Malawi, the "Warm heart of Africa"

Malawi advertises itself as the “Warm Heart of Africa” and with good reason. However, I prefer the nickname “Africa Light” which refers to the safety of travelling in the country and the friendliness of its people (and is in direct contrast to the often-held belief that it is inherently dangerous to travel anywhere in sub-Saharan Africa). Malawi is a joy to travel – it is safe, beautiful, relatively small compared to its neighbours and is jam-packed full of warm, friendly people. 
While it is quite densely populated, it rarely feels crowded. Malawi feels less like a country than a giant village.  In Malawi is difficult to be alone. Whether you are living in the city, by the lakeshore or in the bush, you will have ample opportunity to sit and watch the world amble by and get to know the country and its people.
However, it is among one of the least developed countries in the world and Malawi faces huge challenges, including a severe lack of education and healthcare facilities, high rates of poverty & HIV and little industry or opportunities for employment. It’s a landlocked country, which lends itself to difficulties in trading with the outside world (I once waited four days in northern Malawi for a basic - and expensive - car part to arrive from Tanzania) and while it is heavily reliant on agriculture, each year people go hungry as the food from the previous season becomes scarce and next seasons harvest is still a long while off.
That said, it’s not all bad for Malawi. While the economic challenges are great, the country is peaceful and its people can live without fear of civil war and unrest. There are also some signs that the economy is improving. Tourism has been recognised as a key area for growth which in turn means more emphasis is being placed on the need for conservation – the more they protect their natural resources the more chance of a continuing increase in tourism.
By volunteering and travelling in Malawi you can contribute towards this sector of the economy and hopefully forge the way for bigger and more sustainable tourism in the future.

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Accommodation: see Malawi Accommodation

Quick Facts:

Projects:

Fisherman's Rest, Southern Blantyre

Cool Runnings, Senga Bay

ACT to Protect, Kasungu National Park

BlantyreCapital: Lilongwe

Getting there:  International flights into Lilongwe with KLM and Lilongwe/Blantyre with Ethiopian Airways.

Currency:  Roughly 550 Kwacha =  1 Euro

Budget: Malawi is very good value for money. Expect to pay 5 - 10 Euro per day for accommodation, 5 Euro for food (or 20 per week if self catering) and 6 Euro for a long distance bus ride.

Languages: There are many local languages, though Chichewa is the most commonly spoken throughout the country.

Visas: Tourist visa will suffice for now. You will need to renew this on a monthly basis.

Getting around – The main way to travel around Malawi is by bus and this can be rather painful. More often than not you will spend hours waiting for the bus to fill and when you finally leave you will stop every couple of km. For a long distance bus ride you will need a whole lot of patience and some water to keep you hydrated.
If you can, get the AXA bus. It’s twice the price but definitely worth it –it leaves on time, the journey takes half the time of other buses and you will have a seat. Otherwise, expect to be on a bus so packed you may not be able to stand with both feet on the ground. Buy your ticket the day before and show up early.

Economy: Malawi is one of the least developed countries in the world and is heavily reliant on foreign aid.  Emphasis is being placed on education, though with few job opportunities, Malawi faces the further problem of “brain drain”, with its best and brightest moving abroad to find work. Many years of foreign aid pouring into the country have failed to raise Malawi out of poverty (and arguably have done more harm than good). It is a glaring example that aid is not working and this is something you are sure to come across during your time in the country. Perhaps in the years to come we will see the development new alternatives to aid for stimulating economic growth in Malawi.

Tourism: Even if you are not volunteering by the lake, you cannot possibly travel to Malawi and not visit its no. 1 feature, even if it is just for the weekend. Cape Maclear provides the classic “sea-side resort” option, but the lake has more to offer. If you are into diving, considering checking out Aquanuts at Kande Beach (often overlooked but, in my opinion, the finest stretch of beach on the Malawian side) or if you want a bit of off-the-beaten-track adventure, take the horrendous but worthwhile 11 hour boat journey from Nkhata Bay to Ruarwe and enjoy a nights sleep at Zulunkhuni lodge, in a cabin perched 10 metres above the water. And then jump off it in the morning.
Malawi also has many national parks including Kasungu, where you can get stuck in with the ongoing conservation work or Liwonde, where you can go to sleep with to the sounds of Hippos munching away outside your tent or watch elephants and crocs from the water on a canoe/boat safari.
Also not to be missed by any hikers is the Mulange Massif in the south. With its ludicrously steep granite walls over 1000m high, it offers wonderful trails and hiking routes from one to four days long.  

 


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Volunteer Opportunities

Teaching

Community Development

Business

Computer Training

  • Teacher, Community Centre, Fisherman's Rest, Southern Blantyre

Conservation

  • Program co-ordinator with various conservation projects including tree planting, Fisherman's Rest, Southern Blantyre

Logistics Co-ordinator

Health Care

Sports

Construction/Carpentary/Building

Gardening/Horticulture

Conservation

Dance/Art/Spoken Word/Performance/Design

  • Theatre/Art/Photograpy/Film Making: Children and Nature: the development of children’s awareness of nature and biodiversity conservation, Lifupa, Kasungu National Park