As a developing country in Africa, Malawi faces a lot of challenges, especially when it comes to the development of its rural communities. One of many effective ways to tackle some of the challenges, though, is through volunteer assistance, channelled through the tourism industry.
In support of this, The Responsible Safari Company, the whl.travel local connection in Malawi, has partnered with local community-development organisations to create an exciting range of voluntourism opportunities. Combining the thrill of travel with the knowledge that one is lending a hand to the people in Malawi, many travellers now contribute their time to development initiatives working in education, healthcare and agriculture.
Done in the right way, we believe voluntourism is a key ingredient in a recipe to ensure that locals benefit from tourism anywhere in the world. We know from experience that Malawi is better explored and appreciated when visitors get under the skin of the country, the powerful added advantage being the improvements delivered directly to the host communities. When locals see the potential for gain from tourism, we are confident they will be more willing to support and protect the beautiful and diverse landscape of lakes, mountains and rivers that makes Malawi so unique.
Donating Much-Needed Resources to Schools
Some of the more persistent problems with education in Malawi are the lack of teachers in primary and secondary schools, inadequate teaching and learning resources and poor classroom conditions. The Responsible Safari Company has therefore linked with several rural schools and provided skilled volunteer teachers who have helped to alleviate the shortages. Some volunteers have also donated teaching and learning resources.
Last month (October 2010) a qualified teacher trainer ran a two-week teacher-training programme in a small government primary school. Through The Responsible Safari Company, the school now receives many visitors who either use their skills or donate much-needed resources.
By supporting a small number of schools in Malawi, we feel we make a more meaningful impact than if were to tackle a larger group. Long-term sustainability and a concern about community over-dependence on external aid have strongly influenced our decisions about the kinds of voluntourism programs we administer. Our efforts may be small in contrast to the enormity of the issues surrounding education in Malawi, but we know what we do well – like maintaining direct contact with the projects and schools we assist – and are proud of the results.
Helping Malawi’s Overworked Medical Professionals
Malaria, HIV/AIDS, malnutrition and an insufficient supply of skilled doctors to deal with it are just some of the major health challenges in Malawi. In response to this, we regularly collect medical supplies from visitors and distribute them to community clinics across the country.
As further outreach to rural clinics, we have placed skilled volunteer professionals alongside the permanent Malawi staff. At the time of writing, three volunteer doctors are working at a community clinic in Mulanje district for a period of three months.
Other volunteers have donated seeds and helped to prepare land for both individual and community gardens. The shared plots are a vital source of income to the local population – profits from the sale of vegetables is used to support different community projects, such as a food program at a community nursery school or the repair of nearby boreholes (water wells).
We take every opportunity we can to support the youth in Malawi. This year, we joined forces with a rugby team from Scotland and supported the construction of a community hall on the outskirts of Blantyre City. The team raised funds in the UK, which they delivered when they came and worked for 10 days alongside community members to build the hall. It was an incredible achievement, enjoyed by both the visitors and local Malawians. Income generated from rental of the community hall will be used to support local community projects.
In addition to volunteering, the young Scots played in local football and rugby matches and donated many teaching materials to the local school. Their visit really contributed in a positive way to the whole community and many lifelong friendships were made!
Even A Few Hours Make a Difference
Day visits to community projects are a great way to provide an alternative income for rural initiatives and can be deemed an alternative model of voluntourism. Spending a few hours involved with a project can give visitors a unique look into the challenges facing a country; visitors return home with an awareness that often leads to future support.
For example, we have launched day excursions to a small boatyard on the shores of Lake Malawi. Visitors spend an hour learning about traditional boat-building methods and can walk around the boatyard to speak with the carpenters. A very motivated Malawian called Joseph runs the boatyard and, at the end of each visit, he talks to the visitors about a range of local community initiatives. Time and again these visitors have returned home and continued to support the boatyard and the community programs, sending donations as well as returning to pitch in on these projects themselves.