At the start of this year, Ruarwe Clinic received a
wonderful donation of maternity medical items. Donated by Anneke and Hartmut
Jagau and Phunzira, the clinic received Maternity Pads, Sterile Cord Clamps,
plastic Fetoscopes and Vaginal Speculums as well as Urinalysis Sticks.
Given the remote location of Ruarwe, pregnant mothers are
encouraged to go to either the larger clinic in Usisya, Nkhata Bay District
Hospital or Mzuzu Central Hospital to deliver. This journey and the stay away
from the village, and their families as they are waiting to deliver, can be
prohibitively expensive for many expectant mothers. As a result of which, many
mothers remain in Ruarwe to deliver. The District Health Team is building a new
and improved clinic building in Ruarwe, which will have the space, drugs and
equipment to facilitate safer deliveries in the village. The wonderful
Community Midwife Technician Helen Msisya from the Ruarwe Zone has been trained
and assigned to Ruarwe Health Centre for this purpose. While community members
await the completion and opening of this new facility, the staff at the clinic
requested these items to facilitate safer deliveries already happening in the
village. A huge thank you to the Jagau family and Phunzira donors for making
this delivery of essential equipment possible!
We are so grateful to the team at RUMS, the medical school
attached to University College London, for their donation of netball dresses to
Nyumba ya Masambiro. The dresses were brought out to Malawi and the staff at
NYM was delighted to show them off immediately.
The dresses are being stored at Nyumba ya Masambiro but word
has been passed around that any local team is welcome to come and borrow them
when they have a competitive match in the area. The dresses were used for this
purpose by Khomola Village team in a match against Banda Village. Khomola were
so thrilled with the use of the dresses that they were spurred on to a 3:2 win
We are always keen to promote and encourage female
participation in sport and netball is very popular in Malawi, and a sport that
women are happy to play. This donation of dresses and their availability for
use is already encouraging more matches being scheduled. We are also delighted
to see that women’s netball matches in recent months are also starting to draw
bigger crowds, more like those often seen at the men’s football matches so we
are starting to see a move towards more equality in sport, which is such a
fantastic achievement by these community netball teams.
RUMS – Thank you so much for your donation of
these dresses and their contribution to gender equality in sport in this area
in Malawi – 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!
This month has seen the donation of some vitally important
drugs and equipment to the Clinic in Ruarwe, and shared with Khondowe.
Following a number of months of national drug shortages, Ruarwe Clinic was
running critically low of, among other things, Paracetamol and certain
antibiotics. The situation had become so acute that the Medical Assistant Paul
Kabuzi was having to make impossible decisions in giving paracetamol only to
children under a year of age, despite the very high risk of febrile convulsions
(seizures) in children with high temperatures up to the age of 5 years.
Repeat visitors to the lodge from Zomba heard of this plight
and instigated a fundraiser in their home country, Holland. With the funds
raised, they were able to buy a plentiful supply of Paracetamol, Clindamycin,
Ciprofloxacin and Quinine tablets (which are essential in the treatment of
malaria in the first trimester of pregnancy). The drugs were purchased in Zomba
and shipped up to Ruarwe where they were very gratefully received.
In addition to these drugs, the clinic also received a
supply of gauze, dressings and bandages to bulk up those already held by the
clinic. Treatment of wounds is the fourth most common reason for patients’
attendance at the clinic so these supplies will soon be used for the treatment
of these. We would like to extend a huge thank you to all those who donated and
to Annelies and Jeroen of Zomba who arranged the fundraising, purchase and
donation of the drugs and Hartmut and Anneke of Ruarwe who arranged for the
donation of the wound care supplies – both of these will really make a huge
difference to the community of Ruarwe and all those attending the clinic for
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!
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!
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!
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.