Sunday, 25 December 2016

My first work experience

Written by ICS Volunteer, Elizabeth Mwale.

I first found out about this volunteer opportunity at the beginning of August 2016 when my parents told me about an advertisement that I was encouraged to apply for and sent off to YONECO by hand. After submitting my application I began to worry and was afraid of what the job will be like, how I could cope with other volunteers especially those from the UK?...So I decided to research through other previous volunteer's stories as well as additional information regarding the volunteerism itself.

A few weeks passed and I finally received a call back to congratulate me for getting through to the first set of interviews. This went really well and I went on to my second interview all the way in Lilongwe. When I arrived I was incredibly nervous and worried that I may not pass the second set of interviews. However, this proved wrong when a week later YONECO called me once again congratulating me and offering me a place to work in their team alongside other volunteers for three months. I was very happy after hearing this news and accepted instantly. I was so excited to meet new people and learn how to work well as a team as I had never had any opportunity before.

On the September 27 I arrived in Lilongwe alongside many other in-country volunteers and UK volunteers for an orientation session and preparations for the job. Whilst there, we were told to choose roles and I chose the role of community liaison. Something else I was worried about was how well I would be able to cooperate and communicate with the UK volunteers. My first day in the office consisted of learning how best to perform my role with my colleagues who would be taking the role on alongside me.

As time went on, despite the language barrier, I began to form an even closer bond with my two colleagues; Sarah and Anna whom were both UK volunteers, also allocated to the role of community liaison. Due to the UK volunteers not being fluent in my local language, I took on the responsibility of contacting the schools and communities in the local areas of operations. Although Sarah and Anna could not make the phone calls, they still had so much to offer by organising which schools and communities to get in contact with to arrange visits throughout the week.

One of the challenges we faced included being unable to get in touch with some targeted schools/communities due to the fact that their phones were often offline. This initially discouraged me and my colleagues. Nevertheless, we used this to motivate ourselves to push on and keep trying.

After a day of planning our session as well as booking many other schools for the same week; on Tuesday afternoon we arrived at our first ever Life Goals session. I was afraid that I would become be unable to manage speaking in front of a multitude of youths. However with the enthusiasm and team spirit, we were all able to achieve a confident, entertaining session. Six weeks down the line, I was now very used to my role and enjoy every aspect of the responsibilities that came with Community Liaison. I am also incredibly proud of the challenges I have faced and skills that I have developed such as being able to comfortably speak in public. Through the challenges that were faced in the first half of the placement that gave me courage for the last six weeks during my placement in addition to learning how to cope with other difficult tasks ahead of me. 

Now after this learning period am confident of doing more to my community through the role I played very much well. I am also happy as I have learnt some new skills and one of it being speaking confidently in public.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Development through the Lens of a Young Volunteer: Young People's Contribution towards Social Change

 By Eric Veeto Nyengani - Team Leader 

A life skills session with young people 

Sparing some time to volunteer with YONECO is the best thing one may think of in life. This could help bring answers to some of the questions we usually have.

Different organizations work in the communities where we come from, but it becomes very difficult to understand the impact of the work they are doing to the lives of people. Now YONECO in partnership with ICS, has answers to these and so many other questions and worries.

Knowing all the personal challenges which people are facing in the society may compel a person not to think of volunteering because they may be thinking that they will not meet their targets in life.

Looking back to my school life, my teacher in primary school used to say that nothing is achieved without being sponsored financially, and because of this I thought that volunteering was a waste of time. This was the case as I was focusing on achieving my goals in life, volunteering is not financially supported. Little did I know that volunteering can also have a huge and long lasting impact in achieving my personal goals.

As a community member now, I am fully aware of various negative perceptions about Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and people to get accurate information to smash out these beliefs. Consequently; people, especially the youth, have so many unanswered questions and this also prevents them from finding ways of addressing various SRHR challenges in their communities.

People are constantly trying to understand so many things about SRHR. For instance;  before the YONECO - ICS Programme, both old and young people were asking questions like;

·      Where can I go and access SRH&R information in Nkhata Bay district

·      What can I do if am being abused or my friend is being abused?

·      If my first daughter has been impregnated due to unprotected sex where can I go to get help so that I can protect my second daughter from falling in the same trap?

·      As someone who lives in a rural and remote village, do I also have freedoms and rights?

YONECO - ICS volunteers have assisted a lot to provide answers to all the questions that are present in the community. Furthermore, the Tithandizane Toll Free Helpline number (116) has been widely publicized so much that communities are now able to report cases of abuse and other issues they face.

Our efforts also saw an increase in the number of young people and parents who were visiting  YONECO office in Nkhata Bay to seek SRHR information and counselling as well as some other l issues like the role of parents in the promotion of young people’s sexual reproductive health.

I am very hopeful that the answers that have been given to these communities will have a positive and long lasting impact on their lives as we are all going towards achieving sustainable development.

As an individual, I also benefitted a lot during my placement as a volunteer in Nkhata Bay district. Before we commencement of our activities, I also had my own worries an questions like;

·      Will I be able to stand in front of people to make a presentation and facilitate a session?
·      How am I going to understand the organization’s work in my community?;
·      Where am I going to get the office and field?

A life skills session with secondary school students in
These were some of the questions I had as an individual before I knew YONECO and ICS. My involvement in the ICS program responded to these personal questions which I had by providing answers. I managed to get responses for all the questions that I had.

I experienced this in my first three months as a volunteer when my knowledge was being sharpened and my understanding of situations also increased more than I expected.

However, challenges are always there that is life we just need to accept, being stressed at one point was one of the major challenges I faced in leading the team, coping up with emotions and stress was one of the life skills sessions we conducted in the second week of our placement. This topic contributed further to my understanding in a way that I learned useful management skills on how to deal with such situations.  
This has contributed to my personal development in a way that I understand that without even a single Kwacha {money} one can still develop his/her career. As an active citizen now, I see that volunteering is very rewarding - not financially as most of us expect. The rewards of volunteering are far much greater than what money can buy.  It is so gratifying to see how your contribution is changing people’s lives while you are also building your own self in the process.

The development of our society depends on how everyone will utilize the answers they got to the questions they had. One thing I know for sure is that; answers have been provided for community members to move forward towards the right direction.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Is World AIDS Day Worth Commemorating in Malawi?

HIV and AIDS has claimed a lot of lives in Malawi since the time it was discovered in the 80’s. The pandemic has negatively impacted on the world’s socio-economic landscape on top of making numerous children orphans some of whom have grown up but are still feeling the tweak of the vulnerability it caused them during their childhood days.

According to a report by AVERT; 10.3% of the total population in Malawi is living with HIV and young people who form over half of the country account for over 50% of new HIV infections.

The very mention of HIV sends shivers among many Malawians especially the youth and the whole concept of commemorating the World Aids Day is something they fail to grasp till today.
HIV and AIDS are terms that remind many people about the loved ones they lost as well as the stigma and discrimination which they or their dear ones suffered or are still suffering. Malawian society has not fully grasped the effects and dangers of stigma and discrimination that I perpetrated against people are living with HIV. Consequently, the on going stigma and discrimination is a thorn in the flesh towards the efforts of fighting against HIV and Aids.

Despite various interventions by the government, local and international Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and other development partners to deal with the two vices, stigma and discrimination based on one’s HIV status is still a menacing innocent lives of people in schools, communities and in work places. A number of people, including the youth, have lost their lives because of stigma and discrimination and this is a cause for concern.

On the other hand, Malawi has made commendable strides in the fight against the pandemic and this is a cause for celebrating such efforts.

This background justifies the need why the Malawi nation should join the rest of the world in celebrating the achievements that have been registered so far and look at ways on how to arrest the spread of the virus. The World AIDS Day also provides an opportunity for the AIDS servicing organisations, the private sector, the academia and the general public to seriously look at various issues surrounding the pandemic and collectively find solutions to such challenges that include stigma and discrimination.
HIV prevalence rate for young people in Malawi is still on the rise. Young people make up to 60% of the national population and there must be more interventions to protect the future in a way that there must be much investment in HIV prevention programmes and much advocacy on provision and accessibility of quality Youth Friendly Health Services (YFHS).

Just like in many other countries, the World Aids Day in Malawi is marked by a national event with traditional dances, speeches and testimonies. This is a day whereby people reflect and build hope for tomorrow. We further remember those who died of HIV and AIDS and many others who contributed positively in the fight against the virus.

Even though the country has lost a lot of productive citizens because of AIDS, there is great hope for life, accomplishment of dreams so long as we provide care and support to those living with the virus while at the same time keeping the promise by ensuring that those living with HIV should avoid re-infection and infecting others with the  Virus.

An HIV free generation is possible.

By Timothy Bengo

Monday, 14 November 2016

My Journey as a Volunteer with YONECO, ICS and Progressio

 written by Elsie Gondwe

Sometimes one gets into the right things for the wrong reasons. This was I two months ago, after having finished my Bachelors degree in Medical Laboratory Science and awaiting my graduation, I wanted to make fast money. I wanted a good job and to earn whatever it is that I thought I really needed at the moment. Lucky enough my sister who resides in Nkhata Bay calls to say there is an opening at YONECO (in my mind I thought this could just be what I needed. Money!). So I got through the interviews and was successful enough to go for training (yay!)

That’s when we got repeatedly informed that this was neither a survey nor a job rather we were employed as volunteers. Members were not entitled to a salary nor allowance just a stipend to get by. I was shattered; this was not what I signed up for.

The in country training came to an end and time came to go back and welcome the UK volunteers to our respective partner organization. This interaction with the UK Volunteers was probably the first in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I do meet people from Europe and throw in a few hellos where necessary but the thought of working with not just one but twelve of them scared me (well, that’s how I felt at first).

They all seemed nice, I managed to introduce myself to the UK team leaders who were really friendly and open. As I went around saying hello, I realized that my sentence construction was failing to come out right. I even forgot a few grammars. Of course, I do know how to speak good English but I found myself struggling to get simple worlds out of my mouth. The fast ascent and slang of the UKVs made it hard for me to keep up and maintain a conversation. This was just the first day and I wasn’t confident enough to communicate. I kept on asking myself one question over and over again; 'what kind of a team leader will I be if I can’t express myself enough?' That day went by and so, the training came to an end.

We finally got to our placement - YONECO in Nkhata Bay. First week of work or rather first day being a Monday, we had a brief description of what the organization was about and what is expected of us in the next three months. We had further introductions among ourselves (volunteers). The UKVs had no time to waste and they went straight to planning, coming up with different posters and formulating ideas, assigning roles to members, reading through preceding placement files. They did a lot and these people are organized you have no idea. 

I was of the opinion that they will be playing with their phones and being idle - boy I was wrong. I was the one who looked lazy as I stood there looking at what they were doing. So I started making myself productive and chipped in where necessary to learn new things from them. That week passed with me learning new skills everyday from my fellow volunteers.

I learnt one thing about the UK volunteers, they always asked questions. They are never ashamed to show they don’t know something so they would rather ask than pretend to know- I salute that!
Elsie Gondwe at Kayapapaya receiving a bracelet from Erick Veeto  

Week two came so fast we started planning for field sessions. As an in country volunteer I thought I knew everything there is to know about Malawi. I thought to myself that this was a great chance to showcase how knowledgeable I am about my country. The different scenarios I came across in various schools and communities made me realize how less I knew about my country. This also oped my eyes to fully comprehend how much people needed our efforts to reach out and spread the word on HIV, STI, and teenage pregnancies and other sexual reproductive health issues. The situation in the communities we worked in compelled me to change my approach and perception of such sensitive topics. These issues are a major concern among young people and older members of the country. 

Having schoolchildren approach me after a session to just ask me a simple question made me smile. This came about because I knew I reached out and someone listened and I get satisfaction in the fact that, somehow, I have saved a life.

So it wasn’t about the money anymore, it didn’t matter whether I had to walk a long distance to get to work. I always looked forward to what I could do for the community on that particular day. To top it all, I had the most amazing team with me, team Umoza. The team was so inspiring and supportive. We could disagree at times and annoy each other but we always found a way out. No matter how angry one got, it was never permanent.

When I got the call to start work in my trained field in Lilongwe, all members were happy for me . I had the best support system a team leader and a member could ever get. I believe I inspired fellow in country volunteers to learn more and to gain experience and competence in the roles they chose. Even if it meant pushing and shouting - though that was never my intention. I wanted them to come out of this placement changed and motivated as they choose their various career paths.
A gift to Else: a bracelet labeled Team Umoza) 

My last day at YONECO was memorable. I hate goodbyes but I had to leave. The team took me to Kayapapaya for a cold one (soft drinks by the way this was and still is a dry program). The coordinator threw in a few farewell remarks. Then I was presented with a bracelet with words written vertically around it and the words  read 'TEAM UMOZA'  (I have never taken it off since I wore it ) good memories. But life has to move on, another chapter opened. I left YONECO a happy volunteer; the one-month stay changed my perception all together.

Changing Perceptions on Issues of Consent in Malawi

Written By Sarah Clarbour

Consent has been taught to me, both formally and informally for as long as I can remember, to the extent that it feels like common sense.
"No means No".

This is something I have known since a young age. Consent should be respected at all times and everyone has the right to not consent to sexual activity, and that too, should be respected. I have discovered that within popular belief in Malawi, this is not the case.  Consent is an ongoing global issue which is still being tackled and addressed through different measures; according to the UN, it is estimated that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their lives1.

Life skills session at Kaulambwe in TA Fukamalaza

On Thursday, Team Umoza facilitated a Sex and Sexuality session in the rural community of Kaulambwe. I spoke to the parents about the importance of consent: "A wife does not owe her husband sex, and likewise a husband does not owe his wife sex. Sexual activity should be between consenting individuals".

This community session was aiming to raise awareness on sex and sexuality issues and the ways which we can combat them. Within the discussion section at the end of our presentation, a member of our audience, the head teacher of the community which we were visiting, stood up and said: "It is said in the bible: a husband has no authority over his body, but his wife's, and a wife has no authority over her body, but her husband's". Murmurs in the crowd showed a clear approval of this. I struggle to understand how one quote in the bible overrides respect for people, and how this has been interpreted to justify rape.

Despite our clarifications that non-consensual sexual activity is rape, which is against the constitution in Malawi, I did not feel that any understanding or progress had been made. I left the Kaulambwe community feeling disheartened and despairing about the sessions that we were running. It seemed that there was not open mindedness where it is needed most.
What was more concerning still, was that our session in Chiole on the previous day, we were faced with a similar response from a crowd of women claiming, "it is in our culture that we cannot say no to our husbands". To know that the problem is so inherently built into the culture here made me feel like the sessions were useless. Consent has been an incredibly emotionally straining topic for us throughout our placement so far, as it repeatedly crops up in the issues that we address for example: child marriage, rape, and teen pregnancy.

After taking some time to reflect, I spoke to some of our ICVs (in-country volunteers) to try and understand why these attitudes regarding consent are so common and how we can alter our approach to best invoke a change in perception regarding these issues.
Kellina explained to me that most of the adults in the rural community of Kaulambwe were uneducated. She said that in Malawi education is changing attitudes for the younger generation and it is a process which takes time.  Her and her peers know that everyone has the right to not give their consent to sex and that this should, and is respected, however because the older generation have not had access to formal education, many do not understand this.

HIV and Aids session at Chisila CDSS   
Perhaps then we have to hope that attitude change comes with younger generations becoming more accepting on social issues. Once again, I am reminded that change does not happen in a day, and that development is a long term process. Though this feels incredibly frustrating, it is evident that by empowering the youths, and educating them on issues which Malawi currently faces, together we can establish solutions to these and throughout the years that follow I hope that such attitudes will spread so that socioeconomic development follows.

Malawi is a beautiful country, with beautiful people, the vast majority of which are keen to see change and progress towards a fairer, more open-minded future and I am excited to be a small part of this whilst on my ICS placement with YONECO.


Saturday, 12 November 2016

The Unforgettable Month that Changed My Life!

By Bedium Chirwa

Member of Team Umoza 
I could only imagine what life would be like working as a volunteer. I was not puzzled with the word volunteer but before ICS I didn’t know much about volunteering because I was only a businessperson with a shop and with knowledge of my community. Although I was inexperienced, I was enthusiastic about getting the job done while at the same time focusing on my personal development.

FIRST WEEK: adaptation week

New things are always difficult to adapt to. It was the same with me; it was not easy to acquire knowledge of YONECO’s work into my cerebrum. It was an amazing week of my journey as an ICS volunteer because we were introduced to the code of YONECO and some healthy tips of this lovely organization.  Since a businessperson is always a busy one, I had to show my fellow volunteers my shop so that they could buy some soft drinks as the axiom goes; ‘charity starts at home’. It was a busy week as everyone was preoccupied with the task of adapting to the environment.

Our group leaders had twice the amount of work we all had as they were expected to produce the team’s work plan. It was an interesting week that was full of words like ‘pardon’, ‘sorry’, ‘say it again’…among the team members. This was the case because of the communication barrier that existed between native English speakers and seond or third language speakers of English. Since this was ‘adaptation’ week, we eventually managed to overcome the barrier. We gave our team a vernacular name; ‘UMOZA’ which means “UNITY” in English. I enjoyed this week as the everyone in the team did his or her best to ensure successful implementation of activities throughout our placement.

SECOND WEEK: Let’s do it week
After last week’s introduction to YONECO Values and culture, the second week was much busier. I realized that buses were outside to take us to the field for our first session. Oh! I was so excited ‘TEAM UMOZA! Let’s do it!’ one of the team leaders shouted. It was a word of encouragement which meant myself-esteem was extremely boosted. The team worked well on this particular day and it became a trend for the rest of the week. I felt at home with team UMOZA as everyone was so friendly and caring. Everyone was ready to help me even when I only ask for a definition of a certain word; the team members willingly tell me and go further to explain the importance of the idea. It really is an Umoza (united) Team.

I enjoyed the session because it was the first day to show my talent and skills. Having reached Friday of the week, I started to understand who is an ICS and progressio volunteer as well as comprehending what is expected of me as a volunteer. ‘Mmmmmmh simple’ Learn, teach, respect other people’s views and ideas then join power as a group and impart the learnt knowledge to the target group. That’s how we moved this week.
THIRD WEEK: togetherness week
Indeed life is full of ups and downs, as the week started we thought life would be simple and easy the way the first week was but ‘mmh’ we were all wrong. We never anticipated that our trip to Mfyavya village one of our buses will get stuck in the sand. We spent a lot of time to push it out of the sand and consequently; parenting and peer education sessions had to be rescheduled.

FOURTH WEEK: one goal
I enjoyed this week because everyone was alert and ready to work to personally develop and helping one another to achieve our targets. This is important since we are approaching the days for the mid-phase review.

I had to move up and down in search of the best and clear information to teach some students and community members.

In our first month, I have gathered all the needed information of an ICS volunteer. An ICS volunteer can be defined as:
>someone who works for the good of others
>someone who firmly believes in team work and respects the group dynamics
>someone who is always willing to learn from others

Progressio has shown me the true way to develop and change my life and the environment. I have already seen the true development which is in my learning. My life has really been transformed from a simple businessperson to someone who gives out important information to people who need it in order to  change the world for our own good.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

A Life Skills Session with Secondatry School Students to Remember

By Olivia Sumrie

All the planning and preparation in the world could not have prepared us for our experience at Mpamba School in Nkhata Bay district.

We decked ourselves out in our official Progressio T-shirts and our bright green YONECO chitenjes. We looked and felt the part. Ready to go with our notes, posters and leaflets; we all felt very excited and raring to deliver what we had on our seemingly simple topic "Life Goals".
Squeezed into our mini bus, we drove for about 20 minutes out of town along a rickety dirt road with rural scenes and little villages stretched out on either side. As we crept to a halt at the gates of an enormous school, our reservations began to grow. Our minibus entered through open large metal gates into a huge dusty drive way. The school was vastly spread out but there were no children in sight.

We all stumbled out of the bus, adjusting our chitenjes, squinting in the sun to try and spot the children that were watching us from a distance in the shade. 

A teacher emerged out of nowhere and directed us to a huge building that was larger than any school gymnasium I have ever seen. As soon as we walked through the door, hundreds of faces between the ages of 13 to 20 were all staring up at us and smirking. We scrambled up onto the stage smiling awkwardly. The Headmaster greeted us formally in front of the children; sternly stating that we were expected an hour ago and we had to be quick as it was lunchtime. We had no idea we were late.

My role for the session was Monitoring and Evaluation, which meant I had to interview 3 students before and after the session in order to record the level of knowledge gain and progress of their learning. In a rush before we began the session, I randomly selected a young boy called Nepier to interview. Unfortunately he had no clue what I was saying when I asked him "what is a life goal?". Not off to a good start. Trying to take my job seriously was proving difficult with children surrounding us, laughing and shouting inches from my face. Eventually, after getting a few coherent answers,  the presentation started!

As an introductory lesson, we set out a range of issues such as STIs, peer pressure, substance abuse and teenage pregnancy. To keep it interesting, we performed a play that left Lewis with an STI and Kate pregnant. The kids were in hysterics. By standing up and using drama and humour we finally managed to catch their attention and respect. Thus, when we commenced our learning section, the youth really did try to listen and understand.

Due to the size of the school, my other job of counting the students proved impossible. I managed up to 200 and then, when they started to push and shove to the front it became impossible... I decided to let it be and take this session as a learning curve and be more prepared next time! (Later we found out there were over 450 in the room.)

After the session finished, I found Nepier to ask the same three questions. Without his boisterous friends present he squeezed his eyes shut in concentration, clearly wanting to answer correctly. Luckily I managed to get other volunteers to help take the other interviews and the ICVs (In Counrty Volunteers) were incredible in translating and making the students understand.
Although the school session shocked us at first, it has prepared us for all the school sessions to come. We now feel ready for anything.

Throughout the rest of the week, each school showed a range of knowledge, but they all shared an enthusiasm and excitement at being taught something new.

In sessions with students, when asking "how can you achieve your life goal?", they usually all stated work hard at school. The students in Malawi seem to respect education tremendously. Whilst in the UK, education is free up to 18 years, in Malawi only primary school is free. As a result, perhaps it gives the older youth in Malawi a sense of pride and gratefulness for being in school. Currently, there are nearly more girls in school than boys in Malawi. 

There is a feeling of hope and optimism that the next generation will really try and change life in Malawi with gender equality, life goals, health and human rights. Although we have only been here for three months and might have only skimmed the surface, with YONECO I hope we can help facilitate that change.

Ritual Cleansing: Cultural Practices that Steal Young People's Innocence

“I think there is so much we can do for the women and children who are victims of hyenas, gender-based violence, and all the other social evils that are out there”. This is what Malawi’s 2013 Big Brother Africa representative, Natasha Annie Tonthola, said during an interview with BBC’s Michael Wendling. Natasha explained the ordeal she went through as she was being traditionally ‘initiated’ into adulthood. 


Just as various national and international media channels were awash with a story about a man who was arrested for sleeping with young girls to cleanse and initiate them into adulthood; the celebrated entrepreneur cum girls’ rights activist, Natasha, came to the open and exposed the evils and dangers of such cultural practices.


Honestly speaking; our society is full of different harmful cultural practices that lead to various sexual reproductive health challenges. Many young people like, contraction of Sexually Transmitted Infections including HIV, fueling child marriages as well as teen pregnancies and other associated consequences. These aforementioned challenges have been faced and still affecting new victims year in year out.


Young people can avoid this kind of abuse by knowing their sexual reproductive health rights. No one is supposed to force you into having sex no matter what kind of influence that person has. When you get pregnant or an STI; it is the very same people who start discriminating and stigmatizing you. They are quick to force you into sex cleansing but they are always late to support when the ritual lands you in trouble.


Young people; do not trust others to make sexual reproductive health decisions on your behalf. It is your life and when you are troubled by your community to undergo a harmful cultural practice you can report this by calling toll free child helpline on 116, Community Victim Support Unit or any nearest Youth Friendly Health Service Delivery Point that is close to your area.


Remember; you have your sexual reproductive health rights and make wise and informed decisions. Do not let cultural beliefs and ritual steal your innocence …be assertive and report any form of abuse to remain cool and happy! 

Sunday, 30 October 2016

My Commitment towards Enhancement of Young People's Lives in Nkhata Bay: An Account of an ICS-Progressio Volunteer

Written by Anthony Kannanda Phiri

One of the sessions which ICS-Progressio Volunteers had
with Secondary School students in Nkhata Bay district 
“Hello guys, listen, we are ICS volunteers who work with YONECO to among other things, promote the Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) and welfare of young people here in Nkhata Bay district” – said one of my fellow ICS Progressio volunteers.

The ambiance was filled with noise that was being made by students during our first secondary school session in the Nkhata Bay district. As I was waiting for a time to commence activities as an ICV (In Country Volunteer), my head was so filled up with thoughts, uncertainties and expectations on how I will perform. It is really true that what was hard to bear is sweet to remember.

Young people in Malawi face a number of challenges and these challenges are also very prevalent in the communities where we are working in. Young people are constantly challenged by various SRHR issues like unwanted teen pregnancies, high prevalence rate of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) among others. Further to this, young people easily succumb to negative pressure and indulge in binge drinking as well as abusing drugs and substances. This is a pitiful situation as the youth are leaders of today and tomorrow hence the need to provide them with necessary life skills to enable them to avoid such things.

The first day of work justified the need to intensify various SRHR sessions with young people.  Furthermore, the situation warrants the need to concentrate our efforts and the need to cooperate with students in primary and secondary schools as well as establishing strong linkages with other community members.

There is indeed a lot of work to do and all the team members need to maintain the momentum and approach the tasks enthusiastically in order to successfully complete the mission at hand.

An SRHR Session with Young people in progress 
I realized that life becomes so satisfactory when one contributes positively to various aspects of life and I am glad that as a volunteer, I am learning a lot as well as supporting the development of young people. Of course, I faced a lot of challenges at the beginning but now I feel confident and happy to be an ICS volunteer. Many people, more especially those who live in urban areas, think that life is simple but the case is not as such to those who live rural areas. In order to discover new lands, one must be willing to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. Life necessitates the need to learn and have and hunger for more knowledge.

As volunteers, we are trying our best to support the process of addressing various challenges and inequalities among people at different levels. We are associating very well with local communities and this is an important aspect of our work.

People who delay action until all factors are favorable do nothing. I am ready to reach out to hard to reach areas and work with as many youths as possible. I have also realized that in the efforts of trying to change others am also in the process of changing my life as well and sometimes this even happens at subconscious level.

Frankly speaking, I am enjoying the team work and a good working relationship we have established with our friends from UK  (UK based Progressio-ICS Volunteers). Man alone has the power to transform his thoughts into physical reality; Man alone can dream and make his dreams come true. It`s my dream to change the world, and it`s my dream that by the end of my placement, young people’s situation should not be the same.                                                                                                                                                             


The Beauty of Language

Written By: Lewis Scholfield  ICS- Progression Volunteer) 

After an English learning session with young people in Nkhata
 Bay district
Living in England has given me an opportunity  to hear a variety of languages. To some people this causes frustration; as they find it disrespectful or feel like people are hiding things from them. As for me, I find language fascinating due to the use of slang and accents which stand out in crowds regardless of how densely populated an area is. As I arrived in Malawi, it became very confusing and difficult to communicate when trying to engage with ICV’s (in country volunteers) and people from the local town. However, after spending a few nights with our host family, Jamie and I found ourselves on the other side of this language barrier.

ICS-Progressio Volunteers from England having a wonderful
time with children outside YONECO Office in Nkhata Bay
We spent our evenings in the host home; it had become almost a ritual that Jamie and I catch up on our daily events and thoughts after a meal. We’d be sat looking out over the tropical bay and within minutes of the conversation starting, two brothers from the family would come and sit close by us. Both boys are aged 13 and have a very basic knowledge of the English language, so by the third night we began to question their reasoning as it seemed they did not have any. 

We started by asking the boys if they understood what we were saying. The only response was a look of confusion. We tried again using hand gestures and slowly and clearly asked “Do you understand us?” The boys shook their heads. We continued with this method and asked “Would you like us to teach you English?” Both boys sprung up with excitement and responded “Yes, yes, yes!” I was shocked by the passion and enthusiasm these boys had, usually the adolescents back home would be reclusive and theirs motivation withdrawn. Whereas the optimism and positive attitudes made me feel like these boys may be fluent by the evenings end.

Two hours flew by, we used a notebook to write out the alphabet and a dim torch was the only source of light after a familiar blackout. Although the resources where basic, the boys positive outlooks remained. We spent the first hour learning the alphabet and each letter’s pronunciation. We continued the lesson finding words starting with corresponding letters. An example of this would be, A for apple. I remembered this teaching style from school, when I would have been in a similar situation to the children I found myself teaching. It seemed effective as the boys quickly started taking over the examples. To ensure both myself and the child understood the references; we would draw a picture underneath each example.

After spending a few days without any understanding of each other, the four of us found ourselves laughing and talking together. We would reinforce the boys with clapping or by saying “Good”, we’d correct mistakes and then demonstrate why it was a mistake. Overall this made our relationships stronger and the boy’s grandparents thanked us with such gratitude.

 This felt unnecessary as we were living in a room they had provided, we ate meals that they’d cook and provided us with the means and explanations to carry out simple tasks like washing our clothes. It felt great to be doing something that benefited somebody else. 

We have come to Malawi to make a difference, and after some weeks of planning and learning, this was our first real interaction.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Reflections on Childhood versus Technology

Children having fun with ICS Progressio volunteers in
Nkhata Bay district 
It is now been over a month since I first arrived in Malawi. Amongst all of our cultural differences, the thing that has stood out to me the most is the sense of community and how happy everyone here is. Families in Malawi do not have much as compared to us back home in the UK and yet they seem to be so happy with their lives. It's such a breath of fresh air to see children being children. Playing outside and getting covered in dirt, instead of sitting inside playing with various electronic devices. 

Personally, I feel that as the UK has developed and our technology has advanced, we have lost some of the simple ways of having fun. We have grown as a country and yet we have not grown to our full potential as individuals. Here in Malawi, the children spend time from dusk till dawn outside: playing, falling over, making new friends, and discovering what is around them. As individuals, these children seem so aware of their surroundings and they find new ways of recreation by themselves playing with what's around. For me, technology is what I use to survive and communicate. From small things such as checking the time to getting directions, I am always relying on technology.

When we first landed at Lilongwe International Airport, my first point of call was to charge my phone, get a simcard and get internet access. This just shows how much we, from the UK, cannot go without technology for very long.

However living out here I have learnt that you do not need the latest gadgets to have fun and communicate. The simplest things that are locally available make people happy. Just sitting playing games with my host family or having a conversation over dinner - no technology needed.

Let the game begin! ICS Progressio volunteers captured during one
of their sessions with children in Nkhata Bay district- Malawi
 In Malawi, children do not have phones; if you want to speak to your friend you talk to them in person. I have
 made such strong bonds with people here by just being with them. When we have had electricity blackouts we have had to find new ways to pass time other than watching TV or being on Facebook.
The sense of oneness in the villages of Malawi is something to admire. People leave their homes open all day, everyone and anyone is welcome to come round and will always be greeted and looked after. The relationship everyone has with their neighbours is one of trust.

Being in this beautiful country has taught me so much and given me much to reflect on as well. Here are some questions I feel we should all think about: 

       Do we really need as much technology as we use every day in our lives? 
       How have we become very reliant on materialistic things, just by growing up in a different the part of the                world?

by Maria Tariq