Richard Gomer - Teacher, Malawi
"So, you're thinking of going to Malawi?
Well, I have been to Malawi, and here are just some of the reasons that I think you should, too.
Malawi truly is the warm heart of Africa. It is not uncommon to greet someone in Chichewa, only to have them reply with several sentences and promptly burst into laughter when you stare blankly and make an “I'm sorry – I don't know what you mean” gesture. On other occasions people will reply with “You speak Chichewa!” (in English).
So, what's it like to be part of a Malawian school? Judging by the conversations I've had with other volunteers, every placement is different. Some placements are in towns where you will meet a whole range of people, others (like mine in Mtendere) are in the middle of nowhere where most people you meet have some connection to the school. Spending time just chatting with your pupils, sitting on the floor outside, is an excellent way to feel at home. They always have something interesting to say or another question to ask. They especially like photographs of your life at home – pets, friends, your house and so on.
Of course, it's not all fun and exciting – sometimes you need to keep your wits about you, stay cool and do your best to weather whatever storm has just come your way. Most things are pretty trivial and you will wonder why you ever worried, but at the time, in a strange country, things can seem more scary than they really are. Examples are unwarranted – it would be unfair to dedicate more than a few sentences to the bad bits, because there are far too many good bits. It's all part of your journey and you will come to value the times where you think “aaaah” just as much, if not more, than the bits when you think “yay”.
Nobody would argue that flying thousands of miles to a developing country isn't scary. Scary is really the point though – if it wasn't scary, it wouldn't be any fun. Nobody would argue that walking into a class of forty boys to teach maths for the first time is easy – but if it was easy it wouldn't be rewarding (in fact, if it's easy you're probably doing it wrong).
As scary and hard as it all seems at first, I'm sure you'll find that, in fact, the hardest part is leaving."