Malawi Smiles – Trip Of A Lifetime

Malawi, I can’t say it was on the top 10 destinations to visit in my lifetime. To be honest if you had of given me a map and asked me to point to Malawi, I would of closed my eyes and pointed randomly. After educating myself through a quick Google session, I was now filled with anticipation as I reminisced on the 2015 GoGo Love School build in Nepal.

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Joining the returning motley crew of 7 was 3 new participants bringing their own unique skill sets, knowledge and energy. The team now consisted of a Builder, a Pest Extermination expert, a Nurse, Business Managers and Teachers who all shared equal passion towards the ongoing endeavour to be part of global change.

Melbourne, Perth, Johannesburg, Lilongwe, we were now in the heart of Malawi. We soon found it wasn’t unusual to see a 12-seater bus transporting 25 people, plus goats, chicken, and baskets of vegetables.

It soon become apparent that Google was spot on with the figures. Life expectancy 55 years old, average annual incomes of US$100-US$200 per year, 15% population living with HIV, it was very clear why this country was chosen for a school build.

Much like most African countries the cities aren’t somewhere you want to spend any length of time, we were soon on our way to our build site and community.

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With our translators and team leader on board we were off on our journey through hours of maize and tobacco fields. I was woken from my gaze watching the countryside by a field of screaming children who quickly turned to singing. These children were apart of an existing school that was built through the same partner company BuildOn. Astonishingly this school was educating a few hundred students with only two indoor learning spaces. From a teaching background, I could only wish to have students who were half as happy and eager to learn as the children that we met. They say smiles are contagious; this was defiantly the case here.

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With the fading sound of children singing behind us we continued a few more kilometres down the road where we were encountered a roadblock of sound, colour and costumes. I don’t think we could of reach for our cameras any quicker to capture this moment. Such a welcome party made you feel like a celebrity as we were walked to the opening ceremony.

The opening ceremony consisted of the local version of Australia’s Got Talent, introductions and the breaking of the ground of the new build site. The colourful nature of the community became quickly apparent through their singing and dancing.

Concluding the ceremony we were introduced to our host families and followed them back to their homes. Luckily I was partnered with a local translator, which gave me opportunity to have conversations across the week regarding relationship, agriculture, sport, food and many more random/comical conversations. Huddled around a singular candle sitting on a swept dirt floor, these conversations were by far the moments that I will always most treasure. My host Amayi (Mother) took me in as her own and it amazed me that for a community that has very little they would not hesitate to give you their clothing off their own back if you required it. Playing football and games with the local children each afternoon as the sunset has got to be up there with the more memorable experiences for me.

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The next few days consisted of a group stretch in the morning, working on the build site and cultural workshops in the afternoons. Trying to find a descriptive word for the local women is quite difficult; I would have to go with ‘Weapons’. These women would carry anywhere between 10-25kg on their head, with no hands, in bare feet, on rough terrain, for 3km, carrying a baby on their back while managing to sing beautifully. Being around these women gave you energy and made the days works go by in a flash.

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With the high level of community involvement the site went from a bare patch of earth to having foundations, beginnings of brickwork and two 3m deep latrines dug out.

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Build Progress

Cultural workshops taught me a lot that my Google education couldn’t. Having the opportunity to talk to women about being in a relationship that consisted of two wives and one husband and in turn, explaining to farmers of the community that in Australia we farm sometimes thousands of acres, using machinery rather than 1-acre farms using hand tools. I think what we learnt about each others communities/ cultures was generally equal which is interesting due to us having all the tools to educate ourselves back in Australia, but generally not doing so.

With our short experience in the community at an end, I found myself asking the same question as I did in Nepal the previous year. Why do these people seem so happy living below the poverty line? With at times such adversity they still seem to have the biggest smiles on their faces, strong family relationship, kindness towards each other and such an optimistic outlook on life.

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Are we any better off back home with materialistic items and continued expansion of technology? As we develop in our society we seem to be getting increasing rates of depression, anxiety, body imagery issue and deteriorations of family relationships, the list goes on. I think that most participants of this trip would be somehow thinking quite similarly as we question ourselves if we have missed something along the line.

This I do know, each participant of this trip has taken something away from this trip including knowledge, friendships spanning across ocean, an increase in mindfulness and memories.

-John-

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the nepal life

After teaching overseas for nearly 10 years and travelling for personal experience at every given opportunity, when the opportunity was offered to me to be involved in a school build for under resourced and under privileged children in rural Nepal I jumped at it. Before leaving I knew it was going to be an eye opening experience, I just didn’t realise how eye opening the experience would be and how much we take for granted in our everyday lives here in Australia.

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After departing Melbourne and travelling with our 15 strong team of volunteers we spent 2 nights in the relative normality, but bustling city of Kathmandu before flying into the Western city of Dhangadhi. The first thing we noticed on arrival was the stifling heat and were quickly told to prepare for it to get much hotter where we were going. We spent the night in Dhangadhi before the long, hot bus ride into rural North Western Nepal to a small village of Joshipur which would be our home for the next 4 nights.

The further we travelled north, the clearer the reality of what we might encounter and what we would be undertaking became. Poverty, inadequate shelter and water, damaged roads, unfinished buildings but also unwavering happiness, smiles, curiosity and a strong sense of being content with what they had- this is something that wouldn’t change from the people the whole time we were in Nepal.

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As we first arrived in outskirts of the small village of Joshipur, it was pleasing to see how tidy it was compared to the majority of villages we drove through. We were welcomed by hundreds of smiling, happy faces from the young to the elderly and were soon informed that many people had travelled from the neighbouring villages and for many of them we were the first westerners they had encountered in their lives. The welcoming ceremony was a mix of music, colour, dancing and traditional food with many of the local and regional dignities also there to welcome us.

We were soon given a ‘tour’ of the school site and although it was clear that there was going to be a lot of hard labour ahead of us the next 4 days- much because of the 35C + temperatures, there was excitement and anticipation of what we might be able to achieve and contribute to this community.

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Over the next four days we lived the village life. We were given a host family, who welcomed us into their traditional homes, gave up their beds and provided us with food. We spent the mornings working on the school build with the local villagers, young and old, all contributing to the school in their own way- shifting dirt, moving rocks, digging sewage disposals, making cement and bricklaying amongst other things. The heat made the work physically taxing, but it was both extremely rewarding seeing the quick progress and enjoyable working closely with the locals. We spent our afternoons learning and experiencing local traditions and customs from cooking to basket weaving to the witch doctor. We interacted with the locals-played soccer with the children, visited the surrounding villages and sacred sites and spent time getting to know our host families.

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After four days, our experience had come to an end. For the majority of us, it tested us both physically and emotionally, but definitely made us all aware of what we have in our ‘normal’ lives and to not take the small things for granted. The final experience was a leaving ceremony, where we were dressed in traditional clothing and not only watched but experienced and engaged in traditional dancing, singing and ceremonies. The people of Joshipur couldn’t express their thankfulness enough to us for our contributions we made to their school and community, little did they realise the life changing impact that they had also had on us.

-Dale-

building a school in Nepal

In April 2015, just a week before the devastating Nepal Earthquake, Go. Go Love sent a group of volunteers to build a school in a rural Nepalese community. This is their photo story.

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Team Go. Go Love

 

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Brick laying

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Liz and Kelly rocking their traditional Nepalese dresses

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Loving the Go. Go Love caps!!

Warm thanks for taking to time to flick through these images, and thank-you to BuildOn for providing us the opportunity to be involved in your movement.

To read more and to donate to BuildOn’s work, you can visit their website http://www.buildon.org