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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.