Described as ‘the warm heart of Africa’, Malawi is one of the most vibrant, laid-back, easy countries to travel in, with hidden secrets of true African wilderness. Malawi is a great Africa volunteer destination with beautiful scenery, rich culture and some of the world’s happiest and friendliest people. High-end tourism is only in small numbers, but Malawi has been stumbled upon by passing backpackers and many stay much longer than anticipated, often returning over and over again because they love it.
It’s hard to put into words why it’s such a special country, why its vibe is so brilliant but as those volunteering in Malawi will find out, it has a lot to do with the varied landscapes, stunning lake, abundance of wildlife and friendly fun locals. There’s much more to Malawi than its well-known lake, incredible snorkeling, white sand beaches, tranquil bays, relaxing days on the beach and in bars. This Africa volunteer destination also has rolling plateaus, five national parks and four game reserves covering spectacularly varying terrain and inhabiting most of the wildlife you see on the African documentaries. It is however, also one of the poorest countries in Africa and volunteers will understand how welcome their efforts are.
Photo Credit: Lauren Locke
Children and adults in Malawi are eager to learn and attend school particularly since the introduction of free primary education in 1994. However, there are a number of rural schools that are seriously under-resourced and teachers do not have the capacity to educate the huge numbers of children that attend each school. As a volunteer you will help to build the capacity of local teachers and improve and promote the enjoyment of learning both academic and non-academic subjects, increasing school attendance and inspiring adults too.
Communities in Malawi are frequently overpopulated and rely heavily on natural resources and subsistence living. Quite simply, the land can’t produce enough food to feed families anymore, and volunteers are needed to help them figure out how to make an income to buy some of their supplies in local towns.
Sadly, it’s a country notorious for being reliant on donor funding and in many ways this has led to serious adverse effects on the population. Motivated communities are crying out for practical skills and are hungry to work towards a brighter, more prosperous, healthier and less-dependent life.
Environment and Conservation
Malawi’s economy is heavily reliant on agriculture. Tobacco, tea and sugar are the most important export crops and much of the population is reliant on subsistence farming or fishing. Intense human pressures have unfortunately fragmented wild habitats of Malawi and national parks like Liwonde in southern Malawi have become islands in a sea of people.
Malawi’s increasing reliance on tourism and growing populations makes these wildlife havens of paramount importance. But governments here struggle to achieve the ideal level of park management, and the future of some of the park’s wildlife is most certainly under threat from the surrounding communities, with poaching an ongoing concern.
Volunteers are needed to work with local communities on research and mapping projects, conservation awareness initiatives and hands-on in the field too on tasks such as reforestation, tree-planting and running wildlife clubs with local kids and adults.
Volunteers with skills, knowledge or just an interest in business and marketing are needed to empower local Malawians to become productive and enterprising members of the community. With an income, people are able to improve their quality of life have better homes, healthier diets, and create better opportunities for themselves and their families. People with entrepreneurial flair and enthusiasm are needed to deliver business-training sessions, teach local people how to market, distribute and diversify their products.
A healthy community is intricately linked to a happier and less dependent community. Healthcare services are especially limited in the remote and rural villages and small towns and working on preventatives is crucial.
Volunteers could be involved with wellbeing advocacy initiatives around nutrition, HIV, water and sanitation or malaria prevention. You could also be placed as a volunteer in under 5’s clinics helping weigh babies and monitor and promote their healthy development.
Volunteer Support: A reputable volunteer organization will have a support system for you in-country at all times. Make sure you check this is a service provided prior to arranging anything. When you’re in Malawi don’t hesitate to ask questions toget the most out of your experience. All embassy’s will be in Lilongwe and available for support and additional information. Locals are extremely friendly so don’t hesitate to greet them and many locals speak English.
NGOs/Nonprofit/Volunteer History: In one of the world's poorest nations, many foreign nongovernmental organizations are present. Among them are World Health Organization, World Food Programme, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision and Save the Children. Volunteers have been going to Africa for centuries working with the people to better their equality of life.
Know Before You Go: A passport, return ticket, and adequate funds are required for entry into Malawi. Travelers must declare all foreign currency when entering Malawi, regardless of its purpose or amount. When volunteering anywhere in the world, volunteers should always keep an open mind when visiting a new, culturally rich country like Malawi.
How Volunteering in Malawi Will Help Your Future: By volunteering in Malawi and immersing yourself in a new culture you will develop and grow personal and professional skills whilst helping a community that genuinely values your time, energy and knowledge.
How to Save Money While Volunteering: Food and accommodation are usually included in full-board well-organized volunteer expeditions so spending money needed is minimal for social drinks and optional travel excursions.
Must-see’s While You’re There: There are many must-sees in Malawi but one is particularly famous, the breathtaking clear waters of Lake Malawi. It has an abundance of endemic tropical fish and delightful secluded beaches to watch the day melt away. The lake also plays host to numerous water sports, the more active can have a go at swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving and kayaking. Another highlight is the capital city, Lilongwe. At the centre of the hustle and bustle, all trades meet here. Experience the vibrancy of Lilongwe and all its culture but don’t forget to meander through the network of trails that belong to the Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary. Here is a few more: Zomba plateau, Thyolo Region, Liwonde National Park, Likoma Island.
Questions to Ask: What home comforts will I have? What amenities will be available? What type of transportation will I need to rely on daily? Are there other foreign volunteers where I’m going?
Health and Safety of Volunteers in Malawi
Vaccinations are recommended against Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Rabies (For travelers spending a lot of time outdoors or at risk of animal bites) and Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR), (two doses recommended for those born after 1956) and revaccination every 10 years for Tetanus-diptheria. Medications should be taken for Malaria (anti-malarial tablets) and Travelers’ Diarrhea (Antibiotics and anti-diarrheal drugs).
Malawi is a relatively safe country, with the main incidents comprised mostly of petty theft and pick pocketing. Known as the ‘warm heart’, Malawians are generally friendly people with great hospitality. We recommend that you keep your valuable safe, especially when you are in crowded places. Good volunteer organizations will provide you with orientation and training on arrival to help you keep safe during your time in Malawi.
Contributed by Georgina Everett