Volunteers’ Stories: Kate

Kate’s Story

“There are so many opportunities in this beautiful place to challenge yourself and have a lot of fun. The key is to be open minded and have a go at everything.”

Volunteering abroad is something that I have felt that I should do for many years but have always found an “excuse” – children, elderly relatives, work, the dog even! All valid excuses but all could easily have been overcome if the spirit had been willing.

Last year, however, I found myself as a recently retired general practitioner from Edinburgh, Scotland, with children off my hands and no elderly relatives. Even the dog had passed away. I was restless, feeling that something important was still missing from my professional life. That is when I found the RIPPLE Africa website. I was immediately drawn to it and returned many times to read it. No other (medical) volunteering websites were presented so enticingly and as the Scottish Government has many official links with Malawi through the Scotland/Malawi Project it soon became apparent that this was the place for me. Some meetings with Susie in Glasgow and Edinburgh soon convinced me, and at the end of April 2013, I packed my bags for the biggest adventure of my life.

I arrived at Mwaya Beach with some trepidation (by taxi I hasten to add – I did not yet feel up to the AXA bus experience). I could have been mother, or even grandmother, to most of the other volunteers but the presence of Geoff, Liz and Chris redressed the age balance slightly, and hopefully my presence did not intimidate the youngsters too much, or spoil their fun. When the young went off to party at Kande, the “silver foxes” were able to have a more sedate but no less enjoyable evening with a G&T or glass of Pimms.

  • Riding in the back of Eddie, the RIPPLE Africa lorryRiding in the back of Eddie, the RIPPLE Africa lorry
  • At Kachere Health CentreAt Kachere Health Centre
  • A visit to the Kawalazi Tea EstateA visit to the Kawalazi Tea Estate

I have appreciated the way that the other volunteers have accepted me and the communal living has been great fun. I shall miss cold showers, conversations in the loo at dead of night by the light of a head torch and even sunrise swims in a decidedly cool lake! I shall miss even more the warmth of all the staff here, and how they really adopt the volunteers as extensions of their families. The food is fantastic – despite the limited meat and dairy produce – and lying in bed at night hearing the waves on the beach and the bamboo creaking is something I hope never to forget.

I came out here as a medical volunteer and much of what I did in that capacity is recorded in the healthcare grid. I realised quickly that I was going to learn far more from Malawi than Malawi would learn from me but did find some opportunities to actually help out and feel useful – the Under 5s clinics, the ante-natal clinic at Kachere, visiting Mphatso with Collins, where we had soon established a mini clinic each week.

But the even greater challenge came from moving out of my comfort zone – teaching extra English to the Standard 6 and 7 classes from Mwaya Primary School and biology to one of the Health Club students. I loved visiting the pre-schools and was involved in the construction of the first three swings. Hopefully, soon all of the pre-schools will have one. Playing games and singing with the children was a delight, especially when the wonderful Jimmy was there to wind them up!

Towards the end of my stay, I spent time with Catherine checking (and building) Changu Changu Moto stoves and had a wonderful day with Geoff and Charlie visiting villages amongst the tea plantations in the north. I even climbed Kurwirwi, a day that almost killed me, but now, a few days later, I feel chuffed to have done it!

There are so many opportunities in this beautiful place to challenge yourself and have a lot of fun. The key is to be open minded and have a go at everything.

A wonderful three months was sadly marred, a week before I left, by the tragic loss of Jimmy, the pre-schools coordinator, in a swimming accident. His death has shocked the whole community and on a personal level will be keenly felt by the RIPPLE Africa team. As a volunteer, I felt privileged to have known him and see what passion for a job and for life was all about. I was even more humbled to be allowed to attend his funeral and to experience the outpouring of grief by the local people. But death is still a part of life in this country, and the people are pretty stoical and carry on. Although some aspects of health and education are improving, there is still much to be done. Resources are scarce in rural areas and organisations like RIPPLE Africa deserve ongoing support. I wish them well in the future.

Kate (Volunteer Doctor, April 2013 – July 2013)

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