It’s like being in a bubble

It’s so easy to forget here, that there is anything outside of this village – it’s such an immersive experience. No wonder so many people extend their stay, or just stay for years and years. Time moves at a different pace here too. The last two months have flashed by… it kind of feels like I’ve been here forever, but also that I’ve just arrived. Sometimes I can’t believe how much has happened in this short time, but days also seem to fly by before I have a chance to blink, and I add more and more things to my to-do list each day.


After my quiet first month in Huay Pakoot, the last few weeks have been a mixture of work hard/play hard. With weddings, new year festivals, elephant birthdays, a visit from our regional director, training of new staff, sunrise/sunset hikes, a weekend trip to a hippie paradise, and of course all the extra manager duties… It’s been full on to say the least. Not really sure where to start, but I’ll try.


Our lovely managers Anna and Max left a month ago and since then Myles and I have been taking on the extra duties and leading the hub. In the meantime we’ve been on a hiring spree of staff – three new girls have started (two were previously interns) and we have another starting next week. A lot more girls on the team than we were used to, but it’s kind of nice talking about girl stuff once in a while. For Anna and Max’s leaving do, we had a huge night in Chiang Mai involving a fancy hotel with a pool, tapas and cocktails, and a rooftop karaoke bar, as well as a group massage session the next day.


The next week was straight into manager duties. Emails take up a lot of time! I think me and Myles both felt a bit lost the first couple of days but we quickly figured out a routine and everything fell into place. I still look forward to staff meetings on Wednesday — they’re a mixture of productive and hilarious, which is something that is rare to find in a work-related meeting! Although I have a lot of admin to do, I’m also surprised at how little this feels like work. It’s such a relaxed atmosphere and there are always people to chat to or events going on which break up the day. I’ve never worked somewhere like this before and it’s a joy every single day; especially when you are working on a project that you believe so strongly about. Myles is on-par with Samson (who I worked with in Malawi) as the best work partner I’ve ever had.


A couple of days after Anna and Max left, regional director Molly visited us, to train new staff Charlotte, Caly and Ali, and to train me and Myles a little as well. It was a relief to have her here especially as she was impressed with how the project was going and how the staff team were all getting on really well. That weekend we had Dee’s wedding. Dee (as well as Don) are two members of our team, employed as National Scholars and community liasons. They are local to the village but also speak Thai and English, which makes them so useful when bridging the gap between GVI and the village – communications are so much easier when you have a translator! So when we heard Dee was getting married to a girl who lives in nearby Mae Chaem, of course there was going to be a big event for it. Most of the village turned up to his house, as well as lots of external people, to eat loads of food and hang out together. Good chance to practice Pakinyaw and socialize with some new people.


The next week was very short as all volunteers wanted to leave for Songkran on Thursday morning! What a privilege to have been around to experience this festival. Songkran is the Thai new year and everywhere in the country transforms into a massive water fight for an entire week — no one is safe. Chiang Mai is apparently the best place to be, so that’s where we all headed (stupidly in an open transport called a songthaew). The closer we got to Chiang Mai, the more we got soaked by giggling men, women and children carrying buckets full of water and standing at the side of the road. I think Songkran is up there as one of the best weekends of my life – everyone was in good spirits, running around with huge water guns (me and the boys got the biggest ones we could find), completely drenched, music playing and chaos all over the streets. There is a canal that runs all around Chiang Mai so it was easy to refill water weapons. I hope I’m around for it next year too! I was not ready to stop the celebrations, so when we got back to the village on Monday we had another water fight with the village kids. They showed us no mercy… water in face and eyes!


The following weekend we visited Pai, which is 4 hours away from our village. I wasn’t overwhelmed by the town, but it was in a pretty area — very similar to where we live! We visited a really cool cave nearby, full of bats and swifts, and went on a bamboo raft through the cave’s river, where we were lucky enough to see huge fish including catfish. You can imagine that being on a cave tour with a bunch of conservationists/biologists turned into a very dorky experience – I loved it. We also watched the sunset over the hills, whilst sitting in Pai Canyon. It looked just like home (Huay Pakoot). We ate a lot of good food, drank some beers, and generally enjoyed chilling out. It was such a relief to go back to the village though – we are all keen for some quiet weekends after the last few eventful ones.


There’s been loads of project stuff going on too. I try and get onto an elephant hike every week, and Ali and I led our first ones last week, seeing Lulu and Dee Dee (the babies). I’m learning loads about the nature here, from just hanging out with the other staff or going on biodiversity hikes. School is still out, so I’ve been trying to rewrite curriculums before that starts up, and while the kids are off school we’ve been going on outings with them to the river to swim/catch tadpoles (apparently they taste good!). I’m getting better at jogging up and down the hills, and always see some cool things on my run – beautiful blue birds called Indian Rollers, and sometimes even elephants. There have been a few elephant events in the village – geyjews (blessings) and more recently an elephant celebration where all the elephants that have been reintroduced to the forest come together in a reunion and eat loads of fruit. It was so cool to see them all together, and I could really notice the differences between them – each one definitely has their own characteristics and distinguishing features.


I’m doing evening English classes with some of the villagers Jaree and Darawan – her daughter Anchan joins too (she looks like Dora the Explorer). It’s always loads of fun and we spend our time giggling, it’s been a great way to practice the language too – they teach me while I teach them! I’m constantly overwhelmed by the loveliness of the people here; they are all so laid back and willing to help. Still determined to learn Pakinyaw, especially as it is pretty simple when compared to other languages; then I can communicate with the villagers here even more, and build up some good relationships.


I’ll try and add some photos to this when I get the chance. In the meantime, you can look on GVI Chiang Mai facebook page to see what we’ve all been up to! There’s loads more to write but that will have to wait for the next blog.


On another note, a video showing our project work here in Huay Pakoot has been shortlisted for Innovative Student Video. Take some time to watch the short video, it shows the elephants and village! If you like it, please vote 🙂



Malawian summers – mangoes, fireflies, sweltering heat

I’ll always remember this season in Zomba… there’s something special and romantic about it. Sometimes it’s just too hot for words – you can’t concentrate on anything except the overwhelming heat. Those are the days I dream of Lake Malawi… the ‘no swimming in open water’ rule is tough sometimes! But finally the sun starts to set and the breeze kicks in, and it all starts to cool down. Sometimes in my busy schedule I get a chance to sit on the porch and read, watching the sky getting darker and darker, eventually obscuring the mountain silhouettes. Once darkness sets in, the fireflies start to emerge. Just one or two at first, floating around the garden, resting in the grass. But as it gets later, hundreds and thousands of them appear, everywhere you look, like fragments of glitter or little uncommitted stars. Walking home after dark with these fireflies around me makes me feel safe and in good company.

And how could I forget the mangoes. The season is in full swing. You can’t walk for 2 minutes without coming across them in big tubs ready for sale; a couple of pence each! Or, if that is too much, you can find them on the trees pretty much everywhere. Malawian mangoes are not like mangoes as I knew them before – I’ve seen yellow ones, green ones, purple ones, and they all have different flavours. The yellow ones are so sweet it’s hard to eat them without making ‘mmm, mmm’ sounds. One thing they all have in common is that they are incredibly messy to eat. I get juice all over my hands, my face, and my clothes if I am not careful. When I finish eating, I feel disappointed – one mango is never enough.

We have our last week of activities coming up; after that, we will do reporting for a few days before going back to Lilongwe and flying home. It’s been a mixed few weeks. I can tell this group of volunteers were maybe expecting something different from what we are doing. Development isn’t always as rewarding as people might think, and with minimal support from YONECO it’s been hard to keep everything going. Samson and I have been doing our best though and the volunteers have been focusing on parenting circles – trying to improve them and create networks for circles in different communities so they can share ideas. Theatre is still going strong and the groups are pretty much self-sufficient now. I’m proud of them.

On Thursday we had our culture trip – to Mangochi to see the Lake Malawi museum, and afterwards to the lake itself; Malindi fishing village! I love Mangochi town, it’s so quiet and full of bicycles as opposed to cars. The market there is huge and full of stuff. I bought some fabric as a reminder of the trip and we strolled across the famous bridge watching the hippos in the Shire River. The lake was also great – we were lucky to have a sunny warm day, and took the opportunity to relax, stroll, dance with the local kids and take some group photos. So refreshing to feel the sand between my toes. It made me feel ready for the last couple of weeks here.

A couple of weeks of indulgence, then back to work

Long time no writings…. The reason being, I’ve been either hardcore relaxing or hardcore working. Our week in Lilongwe was really great. Saying this, Lilongwe is probably the worst capital city I’ve been in; there’s literally nothing interesting to do. But just to be with the other team leaders, all living together in the office, was good enough. And to add on that, Lilongwe does have some very nice restaurants, and we had been given a large allowance for food of which we had to provide receipts… so it was a perfect excuse to go on a restaurant tour. Korean, Chinese, Italian, Persian… the list goes on. I felt very rested and satisfied by the time we were going back to our host communities.

It was pretty cool being back in Zomba even without the volunteers – just to hang out with my host family, and catch up with Samson and some work stuff. I got back into exercising to try and shed some of the weight that came from eating very good food for a solid week. Unfortunately I had a bad experience the day before I was supposed to head back to Lilongwe to meet the volunteers; I was mugged and attacked whilst wandering around the Zomba hills. It left me feeling quite traumatised. It’s the first time something like that has ever happened to me, despite all the solo travelling I’ve done. For about a week after, I was freaked out at the thought of being by myself and was having flashbacks. I couldn’t sleep either. Travelling to Lilongwe the day after it happened, on public transport, with no phone, I found very difficult… and then having to meet the team, support them and be enthusiastic was also very hard. So it wasn’t great timing at all but after speaking to the office I decided it would be best for me to stay in Lilongwe for some days and rest/recover, whilst the team went ahead of me to Zomba with Samson for support. Then I wouldn’t have to worry about work for the time being and I could focus on feeling better.

If I hadn’t had enough bad luck, just before the volunteers were about to leave for Zomba I woke up with incredibly bad food poisoning. I blame Messa’s Lodge. I just felt so awful. Found in the morning that three other volunteers (two of mine!) were also very sick. Really not a nice thing to happen on their first few days in the country! That morning was super weird – I was in and out of consciousness, whilst being slightly aware that TLs and office staff were coming in and out.. some checking I was ok, some saying goodbye, some telling me I needed to get up to go to hospital. Eventually I was dragged to a nearby clinic and put on a drip. Made me feel a bit better. The volunteers who were sick couldn’t travel to their communities that day so we all ended up in the office. Adrian (team leader) also stayed behind to support me.

As we all slowly recovered from our hospital trip, it became really fun hanging out with the volunteers in the office. We took them out for Persian and Korean food, and just had a laugh generally. I was feeling better and mostly able to sleep again. After the volunteers left it was just Adrian and I for a while, and of course the office staff. We continued our tour of fancy restaurants, watching movies and resting. I learnt some coping techniques from a councillor. After a week I felt confident and stable enough to go back and start the project.

Obviously going back to Zomba brought back some memories but generally the feelings of weakness I had before had been replaced by feelings of strength and power. I had a nasty experience and I didn’t let it defeat me; I was still here carrying on. I felt really proud of myself. It definitely wasn’t just me though – I wouldn’t have been able to get through without the support of the other team leaders. All of them helped in different ways. I immediately went to hang out with the volunteers upon arrival. It felt so good to be with them again and they’re an awesome team.

It’s been nearly two weeks now since I got back, so I missed the first week of project (mainly training) and have had to hit the ground running. Since being back the volunteers have been involved in life skills sessions in schools, investigating a community, preparing for parenting sessions, starting our theatre for development, and they’ve also managed to find out some confidential cases of individuals which have been reported to YONECO so the children involved can be helped. I’m really proud of them. We’ve even had a cheeky visit to the botanical gardens.

Zomba is hot hot hot. It’s exhausting. A few days ago however we had cold, cloud and rain and now it seems to have cooled a little, which is a relief. The summer season has brought plentiful fruits… the strawberries and oranges are going out of season, but the lychees, mangoes, papaya and watermelon are coming in, and the South African apples are getting redder. My host family have started to make fresh fruit smoothies as another business (they are busy people!). I’m getting up early and going jogging in the hills before work and before the sun becomes too strong.

So basically, everything is falling back into place. Work is always going to be tiring and it’s always gonna be a struggle, but I have it under control; for now at least! It’s less than 7 weeks now until our projects finish and I’ll be making my way home for Christmas. I’m really really excited to be home now it’s not so long away.

They told us again and again, that we wouldn’t see any change. That we would be like a drop in the ocean. But they were wrong.

We’re the first cohort. We’re setting up a completely new project; and development isn’t always as glamorous as it looks. Change is slow – we were reminded of that so much during training. Things move slowly. Expect to be disheartened, expect to be frustrated, expect to not be able to see the difference you’re making – you just have to trust that you are doing something good.

I feel very lucky, then, that I see lives changing on a weekly (sometimes almost daily!) basis. Things changing as a direct result of our team being here, talking to people, inspiring them, teaching them, organising events in the community.

That time we talked to the netball and football teams about HIV, and encouraged them to get tested when they were previously too worried. Clearing up all these crazy ideas people have about sex and HIV. When we raised awareness of our drop in centres, and now a load more young people have come and are setting up a drama club there. Watching the children’s faces light up when they are given the chance to express themselves through drawing, or dancing, or moulding things from clay.

Every time the volunteers talk to the youths – either at events, or drop in centres, or just people they meet in town – they are changing lives. I can see it happening. As young people ourselves, working for a well-respected charity such as YONECO, people listen and respond to us. They look up to us. They come to us with personal issues and we have that chance to advise them. Some of these people may not have spoken about sex, or other issues facing them, so openly before. We make sessions interactive so that the volunteers are just guiders, but the youths themselves dictate what we talk about, and they love asking questions.

It’s so amazing watching how well young people here respond to our team; they really listen and follow the advice we give them. As well as young people we have also been training parents, so they can speak more openly to their children about issues facing them. Parents have personally come up to the volunteers who ran those sessions and thanked them for teaching them so much.

I couldn’t not mention our theatre sessions. Through engaging the volunteers as well as the youths at the drop in centre, we have been reaching out to communities and performing plays which are fun, as well as informative about YONECO and about how to deal with certain issues the community may be facing. A major success was when well over 100 people turned up this week to watch our drama and they loved it – staying for 3 hours in the sun to watch everyone perform! It also gives the youths involved more skills and a chance to show off their amazing talents in acting, so they are super happy to be involved.

And of course, the other lives that are being changed here are our own. Me and Samson and the volunteers. I see everyone becoming more confident every day, and forming friendships that will last a long time.

Maybe looking at facts and figures, it looks like a drop in the ocean, but I think that every person whose life is enriched or changed by this project – every person who learns something or gains a skill – it makes it all worth it.

Halfway through Cohort One

This job sure does keep you on your toes. Just when everything starts to click, a routine forms, relationships form and the project is going swimmingly, things all start to fall apart again. I’ve had a hard week – a really really hard week, in so many ways. There have been many issues I have had to manage and in the end we’ve made the decision for two volunteers to go home. I have been reassured by the guys at International Service that I did all I could, and so I shouldn’t take responsibility that they have had to leave, but it’s still upsetting. I know it’s for the best for both of them though. I felt like I haven’t really had a break this week and there have been many tears, many phone calls to the head office, many late nights and early mornings, many moments where I’ve had to think quickly of the best solution or the right thing to say. I guess what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and I have really been tested this week but I’ve come through it and all the issues are sorted now. Looking forward to week 6 going back to normal.
Luckily, the volunteers are all awesome and so the project has been ticking along despite the team leaders being rather preoccupied. We’ve been doing our drop in centre sessions, also training some parents to run parenting circles to support their children, we’ve had the tournament semi-finals where we discussed human rights. We even had a cheeky morning visit to the botanical gardens where a gardener there gave us a tour and told us all about the plants and trees. The volunteers loved it! There may even be a chance for us to plant some trees around Zomba that are provided to us by the gardens.
On Friday we saw the guys from the Lilongwe office for our mid-term review. It’s always nice to get some positive feedback from them and also to reflect on how much we’ve actually done since being here; I felt proud of myself and of everyone else.
The Friday before, we visited Ntcheu where another YONECO team is based led by Grace and Tefadzwa. On the same day, the Dedza team led by Jason and Ernest visited – so it was like a big reunion! I can’t express how happy I was to see them again. I really love those guys. We will also see the Ntcheu team this coming Friday when they visit Zomba.
Apart from that, I’ve been getting on with other things… trying to keep up with gym sessions (although my visits are not as frequent as I’d like), also visiting the tailor a lot for African outfits, playing bawo which is the best game ever, spending quality time with my host family, colleagues and volunteers, occasionally participating in worship. I visited a church with a friend last Saturday which was a seventh day adventist church. Services are long and generally last all day, however I just went for the morning, and then joined them for lunch, which was really fun – met some lovely people. People just tend to assume I’m already religious so I don’t really get people trying to convert me, and it’s just a nice way to spend time with the communities.
It kind of feels like I’ve been here forever, but at the same time it’s going really quickly. We have less than four weeks left with these volunteers, and just four months left before it’s all over. I am gonna be really sad when these volunteers leave. They’ve become my whole world. I’m so proud of them and I’ll miss them so much. But at the same time it will be really nice to have a bit of a break from being on call!

Guys, don’t worry, I’ve got this.

Ooh la la. It’s funny how it takes so long to find your feet sometimes, and then all of a sudden everything just clicks. I feel like I have this all under control finally. Of course there are still dramas and things that go wrong basically every day that have to be solved, but I can handle it, and it’s ticking along. Work relationships have improved drastically – me and my counterpart Samson have reached an understanding of each other, and despite being very different we stay honest and open with each other, build off each others’ strengths and try and mitigate each other’s weaknesses. I am learning to be more relaxed and flexible about things whilst I think the YONECO guys are also starting to understand the way I operate and that I don’t like to be messed around.

Something I didn’t anticipate here was that things would be a struggle because of my gender. Perhaps I should have thought about it; after all, the way women are viewed here is not great, as I experienced last time I was here! But in the sector I’m working in, I didn’t think it would be a problem. And most people are fine and listen to me, for sure. But there are a few who just don’t take me seriously, interrupt me or tell me I’m wrong when I know I’m not, who don’t appreciate the fact that I am assertive and organised and in a position of leadership. It’s very frustrating when my leadership behaviour is seen as something amusing, or annoying, or even “cute” (cue me being very angry) rather than, like, the only way anything is gonna get done in this place!

Week 3 has been successful, after a slow second week. We have finally started to do stuff on the ground; activities are beginning to get going, and our messages are getting through to people. The volunteers are so great at interacting with the young people and I really feel like the youths are listening and responding. It’s amazing to see. It makes me feel so emotional sometimes! I’ve had to leave the room to have a cry a couple of times, because it’s such a rewarding feeling and also because it’s just so nice to see how great the volunteers are doing. Some of them have really developed and blossomed since being here. Also I’m just super-emotional here all the time, kind of like a rollercoaster, but it’s good to be emotional.

We have been preparing our Theatre for Development sessions which Samson has experience in, so he’s been training some of the volunteers who are interested. It’s so much better than just contacting and booking some trained artists already, because when the volunteers actually are the trained artists, they can be actively involved on the ground, which is what they prefer. It’s also cheaper! We’ve also begun our sports tournament, using 8 under-17 football and netball teams from local schools, and playing SRHR-related warm up games. When we chat to them about SRHR and learn about their views, I can really see why all this awareness-raising is needed… some of their views are not healthy and/or are incorrect. Unfortunately, we’ve had two quarter final matches this week and in both of these, one team didn’t show up! This is a problem because people will hear about it and start to not take the games seriously, so I am a little worried about this coming week. Luckily we’ve managed to get the teams that showed up involved with the SRHR games and also playing a football game with them ourselves!

This week the volunteers finally got to run the sessions they had been preparing for the drop-in centres; life skills, art and dance sessions. They went so well and we had people begging for us to come back soon! We will do sessions every week if we have time. We also had a visit from the supervisors to check how we were doing, it was really nice to have a chat with them and ask loads of questions/rant about irritating things! Not that there are many irritating things any more… like I said, things are falling into place. We have had a few illnesses, hospital visits and also some group tensions, but nothing too serious so far… in general all the volunteers get on really well with each other.

It’s been a good weekend spending quality time with the volunteers, Thuliwe from the office, and my host family. We’ve even had a chance to try out some woodcarving after making friends with some of the guys at the market. Woodcarving is very famous here, so I’ll definitely pick up some souveniers. The volunteers loved the session.

Halfway through Week 4 now but I’ll talk more about that next time. In the meantime, internet really is too bad to upload photos onto this blog, so I’ll attach a few links so you can see some photos elsewhere:

Meeting the team, and the first week of project

I’ve only been in Malawi for 3 weeks now, but the amount we’ve packed into that three weeks has made it feel like three months! It’s been non-stop and eventful.The remainder of the time we were in Zomba, we were working on finalising the team plan. We are given a project plan to work from, which runs for one year, and we have to split up the activities into four cohorts of three months each. Samson and I will be Team Leaders for two of the cohorts. It sounds simple to do the plan, but it’s complicated, since we need to consider which activities would fit best where, how long the trainings and sessions take, how best to reach as many people as possible, and we weren’t getting much guidance from the project partners unless we really pushed for it. I’ve done a lot of pushing since I’ve been here. I’m sure I’m annoying the hell out of everyone at YONECO, but these volunteers have a lot to offer, and I don’t want them to go home feeling like their skills and energy were not utilised because things were moving too slowly.

Obviously since this is the beginning of the project, and the first cohort of volunteers, we have to start from scratch and don’t get any guidance from previous cohorts. That also makes it harder, and budget/resources are another thing we have to consider. For example we are supposed to be training parent facilitators and then forming parenting groups who can talk openly about issues with their adolescent children. We have to train the parent facilitators in order to form the groups, so the training has to be done in the first cohort, but training is the expensive part, and the budget is split evenly amongst the four cohorts. Another problem is that the project assumes that we have one year so three months each, but in fact, these volunteers are only here for 2 months and the next ones only for 2.5 months. So we’re gonna be busy squeezing things in!

I did have some time away from the project planning to pop to church with my host family and met the Vice President of Malawi who was fundraising there. Luckily, we had a private car to take us back to Lilongwe, since another member of YONECO had to go there for a meeting. We stopped by Ntcheu on the way to pick up Grace and Tefadzwa. It was so good to see them again. After a quick photo opportunity at the Mozambique border, and a random stopover in a hotel in Dedza for an hour while the YONECO guys attended a meeting about gay people, we were in Lilongwe by the late afternoon, and found that half of the UK volunteers had arrived! Actually all the UKVs from Zomba were here, and I summoned my energy for some more socialising! They were all very cool and intelligent, so I was happy. It was good to see the other team leaders again too. Had some much-needed beers and a catch up that evening. Whilst we waited for the other volunteers to arrive the following day, we took some of them into town to get their phones and sim cards sorted, and to buy a few things. Explaining how the phones worked took forever, with all these scratchcards and inputting different codes! Why is it so overly complicated here? It was really fun helping all the volunteers out though, and showing them around, and answering all their questions (even if a lot of my answers were “I don’t know”).

The next couple of days were for training, and also getting to know our team and explaining a bit about the projects. All of my in-country volunteers were also very cool and intelligent, so I was happy with all ten of them! They also got on really well together, which was great. We’d been taught a lot about how to deal with the different nationalities not mixing, but our team didnt seem to have that problem. Don’t want to speak too soon, but so far they’re all getting on great. Whilst the volunteers were training, it was so nice to spend some time with the other team leaders. It’s amazing how quickly you can get close to people when you’re all thrown into the same situation and in a strange country. The last night, five of us went out to a local club conveniently located opposite our hotel; we really needed a break since we hadn’t finished work that night until 10:30pm, preparing all the volunteers to leave the next day. Our last night without responsibility, before we would be expected to be on call for our 10 volunteers! It felt so good to dance, and I also realised I love Nigerian music.

We figured that the following day would just be sitting on a bus going to our different areas and so we’d be able to sleep, but no such luck. For starters, we all woke up at 5:30am because we were told the bus would leave at 6:30 sharp. Of course, this didn’t happen. Oh Africa… the buses that turned up were so tiny, there was no room for our luggage (and barely enough room for ourselves), so they had to go back and get a roof rack fitted. In the meantime we had some more forms to fill out – there are always, always forms. Finally left at about 9am, all squished up so there wasn’t really a chance to sleep. Zomba and Ntcheu were in the same bus. Somehow the journey took hours, and we didn’t arrive in Zomba until late; we then had to try and find everyone’s host homes in the dark. The poor driver, and Jack our coordinator, had to drive all the way back to Lilongwe that night; a further five hours. I fell asleep pretty much as soon as I got to my home. It was so nice to see the family again and be back below the majestic plateau.

We had the Sunday to relax and adjust before our first week began on the Monday. I kept my phone on me, expecting at least one volunteer emergency in the first couple of days, but I got nothing! It was hard to relax though – my brain just kept whirring, as I planned how the week would go. I wanted to make sure the volunteers felt stimulated. We hadn’t been given much information, only that we would have some kind of orientation – it was all quite unorganised, which can be quite typical here, and it’s something I’m going to have to get used to because I’m generally not good with that style of things. It was great to see everyone on the Monday looking happy and settled. Of course there’s also been a few tears and struggles with the volunteers this week, but they are all very strong people and really they’ve done very well adjusting – I’m proud of them!

The first week went fast and slow at the same time. It felt like it had been a lot longer than a week, and I came home every day totally exhausted. We had some training on sexual health and rights as well as parenting, we had a tour around the head office and picked up some important contacts (namely the radio – some of the volunteers are very keen to feature on air!). Also had some time for a guided learning session focusing on culture and dance, which was so fun, especially when we got all the teenagers from the drop-in centre involved. Our office in Ndola is also a drop in centre, and we will be doing some project work there as well as in another drop in centre in Chinamwale. Some of the volunteers were still feeling a little disorientated in Zomba, so we found some time for them to explore the town, and I also took them to the Botanical Gardens which they loved – especially as it was full of monkeys! Zomba is such a good place to be, there’s always things to do and places to go. Friday was our first field trip; we visited a parenting circle that had been established by YONECO, to see how it worked and also to identify some parents who we could train to be facilitators, who could then set up their own circles. It was a successful trip and a great way to end the week.

I’ve also been working over the weekend – a couple of meetings, a host home visit, and some parenting circles to see. A quick feature on the radio too – me and a couple of volunteers were asked if we would give some advice on the radio to young people, about a half hour before the show began! So we quickly prepared something. I was so jittery but it went well and was really fun. I think I might have accidentally sung along to a song before the microphone was turned off though.

The workload is just because it’s a new project, and there’s lots to do. I’ve had a bit of time for a rest too, and have joined a gym here. I’m feeling happy – and a little tired, but I’ll get used to it! I value those odd hours I can sit in the park in the sunshine and read a book, while the monkeys run around me.

I’m feeling happy now, but the first week or so in Malawi was difficult for me. As I mentioned before, saying goodbyes again and again, because of always going off somewhere different, was starting to get to me. Arriving in Zomba made things even harder, because it was a familiar place where I had already made memories, and now I was here alone, and to start this new scary adventure where I had a lot of responsibility. The memories from my trip earlier this year kept coming to me as I walked past familiar places, and I couldn’t escape them. Now I’ve had some time, and I feel like I’ve made a little life for myself here, a life that is just mine. I’ve made new memories, and when I walk home from work and I see the sun setting over the plateau, I realise how lucky I am to be here. I remember why I like doing this kind of thing by myself, and just meeting people along the way. Lots of new people, and I know for sure this won’t be the last time I come to Malawi, so the goodbyes at the end won’t be as sad.

Bring on this week; week 4 of Malawi, week 2 of project.

NB The internet hasn’t been good enough for pictures, but I will try and get some up at some point.