International Volunteering and Gap Year Placements for 17 - 25 year olds
In January, I embarked on the adventure of a lifetime! It would be my first time away from home and certainly the first time I had ever been to Africa. I wanted to prove to my parents that I could look after myself, despite being unable to keep my bedroom tidy and I wanted to prove to my friends that I wasn’t going to settle for just any old course from UCAS. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to be but I knew what I wanted to do!
So of course, I was petrified. What was I thinking!? All those months of planning and waiting were over. I was finally going. The Malawi group met at Heathrow, 3 hours before our flight- all wearing our red Lattitude T-shirts- all very nervous! Parents even more nervous!!
Some time later, we landed in Lilongwe, (a little smaller than Heathrow). I remember taking that first breath stepping out of the plane and absorbing the humidity. It was so still. Now I was excited. Our Lattitude mentor, or Malawian mother, as we came to know her, met us at the airport, fully dressed in African attire and took us back to Mabuya Camp, where we met the Australians! I think it’s fair to say, to begin with, we Brits were a little taken- a-back by how loud the Aussies were! For the next few days, whilst we got to know each other, we were briefed and any questions or worries we had were answered.
Leaving the group was our first in-country challenge. Just as you get comfortable, you’re off again- and this time to your placement. I was nervous.
I was lucky enough to be placed with Anne, in Domasi Mission Secondary School. We loved it!! It is set up high in the mountains and overlooks the African plains. Everyday when we woke up we would open our front door and just take in the view. It doesn’t get old. People always ask me: “What did you miss the most?” It’s funny because you just adapt. It’s a different way of life. However, you can pretty much, get anything and everything in Malawi’s capital,Lilongwe.
Teaching was one of the reasons I had chosen Malawi. It is a challenge. You have classes of over 50 children and perhaps, 1 book. You speak English, they perhaps, don’t. Classrooms are dark. If you’re lucky you will have a chalk board. But! The children want to learn. There will be silence when you speak. They will do anything for you. Language becomes fluent through dancing and singing and play! Don’t be afraid to make a fool of yourself. To begin with, lessons resemble a game of charades. But you’ll get there!
There are challenges everyday. Of course, there are times when you miss home, some days more than others. I think for me, it was seeing or experiencing something truly amazing or beautiful and wishing you could share it with someone you love. Because no one will ever be able to understand the things you try so hard to explain. By the time you get home, it will only remain in your memories. Everyday is special. You will come to realise. You will give anything to go back and just sit on your porch and watch the world go by.
Life for many in Malawi is hard. For some, it is a battle everyday. You know, I guess, I became complacent because the people are always so happy and friendly. You forget that it’s strange that they do not have shoes or that they have a tree balanced on their head. I learnt that one person cannot change the world. We can try though. If you can make a person happy everyday that you are with them, you have done something amazing.
I fell in love. My children taught me so much!! I had definitely underestimated their capabilities. Of course I don’t have my own children, I am only 19. But I truly love those children with all of my heart. There is not a day that goes by when I am not thinking of them. It makes me sad that they do not know that. I’m not worried about them because they have such a beautiful life. I know they are happy. I would just love to hear them laughing once more.
We made a deal, me and my children. We decided we wouldn’t say goodbye or be sad. When the time came for them to go home we would just say “Tiwonana mowa” (See you tomorrow) just like we did every night.
I know I’ll go back! I’ll meet all of my friends again because Malawi, the Warm Heart of Africa, has my heart and always will. I think, wherever you go, the country will welcome you as long as you respect them and their culture.
Now I am at university studying to be a teacher. If it wasn’t for going to Malawi on my gap year, this would not have been possible. I thank Lattitude for giving me this amazing opportunity. I have made the best friends and from all over the world! I felt safe in the knowledge that if I did ever need help, someone was always close enough. I felt brave enough to explore because Lattitude gave me that chance to make my own decisions.