After a 16 hour journey, two plane rides, and a short stop in Ethiopia, we finally touched down in Malawi. We were all very tired but the energy in the team was high. 

Travelling through the country we were greeted by lush bright green vegetation, rivers, streams and vibrant red soils, small villages scattered throughout the countryside, women with babies wrapped on their backs in traditional African dresses, children herding cattle and men selling fresh fruit on the roadside.

The first week of training has been extremely well organised, language lessons in the morning and culture lessons after lunch. ChiChewa and ChiTumbuka are the languages our two groups have been learning depending on where we will be based in Malawi, ‘Chi’ meaning the language of and ‘chewa’ or ‘tumbuka’ being the tribal name. The sessions on culture have been extremely useful: we have learnt everything from what is traditionally done at a wedding to how a local chief organises land in association with governmental law. 

Our group is divided into two. There are 7 people in ours and 5 in the other. We are going to Nsanje which is in the south of Malawi, right on the border of Mozambique. Once there we will be working with a charity called Rescope that focuses on ecological sustainability and education in secondary schools on issues of food security, resource management and climate change. We will be contributing to the redesign of a school landscape using permaculture in order to help train, educate and stimulate young Malawians in understanding what resources they have and how to get the best results from their abundant, natural and fertile habitat.

Our journey to Nsanje was a once in a lifetime experience: a journey that was meant to take 7 hours actually took 27 hours. This was due to a cyclone that passed through Mozambique into Nsanje on the very southern tip of Malawi, so we got the tail end of the hit. Purple and blue forks of lightning penetrated the mountainside, mudslides knocked boulders into the roads, torrential rain and cloudy mist dominated most of the view. We had to stopover for the night in Blantyre because it was too risky to continue the journey on the final 50km of dirt track that led to our destination.

The next day we continued our travels but were met by many rivers passing over our road, this meant waiting for one or two hours at each burst bank until the river lowered its velocity and volume. It was dusk by the time we arrived in our house, which had experienced a power cut and the tap water was coming out like mud, due to the heavy rainfall. Things looked better in the morning as the sun rose over our house which is on one of the highest points for miles around.

To arrive at our working site we have to take a 45 minute taxi bike, this involves each volunteer sitting on the back of a bike on a seat just above the back wheel. The road is bumpy and the journeys are not so comfortable, but it's a great way to take in all the scenery after a hard day's work.  

Our week has consisted mainly of training and planning. We have had some intense permaculture training from the partner organisation Rescope, and met some local farmers, teachers and charity workers who are interested and need to understand permaculture in order to make their farming strategies more efficient and sustainable.

We have visited the four sites we will be working on for the remainder of our project and devised maps and progress plans for each week. The sites are one private school with about 162 students ranging from 15-24 years old, one public secondary school with over 1000 students aged 11-15 years old (each lesson has 100 students), a hostel and a community-based organisation centre.

This week in our free time we have attend the local Catholic church service which was very beautiful - lots of singing and dancing, and a very warm welcome from the religious community. Afterwards the male volunteers attended a local football match. One of our boys, Michael, even played centre mid for the local team Kalulu and scored two goals! They have now asked him to play every weekend and given him the local football kit.

The atmosphere among our team is great and we are looking forward to the weeks to come.

By ICS Progressio volunteer Katie Boocock. We don't have photos yet from Katie's team - this photo of a football match at a village in Malawi was taken by the ICS Progressio volunteers who went to Malawi in July-Sept 2011.