Utter amazement - the best way to describe our journey so far. From the moment we stepped off the plane in Lilongwe (Malawi’s capital) we could feel the buzz and enthusiasm from our national volunteers as they cheered and shouted at us from the terminal balcony.

The team were ‘super happy’ and treated us like brothers and sisters that they hadn’t seen for a few years. They even eased us into our first meal by treating us to an easy portion of pizza and chips. Later that evening we delved into the Malawi culture by eating their flagship meal of Nsima (balls of cooked white maize), vegetables, beans and chicken. To their surprise we actually loved it and have been eating and craving it ever since. The method in which they eat it was not so easy to grasp though (an elaborate rolling up of the balls into smaller golf sized balls). As long as it all goes down, I guess.

The whole group of UK volunteers from Heathrow stayed with all the national volunteers in Lilongwe for a first week of orientation. We were further treated to a simply astonishing visit to the world famous Lake Malawi where we spent the whole day. We sunbathed and played beach football before indulging in the most fabulous buffet most of us have ever had. The view was stunning.

The rest of our week in the capital was full of preparations and group activities that helped us understand what to expect and to also build relationships with each other. 

Departure from Lilongwe was a very upsetting experience as we had to hug and say goodbye to each other as we split up for the beginning of the programme. There were tears and waves a-many.

We are now at our host home and I am living with the most wonderful Mrs Narenda and granddaughter Wali, plus their maid who barely speaks English but is still incredibly polite. I am staying with another UK volunteer from Ireland - Garret. Garret and I have settled in well and are being extremely well fed and looked after. Here is a picture of our room, which is not bad at all.

The volunteers' room

Garret and I have made every effort to be pro-active in helping out with the house work, although it seems she doesn’t require too much from us. We still buy her groceries here and there to show that we appreciate her efforts. The community love us, smile and wave at us at every opportunity and are happy to chat with us. They invited us to the front and welcomed us during our visit to church with Mrs N. You are not obligated to visit religious gatherings with your host parents but it’s great to do it at least once, just to meet the community.


We are working at Ungweru (a local NGO in Mzuzu) and we walk to the office, which takes us about five minutes every morning. I wept at the idea of waking up at 6ish every morning and getting to work by 7.25, but to be honest it has been quite an easy and beneficial cycle. Immense order has been introduced into my life, which wasn’t there before.  Work is done by 5, dinner is ready by 7, and Garret and I are well exhausted from a fun day’s work and ready (very very ready) to get to sleep by 9.30 in the evening. We feel healthier and more alive for it, although we miss having drinks at Oxford Street at 2am on a Thursday night in London. 

Working at the offices has also been a treat. We have met the various staff who work for Progressio and Ungweru.  

We have learnt a lot about the organisation and its history, to an extent that actually really surprised me. Seeing the previous volunteers’ pictures on the wall really got me motivated to get involved and make some good progress. I want my face on the wall.

We began rigorous planning from day one and started delegating roles as best we could. Our team leader Emily couldn’t join us as she fell ill, and so missed the first week along with another UK volunteer, Hannah. 

We had a lot to take in, as Ungweru is involved in quite a lot of projects in different schools and communities.  In the first week, we began finishing up some projects that were begun in the previous cycle. We took trips out to communities where Progressio had distributed seeds for planting and harvesting, with the intent to collect the initial amount and leave them with all the excess that they managed to yield. 

ICS volunteer Karen weighing beans in Chitatata community

ICS volunteer Karen weighing beans in Chitatata community

I LOVE the trips to the villages and communities, particularly since most of them have been happy to cook us some of the tastiest lunches ever in life. Even if it’s not lunch, they sometimes have a snack for us. I love the roasted maize.

We visited Silota, a community that was previously helped out by Progressio with the introduction of clay cook stoves, which is an immense improvement from their previous method of food preparation. 

The completed clay cook stoves in Silota

The completed clay cook stoves in Silota

I’ve enjoyed meeting the locals and communities but I’ve struggled with the language, although Garret has excelled and integrated as though he has lived here all his life.

We do a lot of group activities, discussions and games to keep our energy and enthusiasm sky high. It’s often led by our team leaders, although sometimes we are given the responsibility to lead sessions at intervals. This is awesome for our individual character building and it also adds another dimension to our sessions. No two days are ever the same!


The pressure is on, and all eyes are on us. We have begun booking school sessions dealing with peer pressure and self-esteem, youth club sessions and HIV and AIDS therapy sessions. It is officially ‘squeaky bum time’. 

Stage fright wasn’t an option when Garret, Hannah, John and I had to address a hall of 300 14-18 year-olds on peer pressure. What’s worse is that we had no idea it would be 300 until we actually arrived at the school. Furthermore, our planned games were hindered due to the lack of stage space. It was arguably the biggest, most energetic crowd any of us have ever had to present to in our lives.

The three hundred expectant faces watching and waiting for us to begin the session

The three hundred expectant faces watching and waiting for us to begin the session

Once we got going, we let the energy in the room take over, and we loved every second!  We started with some games, which we learnt during pre-departure training (thanks Tracy!!!), and then got into the main chunk of our presentation whilst keeping the session interactive and fun. The session ended with a role-play between Hannah and I. The session was a success and they all loved it, but there’s a slight chance that we loved it more!

Having facilitated a less energetic audience, we really appreciated the energy of the first. It really drove home the importance of having an audience that are willing to participate and have fun with us just as much as we want to have fun with them. 

Entertaining the crowd

Entertaining the crowd

We learnt a lot of valuable lessons and were able to improve our workshop content and delivery based on what we learnt from the second session in particular. This makes us more equipped to deal with any type of audience that we may face on future occasions. We are prepped and ready for more action! 

I have also visited a really nice AIDS support group with two of the national volunteers. I will have to say that this was my best session so far. The group consisted of about 11 members who were super welcoming and happy to see us there. I was invited to address them in English and ask any questions I wanted. I did so boldly, and it was well received by the members after it was translated patiently by my national counterpart Chawezi. I asked many questions about the previous volunteer cycles and spoke about improvements (if any) that we could make. I have made every effort to help with the little that they have asked for. I am super eager and looking forward to the next session. 

Written by ICS volunteer Kadir Alaya