World Fisheries Day

World Fisheries Day is celebrated on 21 November around the world, highlighting the importance of fishing for food, income and pleasure.

A recent United Nations study reported that more than two-thirds of the world’s fisheries have been overfished or are fully harvested and more than one third are in a state of decline due to overfishing and the loss of essential fish habitats due to pollution and global warming. Unfortunately Lake Malawi is no exception.

Rapid population growth and lack of effective control of fishing has led to several species now being classified as endangered – and many more could become so if action is not taken urgently.

Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. Lake Malawi covers 20% of Malawi’s land mass and the lake supports transport, electricity, irrigation and food for Malawi’s growing population. Over 300,000 people in Malawi rely on catching or trading fish for part or all of their income. But Malawi’s population has grown from 5 million in 1975 to 18 million in 2016 and per capita fish consumption in Malawi has fallen by more than 60 per cent, seriously affecting food security in a country where other sources of animal protein are scarce.

Since 2012 RIPPLE Africa has been working with community members and Fisheries Department staff to try and address this issue and is now running this vital project along 250 km of Lake Malawi’s shoreline. Over 2,000 volunteers from fishing communities are now working in partnership with District Fisheries staff to ensure that fish are protected during the breeding season and to ensure that illegal fishing nets are not used.

RIPPLE Africa’s mantra is to keep it simple and it will work, helping to develop simple bylaws which have now been signed in Nkhata Bay District and will hopefully soon be adopted in Nkhotakota. These:

  • ban the use of mosquito nets for fishing – fishermen sew hundreds of mosquito nets together forming huge drag nets which scoop everything up and damage the lake bed
  • enforce a three month closed season to allow fish to breed
  • protect shallow fish breeding grounds
  • impose a minimum size of mesh in nets so that only larger adult fish can be caught.

Fishermen and others living in fishing communities and who rely on the lake now understand the reasons for the decline in fish stocks and are keen to make sure that the situation is reversed. They own both the problem and the solution.

Geoff Furber, Founder and CEO:

“RIPPLE Africa’s fish conservation project is hugely important as it tackles this national (and global) problem by empowering local communities to protect fish in their own areas. The project is growing and its success is spreading with more communities becoming interested in introducing these simple bylaws in their areas. It is RIPPLE Africa’s belief that the whole lake can eventually benefit from this community led initiative and we would very much like to help make that happen.”

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Physiotherapist Melissa’s Volunteer Story

Recent volunteer physiotherapist Melissa Loubser has written a story about her time at Mwaya which is reproduced below. Stories written by other previous RIPPLE Africa volunteers can be found on the Volunteers’ Stories webpage.

The world, and especially Malawi, is full of NGO’s and charities – some get it right and others not. Some even end up doing more harm than good. In general I don’t really like the word ‘charity’ as it has this connotation of giving ‘things’ or handing out money – but the focus should rather be a sustainable change that aims to eliminate the need for continued ‘charity’ – empowering communities rather than making communities complacent/passive. I also believe that the best way to achieve lasting effects/changes, is for non-governmental organisations to actually involve the government. This is often challenging, but if you can get a local government to be on board with a plan for change, it is more likely to be sustainable.

As an NGO – as a charity – RIPPLE Africa sets itself outside of the connotations associated with both descriptions. Their philosophy is to provide a hand UP and not a hand OUT, and this principle governs all their decisions and programs. It is not the easiest approach – it requires careful thought and planning, an in depth understanding of the local systems and culture, as well as a lot of patience and perseverance.

During my three months of volunteering, I could see how much trust and respect RIPPLE Africa has gained from the local community – because they invest time and effort to engage with local chiefs, community members and district government departments to ensure every project is sustainable and benefits the local community. RIPPLE now has 145 Malawian staff and 3550 local volunteers working on their projects – so the role of foreign volunteers is never to replace a local, but rather to give input and teach new skills for them to continue in a more efficient way.

My experience at Mwaya…

In February 2017 RIPPLE Africa employed a local lady, Matilda Mwale, as the coordinator for the disabilities and rehabilitation project. Matilda is trained in special needs education and is very passionate about children with disabilities and/or learning difficulties. Since Matilda has minimal experience with physical rehabilitation and medical history taking, my role during the three months was mainly to teach her some new skills and to assist her in implementing a proper filing system to keep track of all the clients.

I would get on my bike each morning and cycle to meet Matilda at various different meeting points. From there we would walk (at Malawian pace 😉 for anything from 10 minutes to an hour to visit clients at their homes. The purpose of these visits were to assess a child’s living situation, gather information regarding their condition, discuss goals with the parents and to educate the main guardian on implementing home exercises.

After two or three home visits, Matilda and I would share some lunch and have a good laugh about something cute a child did, or shake our heads at the neglect and mismanagement of others. We would sit and brain storm and sometimes find solutions and plan interventions, and other times we would accept defeat being faced with a problem far greater than what we are capable of changing. Sometimes we would have a short nap in the sun to clear our minds before the first children arrived for the afternoon group session. The groups were open to any new or existing clients and would usually involve painting or ball games to entertain the children and help them interact, while Matilda and I would divide our time to give each child some individual attention. These groups were often chaotic, but I somehow liked it that way. After finishing the group, I would get on my bike and make my way back to Mwaya beach to relax with the other volunteers.

Together, Matilda and I also arranged meetings with another charity and the government organisation responsible for people with disabilities. The aim of the meetings were to try and achieve a more collaborative approach to ensure we do everything we can to help each child to improve and become more functional. I also assisted her in designing referral forms, client agreement sheets and templates to record client information effectively and efficiently. Although paperwork is not everyone’s favourite thing, the filing system was essential to ensure continuity of care and progress monitoring for each client.

Matilda became my best friend during my stay in Malawi. Although I was there to train and educate her, I think I learnt more from her through her incredible strength and loving, patient approach to each and every client while still juggling being a wife and mother. She would go far beyond just doing her job and would spend time educating families on various other aspects to empower and encourage them.

When I left Malawi, it was so good to know that I was not needed anymore – that the children were in the good hands of Matilda and that my leaving would not bring everything to a stop. I simply gave some ideas and tried to give Matilda tools to make her job easier and I believe although the changes were small, it mattered.

Melissa Loubser – May – July 2017

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A Visit to RIPPLE Africa

Nkhata Bay, Malawi 21st-26th September 2017

This was my first visit to Malawi and RIPPLE Africa (RA). During a two and a half hour drive north from Lilongwe paralleling part of the western shoreline of Lake Malawi, which is 560km long and 75km wide at its widest point, with a average depth of 292m, I quickly came to appreciate the size of Africa’s third largest lake. Also apparent was the scale of deforestation for land clearance and firewood that had taken place and was self evidently ongoing. There was a constant haze throughout my stay largely caused by land clearances and cooking fires. Over 80% of the 18m Malawians still cook on open fires.

Chris Webster

Myself and two travelling companions met with Geoff and Liz Furber, the Founders of RIPPLE Africa (RA) in Mzimba and we then went straight to the local District Fisheries Office to meet key staff and to see a pile of confiscated illegal fishing nets, each made out of circa 50 mosquito nets. These had been distributed to Malawians by well meaning charities to fight malaria. Over 9m had come into Malawi from the USA this year alone. The Malawians simply sell the nets on as a source of money for food and the fishermen then make them into cheap fishing nets that catch everything including the fry in a totally unsustainable way.

Geoff over the following four days proved a whirlwind of enthusiastic energy, a force for change, both physical and cultural, whilst Liz stoically kept him anchored to planet earth. Malawi is relatively politically stable and law abiding which works in RA’s favour. One can travel and operate very freely and safely by African standards. On the other hand the country is one of the ten poorest in the world; the Government bureaucracy is bloated, inefficient, and there is no money.

So what does RA do? Well everything it says on the “tin”. We saw plenty of evidence on the ground that it is working. See: RIPPLE Africa

Geoff and his committed team of Malawians understand and work with the local hierarchy of Government, Tribal and Village elders, making simple, persuasive, logical arguments as to why it is in the community’s interest to fish or extract timber sustainably. Through simple persuasion, ongoing support and subsequent results RA enables local communities to understand their particular environmental problem and gives them workable solutions that achieve results. With such evidence the local people through self-interest are motivated to protect their environment.

A village Head reports to a District meeting the success of the Village Fish Conservation Committee’s (volunteers) work in protecting their area from illegal fishing activityA village Head reports to a District meeting the success of the Village Fish Conservation Committee’s (volunteers) work in protecting their area from illegal fishing activity

RA is working with village communities to protect their fish stocks and is helping to shape byelaws in two districts along Lake Malawi’s shoreline. With more resource, RA has the leadership and capacity to work effectively in all districts along the Lake. Potentially RA could take on circa two new districts a year. For each district it probably will take £200K in the first year with set up costs and £100K pa for the following 4-5 years to effect cultural and behaviour change to ensure that the fishing becomes sustainable and the fauna, much of it unique to Lake Malawi, survives. Geoff & Liz’s right hand man in the country is aptly named Force. He is as committed as they are. Force has the capability and gravitas to implement such growth if the funds are forthcoming.

A similar model has been promoted by Geoff, Liz and Force in terms of forestry conservation. We attended a village meeting, this time with a Forest Conservation Committee in Kandoli, north of Nkhata Bay. The committee reported their achievements to local government and forestry officials in front of their village to much applause. The light bulb moment came when we were asked to look at the mountain slope which had been deforested and was now re-greening with tens of thousands of newly planted, protected trees.

A RIPPLE Africa tree nurseryA RIPPLE Africa tree nursery

Another success story has been the development of a 26 brick fuel efficient cookstove. Over 40,000 are now installed and in use in homes in two districts. The Changu Changu Moto (Quick Quick Fire) requires a third of the wood used previously to cook a meal, reduces smoke inhalation and the accidents prevalent with the traditional three stone open fires. Some women villagers we spoke to had been walking for 5 hours a day to collect firewood, so the new cookstove had saved them valuable time. In more urban areas where people either paid for firewood or even charcoal the stoves were saving money and ultimately reducing the rate of deforestation and air pollution.

RA also supports eight pre-schools and six primary schools as well as a thriving little library in the vicinity of its “home base” at Mwaya Beach on the shore of the lake itself. It has also built a secondary school and supports local health facilities. This ensures RA is truly embedded in the community it operates in, and having been operating since 2002 it is a trusted NGO with credibility as opposed to the quick fix wonders which breeze in and then disappear. RA’s differentiation beside “a help up as opposed to hand out” ethos is that it is definitely there for the long term.

Most of RA’s costs revolve around vehicles and staff. Momentum is only maintained through repeated on the ground presence over large areas, attendance at many many meetings and encouragement. Teams of outreach workers support nascent conservation committees, encourage villagers to change to the Changu Changu Moto ovens, plant and protect trees, support fishery protection patrols, protect fish breeding areas and influence Government policy. The management accounts are the best example of any in situ NGO I have seen. The whole organization is focused on prudent expenditure and value for money in terms of the results it is producing. RA knows how it spends its conservation $!

With RIPPLE Africa founder, Geoff FurberWith RIPPLE Africa founder, Geoff Furber

If you want to volunteer (health, education, construction, fisheries etc) the accommodation at Mwaya allows you to recharge your batteries in the most beautiful settings and Geoff & Liz pour a generous Malawian G&T, but be sure, you will have earned it. Geoff’s drive and indefatigable passion to make a difference makes no allowance for slackers.

This is a very impressive and inspiring charity making a real difference. It deserves all of the support it can get and I am pleased YWPF is helping a little in its work.

Chris Webster
Chairman
Yorkshire Wildlife Park Foundation

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Sophie’s Volunteer Story

Recent volunteer midwife Sophie Nancarrow has written a story about her time at Mwaya which is reproduced below. Stories written by other previous RIPPLE Africa volunteers can be found on the Volunteers’ Stories webpage.

Arriving in Malawi mid-February this year as a registered nurse and newly qualified registered midwife I had no idea what I would face and how I would cope with a world so different. A place which I assumed had more challenges than what we faced in the western world with fewer options of adaptation.

Having travelled near and far before I was excited about the idea of exploring a new place so different from my home and so different to many places I had travelled before. Arriving later in the evening than expected to Mwaya, I didn’t feel an ounce of worry or uncertainty with the volunteers already here, excited for a new member and the night watchmen eager to help with my bags.

Instantly knowing you’re somewhere safe, comfortable and homely is wonderful. The next day I met with Dan who introduced me to Charles, the preschool co-ordinator who was going to spend the day showing me around. We mounted our bikes and headed off. Over the next few days I was shown around the villages close by, the schools, clinics and the key places to remember. I was initiated into the world of minibuses and thankfully remembered how to cycle well enough.

After the first week of taking it easy with orientation and then tagging along with the other volunteers to gain more of an insight into how the Malawian world worked I headed off bright and early to Chintheche rural hospital the following Monday morning.

Having only really met the matron and two medical officers, I wasn’t sure who I was to head to when I arrived, but I felt comfortable knowing I could ask anyone really. With that known I headed to the maternity unit to introduce myself and see where I could settle in. Monday morning is one of the busiest days which the maternity unit has with the initial booking visit for all pregnant women.

Probably the most overwhelming sight to see as a green volunteer is over 100 women sitting eagerly waiting to be seen. I quickly introduced myself to the two midwives working that day and asked where I could help. I was quickly sent to the antenatal clinic where I’d seen all those women waiting eagerly and set about taking blood pressure, heights and weights to lighten the load of the sole midwife running the clinic. With that said I quickly settled into a routine at the clinic. Welcomed by all, and encouraged by most I felt comfortable knowing I was becoming part of the team.

The week followed as such; Monday to Friday I would cycle to Kande, or Chituka to catch the minibus into Chintheche normally heading off between 6.30-7am to arrive at the hospital anywhere from 8-9am (I always seemed to get the minibuses who liked to take small detours around). I would spend the morning Monday, Tuesday doing the antenatal clinics, Thursday and Friday where a mix of antenatal and family planning, to spice things up a bit.

The clinics I soon learnt did not run on public holidays, even if it was just a school holiday really, and if it was raining, there was no need to rush as no one would come until after the rains had stopped. This was handy as I’d often be caught in the rains halfway to work. The afternoons I would either spend on the labour ward or I would travel to the disability groups, whether it be in Kachere, Kande, Chituka or Mwaya. On the days when it was busy I would often be at the hospital until 3 or 4 pm and then I would slowly make my way home.

Wednesday held a different clinic, one which I was expecting to find here, cervical screening. Having spent 6 months working in the gynae clinics at home I was well versed with cervical screening and what to look for. This meant my Wednesday mornings were spent assisting in this clinic when it ran. If the clinic wasn’t up and running that day I would spend my morning in the labour ward.

During the first three months of my volunteering there where two German doctors, Karl and Gabi, who had been volunteering there time on and off for the last two years, setting up an emergency theatre. The theatre was predominately used for emergency sections and hernia repairs. This meant that during my first three months I would often assist in the theatre with any sections. As the supplies were limited they were only able to perform caesarean under general anaesthetic which often meant baby needed a little bit of assistance when they were born. This was one area of care which I noticed needed a little bit of assistance. I set about focusing on this area of care when the situation presented. I worked one on one with the midwives and nurses which meant I could take my time showing them the correct positioning and rate.

Throughout the 21 weeks spent working at Chintheche rural hospital I learnt more than I thought imaginable. Often we wouldn’t have supplies delivered by the government or what should be delivered wasn’t and we had to adapt and be creative. I learnt how to improvise for catheterisation and cord clamps. These are things I never expected to learn how to do.

I worked closely with many of the midwives particularly two wonderful women, Julie and Ruth, who have both now retired (though both still keep coming back to work!) These wonderful women took the time to answer all my questions, whether it was related to how they adapted to working in the rural hospitals after completing training in the city hospitals to cultural norms. They were happy to answer any and all questions I had, showing me the key skills I needed to be a midwife in Malawi. I learnt how to make chitenge pads for the women post-delivery, which would be worn for the next week. I learnt who was involved and how the women where cared for after birth and what I could do to help. I was able to show the staff how to assess babies sucking reflex and alternative positions to labour in.

The staff were always welcoming although we had some challenging days when things didn’t go as planned. I watched how women coped with loss, and the compassion shown by the Malawians. I was always encouraged and able to share stories and a different way to see the situation, which is vital in any setting. The medical officers although majority of the time had nothing to do with the maternity unit were sometimes called upon when referring a patient to the district hospital and reviewing when we were uncertain of the situation. They were happy and helpful, respectful to both women and staff and understood midwives here know best. The respect for staff members was amazing.

From a world of bright lights and loud beeps in the western world to the quiet calm go with the flow nature in Malawi I couldn’t imagine a more welcoming experience and exposure as a new midwife.

My home at Mwaya. What more could you want really, the staff here become your parents, of which you have many sets of. They are welcoming when you’ve just cycled in from a long hard day, will give you a hug or two when you’re down without even saying a word. Or if you’re missing home they will come and sit with you, making sure you’re okay. I couldn’t think of a nicer more homely environment to be in. The wonderful cooks and housekeeping staff keep you on your toes with their cheeky personalities and kind, caring, warm hugs. While the gardeners and watchmen watch over you and look out for any obstacles which may be in your way.

For a first time volunteer I couldn’t have thought of a better way to start. I’ve had such wonderful opportunities at all the clinics along with the hospital, the disability groups as well as the pre-schools. I have all the support and encouragement under the sun with both the staff at Mwaya along with the wonderful supportive staff in the UK. I even had the opportunity to explore the surrounding areas, making the Easter long weekend into a little get away to Likoma Island, a grand adventure I thoroughly recommend and making the trip up to Livingstonia as I come to the end of my time here.

Sophie Nancarrow (February – August 2017)

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Elise’s Volunteer Story

Recent volunteer Elise Graham has written a story about her time at Mwaya which is reproduced below. Stories written by other previous RIPPLE Africa volunteers can be found on the Volunteers’ Stories webpage.

My first glimpse of Mwaya after finishing a long night bus journey was of the sun rising over the lake. It was obvious I had arrived in a pretty special place! With a warm welcome from the other volunteers and staff members, it did not take long to settle in and call Mwaya home.

Elise Graham

Living at Mwaya was different to anywhere else I’ve been. I became a morning person and enjoyed the morning ritual of a Mzuzu coffee while watching the sun rise every morning from the beach. I got used to being greeted everywhere I went by friendly locals and children waving as we rode by. I also got my bicycle legs and got used to cycling to work each day, navigating sand patches and mud puddles past all the beautiful scenery.

Elise Graham

As a physiotherapist I was lucky enough to be working on the disabilities project with Matilda, a local special needs teacher. She was invaluable in helping me navigate through the village ways of life, finding my way through mazes of village tracks and communicating with all our clients.

It was such an interesting experience for me to be working in people’s homes, which gave me a real feel for the challenges that our clients face. We also worked together on setting up centrally located support groups for clients with disabilities. These were a great way to connect parents or clients facing similar challenges, and also assisted us in identifying new clients in the area who could drop in after hearing about the service through word of mouth.

Elise Graham

Elise Graham

In comparison to working back home it was amazing what some of our clients could achieve with such limited resources available. We had to think outside the square with some of our treatments- making temporary seating out of sacks of sand, and becoming wheelchair mechanics after learning how to change a bike tube the previous day back at Mwaya! It was also interesting to see how some clients had adapted to their disabilities and were coping with deformities that at home would be very limiting.

Elise Graham

Elise Graham

Whilst at Mwaya I was also given the chance to experience some of the other projects that RIPPLE is involved in including the tree planting projects and attending the signing ceremony of the new fishing bylaws. It was great to see what RIPPLE is doing with the community on a larger scale and also to meet other members of the local team.

Elise Graham

Lastly, the people I have met and friends I have made throughout my time at RIPPLE made the experience the amazing time that it was. The local staff and other volunteers were all so welcoming and it was lovely to come home each night to our little community. I enjoyed my time at Mwaya and hope to stay involved in the future to keep on hearing about the inspiring work that is happening there.

Elise Graham (May – June 2017)

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Kerri’s Volunteer Story

Recent volunteer Kerri Hobman has written a story about her time at Mwaya which is reproduced below. Stories written by other previous RIPPLE Africa volunteers can be found on the Volunteers’ Stories webpage.

Since arriving in Malawi five months ago one of the highlights of my time volunteering with RIPPLE Africa has been attending Disability groups. New to the RIPPLE Africa Malawi team is Matilda. Matilda has trained to work with individuals with special needs and joined the team this year in working with both adults and children in the community with disabilities.

Kerri Hobman

This year Matilda, alongside volunteers, has started Disability groups that meet weekly. What started as one group has now grown to four groups. Every week new families find out about the Disability groups and come with their children. Recently a group was started at Mwaya Dispensary with three people and this last week we had 12 children. One mum walks over two and a half hours from high up in the hills with her 10 year old daughter Ruth, who has cerebral palsy, on her back as she does not have a wheelchair.

Kerri Hobman

This family found out about the group from James who also has cerebral palsy and spends his time at Disability group practicing school work as he would like to learn English. The heart of these groups is to bring families together to allow time to share and learn from each other, whilst also ensuring many more clients can be seen each week.

Each session includes activities and games as well as physio work. It’s great for families to be able to watch and learn from each other. Last week I watched in amazement as the mother of Mphaso, a young girl with cerebral palsy who has learnt to walk, came alongside seven year old Steven who does not walk, picked him up and started showing Steven’s Mum how to safely stand him up and support him whilst encouraging him to take steps. She then got Steven’s Mum doing it and was helping her, whilst teaching things like head positioning and feet placement.

Kerri Hobman

As the groups get to know each other more, we have seen the families interacting a lot more and families learning and being encouraged by each other. As a nurse at these groups I’ve been able to talk to families about health concerns they have for their children and help and support them with managing seizures, wounds and pressure areas. With the help of the women’s sewing group we have been able to make simple toys to place in the children’s hands to prevent them being clenched closed, supportive belts for maintaining one boy’s position in his wheelchair, bibs for children that require them and cushions for preventing pressure areas.

Kerri Hobman

Some children attending Disability group or under the service had been unable to go school for different reasons; one had stopped going to school because of seizures and teasing and now through the work of Matilda some are back at school.

We have also been able to advocate for the families with the local health clinics to see children’s seizure medications reviewed and children referred to other clinics for treatment.

These groups have been incredibly rewarding as changes and development in some children has been significant. The first time I met Philip he was just learning how to sit unaided; now he spends his time crawling around after balloons and sitting independently. Recently Phillip spent one hour standing against a bench playing. Each week his mum has been taught new exercises and techniques to get him stronger and each week because of her effort at home, we are seeing improvements.

Kerri Hobman

Other highlights of my time in Malawi have included spending time at the clinics, being involved in the nationwide measles and rubella immunisation campaign, attending under 5s clinics and spending one morning a week at Matete 1 Preschool.

Malawi is a beautiful country and while here I’ve also had the chance to visit Likoma Island, Livingstonia, Monkey Bay and to Bua River Lodge to see elephants in Nkhotakota National Park.

My time with RIPPLE Africa has been an incredible journey and I hope to come back and visit again.

Kerri Hobman (February – June 2017)

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Kate’s Volunteer Story

Recent volunteer Kate Morgan has written a story about her time at Mwaya which is reproduced below. Stories written by other previous RIPPLE Africa volunteers can be found on the Volunteers’ Stories webpage.

Kate Morgan

I arrived at Mwaya at the beginning of February with little idea of what to expect. As a newly qualified GP from the UK I was somewhat apprehensive about what I would find in terms of the healthcare setting and what would be expected of me as a doctor! Luckily everyone at Mwaya welcomed me with open arms and we had a gentle and thorough induction from Dan to ensure I wasn’t thrown in the deep end.

After spending the first few weeks exploring the local clinics and sitting in with the clinicians, I felt comfortable to begin my own clinics with a translator and support from the medical assistants and clinical officers. GPs do not exist in Malawi and there was some feeling that as a fully qualified doctor I should be capable of most surgical procedures and be spending all my time at the hospital! Luckily I was able to work to my level of experience and the local clinicians were interested to hear about the role of the GP in the UK and elsewhere.

I learnt a great deal from the clinics and saw some interesting cases. Although I could offer no more in terms of investigations or treatment than the local clinicians, I felt patients did benefit from spending more time with me than they were used to and having a more thorough consultation and examination which was frequently appreciated. Also, although often it was me asking questions about the management of malaria or a tropical skin complaint, sometimes I would be asked advice about a shoulder injury or unwell patient ensuring a useful transfer of skills.

In addition to the local clinics, I also spent some time at Chintheche and Nkhata Bay hospitals. It was very interesting to join the clinical officers on the ward rounds at Chintheche and meet the doctors at Nkhata Bay. I saw a few interesting cases and it was interesting to compare the facilities at the 50 year old Chintheche and brand new Nkhata Bay.

Kate Morgan

It was also a good opportunity to spend some time in Nkhata Bay for shopping and chilling out at the lodges along the lake for a lovely long weekend. I also managed to get a great curry at the indian restaurant in town!

Kate Morgan

Kate Morgan

Along with clinical work at the local health centres and hospitals, I also spent some time with some of RIPPLE’s group projects. It was really good to be able to mix my experience here. I spent some time with the disabilities groups advising parents and children about any medical concerns and it was really enjoyable getting involved with some fun games and art work! I also helped out with the sex education groups at Mwaya primary and Kapanda secondary schools. Initially I was a bit apprehensive about facing a whole classroom of kids as I have zero teaching experience! However, I really enjoyed it and we certainly got into some interesting discussions at Kapanda! We also turned up in the middle of a Friday afternoon school disco at one point which was a great highlight, although my dancing needs some improvement! Other highlights outside clinical work included some lovely relaxed afternoons with adult literacy and at Lowani with Esther’s sewing group.

Kate Morgan

Mwaya beach itself is a wonderful base. The chalets and beautiful lakeside location are a lovely place to relax after a busy day. All the staff are an asset to RIPPLE. It is lovely to come back and chat with Arnold, the cooks or whoever is around and I will miss everyone here. They have been friendly, helpful and really enriched the experience. In addition, the large community of cats (and intermittent fresh kittens!), monkeys, turtle, one mega crocodile and a black mamba certainly provide extra entertainment! I also enjoyed the sometimes ferocious overnight thunderstorms, beautiful sunrises and hanging out with kids on the beach. Michek a particular favourite!

Outside Mwaya, we are perfectly located to enjoy other activities along the lake. Kande beach lodge was a lovely escape and has a perfect stretch of beach to relax on along with a bar and good food. Kachere Kastle however must be mentioned as a luxurious oasis. We spent a few lovely days relaxing by the pool and enjoying the amazing food and hospitality of Kate, Russ and their dogs. The cinnamon buns come highly recommended! Trips to Nkhata Bay and Mzuzu were also great opportunities to shop and explore! Myself and another couple of volunteers also attempted Mt Kuwirwi. It was a fair hike and the views from the top were beautiful.

Kate Morgan

Overall, the RIPPLE experience has been amazing. I feel I have learnt a lot and gained a fair few friends along the way. Malawi and Malawians have really lived up to the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’ saying. Hopefully I have made some small difference where I can. I hope the charity goes from strength to strength and hope to come again in the future for some more volunteering or a visit.

Kate Morgan

Kate Morgan

Kate Morgan (February – April 2017)

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The RIPPLE Rockets did it!

The RIPPLE Rockets Challenge – Land’s End to John O’Groats

Their dream has become a reality. They’ve completed the ultimate cycling challenge and pedalled the furthest possible distance across the full length of the British mainland from bottom left to top right.

 They made it to the finish line! They made it to the finish line!

Geoff, Nikki, Natasha, Rebecca and Ilka started off from Lands End and cycled through Cornwall, skirting Dartmoor, dipped across into Wales, edging around the Lake District into Scotland where they were joined by past volunteer Kieran in Edinburgh. They then cycled into the Highlands, to the North Coast and on to John O’Groats. They witnessed some of the most stunning and remote countryside in the British Isles.

Cycling 1000 miles demanded stamina, fitness, a determined attitude and plenty of camaraderie! They gave it all they had. Cycling through the pain, they still managed to smile which is reflected in the photos. They’re all superhumans doing this to raise money for our projects in Malawi.

 At the start - little did they know At the start – little did they know

It’s been a legendary trip for the team. Well done Rockets!

Thank you to everyone who has supported them and donated. You’re making a huge difference.

You can see updates and some great photos of their challenge here

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Ilka’s Volunteer Story

Recent volunteer Ilka Hof has written a story about her time at Mwaya which is reproduced below. Stories written by other previous RIPPLE Africa volunteers can be found on the Volunteers’ Stories webpage.

Ilka becoming Kate – A German in Mwaya

Three months as a RIPPLE volunteer teacher at Mwaya Beach have taught me a lot about Malawi, the British and myself. As an English and P.E. secondary school teacher from Germany, I have introduced my favourite teaching method, the tandem activity, to Malawian teachers together with my British counterpart Tash. And I have had an amazing time!

After an extremely informative, enjoyable and thorough induction (Thanks, Dan!) to RIPPLE’s wonderful work in the Nkhata Bay District, Tash and I were condemned to a very slow start: In the first week of school, there were almost no students at school because most of them were either waiting for their exam results or they were not allowed to attend school as they had not paid their fees; in the second week of school, the teachers were on a strike as the government had not paid them. When school really started Tash and I quickly knew that we did not want to take over teaching, but that – in order to make our work more sustainable – we wanted to focus on coaching teachers and making resources.

After having been to Kapanda Secondary School and the six RIPPLE-sponsored primary schools, we also agreed that our focus would be on the latter ones as they needed support more urgently. Kazandu Primary School, for example, was terribly understaffed with seven classes and only five government teachers and also lacked proper classrooms.

After several weeks of observing, testing, re-testing, thoroughly discussing, typing, proofreading and printing, followed by an odyssey of photocopying, Tash and I were able to conduct a primary school teacher training. On that day we introduced tandem activities for English and Maths, memory card games and other resources, which the teachers can use to improve students’ activity and communication in the classroom. It was great to see how enthusiastic and grateful the teachers were for our input!

 Ilka Hof Ilka with some of the students

Apart from my work as a teacher volunteer, life at Mwaya Beach has been full of special treats, varied experiences and personal challenges. Firstly, being the only German among Malawians and Britons has posed particular intercultural experiences. Meeting the wonderful, warm-hearted and welcoming Malawians has been very special. I am definitely going to miss all the friendly smiles, greetings and short exchanges in ChiTonga!

Teaching the staff English proved to be one of my personal highlights! Similarly, although being overexposed to British humour and a hyperactive British chalet-mate (Love you, Tash!) from time to time, I have come to love all the Brits around me a lot too. After having renamed myself Kate in order to make it possible for the people around me to pronounce my name, I started becoming British myself towards the end of my stay. I realized that when I had bean burgers and eggs for lunch (and liked it!) and when after being able to understand what Nikki was saying- I even started to master the understanding of Scottish!

Secondly, little trips, excursions and adventures have made my time with RIPPLE very special and memorable. Geoff’s special treats for us volunteers (G&T, cooked breakfast), pizza nights and lazy afternoons at Kachere Castle, 5 o’clock bike rides 50k south or north on the M5, a looooong hike up and down Kwiiere Mountain as well as a trip to Zomba (everything perfectly organized by Nikki – you do an amazing job!!!) were simply wonderful, once in a lifetime experiences and facilitated a special bonding experience.

A big thank you to the RIPPLE family in Malawi and the UK!

Ilka/Kate

Ilka is one of our brave RIPPLE Rockets, cycling from Land’s End to John O’Groats (1000 miles!) from 19th April to 3rd May 2017 to raise funds for RIPPLE Africa’s projects. If you would like to support Ilka and the team, visit their fundraising page here

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Tom’s Volunteer Story

Tom Ridley, boyfriend of recent volunteer Natasha Mladek, has written a story about his time at Mwaya which is reproduced below. Stories written by other previous RIPPLE Africa volunteers can be found on the Volunteers’ Stories webpage.

My Malawi Story

So I left London Heathrow while it was 5° and arrived in Malawi with it around 23°. After almost an hour spent sorting a visa, grabbing luggage and changing money I headed out of the front to find my taxi driver. As soon as I walked out I was bombarded by 3 offers of a taxi. I kindly declined and headed towards Chico holding a sign with my name on it. Chico is a lovely, chilled out and friendly chap who helped me with my bag to the car. And we’re off on our four hour drive from Lilongwe airport to Mwaya Beach on a sandy and pot-holey dirt road.

After being worried the roads would be the same the whole way for less than 10 minutes, I relaxed as we hit the smooth tarmac. This was enough to help me drift off to sleep after two sleepless flights. I woke a few times to watch the scenery fly by as Chico pelted us along the road, not even slowing for other cars, trucks and goats or people on foot and on bikes. Despite a few near misses I managed to keep slipping into dreamland. [Editor’s Note: You can ask him to drive more slowly if you’d prefer!] We pull off the main road onto another sandy road and I know we must be close. Five minutes pass and we pull around a corner arriving at a small brick building and patio area covered by a tin roof. I see many smiley faces heading over to greet me. I met lots of people at this point, all of them lovely and friendly.

The weekend began very relaxed; sunrise at around 5:15am and we’re up and in the lake. A great start to the day, although a little cold. Let the slow, two hour breakfast begin before ambling into the rest of the day which comprised of exploring the local area, swimming, reading, a little drinking and eating, meeting new arrivals, Mark and David, and sleeping.

Repeat this for Sunday, minus the morning swim (and meeting new arrivals) and adding a lovely evening of drinks down at Lowani, where we spotted a hippo swimming by in the lake. The locals were making lots of noise and we thought it may have been a crocodile until the characteristic yawn gave it away.

  • Preschool
  • Preschool

Monday; David, Mark and I head out on our newly acquired, squeaky bikes, led by Dan (Volunteer Projects Manager). Dan is a kind, relaxed guy who is very passionate about what he does. Dan took us to Mwaya Preschool, the local library, Mwaya Primary and Kapanda Secondary School. The preschool kids were extremely cute. They were learning the alphabet and practising their greetings (in English), followed by some singing and dancing in Chi Tonga (the local language). All three of us introduced ourselves and also ended up showing off our terrible “Dad Dancing” skills. After being torn away from the little terrors, we climbed back on the saddle. Next we explored the small local library, run by a man called Burton and a few of his helpers, one of which was called Scorpion. We never found out why…

  • Library
  • Preschool

Mwaya Primary is right next to the library. Hung over the Headmaster’s office is a board that reads “Teach the girl child and teach the nation”. This resonated particularly with David who relished the idea. We then proceeded to be introduced to a few different standard classes ranging from ages 6-18. The first class had around 20 students, which they call learners, all sat on the floor being taught songs about body parts, in English. The following class was a class of 201 learners, again sat on the floor. The classroom was about 10m2 and was full, with just enough space for the teacher at the front. All the children are always so happy to see you as ‘Azungu’ – white man, especially when you have a camera.

We also saw a class lucky enough to have desks and benches. As we entered they all stood up and we were greeted politely. “Good Morning Sir”.

 School

Our day then took us up and out through Matete to another school, Kapanda. On our way there we stopped for an impromptu lesson on how to crush dried Cassava. A lovely lady showed us how she uses the giant pestle and mortar, and then gave us a go. After this mini workout we spent the next hour or so at Kapanda; meeting classes, seeing their boarding accommodation, water pump and new, half built kitchen, a great addition to the school.

 Pounding casava Pounding Cassava

Our morning ended with a cycle back to camp via the local grocery store for a cold Fanta in a glass bottle. My favourite is the Passionfruit flavour. Due to lots of cycling in the hot and sticky weather a dip in the lake was the next activity on the agenda, after lunch. Swimming in the lake became a regular thing, despite the hippo sighting we had over the weekend, as well as waking up to watch the sun rise.

Another thing that became regular was the drinking of Gin and Tonic in the evenings; an enjoyable, refreshing beverage to be consumed before and during a dinner in the dark, a concept that worried me a little as you can’t see what you’re eating. It turned out this isn’t an issue when everything on your plate tastes fantastic! Martha, Geddes and Fabiana did such an amazing job with the food they cooked. Pumpkin burgers were a particular favourite of mine.

The rest of the week was full of cycling from school to school in the scorching 30-40° heat, as we had been given the task of collecting personal profile information from all teachers and taking lots of film and photos. We were collecting this for RIPPLE Africa to start a school twinning programme with schools in the UK and USA. Towards the end of the week, Tash came with us on one of our trips. We all managed to get a little time, alongside collecting information, playing with the children, teaching them songs, kicking a ball around, doing magic tricks and more. All great fun and the kids loved it.

We were also shown the tree conservation area and taken around a few local villages looking at Changu Changu Motos. This shows you how the majority live, a real eye opener for living conditions. Some houses made of brick, but most made from wood, sticks, mud and tin roofs. Cooking on fire everyday cannot be easy. Just a different world.

  • Children
  • Football
  • Changu Changu Moto
  • Classroom

Being so busy and having so much fun, made the week fly by, ending with another nice drinks session at Lowani. Before the drinks, Nikki and I headed down early to see Esther and her family, who live at/run Lowani. We took her Grandson for a bit of a swim and some playing in the sand. Building a sand castle is not very easy when all the little one wants to do is pretend to be Godzilla!

Before we knew it, it was the weekend. On Friday Tash and I had booked ourselves into Kachere Kastle, an amazing hotel right on the beach. A beautiful setting for some relaxation. The owners were a lovely couple from England; they made us feel so welcome. We explored, swam, drank and laughed all before dinner. Dinner was amazing. I had a pea soup and a Thai style stir fry, Tash had chicken pâté and an Italian pesto pasta. We were so full after dinner that we had to go for a little walk which, surprisingly enough, ended up at the bar. We sat and talked the night away with the owners, learning all about their journey and how they came to build such a beautiful place. Fun fact: They used just over 802,000 bricks to build the castle.

The next morning we woke at sunrise, again, a little groggy. The sunrise was a little disappointing due to a little cloud cover, but stunning nonetheless. A return to bed for a little more sleep rejuvenated us and helped with the slight hangover before the rest of the volunteers came up to join us for lunch. We had a lovely rest of the day and enjoyed a brilliant tapas style lunch. A short cycle back and it was almost dinner time. G&T’s poured, food eaten, bed climbed into. An early start tomorrow.

  • Library
  • Preschool
  • Library
  • Preschool

Sunday 4:30am. We woke early to all bundle into the truck and be transported to the foot of the local mountain about a 40 minute drive away. I won’t go into detail as Tash has pretty accurately described this activity in a previous post. It was a very tough climb up and even tougher to get back down, but we survived, just. Back to camp for our famous post-activity swim. The rest of the day was very chilled. The perfect end to an unbelievable, packed full, insightful, inspiring, intense, fun-filled, adventurous visit to Malawi. I left early Monday morning and arrived home early Tuesday to a cold and wet England. Back to reality.

Thank you to all those who made my experience what it was and thank you to Tash for going out in the first place, and inviting me out.

Tom

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