Sadly NYM’s community centre in Ruarwe village still remains closed due to Covid-19 and insufficient funds. However, the maize mill business is open sporadically and helps to employ its two necessary members of staff (cashier and miller), as well as contribute towards the employment of two extra NYM staff members to look after and maintain the centre during its current closure. We are very thankful to all the staff in Malawi for their swift and transparent actions in managing the emergency donations we received for coronavirus provisions over the year, and we hope they will all be re-employed by the end of the year to re-open the community facilities and workshops once again. We are also grateful to our supporters out there for all the generous donations and offers to volunteer – we will assess the situation again in a few months so keep dreaming of Lake Malawi and watch this space!
This summer Nyumba ya Masambiro was joined by volunteer Mecki Ballantyne. Mecki is an experienced teacher who worked with the Ishmael, the Youth Co-ordinator and Frank, the Project Manager to share her skills and expertise for the benefit of the youth in Ruarwe and its catchment area.
Following her return to Germany, Mecki collected together a wonderful donation of almost 40 early-years reading books for the children’s section of the Nyumba ya Masambiro library. The community children love the injection of new reading materials. Most afternoons the children’s corner of the library is filled with children of all ages enjoying the pictures and sounding out the words alone or in small groups. These books are already making a huge difference to the confidence and desire to read, which is such a vital part of educational development.
Thank you so much Mecki for your time spent in Ruarwe and for continuing to think of Ruarwe with this wonderful and generous donation. Yewo Chomene!
Volunteer Kate Probert from New Zealand and volunteer Denise Dolan from Ireland have been really busy and have completed a redecoration of the children’s corner of the library at Nyumba ya Masambiro. Last decorated in 2010 when the centre was built, the new paintings, quotes and comfy seating area have made the library much more appealing to the youth of Ruarwe and we are seeing many more children coming to attend the library, pick up a book and relax in the area.
Thank you to Kate for the vision, Denise for the wonderful quotes and the staff for the translations and all the help provided – the children’s area really looks great now!
Nyumba ya Masambiro and Ruarwe Clinic have just hosted volunteer Kate Probert for 5 weeks. A qualified nurse from New Zealand, with particular experience in youth healthcare, Kate got involved with many of the activities in Ruarwe including working at the clinic, assisting the clinic staff to set up the Youth Friendly Health Services program, repainting the children’s corner of the NYM library and much more.
As Kate said of her time in Malawi:
“Volunteer and live in a beautiful jungle, right on the lake with not onlythe staff but the whole community that open their arms and welcome you in. It’s a no brainer.”
Kate, you really got stuck in in your time in Ruarwe and have made a real and lasting impact on the community here. Thank you so much for sharing your time, expertise and energy with us and we very much look forward to you coming and joining us again some time in the future. Tawonga Chomene!
This spring Nyumba ya Masambiro was delighted to host volunteer Denise Dolan, a qualified teacher from Ireland. She came to join the team at NYM for 6 weeks to share her wealth of knowledge and experience with the staff for the benefit of the community.
During her time in Ruarwe, Denise started a Go Girls project together with local volunteer Mary. The Go Girls program offers small group seminar sessions for young females to provide information, advice and discussion topics to empower girls to seek good information, make good choices and further themselves. In a society where female empowerment and gender balance are sadly lagging far behind international levels these sessions offer a great space within which girls have access to information to allow them to make the best of themselves. Yewo chomene Mary and Denise!
Denise also assisted with the redecoration of the children’s section of the NYM library, repainted all the library signs, and undertook a range of activities with the children such reading the Very Hungry Caterpillar and then painting egg box caterpillars and beautiful butterflies among other things. Denise, it was a delight having you to join the team in Ruarwe, thank you so much for all your hard work! Tawonga chomene!
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!
In January, Nyumba ya Masambiro hosted volunteer Marci Koenig for 4 weeks. Marci originally travelled to Ruarwe with her sister Nathalie last year and decided to return this year to volunteer at the education centre. Marci has extensive training and experience with teaching early years education in remote locations in South Africa, where English is not necessarily the first language of the students.
Marci brought her skills and enthusiasm to work alongside the Youth Coordinator in the nursery and youth club as well as running smaller group sessions in the library. Using art and games to facilitate fun learning she really made a great impression on the children she worked with.
Thank you Marci for your joy and passion! Yewo Tawonga!
Volunteer Celia Daude came to Ruarwe to join the projects at Nyumba ya Masambiro for just over a month at the start of the year. She got involved with the youth club, nursery and teaching Standard 7 at Ruarwe Primary School next door to Nyumba ya Masambiro.
She said of her time in Ruarwe:
“I would definitely recommend to volunteer in Ruarwe! I will write a report for my university to inform the other students. In Ruarwe you can really get a good impression about the Malawian culture and school system. The people are really friendly and helpful.”
The best parts of her voluntary work were;
“to teach creative arts [and] play with the kids. To talk to teachers about their lives, about Malawi and the culture, [and] to get involved with Ruarwe everyday life, to get invitations to eat and cook together.”
Thank you Celia for your enthusiasm for Ruarwe and what the village can offer Phunzira volunteers! 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.
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.
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!