In October last year I flew out with a bunch of people I had just met at the airport, to Malawi. A small landlocked country in South-eastern Africa. This was at the same time as most of the people I knew were recovering from Fresher’s Week and experiencing University for the first time. I had never been so unsure about what I was doing.

Before Malawi the biggest concern of my family and my friends was that I would be with people I had just met, for such a long time, thousands of miles away from home. If I failed to make friends with the other volunteers or my host family, it could be a very long placement.

My host family

I stayed with Mr and Mrs Shawa (or Adada and Amama as we began to call them.) Two incredible people who opened their amazing home to us.

From application to training, I was very sceptical every time someone said living with a host family will be one of the best parts of ICS… they were right. It’s hard to describe the feeling being a part of another lifestyle, culture and family. But I can describe it as one of the best things I have ever done. 

Some of the most memorable parts of our days would be discussing Malawian politics or some international current events, whilst sat in the living room watching Sky News after Adada would stroll in give his hearty laugh (you would have to hear it to imagine it) and call Lewis and I children for watching The Simpsons (yes even in Malawi we had The Simpsons, I still thank the Shawas for having great TV channels.) Either that or sitting by lamplight because the power had been off all day. But at some point every single day Amama would walk in and sit in her chair by the entrance to the dining room, wait a few moments and say “Dinner is ready.” This happened like clockwork every day. To which all three men would jump up for a Malawian supper of rice and sides and thirty minutes complimenting of Amama’s cooking with food stuffed into our mouths. 

I will always remember the hospitality of the Shabas and we’re even still in regular contact exchanging recent news from both our countries now that Adada has Whatsapp.

My team

My team of thirteen volunteers consisted of six UK volunteers and seven national volunteers, and with the exception of a couple I met them all at the airport and in Malawi. These are the people who had also chose to commit twelve weeks of their lives to ICS. 

Team Umoza

The people of Malawi pride themselves on being in ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’ and they definitely deserve to be proud of that fact. They are the most welcoming and friendly people I have come across. My national volunteer friends were my point of entry into the community and Malawian culture. They invited us into their homes and to go out with them. I’m proud to say we keep in contact too because the people I met on ICS became friends for life.

This wouldn’t be a section about my team unless I mentioned my fellow UK volunteers as well. Meeting people from all corners of the UK, people I wouldn’t have otherwise been fortunate enough to meet was also massive a part of my ICS journey. We all had different talents, experiences and personalities that somehow blended together into an amazing, weird group that helped me to develop myself into a better person.


As well as my host family and my team, I met such a wide variety of people through just living in the community that if I were to list them all we would be here all day. But from local musicians, to shop owners and an American working from the Peace Corps. I met some people I won’t forget. 

On my first day in Mzimba, I was lucky enough to meet Amjad and his brother who had moved to the town from Pakistan to open a store and support their families back home. Coming from a Pakistani family myself it was incredible to spend time with them and learn their stories and their views of the country they chose to settle in.  

As well as them, we befriended Jesse, owner of the best bakery in Mzimba. We would spend a lot of time sat outside her store having something cold to drink after a day at work. 

There’s also Tfive and Ganizani, two great musicians in Mzimba who raised the roof on a fundraiser our team held for the local hospital. They keep me up to date on their projects, which I can’t wait to hear.

So to round it off, what was at first my biggest concern about embarking on an ICS adventure, quickly became the least of my worries.

Written by ICS Alumni Tallha Khan (October - December 2015 cycle, Mzimba, Malawi)