Volunteers’ Stories: Georgia
“Overall, Mwaya was completely and utterly ridiculously amazing, and I’m SO glad I chose here for my first trip to Africa.”
OK, so it’s taken me an absolute age to sit down and take the time to write my volunteer story – mainly because I have no idea where to start!! But here goes. So I went out to Malawi in April 2012 and stayed for 3½ months. I’d never been to Africa before, and I think it’s fair to say I was crapping my pants a little. Luckily, I had the fabulous Susie’s (previous volunteer) number and so could ask her anything and everything. So first bit of advice; get a previous volunteer’s e-mail/number and ask them all those things you might think are silly (that aren’t actually that silly).
So I was fresh out of Uni and not qualified in anything – but this didn’t matter at all. I knew I wanted to be involved in the local Secondary School so, after my induction (manic cycle around the local area with Jimmy), I went straight over to Kapanda and had a chat with the headmaster (the awesome, slightly crazy Collence). After a few public holidays (the Malawians LOVE their public holidays), I was stuck in teaching maths to Form 1 (15 year oldish) and Form 3 (17 year oldish). I also ran an afterschool maths club down at Mwaya Beach a couple of days a week, which turned out to be a great success and a right laugh! I also filled my extra time with tutoring maths and biology to a few students, including Jimmy’s beautiful niece Eliza. I still tutor now back in England and thinking about how different it was seems so strange – here I am, tucked away in a small study room trying to motivate kids who aren’t really that bothered, whereas there I was sitting on the deck with the sun blazing down on my back looking out to the lake whilst giving students extra homework!
Every Thursday, I helped out at Katenthere Pre-school. This was probably one of the highlights of my week. This dark, dingy, falling apart old church building became full of life every morning with 70-odd 3 to 5 year olds screaming their heads off, singing their ABCs and dancing their little bums off. I got to know some of the kids really well and by the end was able to take my own small groups and teach topics like phonics/writing numbers/days of the week, etc.
I also coached Kapanda’s netball team. I say coached – I attempted to control a massive bunch of energetic, extremely enthusiastic girls who can launch a ball with tremendous power and accuracy, but cannot for the life of them keep their feet under control and land correctly, hence I mainly just joined in lobbing balls and running around like a headless chicken. So if you fancy helping out with netball – my advice is to take a very loud whistle and some real netballs if you can (as the girls currently play with footballs) and just go with it.
Towards the end of my time in Mwaya, I was introduced to a new responsibility. Helen, a volunteer nurse, was leaving and asked me to carry on treating the wounds of some of her patients as there were no healthcare volunteers coming out anytime soon. She trained me in basic wound care as I went on a few rounds with her – Call the Midwife style. And, blimey, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. For example, two little girls had huge round holes in their feet from accidentally slicing them with an axe when chopping wood and leaving the cuts to become infected. They had no parents to ensure they went to the dispensary so I took on the job of cleaning and dressing their wounds. This was my most difficult and harrowing time in Malawi as the girls were in so much pain and couldn’t bear anyone to even waft the flies away from the wound, let alone clean out the pus and blood. But after a few weeks the Grandmother and siblings finally realised the seriousness of the situation and took the girls to the dispensary regularly and, when I went to visit the girls just before leaving, the wounds were healed and the smiles on their gorgeous little faces were back. I also helped out at the wonderful/chaotic/unbelievable/beautiful/stressful/bloody brilliant event that is the Under 5’s clinics. I won’t say anymore on the matter as I’m sure the others have raved on about it.
I’m sure all the volunteers have said it but I met the most amazing people in the world out there – volunteers, staff, and the local community. I was very warmly welcomed and immediately felt at home. It was really easy to get on with everyone as I think all RIPPLE volunteers have a similar outlook – enthusiastic, outgoing, up for a laugh, etc., etc. We liked to work hard but also had A LOT of fun. In my first couple of weeks, I’d been on a trip to Kande, spent a weekend in Nkhata Bay, had been horse riding in the lake and dressed up as a Rockstar for Rose’s ‘R’ leaving party. (We also had a Rose, a Rasta, Robin Hood, Red Riding Hood, Robot, Roman, and an Indian Raj.) The weekends included trips to Chinners (Chintheche) to stock up on food, playing numerous games of cards or Articulate (a massive fave), drinking Malawi gin, port and Amarula (a must-bring), sunbathing with one of the best views in the world, playing cricket and football on the beach with the locals, wandering down to Lowani for volleyball and a beer, oh and planning more amazing stuff for next weekend.
Once school was over for the summer, I had quite a bit of free time that I managed to fill with some weird and wonderful things. Firstly, I organised (with the help of lovely fellow volunteer Toby) a ‘Fun-Day’ for around 60 kids at Mwaya Primary who had done well in their exams. Over the years, the office at Mwaya Beach had accumulated a lot of crafty bits and bobs so I wanted to put it all to good use. We had different stations that involved naming body parts, a maths competition, and a reading area, but the most popular was the art station where the kids got creative and made some fantastic pictures. I also got the Form 3 students over to the tree nursery for some brick-making fun! Needless to say, this turned into a very messy mud fight. I then spent a few days helping Geoff create the Christmas video!! What we initially thought of as a relatively simple task – trying to get the locals to sing a line from the ’12 days of Christmas’ song – actually turned into a long and somewhat arduous process! But nonetheless was one of the funniest things I’ve ever experienced.
Towards the end, there was only a few of us out there. As much as I LOVE the other volunteers, this was a very special time for me as the locals became my real friends with whom I spent a lot of my spare time – I played Bao with teachers from Kapanda, I messed around singing and dancing with the local children (mainly Catherine and Annie – Lawrence’s AWESOME kids), met up for tea with Eliza (Jimmy’s niece) and often visited Martha’s family (the beautiful and slightly insane Faidas and Isabel).
Life out in Malawi was pretty laid back and sometimes very slow. Things can often get frustrating – like, for example, nothing EVER starts on time, not even school!! We had a small issue with mice in the chalets at one point – sometimes we could hear them scurrying around at night and one time I woke up to my trainers missing their laces. One night Kelly and I got pretty freaked by it so did the natural thing and got Helen up for a midnight feast – so every cloud and all that…
Overall, Mwaya was completely and utterly ridiculously amazing, and I’m SO glad I chose here for my first trip to Africa. Luckily my parents came out to visit me at the end of my stay, and we flew home together. I say luckily as, without the thought of seeing them to look forward to, I would’ve no doubt been a complete wreck and may not have made it home. So another bit of advice … start preparing yourself now for the pain that will ensue when it’s time to leave.
Georgia (Volunteer, April – July 2012)