Training has ended and we are in Liwonde ready to start working! Arriving on Saturday 15th October was a relief after a 6 hour long bumpy drive - the town is rich in wildlife (the Shire River, which runs through Liwonde, being the home to many hippos and crocodiles) but it is much hotter than Lilongwe with temperatures hitting 30C and over daily. Our accommodation is near the market – just a 3 minute walk from our lodge along with various shops and pubs and bars, giving us a real chance to interact with locals, put our language skills and cultural knowledge into practice.

Our work over the next 8 weeks focuses on HIV/AIDS – spreading the message of prevention, working to fight stigma and discrimination and empowering those living with HIV/AIDS with livelihood skills. The partner organisation is MANERELA – Malawian Network of Religious Leaders Living With or Personally Affected by HIV/AIDS.

Recognising the powerful influence religious leaders wield in Malawi, MANERELA aim to build the capacity of religious leaders by funding projects set up by the leaders in their local communities in order to keep the message about HIV/AIDS alive, show that the faith community is responding appropriately to the epidemic and offer support to those living with HIV/AIDS. One of the religious leaders is Rev. Gilbert Momora who has started Kwatukumbuchire  (meaning ‘Remember us tomorrow' taken from The Book of Luke in The Bible) – a  new community based organisation in Liwonde where we will be working – which is about 3km from our lodge.

Rev. Gilbert and his team’s - consisting mainly of young people – faith, determination and passion, mean they are able to carry out admirable work with little to no resources. These are:

• Adult Education Initiative (AEI)
Adults, who did not finish their primary or secondary education for different reasons are taught Chichewa, English and Maths.

• Community Based Child Care Centre (CBCC)
Children aged 1-5yrs from neighbouring villages are taught English, Maths, Chichewa and have an environment to play and interact with other children.

• Home Based Care
23 members visit sick community members and help them with various activities.

• Youth Forum
Young people are given a chance to learn and discuss about topics affecting them such as HIV/AIDS and drug abuse, meet with other young people, be part of the football and netball teams and get involved in drama and dance.

• Village Savings & Loans (VSL)
This can be described as a bank owned by the community where members buy shares, borrow money and after 6 months the money is distributed.

We must be honest – it was daunting to learn that we would be working with a new organisation. I always thought, especially as a first time volunteer, that I would slot into a well established existing structure and essentially do what they tell me to.

At the beginning, it definitely seemed that we were out of our depths. However the fact that our expectations were very different to reality is not a bad thing. To be part of the team which shapes Kwatukumbuchire, is a privilege. Yes, we are not skilled development workers but we are able to share our life experiences, whether that’s working with young children, studying childhood development or volunteering in similar settings, and hopefully  this will leave a lasting imprint, surviving our departure in December...

Written in October by ICS volunteer Barbara Eze, at the beginning of their Liwonde placement.

Photo: Kwatukumbuchire - the centre which houses all the activities.