The ups and downs of volunteering


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Africa » Malawi » Northern » Nkhata Bay
November 13th 2013
Published: November 13th 2013
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How time flies! I have been volunteering at Butterfly Space in Nkhata Bay for almost 1 month now. I slowly became used to the heat and my surroundings on arrival and also saw some of the projects which are running here at the lodge. Since then, things have quickly moved on and I am rather busy which is great. Before arriving here, I was always going to get involved with the Butterfly football team but unfortunately, the local Malawian who is supposedly the "coach" is wholly unreliable so I decided to set up my own team. As many of the projects and facilities are available to young local people here at Butterfly, I thought it would be good to increase our connections with the local primary school - Chikhale Primary School. The school is approximately a 5 minute walk away and it seems logical to reach out to the many children that are registered at the school. With that in mind, I have taken over as the football coach for the local school team (they only have one) and we now train on a Tuesday and Thursday afternoon.

Each training is very well attended, despite most children turning up at least 30 minutes late. But this seems to be a trait all over Africa from the time I have spent here. Time is not important which is difficult to grasp when you work and live in a culture where punctuality is critical to our social well-being. Whilst this is an annoyance, I have to appreciate the Malawian culture and I will do my up most to work around this. The main thing in terms of the football is, that players and children from the local school are attending, it is as simple as that! So far in the 6 training sessions I have run, I have been introducing the likes of a warm up and cool down and there importance. Furthermore, I have been coaching the basic skills and getting the children to improve their ball control, accuracy of their passing and finally their movement off the ball. Usually I mix up the sessions with a warm up, various drills and short small sided games, followed by a 30 minute game. In the last sessions, I introduced different ways we can improve our fitness and I will continue to stress the importance of being healthy and fit. One surprise was the fitness of the children. Yes they are used to the heat and walking miles on end, but there core muscles are underdeveloped and their anaerobic fitness is quite poor. This I intend to work on over the coming weeks.

As well as the football project with the local school, I have also been trying to start up a film night for local Malawians where I can showcase my travel and nature documentaries. Sadly, despite all the advertising I have done, no one has turned up which is disappointing. However, I do realise that some projects I pick up will be unsuccessful but I hope to work around this. Due to the poor return from the film night, I am hoping to speak with the local secondary school headmaster to hopefully teach some geography to a particular class. This will then be followed by a film at butterfly. This I hope will kick start my geography based project and lay a foundation for future volunteers to continue this or too start with a new subject.

With the arrival of a few more volunteers, I have made the decision to finally start on the two irrigation projects which will form environmental classes for local Malawians, in particular, rural farmers. The projects include a drip irrigation system and a bicycle water pump which will be fed from the lake. Both projects are eco friendly and provide a cheap way for farmers to increase the number of crops they grow and the various seasons they cultivate the land. We have made a start with the drip irrigation system which is basically an Ikea type set of pipes which are fed from a 20 litre water bag. The system then flows water into 5 parallel pipes which irrigate the land. So far we have built a base for the water bag to be held up and have been working on making the pipes water tight due to a few leaks.

All in all, things are certainly picking up here at Butterfly and everyone is really making an effort with the respective projects they are involved in. Whilst for most of the day we are volunteering, we are making a genuine effort to increase the number of activities which are available for guests and volunteers alike. I have decided to re-start the pizza and movie night on a Wednesday night and we are also going to run a pub quiz on a Thursday. We hope that guests staying here will participate and perhaps in the long run, we may be able to attract tourists from other backpackers in town. All we ask is that they purchase something from the bar which goes towards supporting the projects that are being run.

Elsewhere, I have enjoyed watching some of the premier league games in the local sports bar where a beer is 300 kwacha (65p) - this has included the Tyne and Wear Derby and the more recent Man U v Arsenal game. It is always interesting to watch the games as everybody supports a major English team here and they are very clued up on their football. This makes for a friendly atmosphere!! As well as the football, I have been swimming in the Lake most days to cool off from the very oppressive heat. Even the locals are finding it reasonably hot here at the moment. I am rather looking forward to the rainy season now!! In regards to swimming in the lake, apparently there was a crocodile seen 3 weeks ago which makes for an interesting swim. On the whole though, nearly all the croc's in Lake Malawi are found near the major rivers where the water is murky and shallow, everything Nkhata Bay isn't! Don't worry.

Currently on a no drinking beer week so we'll see how I fair with the pizza and movie night later....could be interesting. Photo's coming next time.

RichM tip's:

- For travellers on a tight budget, eat in town in the local restaurants. For Lunch most weeks, I pick up banana's which are 10 kwacha each, Mango's 20 Kwacha each and tomato's 100 kwacha for 5....A loaf of bread is 230 Kwacha and honey is 825 kwacha. This is pretty much my lunch for the entire week. Cheap cheap cheap!!

- Head to the sport's bar on a Sunday to watch the football. It used to be and still is called the Elephant and Dog, but it is now the Uminji bar - next to the football pitch towards the hill, opposite side to Kaya Papaya.

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