Malawi – it’s been 14 years since I was there, but I remember it well: lazy days in Lilongwe and along the shores of pretty Lake Malawi. Today, I’m pleased to present a different perspective on this little African country. Let me introduce you to Abby Hunt, who has just returned from teaching nursery school in Sangilo village. Here she shares a typical day at work in the countryside of Malawi.
A day volunteering in Malawi
I have recently returned from 6 months volunteering in Malawi with Lattitude Global Volunteering, an experience which has taught me so much more about the world we live in and given me an incredible insight into the lives of those in rural Africa.
Living and volunteering in Africa requires resilience, adaptability and an open mind. Having come from living in central London, where I was at university, I suddenly found myself living is a small ‘house’ – 3 completely empty rooms, with no electricity or running water, and the only way to cook was to make a fire on the ground. However, I just took it all in my stride, adapting to washing in Lake Malawi for a ‘shower’ and walking 15 minutes to the bore hole to collect water for drinking.
My main duties as a volunteer were to teach at the nursery school and help with a community feeding programme, making porridge each morning for the primary school children. However, I additionally took on the role of teaching English and Biology at the local secondary school, a bigger challenge than I realised but something I thoroughly enjoyed.
My days were really busy, starting from early in the morning when the sun woke up the village (around 5:30am) and I’d go to prepare the fires in the hut outside the primary school ready for making the porridge later in the morning. I’d then head down to the ‘nursery school’, a tiny 2 roomed building with half built walls, where 40 – 50 children between the ages of 2 and 5 would come to learn basic words, letters and numbers and play games. I taught alongside the Malawian teacher, who also taught them in their regional language of Chitumbuka, which was also a great way for me to learn the language!
The ability to speak and understand English is essential to the future for young people in Malawi, so being able to help children as young as 2 or 3, begin to understand and speak simple phrases felt incredible and was so rewarding. Then, from the days I spent teaching at the local secondary school I began to more fully understand the challenges young people face every day in Malawi and how key their education is to enabling them to make a better life for themselves.
Teaching Biology and English Literature from a Malawi-English syllabus was certainly a challenge, as although their spoken English was quite good, their actual understanding of the language was poor and therefore made their progress slow. However, through breaking text down into chunks, drawing diagrams and being endlessly patient, I was able to prepare them for their exams and try to give them the best start I could.
The feeding programme, which I participated in on 3 mornings a week, involved helping the local women make huge vats of porridge which we spooned out in cups to the eagerly awaiting primary school children. For some it would be their only meal of the day. Working alongside the local women was really interesting, they welcomed me into their community, and I felt I was contributing through just giving my time, whilst not taking away their jobs.
Taking a gap year between university and starting my career developed my skills, making me more employable on my return, and has opened my eyes to a whole new world.
Abby Hunt recently graduated from the university of East Anglia and decided to volunteer abroad. She had already volunteered in India prior to her university course and this time wished to work in Africa on a real grass roots project. After the matching process Lattitude decided to place her at the Sangilo Village Project in rural Malawi (and in the stunning setting of Lake Malawi). A 6 month placement that saw her teaching nursery age children as well as working on a local feeding programme supported by anther NGO. Abby is now about to head off to China before starting a job for a an international development charity in Australia.
Note: This article is brought to you in cooperation with Lattitude Global Volunteering, on a pro-bono basis. Photo credits: Lattitude Global Volunteering