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Community, Donations, Fundraising, Healthcare, Malawi

Donation of Maternity Items to Ruarwe Clinic

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!

Community, Donations, Malawi, Sports, Youth

Donation of Netball Dresses to Nyumba ya Masambiro

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 against Banda!

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!

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, Education, Malawi, Volunteers, Youth

Educational Volunteer Marci Koenig

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!

Donations, Fundraising, Healthcare, Malawi

Donation of Medical Supplies to Ruarwe and Khondowe Clinics

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 treatment.

Education, Malawi, Testimonial, Volunteers, Youth

The volunteer experience of Celia Daude

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!

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.