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Mary I College Limerick, Volunteer

Georgina Sutton

Why did you come to Malawi?

I have always wanted to volunteer abroad, well ever since my GAISCE bronze/silver transition year and onwards. I had been researching different organisations to travel with and couldn’t find one to suit me (I wanted a personal/honest charity). As soon as I met John and Mary I knew that this was meant to be!! Their passion was contagious.


First impressions (Positive, Negative)

Although John & Mary had shared stories about Malawi and told us of the dire straights much of the Malawians are in, on the way from Filongwe to Mzuzu I sobbed driving through the villages, and as we slowed down I saw one little boy with an inflated stomach. I think that that journey motivated me more than anything anyone could say to me.


Visit to Farm – Experience

Amazing! This was the most humbling and eye-opening experience for me! This was where I learnt what being a Malawian is all about. The extent to which they were grateful showed how these people are the lucky ones! This experience also taught me one of the most valuable lessons I learnt here and that is that Ireland must stay at Ireland when we are in Malawi, comparisons are futile. The aim is NOT to replicate Ireland or modernise a nation, but to empower people and try to solve issues facing people (where possible). The work is brilliant and shows the potential in this country. The extent to which it was welcomed in the farm was remarkable.


Katoto Primary School Placement (Highlights, Challenges, How did you support the teachers)

Challenge: working with 3 other teachers was sometimes difficult as everyone has their own ideas but nonetheless it is good training for future experiences with staff in school.
Highlight: Building a rapport with the children (asked them to say their names before answering), praising them and correcting their work. By the end of just one day (Monday) I felt a change in the atmosphere of the class- an atmosphere that was conducive to learning. I loved the facial expressions of the children and seeing the confidence and enthusiasm grow from day to day and lesson to lesson.
Support teacher: The main way I supported the teacher was by introducing only one methodology (perhaps 2) and using it for each subject to consolidate face that the methodology can be used across curricula and used it throughout week.


I will never forget / I will always remember…

Tony Blair telling me that I am not a visitor but a Malawian citizen. The welcome all of the farm workers greeted us with, the stories they shared, songs they sange and routines they shared with us (staying on farm). What barriers?
Meeting Kenneth at the home-base care (HIV+) aged 13 – looked 8 yrs. I nursed him during meeting. This was when I really began to understand the tragic state and condemned futures of some (many) children in Malawi – I suppose Kenneth probably woke me up to the reality of many in the classroom, the underlying problems of health, diet and support they face before even entering the classroom. So difficult to explain – beautiful smile but sad eyes.


Saturday Classes, how did you contribute?

For Saturday classes I took 2 girls with very poor attendance and did work with them on physical science. I used stones to demonstrate chemical reaction, a rock to explain how a lever works and actions for various topics. We also mad a song to learn about Alkaline. I loved improvising and teaching on the spot, it really highlighted the fact that there are NO excuses for teachers not to effectively teach. Grab a stone, make a song/rhyme, get them active and they will learn.


Any other experiences – positive or negative that will remain with you from this visit?

When a man was waiting for John at SJOG (who had washed his car) sounded so diligent and then Raphael came running out as the man was a thief. This experience really opened my eyes, money is to be squandered in this country – it has to be invested for them or earned. Handing out money is the biggest waste of time of all! I will be so reluctant to donate money without research. Even seeing the Fresian cow at Lillians showed the braindead charities, sending over aid (not completely suitable) and what’s worse is that a Jersey cow is cheaper?
Not an experience as such but just in general looking back I cannot believe how absorbed I became in this country and the passion that this charity has fostered within me. I have the bug now and hopefully the drive to follow this!


Pre Planning:
What would you do differently?
Or what would you advise students coming on placement in the future?


  • Advise students that it is not a fashion show and that it may be an idea to bring clothes with you that could be left behind for Malawians.
  • Play down the wealth in Ireland as comparisons are not beneficial to anyone.
  • Forget about extravagant resources, keep it basic and effective. Only use what can be replicated. Stones, corn cobs, actions, branches!!! Endless possibilities
  • Don’t hold anything back, the more you embrace it, the more you get back. When you are there, you are here! Not in Ireland 🙂

Do Differently:

  • Stay for 6 weeks (at least). So frustrated that circumstances wouldn’t allow me to commit to a longer stay.
  • Rough it a big more, live on the farm for at least 2 weeks! 🙂 Walk more.
  • I think next time around I would organise a car (€200) to alleviate some pressure 🙂 Even though I’d miss the boot of the jeep!!! And the Dubliners and Gogo John’s driving 🙂


Possible follow up suggestions for 4th year trainee teachers with W4Z and Mary I:

Interviews to screen applicants. As soon as students hear there will be a huge number to apply but that’s not the main reason for the interviews. I think different people came here for different reasons, ranging from Facebook photos to making an actual difference.
Make it compulsory to stay for at least 4 weeks!
Make us walk more, we were spoilt! 🙂


Final thoughts?

I would love to come back next summer if you would have me (and I’ll be able to fundraise please God) which means I could contribute properly. But perhaps if you have more students one or two from this lot could be ‘leaders’? Or I would love to just come for 4-8 weeks and tip away at anything I can here! You are the most inspirational people I have ever met. The difference ye have made is amazing, the ocean is full of thousands/millions of drops and there are a fair few belonging to John and Mary I can tell you 🙂

Visited Malawi

June 2016

Student of

Mary Immaculate College, Limerick

Duration of visit

2 weeks