Volunteer in Malawi: What Convinced Me to Volunteer Abroad
“Lizzie…you have big fat legs.”
A phrase every girl in her mid-twenties dreams of hearing shouted at her. But as I swung around to deliver my enraged speech on body image today,(“Actually, in case you hadn’t noticed, I am wearing extremely large, woolly, old man socks which yes, have morphed my ankles into small tree trunks and yes I know that recently my diet has mainly consisted of biscuits and peanut butter…”), I realise from the bright, shining smiles and nods of agreement that I am in fact being paid a compliment.
Now, I am no stranger to dealing with cultural differences, but that experience really sticks out in my memory.
Having spent my first couple of years out of university whizzing here, there, and everywhere, and trying to stave off the inevitable quarter-life crisis, I found myself in Malawi, looking for something to sink my teeth into. Past jobs in the UK charity sector had left me in a slightly confused state, seeing motivated, forward-thinking individuals coming up against constant red tape that seemed to slow down any kind of affirmative action.
For me, volunteering in Malawi has been a lesson in life. Founded by the amazing sister act of Alice and Nina Pulford, the Love Support Unite Africa Foundation, not only sustains Tilinanu Orphanage, where I myself volunteered, but supports community-based projects created and developed by skilled volunteers. The goal is to work alongside Malawian communities and individuals, and to bring about truly long-lasting and sustainable change.
If you find the right organisation and the right frame of mind, as cheesy as it may sound, you really can make a difference.
Whilst I knew I wanted to work in a developing country, I, like many others, was a little cynical of international volunteer organisations. I did not want to associate myself with an organisation I did not wholly trust, or volunteer in a community that did not want or need me. I had always been distrustful of large, corporate organisations that profess “to help” whilst charging exorbitant sums of money.
What I found taught me otherwise.
In Malawi, I found two sisters working night and day, putting everything they have on the line to help a community that has become their family. I found 34 shining, beautiful girls who tell me I have fat legs, who giggle and dance their lives away despite the fact they have memories and pain I cannot fathom. I met vibrant, intelligent, kind human beings from the UK and Malawi who want to better themselves and the communities they live within. I have been involved in incredibly exciting, sustainable projects created and nurtured with love, cultural understanding and respect.
I cannot deny volunteering abroad has its issues, but if you find the right organisation and the right frame of mind, as cheesy as it may sound, you really can make a difference.
Volunteer in Malawi: What Convinced Me to Volunteer Abroad.
Drawing on my past experience I developed a one-on-one program, focussing on mentorship, career advice and personal development. This may not seem like the typical volunteer program; I didn’t build a school and I definitely didn’t dig any wells, but therein lies the crucial difference between volunteering and ‘voluntourism.’ In a developing country where the general population is desperate to receive a semi-decent education, there is little provision or access to guidance on how to follow differing career paths or make the most of any given opportunity. I felt I was given ownership of a project I developed myself, addressing a need that was otherwise overlooked.
Choosing to volunteer abroad is a complex decision. Or at least it should be. All I can advise you to do is to do your research, make sure you can see where not only your money, but also your time is being spent, work out what your skill set is and how it will be genuinely beneficial, and above all else, remember that giving aid is entirely different from giving people tools upon which to build their own future..