Volunteers’ Stories: Mat and Pauline

Mat’s and Pauline’s Story

“The most incredible aspect of the community was the desire of the children to learn. The facilities are basic but, if you are prepared to make a plan, it is amazing what can be done by using the things that exist around you.”

After a few years living the city life in London, it was time to get away. We love travelling and thought that a sabbatical combining backpacking and sharing our skills would be a good way to make a small difference and give something back to those less fortunate than us.

We started having a look around for volunteering opportunities, and Pauline ended up at a school for disabled Tibetan children in the north of India where she was able to put her physiotherapy skills to good use. At the same time, I headed to Nepal and Fiji where I worked at a school and on a reforestation project.

Having come from South Africa, we were determined to spend some time in Africa and discovered Mwaya Beach and the RIPPLE Africa project. Without any convincing, we decided to spend three months at Mwaya with Pauline working from the clinic at Kachere and me at Mwaya Full Primary School teaching English, Maths and Social Studies.

We were part of the first small group of volunteers keen to be involved on this project. Our experience was first class! If you are prepared to jump in with both feet and get your hands dirty, you will get what you are looking for from the initiative.

  • Mat in the temporary classroom at Mwaya Primary School
    Mat in the temporary classroom at Mwaya Primary School
  • Pauline having fun in the lake with some local swimmers
    Pauline having fun in the lake with some local swimmers

Firstly, the location of Mwaya is fantastic; you can only understand the beauty of the sunrise and the rising of the moon once you have sat out on the deck and finished the day with dinner and a few stories of the day.

This is what you could expect from a typical day at Mwaya …

05:00 :
Wake up and jump in the lake for a wash
06:00 :
Breakfast of fruit or home-made bread
06:30 :
Walk through the rice paddies to school
07:00 :
Assembly
Lessons take place through the morning until lunchtime and can include English, Maths and Social Studies
13:00 :
Lunch back at Mwaya Beach — freshly-picked corn if you’re lucky, last night’s beans if you’re not
14:00 :
Extra lessons or lesson preparation
16:00 :
Chill out, go for a walk or have a swim
17:30 :
Dinner on the deck before it gets dark

The most incredible aspect of the community was the desire of the children to learn. The facilities are basic but, if you are prepared to make a plan, it is amazing what can be done by using the things that exist around you. We took an old run down storeroom and, using anything we could get our hands on, turned it into a small library to serve the school and local community. Once the word got out, books started arriving and we have been able to continue collecting since being back home. The library is something of which both the volunteer programme and the community can be proud.

You will continually be reminded of the privileges that we take for granted when you stand at the front of the classroom during a rain storm — you can’t hear yourself teach from the noise on the tin roof and it’s too dark for the kids to see the blackboard.

The thing that stands out most in our minds is the daily interaction we had with the children and all the local villagers. Whether it was playing soccer with the kids on the beach, walking down the road to shouts of “Timoneni, Emawuli, Moteapani”, or watching the fisherman glide by in their hand carved dug out canoes (watu) hoping to for a good catch to feed their family and earn a little extra money.

Once the initial shock of back-to-basics living (no running water or electricity) has faded, you soon slip into living the daylight hours along with most other Malawians. Don’t worry about bringing an alarm clock — if the night’s fishing has been successful, you will be woken by the drum-beating sound of paddles on the side of the boats. Make sure you get down to the beach to watch the villagers meet the morning catch, and there’s often a scramble to get a share of the fresh fish (ciclids). If there is anything left, we could be sure that the fisherman would come by and give us first option on a tasty chambo or kampango.

It sounds too good to be true; well, if you have the right expectations, you will have a great time. The supermarkets don’t have the variety of food you are used to, but you can always find a chilled Coke; there are no hot showers but nothing beats a dip in the clear lake waters; it can be difficult to get around but once you catch a matola the experience will be memorable; the biting mosquitos will drive you mad but once under the safety of your net you’ll have a good night’s sleep.

Liz and Geoff Furber, who now own Mwaya Beach and look after the RIPPLE Africa project, have shown what can be done with a bit of determination and organisation to contribute to the development of a small community.

There is so much more to tell but the most importantly … “We will be back!!!”

Mat and Pauline (Volunteers, March-May 2003)

Postscript:

In May and June 2006, Mat, Pauline, Liz, Geoff, Darren, Steve, and Julie took part in a fundraising trip called “Sky High” from South Africa, travelling through Namibia, Botswana, and Zambia to Malawi with two microlights, two vehicles, and a motorcycle. They raised just over £2,000 for RIPPLE Africa’s tree planting project.

  • The Sky High team
    The Sky High team
  • Mat's microlight
    Mat’s microlight
  • Travelling through Namibia with the four-wheel drive vehicles and the microlights
    Travelling through Namibia with the four-wheel drive vehicles and the microlights
  • Darren drove his BMW motorcycle, called Virgil, all the way from South Africa, through Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, and back to South Africa
    Darren drove his BMW motorcycle, called Virgil, all the way from South Africa, through Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, and back to South Africa
Top

Receive the latest news from RIPPLE Africa direct to your email address

Become part of the RIPPLE Africa community

Receive newsletters by email

We never send spam and we never share your information with anyone else.

Sign Up Now to Receive RIPPLE Africa's Newsletter