Progressio ICS Empower volunteer Rob Pears reports from Malawi at the end of week 2 of the Empower placements.

In the last couple of weeks of our in country orientation we have been learning about culture and language to be put into use when we go into the field. This became particularly important to us when on Wednesday we were invited to Kalolo Village, which is a traditional authority village just outside of the Capital Lilongwe.

A traditional authority village is overseen by a village head-man or in this case a Chief, TA Kalolo is one of the largest villages in area. For us to be have been invited and have an audience with the Chief Kalolo was an extraordinary honour and a privilege.

We were grateful for our training in cultural etiquette when we entered the Chief’s compound: we knew to clap rhythmically as a sign of respect; we separated into gender groups and rose to our feet when he entered.

Aside from the gender separation these cultural practices are not dissimilar to the way we would treat our British monarchy. We gave the Chief a gift of a hamper and a bag of maize seed, he expressed gratitude and in return he gave us the freedom to explore and experience his village and interact with his people.

Once we left Chief Kalolo’s compound we separated into gender groups and began to explore the village, almost immediately we gained the following of local children as they greeted us with shouts of “Munzungu” which literally translated means 'pale skinned people'.

Despite evident material poverty there was lots of laughter, smiles and playing amongst the children. We ventured further into the village, guided by the Chief’s right-hand man; he introduced us various people around the village as they completed their day-to-day activities.

As we explored the village, two things struck us: their resourcefulness in the face of poverty and also their ability to work together as a community.

To round off our village experience we were invited to enter the Chief’s house and share food with his wife, this was a rare occurrence as our cultural teacher explained to us that it was the first time he had entered the house never mind eaten in it.

Malawi demonstrations

The remainder of the day was a stark contrast to the peace and harmony of the village as demonstrations about the economic crisis in the Capital turned to violence and rioting. These are the first demonstrations that the country has seen since 1994, and were triggered by a fuel crisis and dissatisfaction with the government’s response.

Because of these riots were unable to return safely to our accommodation on the other side of the city, we remained in Progressio’s offices for several hours until we found close alternative accommodation.

After almost two weeks of learning and the strain of not being able to return to our normal accommodation we felt the need to relax and reflect, this was done in a nearby hotel complex with Progressio development worker as a farewell before he returns to his home country Uganda to begin a new job.

Today is our departure date for Salima and Nkhotakota. We are eager to get into the field and put into practice everything that we have learned over the last two weeks. If the next eight weeks have as much to offer as the previous two then the ICS Empower programme will be a very fulfilling both professionally and personally.