Wednesday, 30 September 2015

MALAWI TRIP - Week 2


Week 2 of my Malawi trip started off by travelling to a small village outside Blantyre called Chilaweni. This was the village we would be staying in for the next week and the place we would be doing the project in. Chilaweni has a large primary school and small secondary school, with houses dotted around the outskirts. The school is the main hub of the village, along with the church and Dennis the headmaster is a big influence among all of the local people. He was one of the most inspiration people that I've ever met; having been a headmaster for over 20 years, adopted 3 children and he's also changed the school for the better. He said that when he first came to Chilaweni Primary School, they only had 300 students enrolled, but now there's over 1,500. 


Primary school is free for children but secondary school isn't, which is why a lot of the children have to drop out after primary because they can't afford it. They also welcome adults into the primary school if they haven't been able to access education when they are younger, which is think is a really good idea because it gives everyone an opportunity. When we arrived at the village, we got shown to our camp site area by Dennis and introduced to the other staff members (cooks, teachers and guards). We were also dedicated a special dining area at the back of the school where we could have our meals and chill out in between doing the project. In the afternoon we had a welcome ceremony at the school which was really fun. It was really lovely knowing that the whole community wanted to come together to welcome us into the village. Everybody was so friendly and the children wouldn't stop smiling and waving. The welcome ceremony consisted of welcome speeches from the village chief and Dennis the headmaster, and then a few dances and songs from the school children which were amazing. There was also a traditional fire dance that was done which was a bit strange but apparently quite common. 





The project site was about a 5 minute walk from where we were staying and from the main school buildings. I didn't really know what to expect when we walked down to the site, I kind of thought it would just be a plot of land that we had to build on. But when we walked down there we were greeted by the project manager Jofatt, who showed us around. There was already an empty brick building in place which used to be an old farming house with broken windows. Some of the money that we had fund-raised had already been spent on a new roof which was currently being built, because the old roof had been eaten by termites and woodworm. Jofatt explained to us that our job for the week would be to paint inside the building, build a new blackboard, start building the toilets and paint murals on the walls. The finished building was going to be used as a feeding centre for children under 5 years old. This is basically the same as food banks that we have in the UK. 





A lot of children under 5 in Malawi don't have any food all day because they're families can't afford it, and they're too young to go to primary school. When the children reach school age they get a free meal every day at lunch time break from the school cook. So, this is why the feeding centre is really needed..it means that parents can take their young children to get a free meal once a day, to make sure that they don't suffer from any further starvation or malnutrition. 

The next day we threw ourselves fully into project work, starting with painting the undercoat on all of the walls (there was a lot of walls), starting the brickwork for the outside toilets and painting the outside bottom panel. We all split off into smaller groups and did different parts of the work, swapping round when we wanted a break or to try something new. The paint was really really strong as they mix it with petrol to water it down, and so we had to keep getting some air from that! Our working hours were 8am-11:30am and then 2:30pm-5:00pm. In between working we sat in our dining area, had lunch and chilled out because it was heat of the day and too hot to work. 








Over the next couple of days it was amazing to see everyone coming together and the progress that was happening with the building. I never thought that we would achieve as much as we had done in that shirt space of time. As you can see by the pictures, it's quite a big building, but it just proves that if everyone pulls their weight you can achieve a lot! 



For the murals we decided to draw the alphabet and numbers 1-10 because they would be fun to look at for the little children, and also 2 sunflowers with our hand prints as the petals. We thought this would be a fun way to remind people we were here! We also painted a food wheel on the wall to give parents an idea of what makes a healthy/balanced diet which we thought would be useful for them to know. On the last day of the project we painted in all of the final touches to our murals and made sure everything looked neat and tidy. It was amazing to finally see all of our efforts and take photos of the work we'd done and compare it to the first day. 







In the afternoon of our last day in the village, we had a leaving ceremony. This was quite similar to the welcome ceremony in that there were speeches and dances. Our leaders made a thank you speech, thanking the village for having us stay and making us feel so welcome, and then Dennis made a thank you speech, thanking us for all of our work we've done and how much of a positive impact we'd made on people. I absolutely loved this week of the trip because I felt like we were able to really get to know the local people and really get involve in community spirit. 



The next part of the trip will be all about hospital visits, safari and Lake Malawi so stay tuned for that in the next week! 
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Thursday, 24 September 2015

MALAWI TRIP - Week 1


So if you follow me on social media then you'll already know that I've just come back from a 3 week trip to Malawi in Africa. Africa is always somewhere that I've wanted to go since I was little, purely for the fact that elephants are my favourite animal ever! However, as I've gotten older, I've wanted to visit Africa for many more reasons than just to see the elephants. The culture fascinated me, always seeming to be so bright and colourful with the different foods and clothing and I've dreamed of immersing myself into that. But as we all know, Africa is a continent that suffers from many different problems such as poverty, famine and poor health. Of course there are pockets of wealth in every country, but as a whole they have little resources and facilities. So when the opportunity came up with my university to go to Malawi for 3 weeks with the charity AMECA to do some voluntary work, I obviously jumped at this once in a lifetime chance. 

AMECA is a small charity that aim to improve the healthcare in Africa by funding small projects in local communities and villages (www.ameca.org.uk). They are based mainly in Malawi which is a very small country in terms of Africa's size, but still one that suffers greatly from poverty and is one of the poorest countries in the world. Our 3 week trip was divided into sections and was fully jam-packed! So I thought I'd write three different blog posts instead of one massive one, and give a run down of each week separately. 

Week 1 - Climbing Mount Mulanje 
(we fundraised to do this so that we could raise awareness for the charity)

Now, I'm not an outdoors kinda girl usually. I mean, I've gone to festivals before, gone on camping holidays when I was younger and obviously go for dog walks regularly. However, I'm not the hiking/trekking type...I prefer just to work out in my gym a couple of times a week and occasionally go for a run. So I knew that climbing to the highest point in Southern Africa (3002m) was going to be my biggest challenge yet, and I was right...but knowing it was for charity made me more motivated to do it. 

Day before the trek began - There were 11 of us all together in the group (all girls which was nice) and then our 2 leaders which worked as freelance expedition leaders and so they were very confident in trekking! The day before the trek we went on a 2 hour training walk to some waterfalls which were absolutely beautiful, especially watching the sunset from them (there's nothing else that comes close to an African sunset - totally amazing). But during this 2 hour trek, with the blazing sun and uphill terrain, I did start to really worry and think 'will I be able to do this tomorrow'. I pushed through and realised that once you get going on the walk, you start to get into it a lot more! The sun sets at 5:30pm in Malawi which means it's dark by 6pm and so for the last part of the walk back, we had to use our head torches which was a bit scary going downhill on bumpy ground. Unfortunately, one of the girls had a bit of a fall on the way down and banged her elbow quite badly, meaning that she wouldn't be able to join us for the rest of the trek. She went to volunteer in some schools instead for the 5 days. 



Day 1 of the trek - Today we woke up at sunrise which is 5:30am so that we had maximum walking time before it got dark at 6pm. We met up with our two local guides who we're going to be leading us up the correct way, they were both really friendly. We also met our porters (in Malawi it is rude to go up the mountain without porters) and these people were there to carry our large rucksacks up the mountain for us which was easy for them as they're used to it, but would have been impossible for us. 

When we started the hike, we knew that today was going to be really tough. None of us were used to trekking on uphill terrain and also in this heat. Half an hour in and my whole body was already aching and the sun was getting hotter. Luckily, nearer the bottom of the mountain there are lots of trees like a forest, and so this was shading us. After 3-4 hours we stopped for lunch at a lovely waterfall (different one to yesterday) and had our cheese and tomato sandwiches that we made the night before. At this point we were over half way which we were all happy about!


Another 2 hours of forest trekking uphill and we finally made it to our first mountain hut! The mountain huts are open to all trekkers on a first come first serve basis and luckily we arrived in good time. The toilets were basically a shed with a hole in the floor (called a long drop) and there only running water around was the river outside. For dinner we had a lovely vegetable stew with rice which was just what we needed after a long day! I did some washing down by the stream and we re-filled our water ready for the morning.



Day 2 of the trek - Today was much like yesterday except the terrain wasn't as steep and there was more flat land (yay). However, it was a longer walk than yesterday. The heat was more unbearable than yesterday as there was less trees to shelter us the further up the mountain we got. The views were incredible and it wasn't until today that I realised just how high we were going up and also how big this mountain was. Oh and it's also an extinct volcano which makes it even cooler! After about 6-7 hours of walking, we made it to our second mountain hut which was similar to the first one but a big bigger. We had a team chat after dinner underneath the stars and they were incredible. We saw so many shooting stars and they're all so clear. Tomorrow was summit day...the hardest day yet to come. 



Day 3 of the trek - Summit day has arrived! The aim of today was to reach the summit and then walk back down to the same mountain hut we stayed in last night. Doesn't sound too bad right? WRONG. We started our walk very early morning, and I could already notice that it was a lot steeper than before. The temperature has dropped though which was good because of the altitude. I looked back at the views after about an hour in, and I noticed that we were way above the clouds (scary!). As the terrain got steeper, it also became very flat and slippy. We basically had to scramble on all fours up towards the summit and I started to freak out a little. I'm usually okay with heights, but the fear of slipping backwards sent me into panic mode. Our leaders were amazing and made sure each of us were going up as safely as possible. After I pulled myself together and got over the mentality of falling, I was okay again. It took us about 3 hours to reach the summit and even though there wasn't much of a view due to the mist, the feeling was amazing!! I couldn't believe that I'd actually reached the summit of Mount Mulanje, something I would have laughed at in disbelief before. It was freezing cold at the summit though due to being so high up and so the wooly hat came out and the gloves were on. We sat and had lunch together whilst taking numerous photos of course. 


The decline down from the summit was also super scary because we had to climb down those steep flat surfaces which was a lot harder than scrambling up them. I mostly slid down on my bum, which probably looked hilarious to most people but all dignity went out the window at that point...I just wanted to get down! It took us about 2 hours to get down, and back to the hut! I've never felt so relieved to be on flatter ground.


Day 4 of the trek - Today was a good day, as much as I'd enjoyed getting to know the girls a bit more and challenging my comfort zone, I was reading for a day of walking down the mountain compared to going up it. As I said before, this isn't really my kind of thing. I found today much easier than yesterday because even though it was steep going down and sore on the knees, it was quite rocky which meant it was easier to grip onto things and find places for your feet to step. We walked for about 5 hours today which was the majority of the walk down. Obviously trekking down a mountain is quicker than going up! We stayed at our last mountain hut, and this one was really nice. It was very large and was the newest mountain hut in the range. We sat out on the balcony after dinner and played card games as it was one of the girls birthdays!

Day 5 of the trek - Yaaay last day of trekking! I'm totally proud of myself for climbing this mountain, and can't believe I've actually done it. It was one of the hardest challenges I've ever had to face but it was worthwhile achieving the goal for all of the people that sponsored me to do it and for the charity of course! But today I was really happy because we finally got down to the bottom again! It only took us about 4 hours which was a lot quicker than expected and we came across some more waterfalls in the last hour and we thought we'd stop off for a swim seeing as we were all baking hot and we had almost completed the journey. The water was so clear and refreshing (freezing at first) but was really nice to cool down! 


The day after the trek -  We travelled to a town called Blantyre which was quite a journey away, but we were all glad just to sit down (even if we were all crammed into a minibus/van). We arrived at a hostel called Doogles and were able to have hot showers (luxury) and relax by the pool for the afternoon! Tomorrow would be the first day of the next section of the trip....
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