I’m currently sitting in Fáilte lodge (the lodge where all of the volunteers stay), reflecting on my incredible three weeks here. My experience volunteering in Malawi has far exceeded any of my expectations. I have had an amazing time and have learned so much. What I will miss most are the people. The people of Malawi are amazing – they are kind, generous, and always smiling and saying hello. From my first walk through town, I felt completely safe and welcome – I really felt at home here. A few years ago, when I first got the idea to volunteer in Africa, I envisioned a place where I could wander through the small streets saying hello to people, playing with children, and really feeling a part of their world. The only problem was, I didn’t know if this type of place existed. Well, as I walked back to the lodge this afternoon with a couple other volunteers, I realized that a place like that does exist – it’s a small community outside of Mzuzu, Malawi called Salisbury Line, and it is incredible.
The picture above shows a present in thanks from her student who had learned enough English to do business in the market.
One of my favourite activities here has been spending the afternoons teaching English to adult women in the community. Everyday, about 20 women come to class with huge smiles on their faces, many with babies strapped to their backs, determined to learn. The women come to class for many reasons – some want to learn English so they can do business in town, some want to help their children with their homework, and some never got to finish school when they were growing up, and just want to learn. Regardless of their reasons, I don’t think I have ever met a more determined, inspiring group of people – their smiles and enthusiasm honestly bring tears to my eyes and give me chills.
This afternoon, I was invited to one of the women’s houses, to meet their family and see their home. While I was munching on some homemade donuts and tea, the woman’s husband asked me if Africa is what I thought it would be and if it was anything like I had seen on TV. I told him absolutely not. On TV, like most people, I am constantly bombarded with images of starving children looking sad and desolate, begging for money to help them. Or, on the other hand, I saw Africa as a nature paradise, filled with elephants and lions roaming the countryside. But, I feel that my experience in Malawi is the Africa that most people don’t ever get to see. They don’t get to meet the wonderful local people who are so excited to talk to you, or play with the adorable children who want to hold your hand or touch your hair (which feels so different from theirs). They don’t get to hear 100 children packed in a classroom, singing and dancing to church songs like “Walking in the light of God” that make you feel so humbled, you want to cry. For me, this is the real Africa – this is the heart of Africa, and I feel so lucky to have been able to catch a glimpse of it.
Thank you for a wonderful, heart-warming experience, and I hope to return again soon.
Melissa – Toronto, Canada