Michelle Ní Phléamonn:
Malawi – A reflection
I am home from Malawi now about two months having spent three weeks volunteering with Wells for Zoë in July. Someone said to me ‘you will never be the same again’ and I was like ‘oh yeah’ and thought nothing of it. Now that I’m home a while, I am realising how right they were.
I got involved with Wells for Zoë from two different groups of people. The Charity itself was set up my Aunt and Uncle – Mary and John Coyne and my ex colleague from my school in Dublin – Marie had been to Malawi before.
So the flights were booked, the initial meeting had happened in Lucan and we were ready for the off! I had no idea what to expect there at all as I had never done a trip like this before. I would have heard lots about it from the Coynes and Marie but until you are there it doesn’t really make sense – if that makes sense!
People ask me all about my experience in Malawi and it’s hard to know where to begin, there is so much to talk about and a lot of them are moments you would understand better if you were there!
My time in Malawi was spent in a number of places! Wells for Zoë has lots of projects running at the same time so that meant that there was plenty of variety. Then volunteers usually found their niche or place they enjoyed most and went back there more. I spent time in their preschool – Áras Kate, at a primary school in Luvuwe (that was built by the DIT students on a previous trip) and the farm. I also went on trips with all the other volunteers to see the other projects in action.
Some of my time in Malawi was spent in Áras Kate in the preschool with the children. They are just infectious, always smiling even though some of them barely have a shirt on their backs. They are mad to play games, touch your hair, skin etc. You look so different to them – it’s like being a celebrity!. They all want a piece! I painted with the children with some of the supplies we brought out and it brought so much joy to them. Our children here get so much opportunity to learn, some of these wee souls had never seen paint so you can imagine the excitement it generated!
This year the volunteers brought out clothing donations that were very gratefully accepted by the children and their families from Áras Kate. Every day as the activities went on in Áras Kate any children that looked in need of clothes were taken and given some new ones. The children would be so delighted with their new clothes and be beaming with pride. This experience really touched me as they would head back to their activities all delighted with themselves!
The volunteers also painted the two classrooms in Áras Kate, It was a great thing to do as a team. The result was amazing – a jungle of animals all over the wall. The next day when the children came in they were very impressed!
Áras Kate runs adult education classes in the evening and I also had the opportunity of giving one to them. Before I went into teaching I trained as a Dental Nurse so I did a class on Dental Hygiene. The women were so eager to learn and when we opened up the floor for questions the response was amazing! I could have been standing there for hours! It was great to feel like you were making a difference as so many of them had concerns about their teeth that they couldn’t talk to anyone about previously.
I got my own bit of Adult Ed in Malawi – I was taught how to carry my baby! This little one didn’t seem to mind anyway!!
The opportunity to give two days in-service in a primary school arose when I was in Malawi. The fact that there was five primary teachers there it was a good way of imparting some knowledge. We all worked together in the house planning activities to bring stuff out to the teachers and their classes the nights before.
I found this experience really rewarding however difficult. The school had no real resources, no electricity and some of the children didn’t even have a seat to sit on. The children were so happy and eager to learn. There were 67 in my class on one of the days and during the lessons you would have heard a pin fall in the room – that’s how eager they were. It made me quite sad that they had so little to work with and made me think about all we have in Ireland to do the same job. My two days there were very productive and I now have a link with Daniela my teacher in Malawi and with my class here little boxes will find their way over to her when the Coynes are going out (I’m hoping they have room!).
Fáilte house was a hub of activity in the evenings. Fáilte house – being the home for the volunteers when they go to Malawi with Wells for Zoë.
Living in the same environment with at times twenty people is an interesting thing to do! Inevitably you are going to get on with some people better than others, its good character building! In the evenings two people cooked dinner for the gang which always had a dessert! Many hours were spent around that kitchen table yapping away! I met such amazing people – people I hope to keep in touch with.
To sum up Malawi was a great experience – one I hope to have again in the future. Anyone thinking about volunteering would have a great time with Wells for Zoë. The fact that you don’t have to raise a set amount to get involved will appeal to a lot of people. All money raised goes directly to the causes there as volunteers pay for everything themselves from flights to accommodation and food.
Malawi has changed my outlook on a lot of things. I am so happy to have had the opportunities in the life that were given to me.
Thanks to everyone for their support, encouragement and to the volunteers that made the experience so enlightening.
To Mary and John – the work that you have done and are doing can’t be put into words – I would be here all day and night typing. If three weeks has made me feel like this – what must twenty plus trips do to a person?? I totally understand why you go back and back! I hope to be back very very soon!
Michelle Ní Phléamonn
Summer Volunteer – July 2010