I returned last month from a three month stint in Malawi with Naturally Africa Volunteers, taking part predominantly with teaching projects, but also involved with healthcare, (wound care clinics & HIV support groups included).
The project staff, importantly made up mainly by local Malawians, were extremely welcoming and supportive and were passionate about making a difference within their local community, (Nkope and surrounding villages). The accommodation was comfortable and the food was good, cooked by the organisation's chef.
The thing I will remember most about my experience in Malawi will be the people. Malawians are undoubtedly the friendliest people I have ever met. They are kind, open, genuine, joyful and always welcoming. They also have wonderful characters and sense of humours. The kids are adorable; always keen to learn, have great manners and are wonderfully excitable and never fail to put a smile on your face. This is despite the many challenges that many Malawians face, whether it's health, income, resources, corruption or general opportunities to prosper.
The projects that Naturally Africa run are genuinely appreciated by the residents of Nkope and the surrounding villages where the organisation runs projects. I taught at a primary school in Nokundu where the teachers really appreciated the support that I brought. Class sizes are large; approx. 65-75 within my Standard 7 group. The schools have very limited resources and help is often required. The students relish learning and it's extremely rewarding seeing them thrive and pick up what I was teaching.
The organisation has built a resource centre in Nkope which enables young ones a place to go for a few hours in the afternoon. They learn and play - included are a few classrooms; one of which is an IT room. I started up lessons for secondary school students, many of which have never used a computer before. It was an honour to get to know these keen and enthusiastic young citizens and teach them vital PC and word processing skills which will mean it'll be easier for them to take on college if they are able to attend. If not, these skills will be useful in a hopeful future diversifying of the Malawian economy away from agriculture.
The healthcare projects Naturally Africa runs are vital to the local communities. During my time, specific medical volunteers go out and treat many people who can't afford to travel to the local hospitals. Wounds are cleaned, treated and bandaged, fungal infections are seen to and help is provided with limited resources to the best effect. The community knows that there is somewhere to turn to for advice and assistance. Elsewhere, home based care and HIV support groups are run to guide, educate and assist people in villages in and around Nkope.
The organisation is also increasing the impact of their agriculture projects with plans to improve irrigation and plant more crops for the benefit of the community and income generation.
I would wholly recommend volunteering with Natural Africa Volunteers. The work they do genuinely helps the communities they serve, while ultimately working longer term to create self sufficiency. The team is friendly, welcoming and care greatly about doing their best to make a difference to their local community. As a volunteer, you will witness something very special; the people of Malawi. Go with an open mind and energy to love, teach and provide whatever assistance you can, to the very best of your ability. Do this and you will be a vital cog in providing useful assistance to a greater movement for change. Like me, you will find it provides a wholly worthwhile and rewarding experience.