In December we held a party to celebrate the great work that
the night watchmen do at Nyumba ya Masambiro to keep the beautiful centre and
gardens safe. Khumba Gondwe and Tharzan Msuku are two of NYM’s longest serving
members of staff and they really do go above and beyond their duties protecting
They often use the cooler evening and morning daylight hours
to dig over soil in the gardens, they water crops early in the morning just as
the sun comes up to give the crops a chance to drink before the sun is high
enough to evaporate the water away, they pick up any litter that has been
dropped on site or blown in by the winds, and very importantly they keep little
guard dog Jake company as he rests from his daytime job of keeping the monkeys
away from the crops!
It is so important that good and consistent work is
acknowledged and rewarded and so we held a small party with soft drinks,
biscuits and crisps in the library. The trustees were present and spoke
wonderful words of praise for the watchmen and they were each gifted a 20 litre
bucket with a lid and 2kg sugar, which they each carried home with great,
Tharzan and Khumba, we would like to thank you both for your many years of hard work and here’s to many more – Yewo Chomene!
Philippa is Secretary of the Trust at Phunzira, a
charity that has set up and supports a community education centre in rural
northern Malawi, and that also supports two government health clinics in the
area. She has worked for the charity since 2013.
My first steps
out of the comfort of my family home were taken 16 years ago in May 2003, when
I joined 20 other volunteers heading out to Kenya for just over 4 months on a
GAP year project. I chose a teaching program, and was subsequently placed as a
teacher in a secondary school in the village of Matunda, on the Western Rift
Valley. As a naive 18-year-old, I had lapped up the endless adverts from large
charitable organisations portraying continents of lower-income countries filled
with citizens unable to pull themselves out of poverty, poor education and
ill-health without the guiding and instructional hand of the wealthier nations.
I was looking forward to ‘Making a Difference’.
It soon became clear
to me, however, that I wasn’t needed. The school was in part funded by the
Catholic Church and much better equipped and staffed than British newspapers
and television has suggested schools in developing countries would or could be.
In fact, I became concerned that I was
causing more harm than good on this volunteer placement, jeopardising these
students’ one-and-only chance at a secondary school education, which their
family were paying for.
If I’m honest
with myself, this was the first time I really thought about the realities of
volunteering – not for us as volunteers but for the receiving community. My fellow
volunteers at the neighbouring school came to the same realisation as their teaching
responsibilities were stripped back from core subjects to extra-curricular
sessions and more ‘ancillary’ subjects like sport. The qualified teachers were,
rightfully, concerned about the gap year students’ abilities to properly teach
mainstream secondary education subjects, particularly as past volunteers had struggled.
So instead, to
make good use of my time, I approached the government funded primary school in
the village. This school was chronically underfunded, had only two teachers for
four classes, and class sizes of close to 100 children enrolled with many
children sharing single desks – and this although only 40-60 of the enrolled
pupils would turn up to class each day. Pupil numbers were so high for a
village school as primary education had just been made free and many people
were attending school for the first time in their teens and twenties to make
use of this new opportunity. At this school, I could supervise classes where
work was assigned by qualified teachers, oversee break time so that the
teachers could plan future lessons over a quick cup of chai and generally lend
a hand to allow the teachers a bit of breathing space. And although my being
there for one term did not provide a long-term, sustainable solution to the
issues the school faced, it was a better use of my time for the benefit of the
community than my being at the secondary school.
Having said that,
although I began to recognise that the project I was volunteering with could
have done more to better assess the community’s real needs, there were many
things they did well. Firstly, they provided sound guidance and support for
young volunteers travelling alone, some of whom away from home for the first
time. Secondly, some of our registration fee went towards funding a foundation that
sponsored the education of a selection of pupils who would otherwise not have been
able to afford secondary education. Thirdly, the project gave us the
opportunity to explore new places and experience new things. And, while I
recognise that I got more out of my time than the community I was placed in, I
have made lifelong friends, which is really wonderful!
Above all else, this
placement whetted my appetite for community development work and sparked a
dream to spend my life on the African continent. Over the next seven years,
during my studies, between various jobs or on holiday, I was lucky enough to
continue my travels and volunteering in various countries in Africa (Sudan,
Namibia, South Africa), Asia (Sri Lanka, Vietnam), North America and Europe. I used
these times and experiences to further form my personal ideals around the
ethics of volunteering and development work.
My next career
move is what brought me to where I am today. In 2010, I stopped jumping from
desk job to desk job and went back to university to fulfil a long-term dream of
mine and retrain as a paediatric nurse. During my nursing training, I had the
opportunity to undertake an international elective placement. Together with two
course-mates and a teacher friend, we found a placement with Phunzira, which
had begun operating in Ruarwe
Village, northern Malawi, just over a year
earlier. While on placement, I had numerous conversations with my now colleague
Rosa, who had set the project up. It became clear that our ethics around
volunteering and community development were very much aligned in terms of
assessing a community’s needs, bringing volunteers to work alongside and
‘below’ existing local staff rather than in managerial roles, and empowering
the community to be in control of their own development and supporting that
rather than telling the community what they need to do and providing hand-outs.
After a brilliant elective, I returned to the UK to complete my training and
then revisited Malawi with Phunzira for two months to undertake a clinical
audit in the health centre, before starting a permanent job in London within the
NHS. During my second trip to Malawi, Rosa and I often spoke about the charity,
it’s ethics, work and requirements. Soon after that, in 2013, I joined Phunzira
as Health Coordinator. Later, I progressed to Trustee and then Secretary of the
Trust in 2014. I now split my year between Malawi and the UK, working as an NHS
nurse in the UK and overseeing the charity’s projects in Malawi.
placements have allowed me to follow a career path I have dreamed of for a long
time. They have allowed me to live a life I truly love. They have furthered my
clinical skills and made me a better nurse for my patients.
they have opened my eyes to an industry that offers as much to the volunteers
as it does to the communities those volunteers are placed in. You should
acknowledge these opportunities, but also be aware of any associated pitfalls.
Challenge your volunteer organisations around sustainability and community
involvement. Ask yourself: Am I, or the community I am placed in, getting more
out of this? There is no wrong answer. Both approaches are valid, but you should
ask the question and be honest with yourself about what you hope to gain from
your volunteering experience.
And, if you’re
lucky, your volunteering experience might bring you new opportunities that you
had never before considered. I will be forever grateful for all the experiences
that I’ve had that were kick-started by my first trip to Kenya in 2003.
Following from the hard work and vision of volunteer Cara
Marsh we were delighted to host a party at Nyumba ya Masambiro to celebrate the
completion and opening of the newly decorated Youth Hall. The party was
attended by the trustees of NYM, the staff of NYM, volunteers Cara and Rose,
some guests from Zulunkhuni River Lodge and of course the youth club and
nursery students and community members.
The party was a huge success of speeches, singing, dancing, games, glow sticks, bubbles and balloons. Everyone is absolutely delighted with the newly decorated Youth Hall and it is enjoyed daily for so many activities making use of the bright colourful walls and educational murals. We would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone whose hard work was poured into this renovation to make it such a huge success. Yewo Chomene!
The beginning of December saw a Nyumba ya Masambiro Trustee
Meeting held in Khomola Village where NYM Chair Trustee VH Jolote lives with
his family. Secretary Trustee Flarey Singini and Phunzira Secretary Trustee Philippa
Mander on behalf of NYM Trust Member Rosa Nissim hiked the one hour journey up into
the Rurawe zone mountains to Khomola Village. Following a delicious breakfast
the trustees met for almost 3 hours discussing the achievements of 2018 and any
issues encountered, as well as plans for 2019. In 2018 NYM and the Ruarwe
clinic were able to host 10 international volunteers, which has been of huge
benefit to both the community members and the volunteers themselves.
We would like to thank all our donors for their generosity,
which allows Phunzira and NYM to continue to run all its community projects. We
would like to thank the many volunteers for sharing their expertise and energy
with the NYM staff, the clinic and all the community members who benefit from
these projects, and we invite you all to continue with us in our journey into
2019 as we continue with all our work and projects.