Welcome to our team blog, TEAM LIWONDE LIONS. Just as a little introduction we are taking part in the ICS Empower programme, working with MANERELA (Malawian Network of Religious Leaders Living With or Personally Affected by HIV/AIDS) in Malawi to reduce HIV/AIDS-related Stigma, Silence, Denial, Discrimination, Inaction and Mis-action. So expect to read loads more about our 10 week placement but this first week has been filled with presentations, visits and learning new stuff.

To say the flight was long is an understatement. 16 hours in the air, stopping at Kenya and unexpectedly Zambia was tiring but getting a mini South/East African tour was a bonus. We were met by Godwin, the logistics officer for Progressio Malawi, and Ahllie, who took us to our accommodation, Msamba Catholic Centre, which is where we will be living and training for the next two weeks. The centre exceeds expectations; we have our own rooms, the front garden is picturesque and our friendly neighbours, the chickens, sure do know how to pock-pock-pock!

We started training the next day, with Thomas, Progressio’s country manager, giving us a general introduction to Malawi. Thoko and Gilbert gave us a presentation on the type of work MANERELA do and what we will be getting involved in such as teaching under fives and adults, village savings and loans scheme and working with young people in sports, theatre and dance. All sounds very exciting and we can’t wait to get stuck in!

Grasping Chichewa, Malawi’s official language, has been difficult but our language teacher Shupe has been really helpful and as a group we are building on our knowledge. The culture sessions were really fun and informative. The roles that men and women play are very distinct. Men do the gardening, hunt and make hoe handles whilst women raise the children, cook, clean the house. We also learnt that birthdays, unlike in the UK, are not big occasions, especially amongst the older generation. But as it was Aimee’s birthday (the skilled specialist from our team) we had an opportunity to show Francis how we celebrate in the stunning restaurant Four Seasons which had a live band playing Bob Marley tunes and others.

Visiting Dzoole village on Saturday gave us a chance to see Malawian culture. We made a stop off at a market to buy chitenges – a 2metre piece of vibrant coloured cloth worn by women around the waist covering their lower body – and we set off on a long and bumpy journey. On our way, we  couldn’t help but compare England. The scorching sun was a welcome change to the everlasting chill, the beautiful blooms and vast land was so different to the architectural buildings and the burnt orange bumpy dust roads were a far cry from the grey levelled paved streets.

When we arrived the whole village were queuing, men at the front and women behind, to attend the unveiling of the former chief’s tombstone. Hearing the painful cries of the women and children behind us highlighted how great a loss it was and the amount of people present showed the importance of a chief to the village. Interacting with the community after the service was really insightful and enjoyable. We had the privilege of visiting the current chief in his house and meeting the friendly locals and joyful children.

Sunday was our day off and some of us visited a local Presbyterian Church where we were welcomed and could feel a real sense of community – it’s the Malawian way of life. The passionate melodies sang from the four choirs was indescribable and we were all overwhelmed.

That’s just a snippet of what we have been getting up to in Malawi. Looking forward to sharing more with you but for now...TIONANA.

Team Liwonde Lions are ICS Empower volunteers (pictured from left to right) Daniel Sweeney, Aimee Bracken, Barbara Eze (third from right), Samantha Herron and Beckie Sim. They are pictured with two colleagues assisting with the programme being arranged for the ICS volunteers.