Community, Donations, Malawi, Volunteers

Introducing NYM’s upgraded kitchen

We are absolutely delighted that the kitchen at Nyumba ya Masambiro has seen a big renovation this year. The kitchen sits up on the rocks behind the Library with views through the trees down to the lake. It is one of the hubs of NYM, serving as the site for meetings, nursery porridge cooking, morning tea drinking, volunteer lunch eating and the perfect spot to cool off during the hot season as it is so well located that it catches any breeze passing through the valley.

Previously an entirely wooden structure, the new kitchen has a more stable concrete floor with an A-frame roof which has been raised up higher to even better catch the breezes, and a nice big socialising table.

We would like to thank Claire who donated the funds for the concrete for the floor and the staff at NYM who did a great job at salvaging so much material from the original kitchen to allow it to be built in the most environmentally sustainable way possible. Yewo Chomene!

Community, Malawi

Farewell our friend Jake

It was with great sadness that we had to say goodbye to super staff member Jake the Guard dog yesterday. Jakey has been the guard dog (and everyone’s friend) at Nyumba ya Masambiro since its inception in 2010.

While Jake’s main role at the centre was to chase the monkeys away from the crops in the gardens and keep the watchmen company through the night, he took it upon himself to befriend and accompany every volunteer, visitor and staff member to come through the site.

The most sweet-natured and gentle soul, Jake loved a patch in the sunshine to rest and always had a happy grin on his face. He suffered from a short but very severe illness but we are hugely grateful that he remained cheerful throughout and showed no signs of pain or discomfort right up to the end. Thank you Jake for all your love – you will be very much missed!

Community, Fundraising, Malawi

Gardening grand plans at NYM

Recent months has seen a real push in crop management at the Nyumba ya Masambiro gardens. James Nyirenda has been the gardener at NYM for a couple of years now and he works incredibly hard to make his vision for the garden a reality. Under his watchful eye the sugar cane crops have flourished bringing in small but steady income to the centre.

Once a week all the staff at NYM down their tools to work together in the gardens, planting cocoa yams at the end of the year was the big target and two large garden areas were weeded, turned over, watered and planted with cocoa yam seedling stems. These are being tended under the watchful eye of James to be ready after the rains for harvesting and selling to community members. Selling crops from the gardens is one of the micro businesses run at NYM, the income of which ensures that community members can continue to benefit from the education services being offered completely for free.

James has grand plans for the gardens for 2019 including planting many varieties of sweet potatoes, replanting some papaya tree seedlings as our papaya trees are now too old to fruit successfully and expand both the sugar cane and cocoa yam crop areas. Watch this space for more news on how the gardens develop!

Community, Malawi

Celebrating the Night Watchmen

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 the centre.

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, well-deserved pride.

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!

Op ed Article, Volunteers

My journey into development work – by Philippa Mander

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.

Philippa with friends in Kenya in 2003

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.

My volunteer 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.

Most importantly, 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.

Image of mother and daughter taken in Ruarwe village during Philippa’s first trip there in late 2011.
Malawi, Volunteers, Youth

Party to celebrate the newly decorated Youth Hall

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!

Community, Malawi

NYM End-of-year Trustee Meeting

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.

Community, Donations, Education, Malawi, Nursery, Volunteers, Youth

Volunteer Rose Benbow’s time in Ruarwe

In November volunteer Rose Benbow came to volunteer at Nyumba ya Masambiro with the Nursery and Youth Club. Rose came with an incredible donation of resources for so many of NYMs projects. This included over 20 books for the library including Mr. Men and Little Miss books, Horrid Henry books, the complete works of Shakespeare abbreviated for early years readers and so much more. In addition to that Rose donated pens, pencils, erasers and notebooks for the Youth Cupboard, as well as toothbrushes and face flannels for the Nursery school students.

Rose also go involved with the repainting of the Youth Hall, and then with some teaching sessions with Youth Club once the redecoration of the hall was completed. Yewo Chomene Rose for your incredibly generous donation and your time spent with the Youth Club!

Donations, Education, Malawi, Nursery, Volunteers, Youth

The redecoration of the Youth Hall at NYM

October and November saw great changes for our Youth Hall at Nyumba ya Masambiro. Returning volunteer Cara Marsh had a great vision for the redecoration of the Youth Hall walls supported by a generous donation from NYM visitor Sabina Trojanova. The walls had originally been painted with some small images when the hall was constructed in 2010. These small murals had become faded over time and Cara had a vision of using new images that would allow for interactive teaching for the nursery and youth club.

After the initial whitewashing of all the walls, the plan was mapped out and painting took 5 weeks in total. Cara enthusiastically encouraged guests from nearby Zulunkhuni River Lodge to come and join in as well as staff from NYM, children in the Youth Club and community members passing through. It really was a whole community activity and the nursery and youth club members really benefit from these murals every day, both as they are so bright and cheery and also from an interactive learning point of view. Cara – we thank you and all your volunteers for your vision and wonderful energy throughout this project – you have given the Youth Hall a new lease of life!

Education, Nursery, Testimonial, Volunteers, Youth

Volunteer Testimonial – Sanne Westera

Volunteer Sanne joined Phunzira in Ruarwe in June. She got involved with many youth projects during her time in the village including youth club sessions, nursery school and she also organised an educational quiz for members of the youth club with pens, pencils, notebooks and maths books given out as prizes. Below is a testimonial from her time volunteering with Phunzira.

“I really enjoyed my stay in Ruarwe, the community is very welcoming and the kids are so eager to learn and fun to play with. I wish I could have been more involved in the clinic but, as I’m now studying medicine, I might be able to come back to Ruarwe for an internship in the future! I would like to thank Phunzira, NYM, the community and Zulunkhuni river lodge for making my stay a memorable one and I’m hoping to be back very soon.  [It] would have been more enjoyable if my travel plans had allowed me to stay longer!”

Thank you Sanne for your time and we very much look forward to welcoming you back!