If Malawi is the Warm Heart of Africa, then Mulanje is its Aorta- the largest and greatest blood vessel, where the lifeblood of the country is at its richest. We may be biased, but a week at the foot of the Mulanje Massif has convinced us that our travel-weary bodies have reached the right destination.

Team Saptiwo is based in the south-eastern corner of Malawi, flanked by Mozambique and enjoying the unique microclimate of the Mulanje

Massif- a vast monolith of ancient earthwork, forty square kilometres in area and 3,002m high at its peak. The massif  represents the territory of the Mulanje Mountain Forest Reserve, which is, monitored, protected and represented by our partners: The Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) and our primary partner, WESM (Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi).

WESM and MMCT work together to maintain the Mountain's biodiversity, and to develop the relationship of the local people with this vital, life-changing resource. Mulanje is one of the few parts of Malawi where drinking water is a reliable commodity, rather than an expensive (and risky) undertaking; this is thanks to the natural water sources drawn from the mountain, which are treated and maintained by the national Water Board. The microclimate makes the area well suited for tea and tropical fruit growth on its southern side, and rice and other crops on its northern flank. Almost all commerce, trade and community is built on the mountain- literally and figuratively.

However, Mulanje Mountain faces near-constant threats to its continued biodiversity. Many local people have come to exploit the mountain's resources, jeopardising the ecological harmony of the area. Logging, manmade forest fires and the threat of mining loom over even the most forbidding mountain passes. Climate change is strongly felt in Mulanje's micro-climate, with serious effects for animals, plants and people alike. Furthermore, the work of WESM and MMCT is being challenged by “concerned citizens”, who resist the preservation work of the organisations by damaging and destroying the forest they rely on for life and livelihood.

Progressio volunteers have been working with great success in Mulanje for the past year, under the guidance of WESM and MMCT. Our job is to support and proliferate the engagement of local people in caring for their mountain; particularly among young people, who can make a difference to the area now, and far into the future. Over the next 9 weeks, we will be working throughout the area with local schools, youth projects, and tribal communities, encouraging them to consider new ways to live in harmony with their surroundings.

This change will come about by achieving Progressio's three goals- effective participation and governance by the people, for their communities; increased knowledge and protection for those living in the midst of HIV, AIDS, Malaria and other infectious illnesses; and promotion for  sustainable development in a balanced environment.

We're the first group of Mulanje volunteers to live in “host homes” with local people, their families, and neighbours. The experience has been daunting at first, but as we have learned to settle into our new (and often unusual!) way of life, we've started to learn from our hosts, and although our time has been brief, we're already starting to settle into our communities. Chichewa 101 language lessons  have been invaluable- not only for when talking to locals, but knowing when to laugh with them- usually at ourselves!

Written by ICS volunteer George Magner, Natasha Thomspon and Gemma Duncan