About the Project
How does the project in Malawi work?
This project is still growing on a weekly basis and so your role as the volunteer may change. Currently most volunteers are teaching local children in our schools basic English and maths.
We also have some volunteers that are working on building our schools and renovating the volunteer house. In the future we hope to have more projects and a wider range of duties available to our volunteers, but now these two duties are the ones that require the most physical need.
What’s it like to be a volunteer teacher?
Our volunteer teachers work alongside our local volunteer teachers in small villages all within easy walking of the volunteer house complex. Together they teach the children through various games, songs, dances, art work, and work on the blackboard. At busy times, volunteers divide the children up into smaller groups around the school and outside areas in the shade. The working hours are generally Monday-Thursday 8:00am-10:30am and then again from 2:00pm-4:30pm. Volunteers tend to travel away on Thursday or Friday for weekend breaks to one of the lakes to swim and relax.
We ask that you try your best to always be on time and ready to work when teaching. If you need help with teaching activities and games please talk with the project coordinator or seek advice from other volunteers. The teaching is laid back, mostly we just want you to have fun with the children and speak English to them in any form of teaching activities you can create.
What’s the schedule for volunteer builders?
The weekly and daily schedule for the volunteer builders is not set, as most work can be completed during anytime of the day. Although we would recommend getting an early start on the projects because during the early afternoon the Malawian sunshine can be very hot.
If you’re building we ask that you work hard and manage your time efficiently so you can where possible start early to avoid working in the midday heat. If you have special skills please be open and willing to teach the locals.
The new orphanage has just been completed and volunteers will shortly be moving in. Volunteers will be able to choose care and supervision work in addition or instead of teaching in the schools
What are the other volunteer opportunities in Malawi?
An orphanage has just opened close to the volunteer house complex and it is expected that the first children will be joining the home at the end of 2013. This will provide further opportunities for volunteers to get involved with children who can no longer be looked after by their parents or orphans have no extended family in the area to care for them. The coordinator would also like to develop activities such as sports and music programs for the local communities. If you are interested in starting a program we would love to hear your ideas and are happy to help you in your efforts.
Sports – The local teenagers enjoy playing netball and football. If you have experience in playing or coaching any sporting activities and would like to get locals involved we welcome you to do so.
Music – As you know Africans love to sing and dance, and this is true of Malawians as well. If you are interesting in teaching music to our local communities please let us know. If you have special talents we would love for you to teach them.
Anyone with first aid experience will find plenty of opportunities to treat basic cuts, grazes and wounds. For many local people without shoes, infected cuts and grazes are common
What is life in the local community like?
Don’t be shy about introducing yourself to the local volunteers and local families in the villages. As we say many times, the Malawian people are very warm and love to talk with you. For them and the children it is commonplace for new people to arrive, and you will soon see how quickly everyone accepts your presence.
Please keep in mind that the local field officers and teachers are also volunteers. They are working for free with the project because they have the same belief that youth education is the key to a successful future.
You will soon realise, if you weren’t already aware, that Malawi is a laid back country. Things that are scheduled to happen at a particular time may be delayed, or you may find out that plans have been altered at the last minute.
The best thing that you can do is try to go with the flow. Use your initiative and skills to help everything run as smoothly as possible. There are a handful of villages/hamlets all within walking distance of the volunteer house so if you have some time to expand into a another village to teach or assist – please do!
What are the school feeding programs?
The children in the community are very poor and sometimes their families cannot afford to eat during the day. For this reason we found it important to offer a feeding program in our schools, to make sure the children are at least receiving one meal a day.
Volunteers may also like to think about offering healthy snacks and drinks (many families drink dirty water) at their activity sessions.
By providing a meal during school time it will promote education, because the children will want to attend school to have their meal. Due to lack of funding we have in most cases had to cancel our feeding programs in the schools.
We hope in the near future we will be able to offer the program again. The cost for one school (approx. 30-40 children) is about £10 per week. If you would like to sponsor our feeding program please let us know, we would be more than happy to discuss the program with you on arrival.
Motorbike taxis are the norm in much of rural Africa, in Malawi, bicycle taxis are cheaper for local people to buy and maintain
What can you tell me about the local orphan families?
At this time we do not have a finished orphanage building; our local orphans live with other families in the community. An orphanage is currently in the process of being built.
During your stay with us you will have the opportunity to visit these local families who are taking care of the orphans. This visit usually takes place once a week on a Monday afternoon. You are welcome to play with the children and visit with the adults in their homes.
We ask that upon your visit if possible to make a small donation, such as food, money or clothing to help the orphans and the family. You may want to donate toys, however for the children their need is considerably greater than a toy, so please keep that in mind during your visits. Even a small donation of £1 can feed an orphan for almost two days.
Can I use the Internet on the placement?
There is no Internet at the project. The closest Internet cafe is located in Zomba, about one hour from the project. As of October 2011 the price was 8 Kwacha per minute. You can also purchase Internet for your mobile if you have a Malawi SIM.
Do I need a visa?
For volunteers from the UK and USA you will be given a 30-day free visa upon arrival at the airport but you will need to arrive on a return ticket or hold an onward ticket to another country.
If you are staying longer than 30 days you must go to the visa office (Zomba is the closest) to extend before your 30 days is expired. The extension process is fairly easy and can be completed in one visit, as of October 2011 the cost for an additional 30 days was 5,000 Kwacha.
Should you be staying longer than six months please contact the coordinator in advance of your arrival to discuss obtaining a longer visa. Currently you are okay to volunteer on a tourist visa if you are staying in Malawi less than six months. Should you have any questions please feel free to contact the coordinator directly before travel to discuss, as we know the visa issues should be taken with serious care and concern.
How to I get to the placement?
Please note all transport costs are ‘pay as you go’ after arrival. These can only be approximate.
From Blantyre Airport a taxi direct to the project will cost approximately £90
Public transport option will cost approximately £50:
1. Taxi from the airport to bus station.
2. bus/minibus from bus station to Zomba
3. taxi from Zomba to Domasi Totaling approx. £50
From Lilongwe Airport a taxi direct to the project will cost approximately £160 for a car and driver
Public transport option will cost approximately £70:
1. Taxi from airport to bus station
2. bus/minibus from the station to Zomba
3. Taxi from Zomba to DomasiTotal approx.- £70•
The volunteer should confirm the mode of transport (taxi or public) with the project leader prior to arrival so the arrangements can be made in advance. Please note: In most cases the arrival time is late to the project (Domasi), in these cases the volunteer will be taken to a nearby lodge which costs approx £10 a night. This fee is payable by the volunteer upon arrival.
To make the journey as smooth and as stress free as possible a mobile phone is essential. Upon arrival please ask your taxi driver to take you to buy a Malawi SIM if you so wish. The cost is less than £1. (Your phone will need to be unlocked for the SIM to work.)
The children outside Mapanje school say a big thank you to departing volunteers
Where can I change money?
You can exchange money at the airport and at local banks in Malawi. Upon arrival your taxi driver can take you to a local bank to exchange your money if you request in advance. US dollars or UK pounds are very common and easy to exchange. Bank cards can also be used to withdraw money, only in larger cities such as Zomba, Blantyre, and Lilongwe.
Please note that sometimes there may be long lines at the cash point/ATM machines and some may not be working due to electrical outages.
Getting back to the airport
Where can I change money?
Your coordinator will help organise this after arrival in Malawi. Most volunteers will travel by public transport back to the airport but your coordinator can organise their regular driver to escort you. Some volunteers flying out of Lilongwe airport leave a few days before their flight for a break with the others at Lake Mcclear so you might want to wait a little into your stay before confirming departure plans.
Malawi Project costs
What are the costs after I have registered and booked my space?
After you have booked your space and registered with us (registered volunteers travelling within 12 months of arrival at their first project do not need to re-register) there is a one off payment for any stay from 1 week up to 4 weeks of £250. This includes accommodation and support from the local staff. All volunteers get return flights to either Blantyre or Lilongwe. Lilongwe is the cheapest airport to fly to. A visa is not required to enter Malawi but you must arrive on a return ticket or with an onward flight out of Malawi. The maximum length of stay is 30 days. A volunteer permit if needed is obtained after arrival at the project and is currently only a formality of paperwork. Airport pick and transfer if requested is payable on arrival. Many volunteers choose to make their own way to save the pennies as fuel costs are high in Malawi. You will need travel insurance, allow between £30 and £50 and check the policy covers medical bills abroad. Living costs are low in Malawi and most volunteers manage on about £15 per week when at the project. However you will need to factor in trips to Cape McClear each weekend which is something that cannot be missed. For a month’s trip without an safari but long weekend trips to McClear included with a return airport transfer, it is a good idea to have at least £300 – £400 spending money. You should have change left over if you budget carefully.
What do I need to know about Malawi?
Please be aware that the Malawian summer in Domasi is September–April, November – March can be wet so bring an umbrella and waterproof shoes/sandals.
Malawi is also known for its malaria carrying mosquitoes that breed in stagnant water. You can reduce the risk of Malaria by employing certain tactics such as taking Malaria tablets, wearing mosquito repellent spray (50% DEET is recommended) and also wearing long light weight clothing during the night time.
We are not doctors so we recommend that for all other health concerns you consult your local doctor!
Do I need vaccinations?
In the first instance it is best to contact your GP. You may also find it useful to visit your country’s Department of Health website for up-to-date vaccination and travel health information.
We would suggest you have all the recommended jabs that are required for your visit to Malawi, but this is completely at your discretion.
Access to medical care is challenging for local people without the means to pay for taxis. Volunteers (above) kindly donated a bicycle ‘ambulance’ (above) and a specially adapted wheelchair to the community
Is Malawi safe?
Overall we believe that Malawi is a safe place, however as a foreigner you need to be aware of your surroundings and be on your guard. Take extra care when going to largely crowded areas as this is where thieves will be on the look out for your personal items.
We understand that you may be travelling with large amounts of money and also your passport, so we recommend to keep them as close to you as possible and never leave your bags unattended or in the care of someone you don’t trust!
Is taking a taxi a good idea?
Keep in mind that most taxis are just locals with a car so it is important to keep your bags close. You will have to bargain the price, and it is best to agree before you start your journey.
What about using public transport?
Minibuses are the main use of public transport and in most cases they are very full and if you are travelling with a large bag/case it will have to be placed in the back of the bus.
We recommend that you try to keep your bags with you if possible, but if it must go in the back always check on it when the bus is making a stop to make sure your bag is not removed.
It is also best to keep valuables out of sight and make sure your bags are fully closed at all times.
How about going out at night?
At night it is very dark in the village as most places don’t have electric. Please use common sense when going out at night. Try and inform someone of the location you plan to go to. Have a torch and your mobile if possible.
You can also ask a local to walk with you if you are not feeling confident to walk in the dark, in most cases volunteers are escorted during night-time mainly because it is dark and the road is not easy to see.
Lake McClear is a popular weekend getaway for volunteers for swimming and boat trips
Will I be on my own?
We will Buddy you up with another volunteer so you can fly out together, just let us know at the time of booking. If you can get the same flight this will make it more affordable for a direct taxi transfer to the volunteer house. This is because the transfer cost can be shared. You may like to create a profile on our travel buddy list and leave a comment on our main Facebook page.
Although there is no fixed start day, try to arrive on a Monday or Tuesday if you can. This gives you time to settle in on your project and make friends before the weekend when everyone is around. Most volunteers spend their weekends at one of the two lakes, leaving on a Thursday or Friday for a weekend of swimming, boat rides and cold beers.
There are always volunteers coming and going though, so it is rare to be on your own for more than a day or two. Everyone stays in the same volunteer complex together with a member of staff for company so you won’t be completely on your own for very long until another volunteer arrives or the staff are on site.
What happens if I book with a friend?
All friends stay together at the same volunteer house. Let us know at the time of booking if you are travelling with a friend. This helps the local team organise beds and help to keep friends in the same bedroom. Because everyone chooses what they want to do each day, you can volunteer with your friend all day unless you want to work in different locations!
Volunteer Aisling takes a break by the river close to the accommodation
What to take
What things should I pack?
This list has been created by interviewing past and present volunteers as to what items they have found useful and what items they didn’t have but wished they would have brought with them.
1. Solar charger, Power monkey (please note that the volunteer house and home stays do not have electricity)
2. Tall candles and matches or lighters (very useful at night)
4. Mosquito net to cover a twin sized bed
5. Bedding, such as sheets a pillow and pillowcase
6. Mosquito repellent spray (50% DEET is best)
7. Appropriate footwear for walking on dirt roads, such as trainers or hiking boots
8. Footwear for showering, such as flip flops
9. Travel first-aid kit with sterile needles and everything you might need for accidents, slips and cuts (this is recommended in case of emergency. The local hospital is hours away from where you will be staying) kits can be purchased from Superdrug or Boots in the UK. Waterpurifying tablets essential to keep healthy and prevent disease
10. Lightweight and light color clothing that you don’t mind getting dirty
11. Sun cream
12. Small lock for suitcase
13. Towels for showering
14. Hat, sunglasses, umbrella, raincoat
15. Cleaning wipes, baby wipes. Unscented because of the mosquitoes
18. Dry shampoo
19. Rehydration packages
20. Food from home to keep you happy for a few days
Bring everything you can from home as the only resources will be those which previous volunteers have left behind
What should I take for the children and schools?
At the current time the children’s English levels are very basic. So if you would like to bring teaching materials we would ask that you provide us with elementary supplies.
1. Chalk – and lots of it!
3. Paper of all kinds
4. Small writing exercise books
5. Pencils/pencil sharpeners/pens
6. Seal tape/ sticky tack to hang things on the walls
7. Laminated cards with pictures/words
8. Math/English posters
9. CD players (battery operated only)
10. Children shoes
11. Old ‘hand’ clocks for teaching time
12. Math flash cards
13. Small plates/bowls/cups/spoons (for feeding time during school hours)
14. If you would like to bring games, please make sure they can be used for many children. Bigger is better and durable.
What should I pack for local orphan families?
We ask that you make donations when visiting local orphan families in the community. Think of the things that have been in your house that you don’t use, why not give them to people who need them. Making a monetary donation is greatly appreciated and can really go along way.
2. Pots/sauce pans/frying pans
4. Plastic washing bowls
6. Brushes to clean clothes
7. Hot water flasks
8. Pots with lids that can keep rice warm
9. Tall candles
10. Old cell phone with chargers (Nokia is good, UK plug)11. Clothing/shoes
What should I buy in Malawi before I get to the project?
Here are some items that are suggested to be purchased before arriving at to Domasi if you haven’t already brought them in with your luggage. Domasi is a small rural village and has very limited food and other supply shops. Zomba is the town closest to the project where you can buy supplies, however it is about a hour journey away by bike taxi and minibus.
This list has been created by interviewing past and present volunteers as to what items they have found useful and what items they didn’t have but wished they would have brought with them.
Please note they are in random order and none are 100% required for your stay; however we recommend these items for your comfort.
1. At least 4 days worth of food goods
2. A package of bottled water (20 bottles)
3. Large supply of toilet paper
4. Individual longlife fruit juice cartons
5. Washing bowl/brush
6. Personal plate/bowl/cup/spoon/knife/fork
7. Tupperware food storage box
When purchasing food items, please be aware that currently the project doesn’t have a kitchen or refrigerator, food should require little cooking. Buying food items that only require hot water or a fire and a pot is a good starting point.
In addition to these lists the project is also in need of monetary programme contributions to help fund the feeding program, renovations of the volunteer house, toilets and kitchen. Also we need funds for the renovations of the current school houses, such as cement floors and benches for the children to sit on, and a new construction of a three school buildings.
If you would like to fundraise in your community and need any more specific information about the project we will be more than happy to help you. All supplies volunteers donate for the project should be shown to the project coordinator upon arrival and will be kept in the supply safe and distributed to schools and teachers when requested. This will help maintain an even supply for all schools and teachers.
Volunteer Katie Castle with her class at Hayo school
How and when do I need to pay for my project?
An invoice for the project will be sent by email shortly after we have received your flight to Malawi. Email us if you are travelling soon and have not received an invoice. And don’t worry if you forget, if we have your flights already – we’ll send you a reminder before you go! And remember that pick up if you want one is paid on arrival, so when you have paid your one off project payment there is nothing further to pay Original Volunteers before travel.