Malawi - warming the hearts of volunteers in Africa

Few people know where this small, landlocked country in Africa lies. You might only associate it with the fact that some celebrities have adopted children from there. Of course, it’s so much more than that! 

Malawi is definitely worth a visit for a holiday or gap year experience as a volunteer.

But why Malawi, you ask? Simply, Malawi has it all. OK, maybe no sea, but it makes up for that big time with the famous Lake Malawi. The lake is an incredible and unique underwater snorkelling and diving paradise. The wide variety of underwater life and diversity of colourful fish make it a sought-after destination for those with an interest in diving and underwater discovery. Malawi provides all that in a very affordable way.

lake malawi fish

Malawi is affectionately known as “the Warm Heart of Africa”. The title bestowed on this small country bordering Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania comes to life when you see the incredible friendliness and big smiles everywhere you go. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in Africa, and despite decades of international aid, not much has actually improved.

Sending in expensive US advisors and United Nations consultants driving around in their big white Landcruisers only shows the ugliness of the aid industry. So much money and resources are used and wasted to keep the expensive industry of international aid alive. 

We at Khaya Volunteer Projects don't really support this form of aid any longer as it has proven to be inadequate and wasteful. We believe aid should come from a clear need for help and demand for specific support and then addressed correctly, instead of dictated according to what Westerners assume is the need of the people. So, working from the ground level up makes us motivated to support where we can. Through the concept of volunteer travel, we strive to make a difference for the people we work with. Maybe we can't make huge changes, but we can make small ones that are huge for some people!

sports volunteer malawi

But let’s step away from the heavy subjects of this complex African country – which foreign powers, tribal divisions, and politics have left still so poor and desolate.

Volunteering in Malawi will show you its incredible resilience. Te local population make a plan despite all the challenges they face. Malawians are not a people who sit around and wait for help, they go out and do things for themselves. They are famous for their hard work, motivation to improve their lives, and big smiles to go with it.

Many Malawians have spread across the globe, and especially the African continent, to find better lives and a way out of poverty. They are often eagerly employed over the local population such as in South Africa, where they often are preferred over local staff due to their high level of education, good understanding of English, and general dedication and friendliness.

Malawians are also well-known for their skills as artists, painters, sculptures and woodworkers. Most painted and carved souvenirs you find all over Southern Africa are actually from Malawi or Zimbabwe, where they are produced and sent down to other countries to be sold as “local” souvenirs. It shows again how full of energy and entrepreneurship Malawians are, and how they work hard to make a better life for themselves where possible.

malawi art

The warm spirit of Malawi is visible all over the country. When I was exploring this amazing country in 2014 for the first time, on a small rented motorbike, I experienced the friendliness first hand. My fuel ran out, and not long after that, someone popped out of the bushes to lend me a hand and walk into the village to buy some fuel.

We struck up a conversation, about where I came from, what I thought of Malawi, and if I would like to visit his home to have a cold drink. My nervousness from breaking down in the seemingly empty countryside quickly disappeared. Spending some time enjoying this random meeting became more important than getting to my destination for the day.

I stopped worrying so much about fuel, and on several occasions in those weeks, I purchased petrol randomly wherever I ran out. It always worked out, and the experiences were my fondest memories of my travels there.

My impressions of Malawi have left a mark on me - I think very fondly of the country and its people. The beauty of the sandy beaches of Lake Malawi, the highlands that almost look like Scotland, and the lush forests with wildlife in abundance all come to mind - but the real treasure of Malawi is its people and their neverending giant smiles.

malawi smile

We decided to start working in the north of the country and settled on Mzuzu, where volunteering offers a great way to enjoy the diversity and beauty of this part of the country. You won't just live and enjoy local hospitality at the house of Miss Kamanga, who will become family to you, but also be guided daily by our wonderful coordinator Justin, who does what he can with a smile.

The location of Mzuzu makes it also easy to find yourself at beautiful Mayoka village in Nkhatha Bay, or in a beach hut in Kande Beach where overland trucks guarantee nightly festivities. You can reach Luwawa Forests with lush woods, where hiking in the mountain beauty makes you feel as if you are in some European country at times.

You can easily reach Livingstonia in the north where the Mushroom Farm and Lukwe Lodge offer a super relaxed environment with massive views into the distance over the lake, permaculture gardens where they grow an abundance of foods, and top-class healthy meals cooked from their own gardens. A planned stay of 2 nights quickly turned to 5 nights and I wish I could have stayed longer. But I will be back soon, I know that for sure!

lake malawi

Go and find out for yourself - Malawi is so worth your time, help and money that I promise you will never regret visiting the true Warm Heart of Africa.

See you in Africa

Martijn

 

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