Majestically rising 3002 metres from the ground, Mulanje Massif has become an iconic symbol of Malawi's heightening awareness of Environmental sustainability and conservation. This isolated granite formation sits grandly in the south of the country, overlooking the vast golden tea fields and the small sea of colourful Mulanjean homes.
The Porter's race is an event which has been running since 1996. Not only has it become an important event to support the work of the day to day life of porters but it has also become a national and international phenomena, placing emphasis on the country's growing Tourism and Environmental sector. It takes place in the second week of July every year and is open to everyone over the age of 16.
With a 4am rise, our Progressio ICS Team set off for Likabula Forest Office located at the foot of the mountain, where we carried out the registration process. Up to 360 people joined this race, some of whom were international participants. From the start of the registration process at 5:30am to the last few to cross the line late afternoon, the typical lively and fun Malawian atmosphere did not falter. Loud music, raffles, traditional dancing and speeches were abundant. In total NBS Bank pumped K6 million (approx. £9,000) into this event.
This race has been classed as an extreme sport and watching the first runners cross the line was exhilarating. For the men, coming in first place was Charles Musowa with an astonishing time of 2 hours and 7 minutes. Evance Nyazule came in right behind at 2 hours 8 minutes and Diness Allan at 2 hours 9 minutes. Dorothy Gawani was the first female runner to cross the line with a time of 2 hours 56 minutes, then Violet Joza at 3 hours 4 minutes and in third place Febia Damuson with a time of 3 hours 10 minutes.
Starting from the Likabula Forest Office, the trail snakes up Skyline Path reaching the Chambe Plateua, making its way across the top of the Likabula valley and joining the Lichenya path at the high point, ascending over 1500 meters and finally a steep decline down the 'milk run' back to Likabula. This route takes the runner past some of Malawi's most breathtaking scenery and through the mountain’s most diverse habitats. ICS partner Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) has been one of the main organisers of the Porter's race for many years. Working in collaboration with the Department of Forestry, MMCT's main vision is to raise awareness and ‘to achieve a Mulanje mountain forest reserve that is responsibly managed and equally benefiting all...’ The Porter's race is one of many events in which MMCT is strongly present and has reached over 1000 people during this most recent event.
As well as a fantastic opportunity to raise environmental awareness, tourism is also another reason this event takes place. Now called 'Malawi's extreme sport', this race, since being open to international participants, has put Mulanje mountain on the tourist map for not only sports enthusiasts but also for outdoor holidaymakers. One of our Progressio national volunteers, Haward, noted that it is a crucial event for his community as it brings together everyone from all walks of life, both nationally and internationally. Present at the event was the Minister of Information, the President of Athletics, the Department for Tourism, Director of MMCT, Director of NBS Bank and many national media stations filming the action.
The Porter's race therefore has been an event that has placed Mulanje on the map, be it on the touristic bucket list or a haven for environmentalists. It truly was exhilarating to watch the first few cross that line but even more encouraging to see a 75 year old man from Ntcheu completing the run just as things were being cleared away. When asked by Jimmy, our national group leader, if the man was in it for the prize, he said no ‘I am in it for the passion!’ Such a love for this sport and the spectacular mountain in which it takes place in was this man’s drive. Such testimonies remind us of the beauty of the work we are involved in. We look forward to the coming 8 weeks we have in this area and although we will be faced with many challenges, the projects we have the potential to create is exciting.
Written by ICS UK volunteer Esther Malcolm
Photography by Liam Cooke-Jones, Esther Malcolm and Jill Corbyn