TB, Cholera, severe Diarrhoea etc). I have purely helped out doing administrative work, weighing the babies and marking their development. However, these occasions out at these clinics have been some of my favourite moments. All the women arrive and sing together and there is a real sense of community spirit. It is also a program that is truly sustainable in that local Malawians run it.
We have also been to the nursery school on several occasions in the early mornings. Here there can be up to 100 children under 5 but they are very sweet and really love a bit of attention. Obviously the language barrier is even greater with this age group but sometimes this makes life simpler as you can just play – everyone knows how to play! We have taught the children two new nursery rhymes in our time here – ‘Ten green bottles’ and ‘Heads, shoulders, knees and toes’ and it’s fun watching them point and shout out their various body parts.
When you set off for an experience such as this, you invariably have many expectations about the impact you’ll make, and in your mind an image of what life will be like. But what meets you, is not in fact that image, the challenges are great. Only when we came to terms with that, do I think we managed to find our real role here – and as I type this, I know I will miss the people, the place and I hope to remember the things I’ve learnt about myself.