Volunteers’ Stories: Victoria
“RIPPLE Africa immediately grabbed my attention; something about the personal, caring and down to earth attitude that the organisation had. The three months I spent at Mwaya Beach confirmed this. The time I spent there was a truly fantastic experience. The people I met and the relationships I built with my fellow volunteers, the employees of RIPPLE and the people in the community are relationships that will stay with me for life.”
Ever since I started nursing, I always thought that I wanted to share my skills and do some work in Africa. It was just about choosing the right organisation and the right time.
I started my search, as most people do, online and during a night shift! RIPPLE Africa immediately grabbed my attention; something about the personal, caring and down to earth attitude that the organisation had. The three months I spent at Mwaya Beach confirmed this. The time I spent there was a truly fantastic experience. The people I met and the relationships I built with my fellow volunteers, the employees of RIPPLE and the people in the community are relationships that will stay with me for life.
Undoubtedly, moving from London to Africa was a challenge. Arriving in Lilongwe, alone and slightly nervous about what lay ahead, was the first of many; however, I did manage to make it to the bus stop and get on the correct bus! Phew. One of the first things that struck me about Malawi was that almost everyone you meet is friendly and helpful. I got on the bus and endured the eight-hour bus ride to the Matete roadblock, spending most the ride clinging to the map provided in the volunteer pack. We stopped in Matete and was helped off by everyone on board and greeted by the policeman. One memory that will stay with me forever was standing on the side of the road, tired, hot, slightly dehydrated and looking up to see the entire side of the bus smiling and waving goodbye.
Martha, Victoria, and Geddess
Working at an Under Five’s Clinic
After school classes
Arriving at Mwaya Beach was a massive relief — the friendly smiles and beautiful setting helped to ease the rattled nerves, and it didn’t take me long to feel settled in and at home there. Throughout the coming weeks and months, I got know the staff well and the personalities I met are unforgettable, from Mr. Longwe, the Librarian, to Harry and Agnes, our cooks — I still find myself smiling and laughing when I think of them. Even with the language barriers (my Chitonga was only enough to say hello!), I was still able to build a wonderful relationship with them all.
Each morning started nice and early — around 6:00am (if there wasn’t an early morning swim involved!). After a sound breakfast of bread rolls and peanut butter, I would set off on the bike for the health clinic. Biking was a truly lovely experience. The back path to Kachere Health Centre is a beautiful ride and everyone you pass on the trail and in the fields greets you with smiles. I generally arrived at the health centre around 8:00 to 8:30am. The days I spent there I divided up as much as possible between helping Karod with wounds or packing/dispensing pills, helping Janet the midwife or helping which ever HSA (Health Surveillance Assistant) was in the HIV testing centre. I tried to make it to the health centre as many mornings a week as possible. My experience as a nurse is in acute care medicine, so trying to work in a health centre with no running water, limited supplies, and a language barrier was a real challenge. I found just being there as an extra pair of hands for the staff, stepping in where I could to do some teaching and offering advice, was greatly appreciated and very rewarding. In addition, I learnt a great deal about providing care in a challenging environment and in particular about malaria and HIV.
My other mornings were divided up depending on what was going on with Fletcher and Henry or the other HSAs. Each Friday there was an Under 5s Clinic in a different area. The clinics were set up to weigh and vaccinate the local children and then to follow up with the under weights. The experience was out of this world! I cannot describe the experience of sitting in a school building with hundreds of mothers and children/babies — I wish I could but it is the one thing that you can only see to believe! I also took part in the week of the Vitamin A and deworming campaign, as well as mass bilharzia treatment for all the school children.
My afternoons varied depending on the day of the week. One afternoon was Life Skills class at Kapanda Secondary School, run by Molly (the other nurse). This was essentially a sex education class for the Form 2s. It was great fun, not only teaching but learning of some the local beliefs and myths as well. Another afternoon I set aside to tutor biology to a few local boys who wanted extra help. Near the end of my stay I also started teaching first aid classes to the employees at Mwaya. Other memorable days included going to the Chiomba nursery school for their open day and attending the mbaula presentation in Chintheche.
One of the other great things about living at Mwaya were the automatic friends you have. We spent our weekends planning trips up to Nkhata Bay to relax and enjoy the food and had a week on Likoma Island, and another week climbing in Livingstonia and climbing Mount Mulanje in the south! I’ve made bonds and friendships with people which will hopefully last for a long time to come.
Victoria (Volunteer Nurse, April-July 2009)