Laura in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

Click the drop-down boxes below to read writings and watch videos from inspirational "gappers" in Malawi, both past and present.

Laura - Teaching in Malawi

Laura in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

In January, I embarked on the adventure of a lifetime! It was my first time away from home and certainly the first time I had ever been to Africa. I wanted to prove to my parents 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 uni course. 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 the airport, 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. 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, she took us back to Mabuya Camp, where we met the other volunteers. For the next few days, we got to know each other, were briefed and had our early questions 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 things 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.

Naomi - Teaching in Malawi

Naomi in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

Name: Naomi
Nationality: New Zealander
Placement Country: Malawi
Name of the placement: Mudi Community Day Secondary School
Role: Teacher

What made you volunteer in the first place?

Towards the end of year 13 I started to think that I didn’t want to rush straight into university. I wasn’t sure of my career path. Having been so busy at school I didn’t feel ready to leap into yet another stressful year of studying. I knew that I wanted to experience the world. Getting out of New Zealand and travelling was always something I was keen to do as soon as possible. Luckily my parents were very supportive of that. I looked into doing volunteer work as I thought it would be more rewarding than simply travelling. I thought it would give me a chance to give something back to a community and really live the life.

Why Malawi?

I chose Malawi because I wanted a change. I wanted a challenge. I was up for something completely new and out of my western, first world comfort zone. Africa seemed so far removed from NZ, and I was eager to explore somewhere totally different. Malawi also stuck out to me as it looked like a country where volunteers were really needed. I thought I could make a significant contribution and help out people in need.

Naomi in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

Why Lattitude?

Lattitude were the first and only volunteer organization I looked into for my gap year. I hadn’t seen any other organisations that offered placements that interested me. I was looking to volunteer in a third world country where I could make a significant difference. After checking out the Lattitude website and watched all the videos of past volunteers I was sold.  It seemed like such an awesome experience that matched up to what I had hoped to get out of my gap year.

Naomi in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

Can you describe your placement in detail?

I was placed along side 4 other girls from NZ, Canada and Australia in Makata Village. Makata was a lovely little village situated in the Southern region of Malawi close to Blantyre. The village was 7km off the main gravel road and we travelled in and out using the best form of local transport- Motorbike and Bicycle taxis. The ride definitely took some getting used to on the bumpy and uneven dirt road.

Our village had a small trading centre where tomatoes, onions and occasionally green veg, potatoes or mangos were sold cheaply depending on the season. We could also buy rice, maize flour, bread and packaged soy ‘meat’ in the little shops at the local market.

If we wanted a treat or to get things in bulk we would go to Lunzu. Lunzu is our nearest town, which is on the main road. Lunzu had big markets where we could buy anything we needed like shoes, clothes, food, phone credit etc. Lunzu was also where we caught minivans to Blantyre City. It was only a half an hour ride into the City, which was very convenient! From Blantyre we could catch big and small buses just about anywhere so we would always pass through when travelling. Makata Village was a very warm, welcoming village and the people loved to chat with us. It had a small CCAP church, primary school and secondary school. The people lived in traditional mud brick houses, some with metal roofs and some grass.

Naomi in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

Could you tell us about your role there?

While I was in the village I was working as a teacher at Mudi Community Day Secondary School. I taught both form one and form three physics and chemistry. Being one of only two science teachers at the school I was pretty busy, teaching 20 periods a week. At first this was a handful and pretty stressful as I had never had any teaching experience before. I was thrown straight in to teaching a class of 80 students topics which I had only just been taught myself. However as the students got used to me and I settled into my role it became almost second nature. The relationships I was able to build with the students are something I will always treasure and I am so grateful for.

Although teaching was daunting at first, it gave me so much in return. While I was teaching I was also learning a lot and I am so happy I took the opportunity to do it. After school we would do some marking if we needed and then just play with all the young kids who came to our house every day, rain or shine!

Can you describe your accommodation?

Our accommodation was situated inside the secondary school grounds. We lived in a mud-brick walled house on the outside with concrete on the inside and a metal, corrugated iron roof. There were two rooms, one that was bigger in which 3 of us slept and we kept our food and things. The other was smaller which 2 girls slept in. Out back of the house we had a grass-fenced area with a small mud hut for bathing in. Another small mud hut was our long drop toilet. We also had a little iron shed, which we cooked inside when it was too rainy or windy to cook outside. We had no running water in our house, but the secondary school had taps with running water. However, they stopped working very frequently, so we took many trips to the local bore hole with our buckets.

We didn’t have any electricity at all for the first month. We were lucky enough to be given a solar power system later on which powered a light bulb in each room and charged our phones. It was a small house for 5 people, but it was cozy and safe and I really liked it. We adopted a pet dog who kept us company and scared most of the snakes away!

Naomi in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

How did you cope with the big differences between Malawi and home?

Malawi well and truly lived up to its nickname “The Warm Heart of Africa.” The people are the most kind, generous and welcoming people I have ever come across. This made my experience so amazing. To be completely honest I didn’t really struggle with homesickness at all during my trip. From day one the village took us in and helped us to learn the way of life. They taught us to cook, clean, dress, speak the language, carry water, light fires and so much more.

It was challenging at first getting used to a new way of life. We grew accustomed to learning a new language, coping with the heat and greeting each and every person in a room. Whenever you were stuck or feeling down there was always someone to help you or a kid to give you cuddles and make you smile. I thought I would think about home a lot more than I did, but the truth is that when you are there immersed in such a loving, welcoming new culture it becomes home quicker than you know it.

Can you tell us some of your favourite moments?

It is honestly impossible to narrow it down to one favourite moment. There wasn’t a single day where I didn’t laugh or have a funny story to tell the others before bed. One of my best memories though was during the first week at placement. It was a tough week and we were all feeling a little overwhelmed. One evening about 10 or so of the kids in the village came over to our house. They sat on our porch and sung songs and taught us the words and we were all just so happy. It doesn’t seem like an amazing moment when I write about it and after that we had countless more evenings like that one. But that evening was the moment when I just realized why I was there. That was when I really began to fall in love Malawi and the people. In my diary I wrote: “Moments like these make up for all the difficulties of living a third world life and remind me why I’m doing this.”

Naomi in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

How about the toughest times?

I’m not going to lie, the first month was hard. There was so much to take in and learn, and 6 months ahead of us seemed pretty daunting. I became so close with the other girls though. We all agreed that we were thankful the first month was such a challenge. Without the challenge we wouldn’t have bonded as quickly and we wouldn’t have nearly as many stories to tell. If the past 6 months were just easy it wouldn’t have been satisfying. We faced challenges but we came out so much stronger and more resilient.

Can you tell us how you developed personally whilst in Malawi?

During my time in Malawi I definitely can say I developed as a person. I have learnt so much from the people in Malawi in so many different ways. Witnessing how happy people are over there, when they have next to nothing has reinforced for me that money and material things will never be a central feature of my life. True happiness is based on who you are inside and your relationship with people and the world around you. Coming home, you really appreciate all the things we take for granted.

I have definitely become a lot more independent and self confident from living and travelling without parents over looking. After adapting to a lifestyle and culture completely different to anything I’d ever been exposed to, I feel like I have become a lot more open to new challenges and changes.

What are your plans now you are home?

Now that I’m home I’m planning to apply to university for next year to study Law. My broader plan for the future is to branch off into Human Rights Law and International Development. My experience in Malawi has definitely shaped my goals for the future. Before I left I was enrolled to do Health Sciences hoping for a career in medicine. However, being in Malawi I realized I wanted to help people in a different way. Volunteering in Malawi opened my eyes to so many ways in which I can make a difference to people in need. Living like the locals do teaches you the difficulties and challenges people in a developing country face, in a way that you can’t possibly learn just from observation or research.

I’ve noticed how privileged we are in New Zealand to live the life we do and for all the opportunities we have. I’m passionate about doing my part to help less fortunate people get the same opportunities. Malawi will always have a place in my heart. I hope to return one day when I am more educated and can help even more.

Naomi in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

Markus - Teaching in Malawi

Markus in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

Name: Markus
Nationality: New Zealander
Placement Country: Malawi
Role: Teacher

I chose to volunteer in Malawi with Lattitude Global Volunteering because I wanted a new experience, and thought it would be a good opportunity for learning and growth. I see it as a symbiotic relationship. You offer your help while at the same time learning and experiencing so much for yourself. Although being one of the poorest countries in the world, Malawi is famous for the warm-heartedness and friendliness of its people. They have so, so little, and so I was interested to see how they nurture these positive ways of existence.

We are placed 45 minutes down a dusty and bumpy dirt road in the rural village of Chimbowe, Central Malawi. It is a really nice community, with a primary and secondary school, a small local shop and a maize mill. There are 4 Lattitude volunteers in the village. The two girls teach at the primary school and myself and my volunteer partner Jack teach at the secondary school.

The average week day consists of teaching classes between the hours of 7:30am-2pm. Other daily duties: cooking over a charcoal burner, going to the borehole to draw water and walking to the weekly local market. A lot of time is filled with hanging out and chatting with friends and people in the village.

Markus in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year
Markus delivering a speech at the official opening ceremony of the new toilet block.

Before coming to Malawi, I thought it could be a good thing to implement a composting toilet system to introduce a more sustainable alternative to their current toilets here. After settling into my placement, I began to get in touch with people in Malawi practicing permaculture and sustainable living. I gathered ideas for the best system to build for a school, using local resources. After finding out rough costs for the resources and cost of labour for builders, I set up a givealittle fundraiser page. I shared it on Facebook and thanks to all my generous friends the amount needed was raised in less than a week! Chimbowe Secondary School held an opening ceremony for them and now they are up and running. It’s really nice to already see the positive impact of them. The students are all very curious and are learning about this alternative system through actually getting to use one.

Markus in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

With Malawi being a very underdeveloped country, there are obviously many differences to home. I found the best way to cope with these differences was to remove all my past conditioning and perspectives you get from living in a developed society, and to just observe everything with an open, non-judgmental mind. I found it best just to integrate and immerse myself into local life as much as possible. Cooking and eating nsima with friends. Going to the borehole and chatting. Washing clothes with students. Buying food at a market. There’s so much friendliness in the people here, you make many good connections.

Markus in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

Being immersed in such a different culture brings many chances for personal development. I feel like by being put in such a different environment, culture and way of life has increased my ability to adapt to my surrounding environment, no matter what it is. We take many things for granted in NZ, and coming here will really change your perspective on things. Volunteering in a local village is a great way to see and experience Malawian culture and people first hand.


Kate - Teaching in Malawi

Kate in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

When choosing what country to volunteer in, I didn’t even second guess Malawi when I saw it was an option. It is in Africa! How many people I know have actually experienced Africa I thought to myself? As Malawi was a developing country it fit with my ambition to help those in need. I wasn’t so interested in countries similar to New Zealand. I wanted something that would really challenge me, giving me a whole new outlook by living and being a part of a new culture, where life is just so different, while helping those less fortunate than me. Malawi was the one and only option for me.

I was placed at Mountain View school for the Deaf Children, in the south of Malawi. The school was primary education with students aged 4-22. Mountain View is very remote and is 6km away from Bvumbwe where the local market and supplies are. All the kids and teachers had their homes within the boundaries. Mountain View has a wonderful community with generous people and incredible views. My placement was a very special place. These kids are deaf so it gave them their own safe haven where they can be accepted and understood.

Kate in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

I was a standard 4 maths and English teacher. I was teaching the full curriculum in sign language, which I learnt whilst there. I was also a mentor for the students after school if they needed advice, guidance or help with school work. On Sundays we accompanied the children to church.

Myself and my partner painted and created a library for the children with books coming from England and New Zealand. We even managed to get a computer in the library, and got really involved in the community.

My favourite aspect of my time in Malawi was becoming part of a new family and immersing myself their culture. The kids became my children and the teachers became my siblings. We formed incredible relationships, and every single one of them have a special place in my life. I could not of asked for anything better.

Kate in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

Living in Malawi gave me real opportunites to learn. What I mean is I could make real mistakes in real life situations and learn from them. It even allowed me to realize hidden talents and discover what needed improving. These are all things that can only happen when you are immersed in a real life situation. I feel like this type of personal development is really positive.

I am currently in my 1st year of a three year nursing degree in Christchurch. Volunteering with Lattitude in Malawi 100% influenced my decision to become a nurse. When I left high school I didn’t have the slightest clue what I wanted to do or what I would be good at. After volunteering I was certain with what I wanted to do and now I’m doing it. Being so certain in life is up there with one of the best feelings.

Grace - Teaching in Malawi

Grace in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

I wanted to become a volunteer and be placed in a position where you truly become a part of a culture, that is so contrasting to your own.  Malawi was described to me as being the most challenging and therefore also the most rewarding option. I wanted to gain perspective on the privileges that we’re afforded in our every day lives and often take for granted.

I’m placed in central Malawi and am currently making Mua Mission my home. I live with three other Lattitude volunteers, one a fellow Kiwi, a girl from Germany and also a girl from Canada. Prior to arriving in Mua, I had no preconceived idea as to what to expect of my new home. However if I had, I can assure you that Mua would have surpassed any expectation I could have had.

Grace in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

Our village is based on the top of a very large hill that was once described to me as being three months pregnant. I personally would describe it as being 8 months overdue! Our village has two markets. The old one is at the end of the village and the big market  is at the start. Unfortunately both are based at the bottom of our 8 month overdue hill. Our village attracts many mzungu (white person) on a weekly basis as it’s rich in culture and history, sporting the largest museum and also being the first mission in Malawi.

While here, my main duty is being the Standard 6a Life Skills and Bible Knowledge teacher in the primary school. My standard is split into two classes, Standard 6a and Standard 6b. This means that my class consists of about 46 learners. Other than this, I have a two main projects started which occupy most of my free time. I’m currently trying to create a library for the school and I’m also doing a Penpal Project with my class.

Grace in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

We’ve been incredibly lucky, as we’ve been given the old headmasters house. Three bedrooms, a toilet, shower, kitchen, living room and we also have electricity! We don’t have running water, so we’re still having the authentic bucket shower experience. Where our backyard finishes, a forest reserve begins. It is the habitat of monkeys, snakes and very large spiders. A few of these spiders have unfortunately ventured into my house recently.

I would say that through being responsible for other people, learning how to handle myself in difficult situations and being able to start projects that wouldn’t be possible at home, I’ve become more confident in myself. I’ve fallen in love with learning, but from people in their own environment and routine. After this experience, teaching is something I would like to enter into someday.

Holly - Teaching in Malawi

Holly in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

I decided to volunteer in Malawi: 1. Because I have always been interested in charity work and from a young age have been interested in visiting Africa, and 2. Because I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

With university just around the corner after finishing high school, choosing a career became very stressful. Instead of making a huge decision regarding my future I thought, why not go to Malawi. It was a chance for me to clear my head and really think about what I wanted to do career-wise.

Holly in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

My placement in Mua is centrally located and is absolutely great. Mua is such a lovely village with an great market about 15 minutes walk from our house. In our village we have a primary school, a hospital, a cultural centre which actually attracts quite a few tourists and a deaf school. Mua is known for its amazing woodcarving and we have been lucky enough to learn to carve. Our Malawian friend Christopher has given us lessons, and we have successfully made an African mask.

The village is also placed at the base of a large mountain which you can climb in approximately 3 hours. There is a great viewpoint at the top where you can have a picnic and relax. Everyone in Mua is extremely welcoming and because there is a cultural centre attracting tourists they are not shocked at the sight of foreigners like some other villages.

Holly in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

My days see me teaching 5 days a week, playing sport with the kids, taking trips to the bore hole for water and making friends with all the locals. It’s great just being able to go outside to read and having numerous Malawians come to you wanting to chat or teach you how to bake African cake. It’s great being in such a welcoming community.

I am in a basic two-room concrete house, with 3 Lattitude volunteers. There are 2 beds in one of the rooms with just enough space to put some clothes and in the larger room there is one more bed, a table and a section on the floor where we can place the groceries. We are also lucky enough to have electricity roughly 80% of the time. There is no running water so we fill large buckets from the bore hole to use for drinking, cooking and washing. To cook we use a charcoal burner which once you know how to light actually is very easy.

Holly in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

My Lattitude partner Toni and I decided that we wanted to raise money to help our community. After writing to numerous newspapers back in NZ we managed to raise almost $3,000. It was amazing to see how far the money went. We managed to purchase 2 months worth of porridge for Chifunga Secondary School to allow all students to have a bowl of porridge in the morning. This made a huge improvement to the students concentration.

We also purchased a whole lot of sports gear and organised for 50 desks holding 4 people each to be made for the school. Most students just sat on the floor so we have now made sure that all senior students (standard 5-8) all have desks they are able to learn at.

Holly in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

The biggest challenge for me was definitely the food. You would think that living with no electricity or water would be most challenging but you actually get use to that very fast. It is only the food difference and not having a full fridge at you convenience that was a struggle for me. However you learn very fast how to cook simple good food on a charcoal burner.

I think the best thing about living in Malawi for me is definitely the people. Everyone here is so friendly and so welcoming. Even the people who pester you to buy their things have a joking humour. You can say something cheeky in Chichewa and you’ll both be laughing saying goodbye to each other. You also get invited to people’s houses for dinner or if you walk down through the village near dinner time you’ll be asked by multiple families to join them for nsima. It’s such a nice culture.

We have this one man who lives near us who doesn’t speak a word of English. One day when Toni and I were reading outside he came out with mangos and wanted us to eat them with him. We see him every day and simply say a greeting in Chichewa and he is so friendly. He comes and sweeps outside our house and when Toni fell sick he came to give us lemons. He is only one example of the kind hearted people there are in Malawi.

Holly in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

I think just being there with the kids makes a big impact on them. The students love hanging out with you. They really do appreciate your presence, whether it is at a sports game, in the classroom or just chilling out with them. The kids will draw you pictures, write you letters and I have even received a woodcarving from students as a gift. It is amazing also seeing all the sports equipment we brought go to good use. The students love sport over here so being able to provide them with some decent balls and equipment was definitely a positive.

Coming to Malawi has taught me so much. The big thing has definitely been patience. I have become so much more independent and confident. I am very happy to have nights on my own if my roommates leave where I can easily light the charcoal burner, cook a decent meal from scratch, scrub the pots with sand and simply dealing with things on your own.

I feel confident enough to travel around by myself, going up to random people to ask for directions and simply feeling more sure in the decisions I make. As much as you think you will impact more people’s lives as you help at the school over here, the culture tends to impact your life more. I’m sure I have taught my students a lot but they have taught me more about myself than I could ever imagine. They have completely changed my perspective on how much we should appreciate things and basically just living in the moment you have as nothing else really matters as long as you have a roof over your head and the ability to make a meal.

If you just want a crazy adventure where you learn about yourself and other cultures then 100% go to Malawi. It’s not always going to be easy. There are times that are bloody hard but that’s half the reason you come to Malawi. You come to live basically and learn to deal with it. It’s been a great experience coming to Malawi and I have definitely made some life long friends.

Estelle - Teaching in Malawi

Estelle in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

A former Craighead Diocesan School student is fighting back against famine in one of the poorest countries in the world.

Fairlie teen Estelle Arundell, 18, has spent the past four months volunteering as a teacher in Malawi.

While Estelle says her experience has been incredible, it was also heartbreaking. Malawi is the 7th poorest nation in the world and is in the midst of a severe drought.

After seeing students dropping out of school because they could not afford to go, or because they were too hungry to concentrate, Estelle decided to take action.

Along with two other Lattitude Global Volunteering volunteers, Estelle has set up a project called FightTheFamine, aimed at giving her 300 students porridge every day.

“Lack of rain has meant that Malawi’s stable food, maize, has died, leaving the people with hardly any food to eat and no source of income from farming until the harvest next year.

“Some families are only able to eat once every three days and some students were walking or biking to school for up to three hours without having had breakfast.”

The trio has already raised about $8,000, and were hoping to double that to keep the project sustainable, Estelle said.

The money was put towards building a shelter for the porridge and buying porridge and utensils. They were also able to pay for the school fees of 150 students starting in September.

Absence rates had dropped at the school since the project had started, she said.

“Starting up a project like this has been a lot of work but it is so rewarding to see the smile on the kids’ faces when they have a cup of porridge in their hands each day.

“Students are so much more motivated to come to school because they know they will be fed there.”

The group has also identified three pupils that have “exceptional ability”, and had decided to sponsor them to attend a school in the nearby city of Blantyre for the next academic year.

Estelle decided to take a gap year after finishing school. Rather than just travelling, she wanted to do something to help others.

“The people here have nothing and yet they are some of the friendliest people I have ever met. I have learnt so much about myself and what I am capable of through this experience.”

Estelle’s school is located in the small village of Kazunga. Kazunga is so rural and isolated that it is not even located on Google Maps, she said.

“Here I sleep on a thin foam mattress on the floor of a one roomed brick house with no electricity, no running water, and a coal fire to cook over.

“Living like this for four months has brought me back to the basics and has made me realise how unnecessary some Western luxuries are.”

She will spend another two months at the school before returning home to New Zealand.

A Give a Little page has been set up for people to donate to the project.

Originally published in Stuff.

Estelle in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

Luke - Teaching in Malawi

Luke in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

I always wanted to take a gap year after I finished school. However I wanted to do something that would not only make a difference for others but also help me grow as a person. Volunteering overseas seemed like the perfect opportunity to do this.

My family has always had a close association with Africa but none of them had ever been to Malawi. So Malawi offered me the opportunity to experience a country nobody in my family had ever been to while helping in one of the poorest and friendliest countries in Africa.

Luke in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

Our placement is located in the north of Malawi in a quaint village called Khwawa,  Karonga district. There are three of us muzungu bachelors volunteering here. Jack and I (the kiwis) are teachers while David (our token American) is a medical assistant. Our house is about 1 minute from Lake Malawi which you can see from our backdoor. The lake is a blessing on hot days as you can swim and wash there, much to the amusement of the locals. Khwawa is the best village in Malawi, the people are so friendly and every time you return from a weekend away it feels like coming home.

Everybody is very eager to teach you chitumbuka (the local language) and show you how to be a proper Malawian. Our school is very basic and has four classrooms each with an assortment of desks, chairs, chairs used as desks, and desks used as chairs. Each classroom holds one form class of up to 100 students making learning names one of the biggest challenges of teaching. Khwawa is definitely the place to be.

Luke in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

We teach four periods a day so the workload is enough to be challenging without being overwhelming. After school students that need help will come and get tutored by us, and we also go on the occasional school sports trip. Apart from school duties there’s plenty to do around the village such as joining with sports teams, cooking nsima and going fishing.

Our house is a modest four room brick and wood affair. The three bedrooms each have a bed and mattress, and the main room/ living room/ kitchen/ storage space/ study is furnished with a table, a shelf and four plastic chairs. Although our house has suffered from a few lake fly infestations as well as a few crazy children infestations it remains very homely and I will be very sad to leave.

Luke in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

For me, my favourite moments are all about the students. Every moment I get to stand up in front of class and share my knowledge is one of the best moments. A couple of examples that I have definitely noticed “personal improvement”: My ability to speak in front of large groups of people (having a class of 100 rapidly improves this ability) and the general confidence I have in myself and in my abilities. When you have to do things by yourself you quickly discover you can achieve anything you put your mind to.

Luke in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year


Richard - Teaching in Malawi

Richard in Malawi - Lattitude Gap Year

“So, you’re thinking of going to Malawi?

Well, I have been to Malawi, and here are just some of the reasons that I think you should, too.

Malawi truly is the warm heart of Africa. It is not uncommon to greet someone in Chichewa, only to have them reply with several sentences and promptly burst into laughter when you stare blankly and make an “I’m sorry – I don’t know what you mean” gesture. On other occasions people will reply with “You speak Chichewa!” (in English).

So, what’s it like to be part of a Malawian school? Judging by the conversations I’ve had with other volunteers, every placement is different. Some placements are in towns where you will meet a whole range of people, others (like mine in Mtendere) are in the middle of nowhere where most people you meet have some connection to the school. Spending time just chatting with your pupils, sitting on the floor outside, is an excellent way to feel at home. They always have something interesting to say or another question to ask. They especially like photographs of your life at home – pets, friends, your house and so on.

Of course, it’s not all fun and exciting – sometimes you need to keep your wits about you, stay cool and do your best to weather whatever storm has just come your way. Most things are pretty trivial and you will wonder why you ever worried, but at the time, in a strange country, things can seem more scary than they really are. Examples are unwarranted – it would be unfair to dedicate more than a few sentences to the bad bits, because there are far too many good bits. It’s all part of your journey and you will come to value the times where you think “aaaah” just as much, if not more, than the bits when you think “yay”.

Nobody would argue that flying thousands of miles to a developing country isn’t scary. Scary is really the point though – if it wasn’t scary, it wouldn’t be any fun. Nobody would argue that walking into a class of forty boys to teach maths for the first time is easy – but if it was easy it wouldn’t be rewarding (in fact, if it’s easy you’re probably doing it wrong).

As scary and hard as it all seems at first, I’m sure you’ll find that, in fact, the hardest part is leaving.”