I was reminded frequently through Progressio and a range of contacts that I would need patience diplomacy and the ability to keep a level head during development work. This effect was always going to be amplified considering my team were embarking on the first cycle of a fresh project! I would be lying if I said my resolve hasn’t been tested even in the first few weeks of placement. 

Along with the rest of my team I was trying to balance that eagerness to save the world in a day with the knowledge that our project would take time to get out of first gear. Reflecting on this hereafter I imagine I am echoing the thoughts of a plethora of past volunteers. Naturally I am the type of person that likes to keep busy and hands-on with such tasks and so the first few weeks of introductions and training began to grate on me, regardless of all the advice I had been given.  

However, I also cannot say that the first few weeks have not been productive. The team has settled in and, more than that, the volunteers from the UK and Malawi have become one. All cogs of the machine are now turning as one and we have bonded so much with our friends here through excellent learning exercises, such as cultural awareness. I honestly struggle to recall occasions where I have laughed as much as when listening to my Malawian counterpart’s perception of us UK volunteers. 

To steal a well-known adage ‘Rome was not built in a day’ and neither was Team Biriwiri here in Mzuzu. We need time and we need planning to ensure success and efficiency in our time here. On the Tuesday night I confessed to my fellow volunteers after work I was in a foul mood and, although this expired in an hour, it was a rarity for me. I learned today that some of my fellow volunteers also experienced similar pangs of frustration after a long hot day plagued with transport issues. The contrast was literally ‘night and day’ in comparison to Wednesday, where we spent the day in the mountains shelling maze for a small community! 

Several hours, many blisters and even more smiles later we had filled six bags of maize under a baking African sun. As we read the gratitude on the faces of the local community, my team shared their feelings of elation as we finally considered ourselves to have made a difference on whatever scale. The atmosphere on the long bus journey back home felt like light years away from just the previous day and our Team Leader Jennie commented immediately at the change. At this juncture, I would have to include that in Jennie and Romance my team are privileged in finding two extremely dedicated and diligent individuals to lead the group in times of frustration.

Not every day of our placement is going to be like Wednesday and we will be tested in the future. However, I can promise future volunteers that whatever volume of irritation or unfulfilment they feel on their worst day will not come close to the pleasure and sense of achievement enjoyed on the better ones. 

Written by ICS volunteer Kieran Docherty