Volunteering in Malawi

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.

Volunteering in 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.

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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.

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Note: This article is brought to you in cooperation with Lattitude Global Volunteering, on a pro-bono basis. Photo credits: Lattitude Global Volunteering


19 Responses to “Volunteering in Malawi”

  1. Kim 23 September 2012 2302 #

    How wonderful! It must feel very gratifying to be able to contribute. Best of luck to you, Abby.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 4 October 2012 1605 #

      Thanks for your comment. I think it must have been an incredible experience.

    • marilena 1 November 2012 1040 #

      hello I’m a volunteer here in malawi, I would like to know if in nursery schools morever learning basic words, letters, number and playing games there was a syllabus to follow, if there is one could you help me in finding it? thank you for the help
      marilena polce

      • Anne-Sophie Redisch 1 November 2012 1213 #

        Hello Marilena,
        I’ll forward your question 🙂

      • Anne-Sophie Redisch 15 November 2012 1546 #

        Hello Marilena,
        I’ve now checked with Lattitude and this is the reply:

        “In answer to you question. I do not believe so. There is a syllabus at secondary school level and also at primary school level too, although the primary school level syllabus I am led to believe is used more of a ‘guideline’ with many schools interpreting it in their own way. I have not heard of a standardised syllabus at nursery age, and indeed many of our volunteers do teach a variety of lessons, but I have to say the majority of our volunteers work with primary and secondary age children, with only few placements working with children that young. Those that do generally have quite a lot of autonomy over what to teach. And in many ways is a more responsible role than working with older children.”

        Hope this helps.

  2. Migration Expert 24 September 2012 0959 #

    That’s really amazing and truly inspiring, for you to be able to do that requires a great amount of courage and perseverance. Are you alone on that project in Malawi? if you don’t mind me asking, cause you sometimes need to think of your safety. You’re a beautiful woman with truly beautiful heart. Good luck to your future endeavor. 🙂

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 4 October 2012 1607 #

      Hope she reads your kind comment 🙂

  3. ItalianNotes 24 September 2012 1108 #

    What an extraordinary experience.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 4 October 2012 1607 #

      Thanks for stopping by, Mette 🙂

  4. Reena @ Wanderplex 24 September 2012 1825 #

    What an amazing experience! The living situation sounds incredibly challenging – I can’t imagine having to walk to a bore every day to collect drinking water then building a fire to cook! It really puts in perspective how lucky we are in the developed world.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 4 October 2012 1608 #

      It really does make one reflect on how comparatively easy we have it, doesn’t it…

  5. [email protected] tours 1 October 2012 0724 #

    You are doing a great job. I bet you those kids will always remember you for the good works you have done. Thanks for sharing.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 4 October 2012 1608 #

      Thanks for reading, Vik 🙂

  6. Robwarran 4 October 2012 2251 #

    Hi Sophie

    Thanks for this write up.

    I take my hat off to anyone who ventures into this part of the world, just from a safety/security point of view.

    Abby certainly is a brave, courageous young lady, and someone who is setting a fine example for others, in wanting to help those not so fortunate.

    It’s these sort of stories that help us not to give up on humanity. The example set here is a far cry from the selfish attitude of many younger ones.

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 15 November 2012 1548 #

      Yes, she certainly sets an example.

  7. Andrea 7 October 2012 1343 #

    Such an awesome experience – I would love to work and travel around Africa!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 15 November 2012 1550 #

      I would, too. When all kids are grown, perhaps…

  8. Kodaikanal Tours 22 October 2012 1333 #

    Good work Abby , God bless you !!

    • Anne-Sophie Redisch 15 November 2012 1549 #

      Thanks for reading 🙂

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