Volunteering in Malawi
On 14th of August 2012 my sister, Jen, my friend, Fran, and I set off on our trip to Malawi. We had been planning it since January and so were very excited and had all worked hard to raise £3000 which would be put towards a feeding program to support the children of the village we would be volunteering in.
We were working in Domasi, a small village in southern Malawi. The project we were volunteering at was called The Tikondwe Youth Organisation and was run by a self-made Malawian man called Joshua, who founded the project 12 years ago when he was just 15 years old. The organisation started out with one school for local children who cannot afford the mere 75p it costs to go to government funded school each year and has now grown to consist of 7 schools, the newest one only having finished being built a few weeks before we arrived,, a HIV Support group for local villagers who are HIV+ and they are also in the process of building an orphanage for local children who have lost their parents to this disease and other circumstances. . Each of the seven schools has around 30 children although attendance was variable.
Tikondwe is deeply committed to improving the lives of poor children and orphans through basic education. As part of this plan, the organisation runs a feeding program which offers a free meal to every child who attends the morning lesson (targeted at children aged 3 to 6 years). The main aims of this program are firstly to ensure that the children receive at least one meal a day; however there are many further benefits that both the children and the village receive as a result of this. The prospect of a free meal encourages parents to send their children to school in taking some of the pressure off of them to feed their children and especially the orphaned children of the village, which they may not always be able to afford to do. The children are also better able to concentrate during lessons when they are not hungry and therefore take in much more and receive a better education in the process. This project had been running for 7 years but recently, with Malawi being one of the poorest countries in Africa, funding was running out and the feeding program had had to be suspended in many of the schools. It was due to this and because of the multiple other benefits that the program brings for the children and the village that we were inspired to raise £3000 for its support – enough money to keep the feeding program running in every school for a whole year. While this was a high target, we felt it was a very worthwhile cause and so we were happy to be able to help and delighted by the generosity of our donors. We also took donations of stationary, teaching aids and toys for the children and the schools, which we were able to utilise in some of our lessons.
hile we were in Domasi, the three of us worked in three of the Tikondwe Youth Organisation’s different free schools. With my background in Special Educational Needs (SEN), I was asked to work with the children that had been identified by other volunteers as having SEN. The morning started with the younger children who would be benefiting from the feeding program. I worked with two children in particular; Overtune, who understood little English, was non-verbal and had a hearing impairment and Jewsoma, who had Down’s syndrome and had a fairly good grasp of English. The teaching mostly consisted of playing with different educational toys, interacting with the children one-on-one and giving them lots of praise.
Once we had finished the morning’s teaching the Feeding Project started. All the children received a bowl of maize porridge which the local teacher cooked for them. They all seemed to enjoy their meal and this was another reason that the parents sent their children to school.
In the afternoon I worked with Seleni, who was 14 and had been diagnosed with Autism, and Mary, who suffered from epilepsy.
Jen and Fran taught whole classes of between 20 and 50 children. The teaching mostly consisted of lessons in English and Maths. A local volunteer teacher was always on hand to help translate for us into Chichewa, the local language, to make sure that the children fully understood our lessons.
Thanks to the Eleanor Peel Trust I had the means to travel to Malawi to see that the Tikondwe Youth Organisation’s Feeding Program has enough money to continue supporting the children of Domasi and their families for the whole of next year, as well as to offer my teaching expertise to children who need it most. I feel very privileged and proud to have been part of making this happen and would like to extend our thanks to both the Fund and our other donors who helped make all this possible and gave us all such an invaluable and unforgettable experience.