"For me it's all about the students, every moment I get to stand up in front of class and share my knowledge is one of the best moments." - Luke, Malawi
I always wanted to take a gap year after I finished school. However I wanted to do something that would not only make a difference for others but also help me grow as a person. Volunteering overseas seemed like the perfect opportunity to do this.
My family has always had a close association with Africa but none of them had ever been to Malawi. So Malawi offered me the opportunity to experience a country nobody in my family had ever been to while helping in one of the poorest and friendliest countries in Africa.
Our placement is located in the north of Malawi in a quaint village called Khwawa which is part of Karonga district. There are three of us muzungu bachelors volunteering here. Jack and I (the kiwis) are teachers while David (our token American) is a medical assistant. Our house is about 1 minute from Lake Malawi which you can see from our backdoor. The lake is a blessing on hot days as you can swim and wash there, much to the amusement of the locals. Khwawa is the best village in Malawi, the people are so friendly and every time you return from a weekend away it feels like coming home.
Everybody is very eager to teach you chitumbuka (the local language) and show you how to be a proper Malawian. Our school is very basic and has four classrooms each with an assortment of desks, chairs, chairs used as desks, and desks used as chairs. Each classroom holds one form class of up to 100 students making learning names one of the biggest challenges of teaching. Khwawa is definitely the place to be.
We teach four periods a day so the workload is enough to be challenging without being overwhelming. After school students that need help will come and get tutored by us, and we also go on the occasional school sports trip. Apart from school duties there's plenty to do around the village such as joining with sports teams, cooking nsima and going fishing.
Our house is a modest four room brick and wood affair. The three bedrooms each have a bed and mattress, and the main room/ living room/ kitchen/ storage space/ study is furnished with a table, a shelf and four plastic chairs. Although our house has suffered from a few lake fly infestations as well as a few crazy children infestations it remains very homely and I will be very sad to leave.
The biggest differences between Malawi and New Zealand have to be the language and the climate. The language barrier can sometimes leave you guessing at what's going on and if you mange to learn the local and then travel somewhere new you suddenly find yourself facing a whole new dialect which can get tricky. The climate can also get difficult especially in the north where it gets stupidly hot. Other than that as long as you stay laid back and understand that things take time things will be ok. Stay Poa kichizi Kama ndizi or crazy cool like a banana as the rastas say.
For me, my favourite moments are all about the students, every moment I get to stand up in front of class and share my knowledge is one of the best moments. A couple of examples that I have definitely noticed "personal improvement" in is my ability to speak in front of large groups of people (having a class of 100 rapidly improves this ability) and the general confidence I have in myself and in my abilities. When you have to do things by yourself you quickly discover you can achieve anything you put your mind to.