The journey started with a pre-placement training in Salima at Mpatsa Lodge for the In-Country volunteers (ICVs). Among other things, the ICVs were taught about what ICS Progressio, how it works and what is expected from them. A successful three day training in Salima lead to a week's orientation in Lilongwe at Crescent Guest House, where the UK Volunteers’ journey started. We spent a week here forming friendships with our new arrivals. Luckily the barriers between us were broken down in less than a day with our first welcoming party, where the conversations flowed more than the Malawi gin (it helped that we all arrived on a weekend!)- leading swiftly to ONE LOVE!

Orientation began promptly at 8:30 Monday morning. For some it had been a long time since they had been in a classroom, but we all settled down with keen ears and open minds to develop an understanding of the traditional Malawian culture. From how to put on a chitenje correctly, to eating nsima and the common practices that take place in a Malawian community; this included funerals, weddings, conception of children (and the role of “hyenas”) childbirth, witch doctors and herbalists. Through learning these traditional practices it became clear that the gender divide is vastly more defined than that in the UK, where gender roles are no longer fixed. For example in Malawi men are grave diggers, whilst the women prepare the food to be eaten after the funeral.

Having learnt and heard a lot about the Malawian culture, everybody was eager to go into the community and experience it for themselves.. Arriving in Mulanje on a Friday gave a chance to scout around the community, breaking barriers between the UK Volunteers and host families before getting to work on Monday.

Come Monday,  everyone was full of energy and ready to roll- starting with introductory meetings with partner organizations, to introductions with youth clubs and visits to the special projects of the previous cycles.

With targets in mind for the end of the placement, ideas were flowing on  what and how to achieve these. Awareness campaigns with help from youth clubs and partner organizations were conducted in communities, schools and Markets. These covered Waste Management, Fire Management, HIV/AIDS and Ending Child Marriage. Training and peer education sessions were also conducted, from nursery and tree management to career guidance, CV writing, interview skills and proposal writing.

The team at the top of Boma path, overlooking Mulanje

Alongside the COWLHA Chikhwawa Team, we hiked up Mulanje mountain to Lichenya hut using the Nnesa path- a simple but long trail, spending the night at the beautiful Lichenya Hut. We came down the following morning using the Boma path which is one of the shortest but hardest paths!

From Mulanje Mountain to Liwonde National Park, who can forget the African Elephants, who was not interested in seeing the crocodiles in the Shire River, the hippos, the waterbucks?

Liwonde National Park

How can we forget the pit digging and the stone collection for the dyke construction at Chanasa? Energy-sapping and exhausting, but fun and worth it. At the hearth of it all, always a small difference made.

Stone collection for Chanasa dyke

Pit digging at Chumani School

Come Saturday 6th December 2014 we had hit the target, finalizing everything with waste management awareness at Providence Girls Secondary School, coupled to an amazing sports day, bringing four Mulanje secondary schools together.

Besides the job well done, we are leaving Mulanje with a lot of treasured memories.

Team Sapitwa

Written by: Charlotte, Gemma and Taonga

Photo credit: George Magner, Pemphero Pirri, Jimmy Maloya