1 Month Volunteering in Chikolongo, Malawi
It’s so hard to try to put into words the experience I had in the month that I lived in Chikolongo Village. When i was packing my bags for my first trip to Africa and telling my parents and friends I was going to a remote village in Malawi (without power or running water, they thought I was nuts. But as it turns out, it has to be the best thing I’ve done in my life.
After being squished like a sardine on various mini bus journeys from the capital, I arrived at the Mangochi turn off and was ready to jump on the back of Geoffrey’s motorbike to finally ride out for about 12km to the village. The children would hear the bike coming and starting laughing and running out from their huts to wave with the biggest smiles on their faces. I knew from that moment on that I loved Malawi and Malawian people.
When volunteering you stay with Steven and his amazing family – Grace, Stephen’s wife, Stella & Georgina Grace’s sisters, Aubrey & Prince Steven’s sons and adorable little Evie aka Evelyn, their daughter. I think by actually living with a family it really makes your experience authentic, because personally, I wouldn’t want to volunteer and stay in a hotel close by, or not experience the everyday life that people in the village have.
Let me tell you though, if you don’t like bugs, then forget about volunteering here- ha! You will be often having dinner with your head torch on, sitting on the mat where you will eat dinner and have frogs, mosquitos, flying bugs (no idea what they were but they end up in your food) little spiders and lots of little critters to look forward to. But… the food is absolutely delicious, and i have been hunting to find Nsima and mustard leaves since I left.
The typical day starts early at about 7ish for some tea and bread made for us every morning. Listening to the Malawian radio and having a chat about the day ahead. The walk from Steven’s house to the school is short but so lovely, walking down the dirt path, between the corn and cotton fields, sun beating down, women with huge water buckets on their heads, people cycling and walking with big smiles and the morning greeting Madzuka Bwanji! (it takes a bit to remember!!!)
At school we have a designated little office, which is a very ‘open’ building made from sticks and leaves, but has the best view of the entire school and of the bore hole- which constantly has women pumping water to carry back to their houses. You’ll also get all the teachers popping in and saying hello, the experts walking past, and the children who will usually just sit close by and watch you which is sweet. One of my tasks was to collect data by interviewing the experts and teachers about health, education, water and the new Changu-Changu Moto mud stoves (which are amazing by the way!).
If you are going to the village, you have to remember it is African time. 10 minutes is never 10 minutes, and you work out very quickly how to go with the flow and be relaxed about things. I found it so interesting and I really believe that by asking these questionnaires people felt they were being listened to and really enjoyed the whole process. I was fortunate enough to also be able to travel to other projects around Malawi to see first hand how to make a mud stove. I’m going to test out my skills when i get back to Australia.
A typical day isn’t really all that typical, and one of the reasons why I love The Mlambe Project is the freedom you have. If you like structure and daily routine this might not be for you, you need to show initiative and create your own day how you want it to run which I loved doing. Whether I was planning interviews with the experts or the teachers, just playing with the children in recess, taking pictures of the progress of the building work, building a hopscotch for the children in the playground, organising sports carnivals or after school activities for the primary school or helping the environmental club with planting seeds, there was always something to keep me busy and you never knew what the day ahead would bring.
I can not describe the feeling you get when a child hasn’t drawn with paints or coloured pencils and shows you the crumpled up sheet of their drawing weeks later tattered and torn like it was their most prized possession. It is something that truly will warm your heart.
Home time is usually about 4pm, when we walk with Lucy, Steve or Geoffrey through the corn fields again back home with the most beautiful sunsets. It’s lovely to hear the sounds of the goats and chickens, and of course the children who will run to greet you most afternoons and chase you around.
I would play with Steven and Grace’s kids and show them new games (Panty hose bowling) or just tickling on the mat. I would often go for a walk to the local shop, watch the sunset, help out with peeling corn or nuts or any help they needed with the dinner prep. Night time is a quiet time, watching the stars, chatting on the mat swatting away the bugs or reading a book. I have to say i turned into quite a Grandma and the day and heat would have me in bed by about 7:30pm- hahah!
By far, this is the best thing I have done in my life and I have taken away so many memories and experiences that money could never buy. The people of this village will give you a new appreciation for what you have in life and how genuine kindness and happiness works. I can’t wait until I can come back to Malawi for even longer!!! Until next time xxxx
Chelsea’s experience meant so much to her, that she has now had the coordinates of Chikolongo village tattooed onto her arm!