A return to Malawi to carry out research on international nutrition

After spending the summer of 2017 with RIPPLE Africa, Jess returned to the UK to start an MSc in Human Nutrition. We welcomed Jess back when she wanted to carry out research for her dissertation project within the topic area of international nutrition/humanitarian work. Here’s Jess’s story.

In my opinion the best way to immerse yourself in a different culture is to connect with people through local food. Therefore, I feel very privileged to have spent the past four weeks in Malawi cooking, singing and dancing with women from three small, rural villages. Whilst traditional meals often lack variety and nutrient density, the cohesive community makes every meal time an enjoyable social event.

The Malawian diet comprises of predominantly starchy foods with Nsima being the staple carbohydrate dish consumed in vast quantities. The process of growing, storing, processing and preparing Nsima is an integral part of a Malawians daily life and deeply engrained in communal tradition. In fact, it is often stated that you have not eaten if you have not had Nsima, even after a full meal! Nsima is made from maize or cassava flour and water combined to form a thick paste which is piled into a large communal serving dish. Small handfuls are then broken off and rolled into a ball in the palm of the hand with the fingers. A small hollow is then made in the ball and is dipped into a small side dish of ‘relish’ comprising of sauce, vegetables, meat or fish. Maize flour is also commonly combined with water and sugar to form a porridge which is consumed at breakfast and given to young children.

Jess O'Neil

Generally, food is focused on sustenance rather than enjoyment and health. Whilst incredibly filling, the staple Nsima has poor nutritional value and its predominance in the Malawian diet is reflected by widespread malnourishment and micronutrient deficiencies. Despite the monotonous traditional Malawian diet, the markets boast fresh seasonal produce, providing a sensory feast of colours, smells and textures synonymous with the hedonic experience of eating. It was my job to transfer this into local cooking practices!

Jess O'Neil

During my time in these close-knit communities I was able to start cooking workshops with women from three of the local rural villages. As dietary choices converge with close social connections, particularly in cohesive communities, targeting social eating norms through group intervention was hoped to address the complexity of breaking dietary habits. Women are the backbone of society in Malawi and thus empowering women to make adaptations to their diet stands to benefit the whole family, including future generations.

Recipes:

Aim: To increase the nutrient density of traditional meals through local produce

  • Banana Porridge: Flour, water, milk powder, mashed bananas, groundnuts, ground egg shells
  • Groundnut Vegetable Stew: Sweet potato, onion, tomatoes, green leafy vegetable, groundnuts
  • Sweet Potato Mash and Beans: Sweet potato, milk powder, groundnuts, beans, onion, tomatoes, green leafy vegetable

Jess O'Neil

I was humbled at how quickly the women welcomed me into their groups and how enthusiastically they engaged with cooking the recipes, which were sometimes thought of as slightly odd at first! Combining different food groups in one dish was a novel concept but one which the women quickly adopted and reportedly shared at home, much to their families delight!

Whilst Malawi’s shared love of Nsima is deeply engrained in cultural tradition, through introducing appetising dishes using local produce my aim was to add diversity to the diet, with the shared goal of improving health and bringing enjoyment to food. After all cooking together, we would share the meal sat in a circle on the dusty floor, children on our laps and shooing away rogue chickens. Seeing the reactions of genuine pleasure amongst the communities was truly amazing. Eating for pleasure is such a fundamental joy of life and it was a privilege to share my love of food with these incredible women.

Jess O'Neil

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Kade and Emma’s Volunteer Story

Teaching volunteers Kade and Emma have written a story about their time at Mwaya which is reproduced below. Stories written by other previous RIPPLE Africa volunteers can be found on the Volunteers’ Stories webpage.

With incredibly limited volunteering experience behind us, it was a little bit daunting traveling halfway around the world to volunteer in a country that has plenty of warnings behind its name.

But upon arriving at RIPPLE Africa after a nearly 10 hour taxi drive from Lilongwe, our fellow volunteers made Kade and I feel incredibly welcomed, which certainly helped relax us into our surroundings.

Arriving on Friday evening, we were able to explore the area over the weekend before our introduction with Dan on the following Monday morning.

Fellow volunteers, Alistair and Doreen, took us under their wing, and not only helped organize bikes for us, but familiarized us with the staff, several towns and routes to take. Come Monday, we felt better prepared for the week ahead. We were really grateful for their help, and were sad to see them go only after a couple of days after our arrival.

While both of us were interested in the teaching sector, and thought that our main focus would be the older students at Mwaya Primary and Kapanda Secondary School, it was the younger children at the Pre-Schools that really captured our attention.

The enjoyment of learning new skills, games and dances was contagious, and after a couple of weeks in, our mornings were soon taken up with being based at Mwaya Pre-School. Colouring activities, and games identifying shapes and colours were implemented, using the resources that we found at Mwaya Beach.

The relationships formed with the teachers, in particular Rebecca and Messi, were also rewarding, and the tea and sweet potato shared at the end of the school sessions was highly looked forward to.

With Kade assisting teachers at Kapanda Secondary School, as well as taking several social studies classes, I was able to associate myself with the English teacher, Birgit, who was based there under Peace Corps. We were able to take a couple of her classes when she wasn’t able to be there, and I assisted her with the newly established English Club.

Using my journalist background, I introduced to the students the role of media in today’s society, in particular, the importance of newspapers. Over five weeks, students were able to identify the structure of articles, different forms of media and their importance, and were able to create their own front page (in hope of stimulating the formation of a school newsletter). This was done by myself purchasing a collection of newspapers, and cutting them up to create headlines, photographs to go with articles the students had written themselves. I provided them with glue and scissors, as well as the card that they used for their front page.

English club is held after school hours, and the students who attend are really enthusiastic about attending. To see the joy and creativity that this simple task brought out in the students, with the limited resources available, has been the highlight of my time at RIPPLE. The skills that were learnt through this project will help benefit these students as they go into essay writing, and I hope that new volunteers are able to continue on with assisting at this recently established group, and bring new ideas to help assist these students in the near future.

With most of the teaching done in the morning, that meant our afternoons were left free for sports.

Netball, soccer, and volleyball were just a few that we took part in, and Kade was able to introduce baseball to the students at Mwaya Primary School. After a couple of sessions, the students were able to understand the concept and began to enjoy the game.

Five weeks came and went extremely fast, and it was time to say goodbye, but not before we had several items of clothing made by local dressmaker, Patrick, for presents back home, and attended church.

The great thing about RIPPLE and Mwaya Beach is that while you able to have your own space, you are also made to feel part of a family unit, and saying goodbye to fellow volunteers, and staff, was hard. In particular, our master chefs Geddess, Fabiana and Martha; their dishes could give Gordon Ramsey a run for his money, and their sense of humour was fantastic.

Thanks RIPPLE, we have enjoyed our time here, and while our short stay meant that ‘change’ was seen, we felt that our skills shared and our time invested would help those who took them onboard in the near future.

Kade and Emma – February to March 2018

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Alistair and Doreen’s Volunteer Story

Medical volunteers Alistair and Doreen have written a story about their time at Mwaya which is reproduced below. Stories written by other previous RIPPLE Africa volunteers can be found on the Volunteers’ Stories webpage.

In November 2018 myself and Alistair Watson arrived at Mwaya Beach to start 12 weeks voluntary work with RIPPLE Africa. Before arrival it had been decided that I, using my nursing/health visiting background would work with Matilda, the Co-ordinator of the Disability Project. Alistair, a retired G.P., was earmarked for work in the local clinics and hospitals at Kachere, Kande and Chintheche. Unfortunately problems with medical registration in Malawi meant that Alistair was unable to do clinical work. Fortunately the induction course at Mwaya provided Alistair with the opportunity to meet Matilda and do some visits with myself and Matilda, and quickly realise that working with the Disability Project would allow him to utilise some of his clinical skills and complement the educational skills of Matilda and my health visiting skills.

The following 12 weeks proved to be an amazing learning experience and happy, joyful experience for the intrepid trio that we were.

Mornings were spent cycling, mini-bussing and walking to visit clients who were unable to make their way into clinics. Home assessments allowed a holistic approach where medical and social problems could be identified and appropriate management plans and referrals formulated.

Afternoons involved group sessions at Kachere, Kande, Chituka and Mwaya where further assessments, along with massage/stretching and play therapies, were the order of the day.

Despite encountering poverty, malnutrition, severe medical problems and disability on an almost daily basis, we were increasingly touched by the welcome we received and the warmth and happiness encountered when we met clients and their families.

Matilda was inspirational and had a wonderful relationship with all the children and families. She was also very skilful in getting the mangoes off the trees!

We visited various organisations and charities that support children with disabilities. Our aim was to try and achieve a more collaborative approach to the care of children with disabilities.

One of our highlights was a sixteen year old boy who had cerebral palsy, requiring a wheelchair. It transformed his life. He was able to sit up and eat his food, paint, be part of his family and observe his surroundings. He seemed very happy and so were we.

Back at base we loved being part of the Mwaya community and so grateful to all the staff who made our experience so enjoyable.

The homemade peanut butter was the best and hard work to make. I won’t forget the mangoes – they were delicious!

Our experiences will live with us forever.

Doreen and Alistair – November 2017 to February 2018

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Sibongile’s Volunteer Story

Volunteer Occupational Therapist Sibongile 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.

Going to volunteer in Malawi, Africa with RIPPLE was the best experience of my life. I grew so much as a person, learned so much, and gained a heartfelt appreciation of life itself. It was an eye-opening experience to emerge myself into the villages of rural Africa and to compare the standards of living there to my life in the US. The Malawian people were so happy, friendly, and welcoming—taking nothing for granted. It was truly a humbling experience to be able to go there and serve those communities.

As a volunteer of the Disability and Rehabilitation program, I worked one on one with an amazing Malawian field worker, named Matilda. She taught me everything I needed to know to navigate the area and to communicate with the locals. We shared so many smiles and laughs together and I will hold my memories of my first trip to Malawi forever.

Being able to use my knowledge and background as an Occupational Therapist was so rewarding when treating the children in these villages. There are so many things that we take for granted that are non-existent or not easily accessed in Africa. I really felt that my work there was much needed and appreciated by the communities!

It was so inspiring to see how the people of Malawi could make something out of nothing. I found that people there were so resourceful with the limited materials available. During my stay at Mwaya, I learned to use what I had to build makeshift materials that were much needed for treatment sessions. I was able to make soft splints using toilet paper rolls, soft balls, fabric, and foam. I even made a positioning wedge with some superglue, cardboard, foam, and material. I certainly got better at hand sewing!

Aside from the amazing experience of being a part of the Disability Program, the volunteers and workers that I met at RIPPLE made a lasting impact on my life. I was able to meet people from all over the world who shared their ideas and insights with me. I had fun learning how to pound peanut butter, cook some local recipes, make bracelets, and—of course—gather all the delicious mangoes. I cannot wait to go back to Malawi and experience it all again.

Sibongile – October–November 2017

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Emma’s Volunteer Story

Volunteer teacher Emma 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.

Teacher Training, Adult Literacy, Single Tasking and Community Spirit

Tanya Zuliani

Having previously volunteered in Zambia and Malawi in my summer holidays, I knew just how rewarding it could be. As a primary teacher I wanted to work with teachers for a longer period and during term time, sharing skills and empowering them in any way I could.

My Headteacher in the Netherlands agreed that I could have 10 weeks of unpaid leave and then the planning began. I stumbled across ‘RIPPLE Africa’ and had a strong feeling that this was the right charity for me. On arrival, I realised my instinct was correct and I could instantly see that RIPPLE Africa really was living out its ethos of ‘Offering a hand up not a hand out’.

From the moment I arrived, I felt at home here. The staff, other volunteers and entire community have welcomed me with open arms and I will be sad to leave – 2.5 months doesn’t feel long enough!

I began my placement helping the adult literacy classes with the planning and delivery of lessons, as well as helping to make resources for them such as comprehension question cards to accompany sets of books. I learnt a lot during this period and developed a lovely rapport with the two teachers, Allamson and Burton. Even when the Primary and Pre-schools started back in mid-September, I still regularly popped by to see them both and talk through ideas for their classes.

Tanya Zuliani

I also helped conduct a survey to find out the effectiveness of the sweet potato scheme at the pre-schools as well as helped at the tree nursery to bud, graft and water plants there. I was also lucky to spend a day gaining insight into the fisheries project and attended a meeting with chiefs and villagers as well as the RIPPLE fishery team learning more about the amazing work RIPPLE Africa are doing to aid fish conservation.

At Mwaya Pre-school, I have sung alphabet songs, read picture books, used puppets and painted with the children. It has been a huge amount of fun and the teachers there have been nothing but enthusiastic and friendly. I shall miss their smiling faces every day.

Tanya Zuliani

At Mwaya Primary, I have been mainly helping Standards 6, 7 and 8 in English lessons – both delivering content and assisting the teachers with marking, resource making and English grammar/vocabulary. I have created interactive displays in the Standard 8 classroom, introduced ‘Hotseating’ (whereby I am in role of a character of a story and the children ask questions) in Standard 7, helped with classroom/behaviour management ideas and aided comprehension skills via different uses of questioning across all year groups.

A highlight was delivering a 2.5 hour training workshops for the Mwaya Primary staff on phonics, critical thinking, questioning, comprehension – including the concept of ‘Book Talk’. I think the staff enjoyed it and many said afterwards they were excited to adopt some of the ideas I demonstrated.

Tanya Zuliani

I’ll miss all of the new friends I have made here; the sound of Lake Malawi easing me to sleep; the weather; the sense of community here that we are slowly losing back home; the ability to single task and be more ‘mindful’; watching the monkeys swing from trees as I shower; the delicious daily food cooked by the superb RIPPLE staff but most of all the sheer infectious joy and energy displayed by the children I have worked with.

I’ll be back again some day for sure.

Thank you RIPPLE Africa for a truly life changing experience – it exceeded all of my expectations. You really are making such a difference to so many people. I will continue to be one of your most avid supporters!

Emma L

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Midwife Tanya’s Volunteer Story

Volunteer midwife Tanya Zuliani 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.

I spent a month working as a midwife & specialist public health nurse with RIPPLE Africa in June 2017.

Mornings started early (around 5am) with a wake up call from the monkeys jumping around on the roof!

Tanya Zuliani

I’d usually watch the sunrise then do a quick boot camp with some of the other volunteer team. Then it was off to start the day. I’d cycle either to the hospital or road block where I’d catch a minibus (this was weather dependant!) and spent most of my volunteer time between Kande & Chinteche maternity hospitals.

In the hospitals, I worked in the labour ward and antenatal clinics, as well as sexual health clinics, malaria screening services, and child health clinics.

Labour ward is worlds apart from home, with very little working equipment or resources. Improvisation is generally the order of the day so it gave me the opportunity to really home in on my skills. The women were just amazing… incredibly stoic, positive, and inspirational…that will stick with me for the remainder of my days! The staff there do the best they can in difficult conditions, and their hard work & has seen maternal and infant mortality rates, as well as maternal to neonatal HIV transmission rates drop remarkably. It’s a huge step forward!

Tanya Zuliani

Once a week I’d work at the child health clinics which I loved… always busy and fun, with women singing, and children wrapped in brightly coloured Chitenge dangling from scales that hung under a tree.

I also worked with the healthcare teams getting out to local villages to give the measles/rubella vaccines to under 18’s (this was a national UNICEF mission running while I was there). I’ve never vaccinated so many people so quickly! I saw it as a huge credit to families in local communities who aim to make sure their children get access to healthcare, and also to the community healthcare workers who work tirelessly in their provision of health promotion/education at the child health clinics.

Tanya Zuliani

Another area that I became involved in was RIPPLE’s children’s disability groups. These were led by a volunteer physiotherapist and a RIPPLE employee. Due to issues such as malaria, accidents, and obstetric related trauma, there are a large number of children with both physical and cognitive developmental delay. I was able to help here with assessment and provision of relevant health education.

At home I’d have referred many of these children into specialist care for treatment, but in Malawi this can be tricky due to a lack of specialist resources. It’s for this reason I believe that this project has the potential to make a huge impact on the future of local children and their families. Without RIPPLE’s group they would really have no other support.

Some of the other healthcare volunteers and I also wrote a school health programme for future volunteers to continue in RIPPLE Africa’s local schools…including sexual health, mental health, physical health etc.

Tanya Zuliani

To me it seems there are so many large cultural changes required in Malawi and RIPPLE Africa’s bottom up approach to local level healthcare, education, and the environment showed real tangible progression, and that’s what really struck me about this charity. RIPPLE Africa are well respected in the area, and the locals were always so friendly to us. Anyone volunteering will soon pick up the Chitonga language because people are always keen to talk to the volunteers…you can’t cycle more than a few hundred metres/get to another bus stop/ or even go for a run without some banter along the way!

Evenings were chilled with dinner and chat with the other volunteers, which was always a lovely way to wind down after a busy day.

Tanya Zuliani

Anyone thinking of giving volunteering a go with RIPPLE Africa should take the leap and do it. I was full of self doubt before I went but as soon as I arrived at camp, the staff and other volunteers made me feel like family and I knew straight away I’d be ok. It was a brilliant experience, I met fantastic people, and I left wishing I could do it all again!

Palivisuzu, Ama Tanya x

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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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