Sarah, Malawi

Our first month in Malawi


We arrived in Bwengu a month ago, with no idea what to expect and no real clue about what we were getting ourselves into. But now I can’t imagine life to be any different. We were dropped off on the back of a bright red ute, three girls who were barely finished school ourselves standing in the middle of an African village. Our momentary questioning of what was going on and what we were doing with ourselves was soon wiped when we were taken to a festival in the church. We didn’t know what to expect but sure enough three white girls in a festival is a sight! Within minutes of being in the village we were called up to the front of the church to dance and sing with the local women and children. We were awestruck but immediately fell in love with the people and the village.


Bwengu has a wonderfully warm feel about it. From the genuine nature of each and every person to the sun that illuminates the vast mountain ranges that surround us, Bwengu has the ability to bring out the best in even the hardest of days. While it may sound hard, each morning we have a 40 minute walk to school but I can honestly say that I have yet to tire of the walk. There is something about walking through an African village at 6:30 in the morning, while the clouds hang low over the mountains and the locals tend to their crops that never fails to bring a smile to my face. It is a surreal adventure, and one that I am still pinching myself about as I cannot believe that I am here!

I am teaching at the secondary school and each of the classes has about 40-50 students (depending on who turns up). This is one of the biggest challenges that I have faced! While the students learn all of their classes in English, it is not their first language so they have varying degrees of fluency. So you often find yourself standing at the front of the class, asking questions only to be met with 40-odd faces staring blankly back at you. While this makes things hard, especially when you think that you have done all you can to explain something in the simplest terms, with a slow pace and never failing to repeat yourself multiple times, we can’t let this get us down! Its all about persistence because we can see that the students are more than eager to learn. This was proven as a result of our attempt to improve the students English. We have started a book and movie club on Monday afternoons. We were nervous as to whether anyone would turn up but were pleasantly surprised when we had nearly 80 students come along, their faces lighting up at the sight of the computer which many of them were seeing for the first time.

Aside from the teaching aspect of our placement, we have made an effort to involve ourselves as much as possible in the community. We play sports on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, teach at the computer centre on Wednesdays and assist at the health centre on Fridays. This has left us with no shortage of company! There is always somebody to talk to, whether it is the school girls who want to chat and learn about our life in Australia or the little kids who set up camp outside our house in preparation to draw or read some books, or our neighbours who we can guarantee will visit us at least once a day to check up on us! We have really come to understand why Malawi is known as the ‘warm heart of Africa’.

We are all so grateful for the opportunity to truly immerse ourselves in a Malawian community. Each night we find ourselves marveling at the fact we are in Africa! We have tasted the national dish of nsima which is a mix of water and maize flour and in the coming months hope to master the art of cooking it, although we can say that we are still attempting to cook the rice without sand clumps or the crunch of lack of time in the pot. Our diet is rather bland, consisting mainly of rice, tomatoes, onions, beans and potatoes – I think I will definitely be happy to take a break from these foods when I get home! We often discover little relishes that we add to our diet, whether it is soy pieces or soy sauce we have definitely formed a love of any flavour!

January has been a month of firsts, a month of triumphs and tribulations (they seem to come hand in hand here!), a month of wonderful memories and great friendships, and we cannot wait to see what the rest of our time in Bwengu will bring. Hopefully many new experiences as we continue to forge our friendships and a place in the community! I couldn’t recommend a better place to spend your gap year. Malawi is truly a beautiful country and I can definitely say that I have fallen in love with it!

Submitted by: Sarah Holmes