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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
Ruarwe Health Centre was very lucky to host volunteer Ana Estevao for 6 weeks in September and October. Ana is a qualified nurse from Portugal who has been recently working in the NHS in the UK. Ana said of her time in Ruarwe;
“halfway through this adventure, it is amazing to see how with so little resources, staff and equipment, everyone that goes there gets the best treatment possible. Also the effort to make a better and healthier community each day is remarkable. Malawi is one of the countries most affected by malaria, so most of our patients are tested and treated for that but also we get a few emergencies. I’ve been able to see a few deep injuries and treat them, as also I’m improving my paediatric skills by looking after sick babies and providing them treatment.
As for myself, I’m more than grateful for being here and to be part of this community, even for so little time.”
Both staff, community members and volunteers really benefit
from the volunteers’ time in Ruarwe – for moral support in the clinic, for
information sharing and learning, and because volunteers are always really made
to feel so welcome by the community.
Medicine and nursing in Ruarwe is very different from in big
teaching hospitals in the West and so we find that to volunteers coming with a
sense of openness and adventure really do get so much out of being here. Ana,
thank you so much for your wonderful contribution of time and expertise to the
community! Yewo Chomene!
We were lucky enough to host three volunteers from France for a period of one month. Leo Berger, Aurelien Lluis and Kartik Sharma arrived in Ruarwe towards the end of May and immediately got stuck in with a great number of activities at the education centre Nyumba ya Masambiro. During their time with Phunzira they rebuilt the bridge across the stream into the NYM land after it had been washed away by the rains, they completed a data analysis plan for the maize mill, they got involved with tutorials and youth club sessions, they rewrote the guide to NYM which is available in the library for any visitors to read, they got involved with community activities such as football games at the village football field at the top of the hill and in their spare time they walked down to Usisya and back to get to see a bit of the surrounding area!
The staff at the education centre was delighted with their energy, joy and enthusiasm and it was wonderful to see how much could be achieved in such a short space of time. Thank you to all three for their hard work during their time in Ruarwe!
The Ruarwe health centre has received a wonderful donation of much needed medical supplies. Volunteers Kartik, Leo and Aurelien have brought with them a box of fifty pregnancy tests and a new battery operated sphygmomanometer (blood pressure meter). These will help with vital diagnostics and blood pressure management for the communities served by the clinic.
The realities of rural healthcare are that often even the most basic supplies are lacking and a government strapped for cash is not able to supply such items to rural health facilities. While it is important that Phunzira does not take over the role of the government in providing supplies for the clinic, it is a delight when one-off donations such as this can make a real difference on the ground in diagnostics and treatment. With such a large part of the population visiting the clinic being women of child-bearing age pregnancy tests are vital in quickly establishing whether a patient is expectant and therefore being able to provide antenatal care. We are also seeing a rapid increase in hypertension within the community, and so the sphygmomanometer will allow for easier management of this condition at hypertension assessments.
Student nurse Emily has been with the team at Ruarwe Health Centre for 4 weeks undertaking her elective placement. Learning all about healthcare challenges in such rural communities, the different medical conditions encountered in Malawi and treatment with very limited drugs and resources.
Nursing electives are a great opportunity for students to really experience a completely different working environment and health system from the western systems they are training in. The staff at Ruarwe Clinic also absolutely revel in the opportunity to both share their knowledge and learn in return. This exchange of knowledge is absolutely key to any elective placement.
Emily was a wonderful student, who really got stuck into Malawian life. it was a pleasure having you with us Emily, we really look forward to hosting you again soon!