This week, over 2,000 people turned up to our football tournament. It focused on 8 local teams from the surrounding villages competing for a champions title and some prize money. We also had music and a commentator on a microphone, to create a vibrant atmosphere. But we used this moment to talk to the spectators about our project and mentioned the sites where we have been working and that everyone is free to come and visit them to gain more experience and knowledge about resource management and permaculture.

This was an excellent opportunity to make our aims heard and people received it extremely well. Working in this informal setting again helped us integrate with a wide spectrum of the local people and they were more open to chat and discuss local issues with us about food security and quality of life in general.

Natural remedies

A few days later we carried out a workshop that focused on using natural remedies for hygienic purposes and general health. Although this was not part of our original project outputs, we all felt it was crucial for people to have a greater awareness of the benefits their natural environment contains, and how they can identify and possibly prevent emergencies such as serious infection to small wounds.

The natural remedies training involved drying out local herbs and leaves, pounding, sieving, boiling and mixing with candle wax or oil. In this workshop we also included the importance of food versatility in diet and how natural herbs and certain foods, such as garlic and moringa leaves, can help maintain a stronger immune system which is particularly important for people living with HIV. Everyone who attended the workshop made their own natural mosquito repellent, from locally available eucalyptus leaves, and a natural ointment to help treat skin irritations made from neem leaves, candle wax and oil. People were also given instructions in their local language and a list of useful herbs to treat mild illness so they able to remember what they have learnt.

Increasing farming productivity

Alongside these programs we altered our plans for site development. This involved updating the targets and outputs, appointing roles for development tasks and setting strict daily goals. To gain a greater understanding of the local farming system we visited some local farms and monitored the traditional method of working the field, which requires a huge amount of time and effort. The average farming day begins at 4am and continues until about 3pm, when the heat of the sun becomes quite unbearable. Farmers explained that they don't usually take breakfast and work right through lunch, partly because they cannot afford more than one meal a day and partly because their farms require so much work they don't have time to stop and eat.

Our aim is to address these challenges by increasing farming productivity and reducing the reliance on manual labour. It's difficult to convince people that this is possible and this is one of the main limitations we are faced with on this programme, but when we are working alongside so many wonderful local volunteers it's hard to ever feel demotivated.

Making it sustainable

Reaching the end of our time in Malawi, we are all feeling the pressure of completing the project outputs. One of our main goals for the second phase was to train 160 students on water harvesting techniques, soil conservation and resource management. In order to achieve this we created a training day at one of our school sites, were we focused on one particular key area of training and made the learning methods specific and enjoyable for each group. The day included:-

  • Raising awareness on global and local pollution issues
  • The science behind global warming and climate change
  • Resource management: an introduction to recycling with examples of how to recycle local waste
  • Soil conservation with particular attention to soil erosion prevention
  • Creating of compost heaps and ground mulching
  • Water awareness, which focused specifically on water pollution/contamination and water harvesting.

It was amazing to hear that students didn't know the meaning of recycling and never understood the problem of littering. They were shocked to learn just how long it took for a plastic bottle to decompose and fully enjoyed the interactive session where they made fly traps, watering cans and plant pots out of plastic bottles. These recycling methods were particularly important because there is no bin collection service in the area so all waste is either burnt or simply discarded onto the floor.

Emotional goodbyes

The final week of our experience in Malawi was emotional to say the least. Every member of the group has made some amazing friends here and we are reluctant to leave them. The children of Nsanje who volunteered and helped us every day on our sites will never be forgot. As will the adults who will remain in our hearts forever, from our taxi drivers who taught us traditional dance moves to our house help who sang and laughed with us every day. Malawi has changed all of us for the better, and unless you have experienced the village lifestyle you will never truly understand the true beauty of its people. We recommend that everyone should visit Malawi and we all want to come back in the future.

As well as being a heart warming and inspirational experience, the learning from us to our Malawian friends has been reciprocated. Cultural difference breathes new life into people's hearts and minds and it's a very beautiful and beneficial experience for all parties involved. To thank the wonderful people of Malawi for welcoming us with such open arms we arranged a farwell party where traditional dancers performed, speeches were made and tears and hugs were plentiful.

The process of change

Our project was successful and we managed to reach all our outputs. Our key change was focused on environmental issues, sustainable land use and disaster risk reduction, with specific attention focused on Permaculture. This is the design and maintaince of sustainable urban and rural human environments which have the productivity, diversity, stability and strength of a natural ecosystem.

Our development programme is a long process and will take more than 10 weeks, so upon our departure we sat down with a number of representatives from each site and devised a report that included achievements and areas of further development. Our friends in Nsanje were confident to continue the development and we will stay in touch with them when we are back in the UK to monitor progress and support them wherever needed.

ICS volunteer Katie Boocook on her group's last weeks in Malawi. Photo: A football tournament in Malawi (photo taken by a previous Progressio ICS team in Malawi - we don't have photos yet from Katie's team)