During our penultimate week in Mzimba we have been working hard to ensure we make the maximum positive impact in the projects we have started before we leave the town.

Gardening for food

On our visit to Cowlira, the existing children’s centre, we had previously said that we would work on making a garden for the centre which would provide crops to be used as food to feed the children, rather than relying on community handouts, which are not always available. We walked the 2km to the land which has been given to the centre by the village headman. It was a large piece of land, next to the river, which is good for water resources. We had some worries about the distance the garden is from the CBCC but we were assured there are a team of volunteers who will be responsible for looking after the garden.

The boys started some manual labour, using hoes to prepare the soil for planting. They worked their way across the land, in a line with the men and women from the centre, much to the amusement of the locals that ‘azugus’ were doing Malawians’ work.

The girls spoke to the chair and the village headman and agreed on some seeds we would bring which would provide vegetables for the children, and also had an attempt at using the hoes to prepare the land. Once the ground was ready we headed back to the centre to measure out the area where a new blackboard will be painted. The children’s centre only has a very small board which is rested on the floor so will really benefit from the larger board. In preparation for our next visit we have worked on a routine for the centre as well as better management for the space they have available to them. We have also got some short stories which we will give to the centre as they do not have reading resources for the children.

Working with youth on HIV

Our work with the youth group has continued and this week we looked into the last letter of (the partner organisation) MANERELA's SAVE model – E for Empowerment. We explained the importance of empowerment in relation to HIV and AIDs, empowering women and children to ‘Say no’, empowering people to get tested for HIV and empowering people with knowledge so they are able to prevent themselves from contracting HIV. The group devised songs, drama pieces, raps and poems on the subject of empowerment. We painted large boards on which the youth will draw pictures to explain each letter of the SAVE model, and started work on a  scrapbook of pictures and poems which will be displayed in a final presentation of their work, and can be taken to outreach projects.

Opening a new children's centre

This week has seen the opening of our new children’s centre - Future Vision. At the start of the week we had a meeting with the Headmaster of a local school to discuss using a room in the old school building, which is no longer used. We agreed to be able to use the building free of charge if we cleaned it out. We got to work with some of the youth, to start the task of making the graffitied, derelict building presentable. After hours of scrubbing the walls, sweeping the floors, cleaning cobwebs and painting a new blackboard the room had been transformed and decorated with some pictures that the youth had drawn.

That afternoon we had our first children’s centre session. The girls and the youth volunteers ran a session involving football, rugby, Frisbee, drawing, arts and lots more activities that attracted 43 children in total. It was a very rewarding day and was great for the volunteers running the centre to see what they are able to achieve when they work together, rather than doing little with their days.

The children’s centre will run 3 days a week, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, so on Friday was session 2! Here all five of our team and more youth volunteers got to work on another session. There was an 11-a-side football match, Frisbee, rugby, relay races, a new swing being made, kites made from sticks and plastic bags and nearly a whole wall full of the children’s drawings. At the end of the session all of the children were brought together and sang a Future Vision song, made up by a volunteer. 123 children were registered, which is almost triple the previous day.

We had a meeting after, with the youth, to congratulate everyone on such a great result, all within a week. We discussed any issues people faced, and what we could do, moving forwards. Next week will be our last week here in Mzimba Boma, so we plan to let the volunteers take full control of the centre, structuring it with the 3 key areas that had been designed, to allow them to see how it will run when we have left, but also being a referral point for any help that is needed.

On the radio

At the end of the week we were able to get a recording slot on Mzimba Community radio, which broadcasts to most of the northern region of Malawi and some of the central region. We interviewed 3 of the youth about the new children’s centre, where they explained why it was set up and what it mean to them. It was also a chance to advertise the centre which should lead to more people being involved, when the programme is aired.

This week has been a very successful week and we now know we will be leaving Mzimba having made a huge impact on the town. From the many happy faces of children and volunteers we can see a strong future for Future Vision and have every confidence it will continue running when our time in Malawi is over. The centre provides the children with a safe environment where they can meet new people, learn new skills and play and gives the young volunteers a way to spend their time positively and a chance to learn new leadership skills and responsibilities, which have been greatly welcomed.

By ICS Progressio volunteer Charlotte Issac. Photo: We don't have photos yet from Charlotte's team so this is a photo of ICS Progressio volunteers, who were in Malawi in 2011, setting up a football match for children.