Holly, Malawi

Holly has been in Malawi for 3 months now, has made an incredible contribution, and has made some life-long friends


I decided to volunteer in Malawi: 1. Because I have always been interested in charity work and from a young age have been interested in visiting Africa, and 2. Because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

With university just around the corner after finishing high school it all became very stressful as to what career you wanted to pursue. Instead of making a huge decision regarding my future I thought why not go to Malawi. It was a chance for me to clear my head and really think about what I wanted to do career-wise.


My placement in Mua is centrally located and is absolutely great. Mua is such a lovely village with an great market about 15 minutes walk from our house that occurs every Wednesday and Saturday. There is also a smaller market that is open everyday about 5 minutes from our house with the basic food such as tomatoes, onions and bread. In our village we have a primary school, a hospital, a cultural centre which actually attracts quite a few tourists and a deaf school. Mua is known for its amazing woodcarving and we have been lucky enough to learn to woodcarve with our Malawian friend Christopher and successfully made an African mask.

The village is also placed at the base of a large mountain which you can climb in approximately 3 hours. There is a great viewpoint at the top where you can have a picnic and relax. Everyone in Mua is extremely welcoming and because there is a cultural centre attracting tourists they are not shocked at the sight of foreigners like some other villages.


Duties I perform in my village include teaching 5 days a week, playing sport with the kids, taking trips to the bore hole for water and making friends with all the locals. It's great just being able to go outside to read and having numerous Malawians come to you wanting to chat or teach you how to bake African cake. It's great being in such a welcoming community.


I am in a basic 2 room concrete house. There are 2 beds in one of the rooms with just enough space to put some clothes and in the larger room there is one more bed, a table and a section on the floor where we can place the groceries. We are also lucky enough to have elecricity roughly 80% of the time however there is no running water so we fill large buckets from the bore hole to use for drinking, cooking and washing. To cook we use a charcoal burner which once you know how to light actually is very easy. There are 3 volunteers in our house (including me).


My Lattitude partner Toni and I decided that we wanted to raise money to help our community and after writing to numerous newspapers back in NZ we managed to raise almost $3,000. It was amazing to see how far the money went also. We managed to purchase 2 months worth of porridge for Chifunga Secondary School to allow all students to have a bowl of porridge in the morning. This made a huge improvement to the students concentration. We also purchased a whole lot of sports gear and organised for 50 desks holding 4 people each to be made for the school in Mua. In Mua most students just sat on the floor so we have now made sure that all senior students (standard 5-8) all have desks they are able to learn at.


The biggest challenge for me was definitely the food. Malawi is obviously very different from home where you are living without all the comforts you have in nz. You would think that living with no electricity or water would be most challenging but you actually get use to that and adapt very fast to the Malawian culture. It is only the food difference and not having a full fridge at you convenience that was a struggle for me. However you learn very fast how to cook simple good food on a charcoal burner.


I cannot say I can pick one favourite moment or thing that has happened as there has been so many. I think the best thing about living in Malawi for me is definitely the people. Everyone here is so friendly and so welcoming. Even the people who pester you to buy their things have a joking humour where you can say something cheeky in Chichewa and you'll both be laughing saying goodbye to each other. You also get invited to people's houses for dinner or if you walk down through the village near dinner time you'll be asked by copious famillies to join then for nsima. It's such a nice culture. We have this one man who lives near us who doesn't speak a word of English. One day when Toni and I were reading outside he came out with mangos and wanted us to eat them with him. We see him every day and simply say a greeting in Chichewa and he is so friendly. He comes and sweeps outside our house and when Toni fell sick he came to give us lemons as tea supposably cures sickness. He is only one example of the kind hearted people there are in Malawi.


I think just being there with the kids makes a big impact on them. The students love hanging out with and actually really do appreciate your presence whether it is at a sports game, in the classroom or just chilling out with them. The kids will draw you pictures, write you letters and I have even received a woodcarving from students as a gift of thanks for the help we have given them. It is amazing also seeing all the sports equipment we brought go to good use. The students love sport over here so being able to provide them with some decent balls and equipment was definitely a positive.


Coming to Malawi has taught me so much. The big thing has definitely been patience. Before coming to Malawi I was a pretty chilled person but being here has really opened my eyes as to how much westerners stress things that really just don't matter. To begin with coming here and sitting hours on a minibus waiting for it to leave frustrated me hugely. Constantly having food shoved in your face made me want to scream and the kids going crazy all the time definitely tests your patience but you end up just getting use to it all. I now have the mind set as I sit on a minibus waiting for it to leave "well what else would I be doing right now". People shove food in my face and I now just have a giggle and politely say no thank you and with kids constantly going crazy you learn to deal with it and understand that kids will be kids.

Coming to Malawi I would say has definitely changed me for the better. I have become so much more independent and confident. I am very happy to have nights on my own if my roommates leave where I can easily light the charcoal burner, cook a decent meal from scratch, scrub the pots with sand to clean them as scrubbers are just a mission to find and simply dealing with things on your own. I feel confident enough to travel around by myself, going up to random people to ask for directions and simply feeling more sure in the decisions I make. As much as you think you will impact more people's lives as you help at the school over here, the culture tends to impact your life more. I'm sure I have taught my students a lot but they have taught me more about myself than I could ever imagine. They have completely changed my perspective on how much we should appreciate things and basically just living in the moment you have as nothing else really matters as long as you have a roof over your head and the ability to make a meal.


If you just want a crazy adventure where you learn about yourself and other cultures then 100% go to Malawi. It's not always going to be easy. There are times that are bloody hard but that's half the reason you come to Malawi. You come to live basically and learn to deal with it. It's been a great experience coming to Malawi and I have definitely made some life long friends.