Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Malawi in a nutshell

I am Diana Wanjiru Wanjagi, a UK Volunteer based in Zomba, Malawi. My interests include; long walks to unknown destinations, hiking, exploring trails, listening to music, indulging into new cultures, trying out different delicacies and socializing. Besides the above, I’ve set personal targets I’d want to achieve in life, both socially and professionally-the most challenging as of yet would be to climb Mt. Everest- the highest mountain in the world.

Currently, I have been on placement in Malawi for 9 weeks, with International Citizen Service-International Service. Our project involves increased knowledge of sexual and reproductive health (SRHR), drug and substance abuse for youth in and out of school and training parenting circles to make them more effective in terms of providing parenting education.

My team and I (Zomba Plateaupus) have managed to achieve the above objectives by conducting life skill sessions in schools, both primary and secondary schools. Personally, I’ve mastered the topic on Self Esteem/Self Awareness and that is what I present to the learners most of the time. Having taken 7 years to work on myself, I feel confident enough talking to the youth about it. The rest of the team has found their specialist areas that they have interests in, thus, present that in school sessions.
Conducting a Life Skill Session at Hi-Profile Secondary School

 In our program, we’ve incorporated drama and Theatre For Development (TFD) which have proven to have a significant impact in the communities we’ve visited. Normally, this is effective if we do a community investigation first and identify the key issues facing the community then present that through drama and TFD. We have two youth groups Chinamwali and Mapale that are talented in acting. Our Team Leader, Samson James is good at directing and performing in TFD and has helped us grow in that sector. 

Aside from conducting TFD sessions and school visits sport is also used to achieve our objectives, particularly football and netball with young people. Sports training go hand in hand with health messages so that during tournaments, a message on heath treatment centers (HTC), sexually transmitted infection (STIs) treatment and other SRH Services are discussed so as to raise awareness of them all. I am also very passionate about Women Empowerment programs. 

During this placement, I have conducted sessions with women and realized some of them are dependent on their partners for survival while others are independent and hardworking. My role has been to encourage every woman to put themselves forward in terms of making a living for themselves and their families.

HIV/AIDS presentation in Namalaka Village-led by Hazel Nyaruso and Diana Wanjagi (ICS Volunteers).

ICS Volunteers (Team Zomba Plateaupus) in Thundu village.

ICS Volunteers bidding goodbyes to Bwaila School after a Life Skill Session.
 Malawi is really beautiful. They refer to it as “Warm Heart of Africa.” That has been clear to my eyes as its citizens are quite friendly and helpful. The relationship I’ve had with ICVs has been worthwhile. My host sister, Wezzie is a beautiful, intelligent, warm hearted lady whose friendship I will keep for a lifetime. She’s created a sense of comfort for me at work and even in our house.  I learn a lot of the culture, foods and language (Chichewa) from her. 

Monday, 11 December 2017

Medical Facilities of Malawi

Hi everyone. My name is Emily Kinsella, one of the UK volunteers here in Zomba Malawi; and the editor in chief of the team Zomba Plateaupus blog.

And I have a confession to make. I was absolutely terrified to come on placement to Malawi. Why you might ask? Hospitals or potential lack of medical facilities. The image that I got from the media before I came here portrayed medical care as sparse, scarce and basic. It was also implied from several sources that if you become seriously ill while you were travelling in Africa you were in trouble.

I am a very accident prone severe asthmatic, I was surprised that I was allowed to come on placement, and if anyone was going to need to visit a hospital during our time in Malawi it was likely to be me. And sure enough I did, within in the first four days of our stay.

There was an outbreak of food poisoning within the group; which I am informed is quite rare for Malawi despite perceptions. At least that’s what the doctor told me he thought it was. Whatever it was quite frankly I have never longed-for death more in my life than I did the night of the outbreak. With a 40-degree fever I started to hallucinate that Liane and Samson had ceased to be our team leaders and they had given the job to me. My first task was to distribute the lunch stipend amongst the team; the task was made even more difficult as our ranks had swelled to 40 strong instead of ten including the team leaders, and the only assistant was a six-foot three blonde rugby player called Adam. I’m still confused about the character of Adam as there is no one that answers to that description here in the Malawi cohort or that I know back in the UK. However, this figment of my imagination was very pleasant and helpful.

The next morning it was quickly decided that the afflicted volunteers and team leaders would need to go to hospital and that we couldn’t travel down to our placement locations in this state. I distinctly remember thinking to myself that it seemed a sensible suggestion for others who were more ill than I was but I did not need to go I would be fine in a few hours. I was trying to help Diana, my teammate, pack my suitcase ready to leave the lodge but I couldn’t stand properly and just kept falling back onto the floor so resorted to crawling round picking up objects; then curling up on the floor and whimpering like a kicked puppy.

After several hours of this- more likely half an hour- Lena (one of the International Service staff in Lilongwe) appeared to take the ill to the hospital. At the hospital a nurse asked if I would like to sit in the waiting room and wait for the doctor or would I like a bed to lie on. This sounded like the best idea I had heard in ages. The hospital was clean and quiet. A nurse appeared quickly to take blood samples to try and find the problem. The doctor then visited and recommended a drip. The nurse whose name was Stella and was one of the nicest nurses I have ever met and was very sympathetic to our plight, told me they were using the smallest needles the same ones they use on new-born babies as she noticed I had gone even paler than I was before as I really don’t like needles. We were discharged after 2 IVS each, some injectable antibiotics to help kill the infection, some more antibiotics to tackle the infection after we had gone home and sent to bed at International Services office.

Picture 1: A Malawian drip- more specifically my drip while recuperating in hospital from the food poisoning.

Picture 2: Bryn, Liane and I. Recuperating with snacks in Lilongwe after the food poisoning.

I have managed to visit the hospital five times in the duration of placement; salmonella poisoning, soft tissue damage, anaemia, lung infection and an asthma attack. Each time the doctors have been patient and kind and tried to solve the problem as quickly as possible which was all was needed. The hospitals are different in layout to the ones in the UK but efficient.

So, I am happy to report that anyone else who is worried about coming to Malawi and the medical facilities should not worry too much and come to the warm heart of Africa. You won’t regret it.  

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Shaking Zomba Mountains with Smiles

Hi, welcome to team Zomba Plateaupuss blog once again. My name is Mwayiwawo Chitsamba (In country volunteer). In this blog I will take you through my first experience in Zomba and our progress as team Zomba Plateaupus in the ICS programme, despite a few challenges. Even though I am a Malawian raised in Lilongwe, this is my first time visiting Zomba, thank you to International service for this opportunity. Zomba is a nice place to be in Malawi, surrounded by beautiful hills and is well covered with a lot of indigenous trees causing a circulation of fresh and cool air during the day making it a comfortable place for all the UK volunteers. Unlike Lilongwe, Zomba is quiet and smart and hopefully I am not going back to Lilongwe; my apologies to my capital city!

It is not only the beauty of Zomba making my ICS placement also the interaction with my team mates, and together we are known as “Zomba Plateaupus”. Everyone in my team is dedicated, hardworking friendly and passionate about ICS. Every team member has many different reasons for volunteering for ICS. Some are working to improve professional skills for example public speaking skills, monitoring and evaluation and project management experience. While others are interested in organising and managing sports tournaments and theatre for development sessions. This is what is keeping us strong as a team, each member is working towards their personal goals while aiding ICS and international service achieve their objectives; personal development for volunteers, making a positive impact in the communities and become active citizens within society. Let me also thank Samson and Liane for the good management of the team.

  Figure 1. Conducting a life skills session at Hi-profile secondary school

As ICS volunteers in Zomba, we are implementing several activities involving sexual and reproductive health and rights which is targeting young people in the local area. These include theatre for development sessions, drama, sports with a healthy message and monitoring and visiting parenting circles. We are also conducting life skills sessions within schools including; career guidance, motivation talks and information and HIV/AIDS. These hopefully will encourage the young people to set achievable, realistic goals, stay safe and become good and reliable citizens of Malawi. Through the life skills sessions the students feel comfortable to open-up and tell us the challenges they face during their daily lives. We have found several sensitive cases which are now in the hands of the YONECO helpline. I enjoy the life skills sessions because I know a direct impact to my fellow youths. Most of the time I am motivated to do the sessions by Diana (UK volunteer) who is passionate about women’s and girls’ empowerment, I have a lot to learn from her.

Figure 2. At Mponda bwino village during a drama about the effects of drugs and substance abuse.

One thing that is interesting about the ICS programme is that as volunteers we can show and discover our hidden talents. For myself that I can act and change people’s lives through drama.

Figure 3: ICS volunteers saying good bye to Bwaila LEA students after life skills sessions

Finally let me appreciate the tireless work of in trying to change people’s lives through the various activities we conduct in communities through community investigation the team is discovering a lot of issues affecting youths. At the end of the various activities we see the big smiles that shake Zomba mountains, a clear sign that we have imparted knowledge at the right time to the right people and we hope that Zomba will not be the same at the end of this placement period as we are doing our best that the youth are given the right information about human rights, life skills and sexual and reproductive health rights.

By Mwayiwawo Chitsamba

(Edited by Emily Kinsella)

Monday, 6 November 2017

Introduction from Team Zomba Plateaupus

Hi from team Zomba! We are the second cohort sent to Zomba, Malawi. Welcome to our blog post and intro from all the members of team Zomba Plateaupus. We will be posting more exciting entries during our placement so stay tuned. 

Muli Bwanji! I’m Liane, one of the leaders in Zomba Plateaupus team. I’m from the UK but also feel at home in Malawi and can’t wait to do some good work here with the team.  You’ll often find me at the tailor getting colourful clothes made, or wandering around the trees and monkeys in the botanical garden. 
Hi, I am Samson James the in-country team leader, currently leading Zomba team. It’s really going on amazingly well here. Being in the second cohort I have developed team skills and making friends. I like my new team because all the volunteers are dedicated and hence very easy to get along with.
My name is Bryn Williams, I’m from Leicestershire, I’m 18 and I’m a music geek, I’m in an indie-rock band. I’ve settled in quick and am part of a great team, the lifestyle in Zomba is great and something I have fallen in love with already, I look forward to the weeks we have here!
Hi there! I am Diana Wanjagi, a UKV. First time visiting Malawi and loving it. The people are so welcoming and so is the environment. In terms of my placement in Zomba, I couldn’t be happier. We started at a high note and hoping to carry on with that trend. My teammates are quite helpful. Moreover, our team leaders are supportive, bless them. Looking forward for a beautiful experience in the warm heart of Africa.
Hi guys, I’m Emily and I am one of the UK volunteers here in Zomba, Malawi. I just turned 22 and had my birthday here in Malawi which is unforgettable and fantastic. I’m from Surrey and am a massive bookworm. I am loving Zomba; the area is stunning; the people are friendly and there are monkeys in the botanical garden. My team is an amazing bunch and our time here will be brilliant. I am running the blog posts and communications.
Hello, I am Hazel Nyaluso, in country volunteer in Zomba Plateaupus  team, I’m having too much fun here in Zomba. Everyone is amazing and it’s such an awesome experience; I love doing youth empowerment sessions and motivational speaking which I am good at, changing lives one person at a time.
I am Jack, a chilled guy who likes making friends and am enjoying every experience with the Zomba Plateaupus team. My role in the team is to do the Monitoring & Evaluation reports.
Hi, I am John, the first thing you need to know about me is that I don’t like talking about myself. But anyway, here we are. I am one of the UK volunteers and applied to volunteer for ICS after completing my studies in the humanities. After my tenure at university learning about the theory of sustainable development, I thought it a good idea to learn the practical side of sustainable development; so here I am.
Hello guys. My name is Mwayiwawo Chitsamaba, in country ICS volunteer, working in Zomba with YONECO. I am friendly and humble ask our mum (Liane) and dad (Samson). I like team Zomba Plateaupus, I have a lot to learn from the team, every member in the team is a lesson to me. But the three-month period is too short! Please extend it!
Hello, I am Wezzie Amina Banda, an in-country volunteer for ICS, Team Zomba Plateaupus. I am loving it here. My teammates are just awesome, I am learning a lot from this placement while educating others as well, especially the youth on different topics of life skills. We have started so well and we are good!!!!!

Team Zomba at the beautiful Botanical Gardens

Snake eyes Sam, lucky Liane, and their wicked gang of rebels


Team Zomba Plateaupus at Saint Mary's School 

Hello and welcome to Team Zomba’s

group blog, if you’re sitting comfortably then I’ll begin.

You join us in the first blog of our 8-week series (currently working on the filming rights) which is being written by myself Bryn Williams, an 18-year-old UK volunteer from the rural heart of Leicestershire, I am part of an already strongly bonded group so, I hope to say that in future blogs you will hear more of the other fascinating characters in my group. I have never actually written a blog before and was something I thought I should try, so, apologies to my harshest critics. My plan is to formulate this first blog like a story, as most of our journey so far has been a quite funny and unique story with many twists and turns along the way, we are quickly learning that is the general flow of things in Malawi.

Our team consists of, two team leaders, Samson the in-country team leader, Liane our UK team leader, and eight volunteers Wezzie, Hazel, Mwayi and Jack; the four In Country Volunteers (ICVs). Me, John, Diana and Emily; the four UK Volunteers (UKVs). On Monday October 9th our flight landed in Lilongwe - on what appeared an abandoned airfield in the middle of nowhere – and our Malawian journey began.

We met the project organiser Jack Mudd whom took us on our bus journey, through enchanting purple tree lined streets and bustling roads to Messa’s lodge. A fenced lodge on the outskirts of Lilongwe, where we were to stay for three nights with all of the other volunteers and team leaders. An amazing three days getting to know everyone to just enjoy the warm company of all the different characters working in Malawi. One evening we gratefully were able to journey into the intestines of Lilongwe and see the places Lilongwe had to offer. We got to meet Liane (Samson was in Zomba) and on the Thursday of that week we were to travel to Zomba, sadly and quite selfishly three of us, including our beloved team leader Liane and me, preferred the thought of a hospital bed and off we went (definitely wasn’t because our stomachs can’t handle Messa’s food!!) setting our travels to Zomba back a few days. Me and Emily - whom was also ill - luckily headed to Zomba on the Sunday evening with Mr Mudd escorting us, with Liane joining us and Mr Samson to lead us to glory the next Friday. Meeting my host mum was lovely and I felt welcomed immediately, it was the same case for all other volunteers, it has been great eating the local food and seeing how our family lives here, with the classic nsima eaten most nights. This is ever kindly joined by a power cut, a common thing here that we have adapted to quickly, after all a candle lit dinner isn’t so bad.

Monday morning, we walked to our meeting point (a walk I adore every morning) where we are picked up to be delivered to our location; sadly, if we were a DPD package a refund would certainly occur for not being on time! Although many transport issues have occurred we are seeing past it and accepting it as part of the crazy culture. The first week for me started with a speech and a Q&A session at a local private all-girls school called St. Mary’s. All other volunteers also attended and gave their own speech based around life skills before the Q&A session, this being something that is never usually part of International Services’ programme and something we enrolled ourselves in thanks to Diana and Wezzie. The rest of the day consisted of meetings, introductions and training which was the general theme of our first week. YONECO training commenced the next day and did so for three more days on typical topics such as M&E, data management and our own Theatre For Development group and parenting clinic. Although we sat about taking notes for the most part, there was definitely a highlight for most people on the Wednesday, when we headed to witness and help with monitoring at a local football tournament set up and run by YONECO at the Zomba Police Academy. It started very quiet with around 100 children dotted about the place. This rapidly picked up to 1000 kids freely dancing to the blissful and foot tapping, hip swinging sounds of the YONECO band with others screaming and playing in the dirt, probably giddy after a few Frozys, even Mr Samson got up on the mic!

The Children of Zomba at the YONECO football tournament 

For me this event will stay with me forever, the scenery, the smells, the atmosphere and most importantly the people, and even I had a little dance on the stage and that certainly made the children laugh.

Keen football players at the YONECO football tournament 

The next day sadly compiled of more training at YONECO HQ. We usually work on Saturdays and have Sunday and a mid-week day off, as we knew our next week was going to be a busy 6-day week we decided to have the Saturday off. Some of  us met on Friday for a hike up one Zomba’s terrific mountains, striding towards old parliament we climbed quickly and before we knew it we had the most glorious view of Zomba as if intricately painted specifically for us. Later that day we went swimming at Sir Harry Johnston’s International School, a much needed cool down, as Liane had arrived in the later afternoon of that day we met at a place called The Backpackers or Pakachere, a sweet little spot in the middle of the park being home to a hostel where there was more mzungu than wakuda. This meant getting home later than usual which worried my host mum, however, it was of course before the 9pm curfew.

Tensions have arisen in the south with prospect of bloodsuckers haunting villages so sadly our curfews have been changed to 7:30pm, not because we turn into vampires after 7:30 but because there has been attacks on strangers in communities in the more rural areas of south Malawi, quickly spreading north by word of mouth and Malawian whispers. The curfew change is something of a rarity and is only done if completely necessary for safety.

Saturday was a great day for me, I went material shopping for cloth to make some tailored made clothes, it appeared me and Liane were the only two who really wanted to get some shirts/skirts (I only wear skirts on the weekend) and we headed to the tailor who took my measurements and he was a top-notch gentleman who I shall be going back to for many more shirts as he did a sterling job.

Sunday for consisted of sleep and was a lazy day to ‘recover’ and toured the local pub and eat some local chicken with my host brother Paul and watch the football, they love the premier league here.

Monday started off with the weekly YONECO meeting at Mapale which wasn’t too long but getting your voice heard is quite tricky. After this we headed to Ndola drop in centre and did our own weekly meeting and discussed the week ahead planning who would do what and which schools we would visit for our life skills sessions such as, Sir Harry’s International School, High Profile, Mponda etc. The most part of this week has been revolved around sports coaching with creative arts sessions taking place in Bwaila. We completed our community investigation for our theatre for development and the next day started to write our story for our play. It was great fun getting into character and seeing Mr Samson act, you can see he really enjoys it and realises the power of it!

By Bryn Williams (UK Volunteer) 

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Salome talks about how this project has changed her and improved her confidence

How are you? (Muli bwanji?)
My name is Salome Kadazi but my friends in my team (Zombe) call me Salome Apples. I am the shortest girl of the group and that makes me look young, which I am not. I came from the northern part of the Warm Heart of Africa (Malawi), in a city called Mzuzu.
Today, I am going to share with you the experience I now have through team work with the volunteers. One of the experiences of the ICS project is working in a team, which requires love, trust and inclusion. Working in a team may consist of people of different race, behaviour, culture and beliefs. Just like in this project where ICVs are working with UKVs and we are placed in the same homes.
Being in a team of different races, lifestyle and culture it was at first hard for me to cope, but slowly as days were passing I had to understand and accept people's differences. This team work has made me into a person who understands, respects and accepts the other volunteers and other cultures.
My other experience is of the project itself. I now know how things run in a project, and that you need both cooperation and hard work for you to fulfill whatever you have as your goal/objectives.
Working in a team requires you to be dependent because most of the things that you have to do will require other team members to help. Team work does not need a 'mean' person. With this project I am more confident personally and in a group – I have built a lot of confidence because in the project I am often facilitating sessions, making speeches and I have even talked on air to hundreds or thousands of people.
I have a better understanding of leadership – when you are a leader, you have to be selfish sometimes for the good of your team/people, because sometimes you have to make decisions without consent of others just in the name of protecting/improving your team.

Lastly, team work improves and strengthens friendships among members. These are all the experiences I love. I hope you have enjoyed reading this just as I have enjoyed doing this project. Bye!

Saturday, 2 September 2017

They told us again and again, that we wouldn't see any change. That we would be like a drop in the ocean. But they were wrong.

We're the first cohort. We're setting up a completely new project; and development isn't always as glamorous as it looks. Change is slow - we were reminded of that so much during training. Things move slowly. Expect to be disheartened, expect to be frustrated, expect to not be able to see the difference you're making - you just have to trust that you are doing something good.
I feel very lucky, then, that I see lives changing on a weekly (sometimes almost daily!) basis. Things changing as a direct result of our team being here, talking to people, inspiring them, teaching them, organising events in the community.
That time we talked to the netball and football teams about HIV, and encouraged them to get tested when they were previously too worried. Clearing up all these crazy ideas people have about sex and HIV. When we raised awareness of our drop in centres, and now a load more young people have come and are setting up a drama club there. Watching the children's faces light up when they are given the chance to express themselves through drawing, or dancing, or moulding things from clay.
Every time the volunteers talk to the youths - either at events, or drop in centres, or just people they meet in town - they are changing lives. I can see it happening. As young people ourselves, working for a well-respected charity such as YONECO, people listen and respond to us. They look up to us. They come to us with personal issues and we have that chance to advise them. Some of these people may not have spoken about sex, or other issues facing them, so openly before. We make sessions interactive so that the volunteers are just guiders, but the youths themselves dictate what we talk about, and they love asking questions.
It's so amazing watching how well young people here respond to our team; they really listen and follow the advice we give them. As well as young people we have also been training parents, so they can speak more openly to their children about issues facing them. Parents have personally come up to the volunteers who ran those sessions and thanked them for teaching them so much.
I couldn't not mention our theatre sessions. Through engaging the volunteers as well as the youths at the drop in centre, we have been reaching out to communities and performing plays which are fun, as well as informative about YONECO and about how to deal with certain issues the community may be facing. A major success was when well over 100 people turned up this week to watch our drama and they loved it - staying for 3 hours in the sun to watch everyone perform! It also gives the youths involved more skills and a chance to show off their amazing talents in acting, so they are super happy to be involved.
And of course, the other lives that are being changed here are our own. Me and Samson and the volunteers. I see everyone becoming more confident every day, and forming friendships that will last a long time.

Maybe looking at facts and figures, it looks like a drop in the ocean, but I think that every person whose life is enriched or changed by this project - every person who learns something or gains a skill - it makes it all worth it.

By Liane Fulford