Biren Bhansali and Katie Kerbis, United States
On the ride in we couldn’t have been more nervous for the month ahead. Neither of us had spent any significant time volunteering in a foreign country before, and quite frankly, we didn’t know what to expect. We both sat enamored by the raw beauty of the Malawian landscape with questions running through our minds–What would the living conditions be like? What exactly would the day-to-day routine entail? What would the people be like? Would we like it?
But now we sit here on the ride out, journeying back home after the best month of our lives. That much might seem like hyperbole, but as we think back to the times we’ve had over the past few weeks, it’s impossible to deny. Simply put, this experience affected us. It changed the way we think, the way we feel, and the perspective we have on life.
The day-to-day in Lifuwu was ideal for our volunteering experience. The flexible nature of the organization pushes you to utilize your strengths and make the experience your own. Upon arriving it was evident that the Friendly Gecko guesthouse would act as a home for us, and the other volunteers and staff would act as a family. Each day we would wake up around 7 am and have a family-style breakfast at 7:30. We were typically out the door by 8:15, off to our respective projects. We met back at the Friendly Gecko around 11:30 to have another group meal at 12:30. (Side-note: Annette’s cooking is delicious and we kind of feel that she should open her own restaurant). We were free to do whatever we pleased until 2:15 pm, be it read, play cards, swim, or take a walk on the beach. By 2:30 pm we were back at various projects, and the “work” of the day usually ends around 4.
Quotation marks seem appropriate for “work,” as the experience that we got barely fits the denotative definition. Both of us worked principally at the primary school, and our time there was beyond rewarding. We each assisted in teaching a class of children a variety of subjects, acting as both a teacher and mentor and bringing a global perspective to the classroom. Over just one month, we became invested in the kids’ futures. The children are eager to learn—many have high aspirations of becoming doctors, lawyers, or pilots. They are smart, they are passionate, they are ambitious and they realize that you may function as a key to that success. Throughout our month we were privileged to spend quality time with kids both in the classroom and outside of the classroom. Whether it was frisbee at kids corner, sharks and minnows (aka sharks and chambo) in the late afternoons at the lake or just a good talk in the shade on the beach it was the time with the kids that was the most meaningful.
Beyond volunteering, there are many unique experiences to be had during your stay. Highlights for us included hiking in the nearby mountains only to be rewarding with breathtaking views, canoeing with locals on Lake Malawi, visiting tourist destinations like Cape Maclear, and making lasting friendships with our co-volunteers. In addition to the bond you form with the kids, these types of activities make the stay in Malawi all the more special.
So in sum, what we want to say is this: let yourself have this experience. It may be a step outside your comfort zone, perhaps something different than you had ever imagined yourself doing. But if you do take that step, we promise you that you will leave wishing you had more time in Lifuwu. Volunteering with help2kids, you achieve a happiness that’s hard to come by in the daily doldrum of life back home and passions that you have yet to discover. The experience really is once-in-a-lifetime, and we only hope that you can share it with us.