RIPPLE Africa Volunteer Blog – No. 85

This is RIPPLE Africa volunteer Sue Morgan’s third blog

Weekend Breaks Are Great!

When you have worked hard all week, you deserve a little pampering … of course, we are already beautifully pampered by the Mwaya crew but it is still always good to have a change of scenery. So far, we have tried out two local destinations easily reached by public transport: Nkhata Bay and Kande Beach.

To get to Nkhata Bay took us about three hours travelling by minibus which is an experience in itself. The buses are very friendly and the people are just delightful as long as you are prepared to share space with a live chicken, farm plough and twice the number of people the vehicle was designed to carry! Once in Nkhata Bay, we made our way to Mayoka Lodge which was recommended as a great place to stay. It is a fair way out of town and an uphill slog, especially on a hot day, but when you get there the situation and views are spectacular! I will have a long lasting memory of my room that was perched on the edge of a cliff and the best four poster bed in a really comfortable room that had a fan/bedside lamp and a small balcony! The beach was very rocky so swimming involved quite a lot of slipping and sliding but, once in the water, it was gorgeous. Probably the only negative comment is that the noise from the bar got progressively louder as the alcohol level increased, and we didn’t get much sleep that night! The next day was spent swimming, doing a little shopping, and then having a great lunch at Aqua Africa before heading back to Mwaya.

A view of the beach

Check out the bed!

Kande Beach is much closer and can be easily reached by minibus (matola), cycling or a walk along the beach (except in the rainy season). It has a beautiful sandy beach and offers the opportunity to go snorkelling, diving, kayaking, or just relaxing in a hammock or at the bar. The rooms are pretty basic but very comfortable, and there is a well-equipped reasonably priced cafe for snacks and meals. Becky and I spent the first day swimming, lazing in the hammocks and getting sunburnt! A highlight was playing Bao with some locals under the shade of a mango tree. Day 2 started a bit grey so a slow start to the morning, but we had already arranged to go snorkelling in dugout canoes so, as soon as it brightened up, off we went! It was quite the experience balancing on the dugouts, especially as the fishermen who were rowing made it look so easy! The snorkelling around Kande Island was just wonderful and well worth the trip there. Coming back it was a little choppy, and my canoe rolled with me ending up in the water! It was very safe and laughable but getting back into the canoe was a challenge until one of the fishermen, who was probably about 20 years old, just pulled me from the water, no problem – we then all swapped canoes and carried on, amazing! The weekend ended with us getting a very windswept lift from Kande in the back of a Toyota pickup along with way too many other people. I am already looking forward to a return trip to Kande Beach!

Becky’s first time snorkelling!

How to relax

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RIPPLE Africa Volunteer Blog – No. 84

This blog is the second one to be written by volunteer teacher Sue Morgan

The Other Side of Malawi…the Rainy Season

Malawi is stunningly beautiful and full of lush vegetation which just flows through the landscape in never ending shades of green. The people are totally dependent upon fertile ground to grow essential food stuff, and this is the first country I have ever lived in or visited where people genuinely do live off the land because of the abundance of grain, fruits and vegetables. But of course, you can’t get any farming done without a bit of rain!

And if you think you know what rain is…think again! At times, it’s more like a deluge that can only be described as standing under a waterfall. It is not at all cold but in seconds you are completely and utterly wet through. There are also regular and spectacular thunderstorms, and personally I love the swirling and ominous black clouds that are accompanied by ear splitting crashes of thunder. Most days the rain lasts about half a day either in the morning or the afternoon – then the sun comes out and in an hour you are warm and dry. On really good days, it rains at night and the days are gloriously warm and fresh.

Potential visitors to Malawi, please do NOT be put off from coming because of the rain! It really can be a welcome, refreshing respite from the sun and in a bizarre way you feel really local when you are one of many huddled under a tree or just laughing with fellow (Malawian) cyclists because you have forgotten to take the umbrella and rainsuit and you cannot possibly get any wetter!! If you should come to Malawi in the rainy season between December and April, you will need the right gear! Whatever you are doing as a volunteer, you will inevitably be cycling at least 10km a day and most days you will get caught in a downpour. A jacket is NOT enough!! The photograph below shows me kitted out for cycling 7 km in a downpour. Check out the size of the umbrella which cost MWK2,000 (about £3 or US$4.50) and the rainsuit which is completely waterproof cost MWK6,000 (about £9 or US$13.50). The umbrellas can be bought locally (I am planning to get a rainbow coloured version!) and the rainsuit comes from Mzuzu (after seeing me look like a drowned rat on several occasions, a very kind teaching partner at Mwaya Primary School went and got mine for me).

As a teacher, an interesting side effect of the rain is the noise level in the older classrooms which all have tin roofs. I have, on two occasions, had to resort to sign language and written instructions on the board like ‘Take out your exercise books’ because it was impossible for anyone to hear anything over the deafening noise of the rain. Actually, we all just ended up laughing and abandoned the lesson! On a side note, I have got used to young kids coming into the classroom with machetes (slashers) and hoes because the rainy season is planting time and they have field work to do before and after school. Check out the age they start helping with field work in the picture below!

Don’t take my word for it – just come and see for yourself!

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RIPPLE Africa Volunteer Blog – No. 83

This blog is written by volunteer Becky Haigh

Hello from Mwaya!

I have been here for around two weeks now and am finding it surprisingly easy to adjust to the afternoon swims in the lake and the wonderful people here, though cycling in the sand is proving to be a bit more of a challenge! At the moment, it is just Sue (Ama Suzie) and myself here as volunteers so, along with my time exploring and learning more about the pre-schools, I have been helping her with some of her extra classes, and helping with the Adult Literacy classes on Tuesdays. Everyone is very determined and eager to learn, which makes the classes productive and great fun!

I have also been shown around some of the projects. Dan is incredibly knowledgeable (and patient!) when teaching me about the different plants at the tree nursery, and Charles has helped me negotiate the sandy tracks to visit each of the pre-schools where I have been meeting the children and the wonderful people who take care of them.

Sue in the tree nursery

On the weekends, we have been shown around the countryside by Faston, a local artist, and we have been on long walks to pick mushrooms, visit other villages, and cook food with his family. Last Sunday, we were very fortunate to be taken to a dance in Chiomba by Arnold (the day watchman and all-round man-in-the-know) to celebrate the harvest. This was the women’s dance, so local girls and women from each village each did a dance to chanting, drums and whistles. It was amazing to watch and was an incredible local custom to see.

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RIPPLE Africa Volunteer Blog – No. 82

This blog is written by Sue Morgan, a volunteer teacher

The end of a whirlwind first week at Mwaya Beach! Actually, not a complete week as I only arrived on Monday evening which seems unbelievable! Everyone I have met has been friendly and welcoming, and I have had so many new experiences that I already feel a part of the community. I have a bicycle for transport which is great except for getting stuck on the sandy tracks!! That happens a lot. Right now it is the rainy season so I need to have a raincoat with me. Needless to say, when I carry it with me it is glorious sunshine and when I forget it I get drenched. It is warm rain which is lovely but still wet!!

In the last few days, I have been to visit local primary schools and have been overwhelmed by the teachers’ ability to teach classes of 50+ students a demanding curriculum with very few resources.

The pre-schools have even less resources but somehow manage to teach the children basic skills needed for primary school and, at the same time, they have lots of fun. They sing, dance, learn letter and number names and have story time. I had fun trying pre-school dance routines where the children and teachers laughed at my attempts to show that Western people too can wiggle bottoms!

On Thursday, I went to observe an adult literacy group which is run on a voluntary basis in the afternoons. Women of all ages and abilities come to learn how to read and write in English. This class is followed by a sewing group that was set up by a previous volunteer. The women are learning how to make items for sale to give them a small independent income. I enjoyed my time in both groups and am looking forward to supporting and helping to develop both of these projects.

Yesterday, I went with one of the teachers to her home in a local village and ate traditional food (nsima) and locally caught fish for lunch. Nsima is a staple food made from cassava or maize which each family grows, and they have their own place for drying and pounding the roots into flour. I liked it but would not want to eat it for every meal as the Malawians do!

What a great way to start my three months in Malawi!

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Maggie is one of Collins Chanika’s clients. She is a two year old girl who most likely has Congenital Muscular Dystrophy, although, due to a lack of specialist medical services, it is difficult to make a definite diagnosis. Collins has been helping with Maggie’s care for the last eight months.

Congenital Muscular Dystrophy is a condition that presents at birth or within the first couple of years of a child’s life. It results in muscle weakness throughout the body and can cause joint deformities. It can also affect internal organs and the function of the brain.

Maggie and her mother live in a village with other members of their family. Maggie is unable to sit up or roll over when laid on the floor. If she is assisted into a sitting position, she cannot always hold her head up due to the weakness in her muscles. She requires help for all her daily care needs. In the last eight months, though, Collins has observed improvements in her attempts to begin moving about, and she is now able to recognise people around her and respond to them which she was previously unable to do. Her legs and arms are becoming stronger.

Due to the weakness in her leg muscles, she is also at risk of getting a secondary complication known as contractures. These restrict movement at her joints and can cause pain when moved. To prevent the contractures forming, Collins has splinted Maggie’s feet. This involves putting Plaster of Paris bandages on her feet and legs to maintain a stretch in her muscles. Once removed the length of the muscles in her legs are checked regularly and her family have been taught stretching exercises they must continue. They have also been advised on different positions she can sit or rest in and the importance of checking her foot position during these times.

Maggie’s feet being splinted

Maggie’s family have been taught the rehabilitation exercises that will try to help her begin to move around more and gain more control of her head position, and they continue these between Collins’ visits. Adequate seating to maintain a symmetrical, well supported sitting position is very important, though, for Maggie’s ability to interact with the world around her. From this position she can see more of the activity around her which will help stimulate her, stimulating objects (such as toys) can be placed in front of her where she can explore them, and it is better for her breathing and ability to swallow. She will also have to learn to control her head position against gravity which helps strengthen the muscles in her neck.

Currently all specialist seating is made by local carpenters out of wood, and Collins has to juggle his budget to provide this much needed equipment to clients such as Maggie, whilst also ensuring he can get other specialist equipment for other clients and getting some of the clients to hospital appointments in specialist centres. He also often gets stuck in himself with the carpenters, assisting them to make the equipment he needs!

Collins helping with some woodwork

As a trial, we investigated the possibility of using old cardboard boxes to make a chair for Maggie, looking at whether other materials are available to build specialist furniture. It took some time to source enough cardboard boxes (they are a rarity out here and when one does appear it is much sought after!), but we were able to get the process underway. Initially the cardboard has to be layered to strengthen it, sticking it together with flour and water paste, before the pieces for the chair are cut from it and joined together.

The chair in progress

Finally, it is decorated and covered with varnish to provide some protection against splashes. Slight adjustments were made once it was delivered to Maggie to ensure she sat well in it. This involved adding some extra support straps to help Maggie’s trunk position. By doing this, she was able to be sat in a better position and hold up her own head.

Once seated well, Maggie was able to complete different exercises and engage with her family more. The aim will be to remove some of the supportive strapping if Maggie’s strength improves.

Unfortunately, it seems that cardboard will not be a material that Collins can use often to make chairs due to its scarcity, so he will have to continue to budget for wooden chairs being made when the need arises.

Maggie is just one of his many clients who need adequate seating to be able to improve their muscle strength, sitting balance and interaction with their families – chairs will improve their quality of life and, for a number, improve their independence in daily tasks. If you feel you could help with a donation towards Collins’ work, please make a donation.

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Twelve Weeks of Christmas – Week 12

It’s nearly Christmas, and this is the last week of our 12 Weeks of Christmas stories. If you want to make a difference to people’s lives in Malawi, why don’t you buy a Christmas gift from our Christmas Gift Catalogue.

A generous gift of £313 could pay the salary of a teacher like Sylvia for six months

Sylvia Chiyaka is a teacher at Mazembe Primary School. Sylvia is 29, is married to Joseph and has three children.

RIPPLE Africa pays Sylvia’s salary. Before the school employed her, she had no job despite having finished secondary school with good grades, and the family struggled to make ends meet on only Joseph’s salary.

Her employment has made a huge difference not only to her family who now have a more secure financial future, but also to the pupils at Mazembe Primary School who are now benefitting from a better pupil teacher ratio.

Class size makes a real difference to educational attainment amongst younger pupils. Primary education in Malawi is provided by the government but government schools are under-funded and many are unable to afford enough teaching staff.

The goal of the Malawian government is for a ratio of 60 pupils to each teacher, but there are many classes of over 100 pupils and one in a school that we support has 135 pupils in a class – imagine trying to learn when there are 134 other pupils in your class trying to get the teacher’s attention!

RIPPLE Africa is helping by paying for 15 additional Malawian trainee teachers and providing teacher training opportunities for them. Our overseas volunteers also provide valuable help in the classroom as volunteer teaching assistants. We are keen to increase the numbers of teachers that we are funding and are actively fundraising to enable us to do this and ensure that class sizes are reduced. We also pay the monthly salaries of 24 pre-school teachers at the eight pre-schools that we manage which are not funded by the government at all.

We need your help so that we can employ more teachers like Sylvia – your gift will help us to provide more amazing teachers to give young children the best possible start in life!

On behalf of parents, teachers and children in Malawi, we’d like to say Thank You for taking the time to read about one of our education projects.

Tawonga Ukongwa!

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Twelve Weeks of Christmas – Week 11

With only a few weeks to go, here’s the 11th of our 12 Weeks of Christmas stories. If you want to make a difference to people’s lives in Malawi, why don’t you buy a Christmas gift from our Christmas Gift Catalogue.

An amazing gift of £215 could pay for our Disabilities and Rehabilitation Project to make a life changing difference to a child.

This is Collins Chanika, RIPPLE Africa’s Senior Healthcare Co-ordinator for our Disabilities and Rehabilitation Project. Collins and a number of other staff are based at Mwaya Dispensary, the government funded health center built by RIPPLE Africa.

Collins is an amazing man and is well respected throughout the community and Nkhata Bay District and really does change lives forever. The local families adore Collins, he has an incredible rapport with the children and his approach is gentle and very effective. He is a great asset to RIPPLE Africa.

The project is unique to the area and aims to improve the quality of life of people in our local communities who are living with disabilities and for whom there is no provision within the mainstream Malawian healthcare system.

Collins is told about patients by health staff in the area, schools and other members of the local community. He then visits to make an assessment and look for simple solutions to problems identified. He visits the local villages identifying patients who could be considered for the project

RIPPLE Africa’s Disabilities and Rehabilitation Project is an independent project, but we work in partnership with existing government systems to identify, treat, and support the people in our community who have been unable to access help through mainstream healthcare. The project currently works with around 50 people at a given time from the local community who have been identified as needing significant help. All services are completely free to the patient.

In one of the poorest countries in the world, a limited public healthcare system and a lack of personal resources due to poverty can lead to hopelessness for people who need help. A lack of identification, treatment, rehabilitation, and support can mean a disability is a complete barrier to participation in local society.

This is Funny she is only 4 years old. She desperately needed corrective treatment in order to be able to walk. Collins found her in one of the villages and was able to access the correct treatment and Funny was put in hip to toe plaster casts to help her hips and legs. For children like these our Disabilities and Rehabilitation work is literally a lifeline. Without it these children would never leave their homes, be accepted by society and miss an education.

Every person with a disability deserves an equal chance at a better life! RIPPLE Africa’s Disabilities and Rehabilitation Project provides that – and brings hope and happiness to people who may otherwise have given up.

On behalf of Collins and Funny we’d like to say Thank You for taking the time to read about Disabilities and Rehabilitation project.

Tawonga Ukongwa!

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Ministerial Approval for RIPPLE Africa’s Fish Conservation Project

World Fisheries Day 2014, in Malawi, supported by Smartfish

On Friday 21st November 2014, World Fisheries Day was celebrated at a national event held in one of our fishing villages, Chiwana, which was attended by Malawi’s Minister in charge of Fisheries, Hon. Dr. Allan Chiyembekeza, his Principal Secretary, the Directors of Fisheries, and the Nkhata Bay District Commissioner. Supported by Smartfish, the day was also attended by the Nkhata Bay Senior Magistrate, Chief of Police, District Fisheries Officer, Fisheries staff for Nkhata Bay, Traditional Authorities, Village Chiefs and a large number of fishermen, together with RIPPLE Africa staff, showing how all interested parties are now working together to ensure that the remaining stocks of the endangered Chambo fish are preserved for future generations.

Geoff meets Hon. Dr. Allan Chiyembekeza, Minister in charge of Fisheries in Malawi

Directors of Fisheries, Geoff and Force

The RIPPLE Africa team

With lots of entertainment as well as speeches, the day received great publicity in Malawi with TV and radio coverage and write ups in the national press. The Minister was so impressed that he has offered his support to us and hopes that we can replicate the project’s success in other areas of the lake.

Dancing and singing was part of the entertainment

Not one to let an opportunity pass him by, Geoff has already organised a three-day seminar at Mwaya Beach before he returns to the UK. Three of the Directors of Fisheries are coming to visit so that we can help them to replicate our programme in other parts of the lake. Geoff wants to make the three days fun and entertaining as well as being educational. They have been instructed to leave their suits behind, and we believe that they may even be expected to play the odd game of table tennis!

Geoff gives a fish conservation demonstration

Supported by The Body Shop Foundation and Smartfish, RIPPLE Africa is now working with eight Chambo fish breeding areas and has 25 Fish Conservation Committees up and running, monitoring the fishing practices at 41 beach landing sites. In all, 355 fishermen are involved in the project and the Fish Conservation Committees are working tirelessly to change fishing practices along a 40km stretch of Lake Malawi.

There have been a number of successful prosecutions of fishermen who are fishing without a local licence or using prohibited nets, and this is sending a powerful message to fishing communities along the lakeshore. We are currently at the start of the closed season for Chambo fishing in the lake and are now looking to introduce closed seasons for other breeds of fish whose numbers are low to begin to protect these as well.

For the first time ever when visiting Malawi, Geoff has seen no sign of children or women trawling the shallow waters with mosquito nets to catch baby fish – a real sign of the success of the project. Let’s hope that the project becomes a blueprint for preserving fish all along the Lake Malawi shoreline!

Young Chambo fish

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A Message of Thanks from Yalerd Banda

Yalerd Banda is a young man from Mwaya village in rural Malawi who has been supported by RIPPLE Africa and a few other donors over the past 10 years to attend secondary school and then to study for a degree in Mechanical Engineering. His graduation took place in Zomba on Wednesday 19 November, and RIPPLE Africa provided his mother, Daidosi, who works for RIPPLE Africa at Mwaya Beach, with money for transport so that she could attend her son’s graduation.

He wrote the following message to us a few days later and, to mark Giving Tuesday today, we wanted to share his words with you.

I would like to sincerely thank you [Geoff and Liz] as individuals and RIPPLE Africa as an organisation for the support you rendered in my studies. As you might have accurately realised over 10 years ago, for most of us in Mwaya (and similar villages across Malawi) attaining even the most basic of education was and is still a struggle. It therefore called for love, it required someone with a deep vision who would recognise the potential of individuals in a generally lagging community, firmly believing that everyone with determination and accompanying support could reach great heights in life’s ladder. That well directed support in due season could bring about transformation in families, villages and other social entities in more than one way. While others are to experience real change in social-economic status due to what has been achieved, the bigger change on a larger scale is that of transformation of mind – a new mindset that ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE, that what could only be dreamed of is actually achievable, that what could just be heard from a distance is now here – it has been seen – it has happened to those we have been with – those we know – those we have shared resources with!

The journey from Mwaya Primary School to successfully completing a programme with the University of Malawi would well have remained a ‘good dream’ had it not been for God through RIPPLE Africa and all those who have found supporting its many noble causes their ministry. Time and space would fail me to narrate all the works of Elaine Donovan, Anthony Wakeman, Darren Isaacs, countless volunteers (some who taught and provided me with much needed motivation – that too is valuable) and numerous other supporters I may not have known about.

Further thanks [to RIPPLE Africa] for catering for my mum’s travelling requirements to my graduation in Zomba. You should have seen how proud she was – trickle downs of the RIPPLE impact!

Truly thankful, Yalerd

We are very proud of everything Yalerd has achieved – he is a shining example of what is possible with hard work and diligence, and the support of some individual donors who believed in him.

We send our congratulations to Yalerd and wish him the best of luck for the future.

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Twelve Weeks of Christmas – Week 10

We’re now into December, and this is the 10th week of our 12 Weeks of Christmas stories. If you want to make a difference to people’s lives in Malawi, why don’t you buy a Christmas gift from our Christmas Gift Catalogue.

An amazing gift of £215 helps ensure that there are fish in Lake Malawi for future generations

Fanwell Mphande is the Chairperson of the Chiwana Fish Conservation Committee, which RIPPLE Africa and the District Fisheries Department have helped set up. He is extremely passionate about protecting the fish breeding area near him to ensure there will be fish in the future for his granddaughter Mary.

In total this year eight new breeding areas have been set up, which are being protected by the local Fish Conservation Committee Members to stop people using mosquito nets to catch baby fish as small as one centimetre long. This allows millions of chambo fish, a popular but endangered species, in each breeding area to grow and breed in the future.

Lake Malawi is the third largest lake in Africa and the most diverse freshwater lake in the world, but like everywhere else it is suffering from overfishing. Malawians rely on fish to provide 70% of the protein in their diet, but with the increasing population the resources are being stretched. This has resulted in more fishermen using longer nets with smaller mesh sizes – meaning that smaller fish are caught and not allowed to grow and breed as they should.

This year RIPPLE Africa has achieved great success with its Fish Conservation project. At the start of the year the first four month closed season came to an end. This was a result of working with the local communities to introduce bylaws to give fish longer to breed and mature. During this period most fishing is restricted, but fishermen will still be able to catch large catfish with lines and nets with large mesh sizes.

We’ve introduced the project along a 40km stretch of lakeshore, helping to set up local Fish Conservation Committees who then ensure the new bylaws are adhered to. Local fishermen are very happy because it has meant a restriction on migrant fishermen who have come from other areas that have been more heavily overfished than our area. Therefore, more fish are available for the local community and larger fish are now being caught. Furthermore, many illegal fishing nets have been confiscated by the local committees to reduce damaging fishing practices.

This November will see the start of the next four month closed season, which we hope will continue to be a success and provide fish for future generations of Malawians and children like Mary. As with all our environmental projects we work hard to educate the local communities about how the benefits of conservation can help them live more sustainably.

Your gift will help us ensure that this work continues and that we are able to extend the project along the Lake Malawi shoreline to ensure that more fishermen like Fanwell can make sure that their grandchildren have food and a source of income in the future.

On behalf of Fanwell and other Lake Malawi fishermen, we’d like to say Thank You for taking the time to read about one of our environmental projects.

Tawonga Ukongwa!

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