Becky’s Volunteer Story
Recent volunteer Becky Haigh 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.
Unfortunately for me, I had only a month to visit Malawi and experience life as a RIPPLE Africa volunteer, but what an amazing month it was!
After taking the bus from Lilongwe to Mwaya, I found that I had arrived on a national holiday so Sue, the other volunteer at Mwaya, took me to visit Esther, go for my first swim in Lake Malawi, and for a trip to Mazembe to meet Alamson and attend the Adult Literacy class that he ran there.
As I was only in Malawi for a short time, my main job was to research the needs of the pre-schools and primary schools to help the UK office. I went to visit each of the pre-schools with Charles, the Pre-schools Coordinator, and this was great fun, though a lot of cycling in sand and rain! The children are so sweet, the staff so hardworking, and Charles was a great source of information about the primary schools and some of the difficulties faced by the children and their families.
I also went with Dan to visit all the teachers sponsored by the charity and to interview them a little to get an idea of teaching life in Malawian primary schools and how their roles in the school helped the head teachers and pupils. They were all fascinating to speak with, and it was great to see so many people, who would have perhaps been out of work, eager to learn and providing valuable help to their community.
- Katenthere Pre-school
- Many children are expected to help in the fields
- A class at one of the primary schools
Then I went to visit some of the primary schools and speak with Maurice, the Education Coordinator, and Alamson to discuss key needs and issues faced by the primary schools. Maurice is a wealth of information with a logical and resourceful attitude and was especially helpful in determining a list of key problems that RIPPLE may be able to help with.
Another job I had was to speak with young girls and young mothers to learn more about life for women out in Malawi. The culture is very much divided into gender roles, and women here work very hard! Girls will often go to school in the morning and spend the afternoon cooking, cleaning, taking care of younger children and working in the fields. This is not to say that the boys do not also work hard, though they often have fewer chores. It is not uncommon to find girls becoming mothers at 14 and 15 years old*, and I was able to speak with a few of these young women at the Under 5s clinic and at Kapanda Secondary School to find out about their attitudes to education, their family situation and the difficulties they face. A big problem, I learned from the staff at Kande Under 5s Clinic, is that many of the mothers are malnourished due to the amount of work they do whilst also carrying and feeding babies. The clinic provides extra food and nutrients to these malnourished mothers (determined by measuring their arm circumference) to help them to deliver and nurse healthy and happy babies. Esther also kindly invited me to the Women’s Group that she runs in Lowani Beach where around seven to 10 women sit together, often with a health volunteer from RIPPLE Africa, to discuss women’s health issues and caring for family members with health problems. Here I was able to ask many more questions about how women’s health issues are viewed and helped, attitudes to teenage pregnancy and marriage, and what they think could help young women in Malawi. It was an incredibly interesting afternoon!
- Becky with a newborn baby
- Staying in Nkhata Bay
- With fellow volunteer Sue
Life at Mwaya Beach was wonderful; all the staff make you feel like part of the family and help you to practice your ChiTonga. I went for a swim most evenings before watching the sunset with a gin and tonic (Malawi Gin really is great!). Both of these are very much needed after a day cycling in torrential rain, blistering heat and incredible humidity! I would often find myself struggling up a hill and then be swiftly overtaken by an elderly man on a broken bicycle carrying his wife and his week’s vegetables to sell! This is a remarkably healthy and strong country, which put my fitness to shame! Sue and I went away to Nkhata Bay one weekend, and another weekend we spent a night at Kande Beach, and both were great fun, but as we got back to Mwaya, saying hello to all our friends along the way, it really did feel like we were home! How sorry I am to leave it so soon!
*Editor’s Note: Since Becky wrote her story, Malawi has passed a law banning child marriage, raising the minimum age to 18 years.