Volunteers’ helping hand for Malawi needy
Hannah Collins helped to build a house for a Malawi teenager who dreamed of being able to study.
He had quit school to look after his grandmother, who had cared for him after his parents died from Aids.
The teenager was eager to return to school after she also died, but a leaky roof prevented him from preparing for the entrance exam.
“He had so little,” Miss Collins said. “His only possessions were a chair, food dish, a bucket for water and some newspaper clippings.
“To experience something like that shows you what really matters. It's not about buying new things, it's about the relationship you have with people.
“That really refocused me and encouraged me to think about what's really important in life and what really has value.”
The 27-year-old visited the southeast African region from July 24 until August 10 with 31 volunteers with Bermuda Overseas Missions. Salintae Tuzo-Smith was among them.
“As soon as we landed in Malawi we could see it was beautiful,” the 28-year-old said. “We had taken four flights to get there, so when we finally arrived in Blantyre it was the first time we'd been out of an airport for what felt like a really long time.
“The country was absolutely breathtaking and the people were really helpful.”
The BOM volunteers spent ten days building four houses for orphans and vulnerable children impacted by the Aids epidemic. The project was in partnership with Habitat for Humanity.
They worked between six and seven hours a day, painting and plastering walls in intense heat.
“We got the houses to about 90 per cent completion,” Miss Collins said. “There were a few finishing details that the local builders had to finish after we left. In total we spent ten days building and then had some time for [rest and relaxation].”
She said that one of her most memorable moments during the trip was a visit to a children's home.
“They also had a school there and we got to see how little they had in the classroom,” Miss Collins said.
“I was surprised by the sheer number of children in the class, but also by how few materials they had.
“They had a chalkboard and a few books and there was a sewing room there to teach them how to sew, but that was about it. There were no chairs and they sat on the floor. I didn't see many supplies either.”
Miss Tuzo-Smith was inspired by the people's positivity, despite their situations.
“The children were so positive and always happy and wanted to have their pictures taken because they weren't used to that,” she said.
“What I'll remember most is how much they tried to make us feel comfortable. They were just so curious and wanted to learn what they could about our culture.”
The trip forced her outside of her comfort zone and proved that she could do something to contribute and make an impact on the world at large.
“I definitely learnt that I don't need as much as I thought I did,” Miss Tuzo-Smith said. “I also learnt how important it is to open up. You only have a short time with people, so you have to make it your best.
“In the beginning I was shy, but eventually I just started having fun with it and embraced their culture and just tried to learn everything I could from them.
“They began to feel more like family rather than strangers.
“Every day I found myself tearing up on the bus when we left the village to go back to our hotel. I didn't want to leave and the last day was the worst — I cried so much.”
The experience taught Miss Collins that she could accomplish anything she set her mind to.
“I decided I was going to Malawi and was really going to do this, so to see that come to fruition, it just showed me that I'm capable of more than I imagined,” she said. “In a way it also shows us what really matters in life. When you see people that don't really have much and they are still content and happy because they have their families and friends, it's beautiful to see.
“We have so much here, whereas a lot of the children we met only ate one meal a day and didn't really have any of their own toys.”
• Visit Mvuu Camp
This camp is set within Liwonde National Park, known for hosting the widest range of wildlife in Malawi.
Hannah Collins described it as not only beautiful, but lots of fun.
“The camp sits right on the Shire River and they had water safaris as well as drive and walking safaris,” she said. “We saw everything from elephants to hippos, warthogs, crocodiles and so many birds.
“It’s a really beautiful place for bird watching.”
• Walk up Mount Mulanje
If you are looking for a stunning view, climb to the top of this small mountain.
It is great for those new to hiking as it is not too harsh a climb but still gives a good workout.
Salintae Tuzo-Smith said: “It takes about 40 minutes, but at the end of your walk you are greeted by a beautiful waterfall. That’s actually where the villagers get their water from.”
• Go shopping in the markets
Whether you are looking for ornate wood carvings or textiles, Malawi’s markets are a good place to start.
“When you’re at the market it feels like you’re one of the locals,” Miss Tuzo-Smith said. “That’s where they do their day-to-day business, so you are really in with the locals.
“You see tea sellers, women with babies on their backs carrying anything and everything on their heads. It’s incredible.”
• Stay at Hapuwani Village Lodge
The staff were extremely helpful and the food was “amazing”, according to Miss Collins.
There are luxurious rooms, a playground, gym and large swimming pool, according to www.hapuwani.com.