The concept of volunteering in Africa is an attractive prospect to people all across the planet. To travel, experience new cultures and environments, as well as give back and support a cause that can have an enormous impact on people less fortunate than ourselves, is something that millions of people are eager to do. But, when considering volunteering in Africa, how do you decide which country to support or project to choose? Unfortunately, Africa is the poorest continent on the planet, meaning the total wealth of all its nations combined is less than that of any other continent. A fact made all the more significant when you consider it is also the continent with the largest number of nations. The result of this is that there are many countries and people in Africa that require support and aid from international volunteers and nonprofit organizations, making the question of which country to visit and help out in a difficult one.
This brings us to the subject of our article, Malawi. It is certainly not the biggest or most famous destination in Africa. You don’t commonly see it publicized on TV, in travel magazines, nor featured as part of holiday promotions, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth visiting. If anything, quite the opposite, as these attributes are all the more reason to do so.
What Is Happening in Malawi?
Malawi is undergoing gradual social and economic growth that could potentially bring it out of a history of extreme poverty, famine, and low life expectancy and into a more prosperous period of development; yet this potential success is currently very fragile. The evolution of Malawi started just over a decade ago, during a period of political change and drive, motivating increased investment and development to take place. As a result, Malawi has seen a rise in wealth per capita and GDP. However, while this all sounds like good news, you’d be forgiven for being unaware that this growth had occurred.
Malawi still ranks as one of the poorest nations in Africa and worldwide with extreme inequality in the distribution of wealth between rural and urban areas. Wealth per capita is so low that the average weekly wage in Britain is nearly double that of personal wealth in Malawi. HIV/AIDS is still a major concern, with millions of people testing positive for the infection. Drought regularly plagues the country; this is a place where a high percentage of the water in rural communities is still unpurified and hence unsuitable for drinking. Agricultural practices are also archaic and unsustainable, famine is rife and many die each year from easily preventable diseases. This does not sound like a country that has experienced development, nor in which the situation has improved in recent years.
The history and present of Malawi demonstrate two things. The first is that the standard of living in Malawi is still very poor and development is desperately needed. The second is that this country is capable of and eager for growth and change. The issue now is that the resources of Malawi are overstretched: the government is simply unable to provide everybody an education and the necessary investment to enable faster growth. Being such a poor nation, there aren’t enough financial resources available to achieve the goals that are essential to bringing the nation out of poverty and the limited resources are not distributed efficiently and evenly. For this development to be possible, Malawi needs support from the international community and it needs it now as much as ever. If Malawi continues to see economic growth and opportunity, it may be able to stand alone as an independent and stable nation. If it doesn’t, the government will become increasingly unable to support the burden of poverty and Malawi may regress undoing any recent progress.
Where You Can Get Involved
Of vital importance to the failure or success of Malawi’s development is the education of its citizens. The old saying of ‘teaching a man to fish’ could not be much more relevant. If non-profit organizations simply relieve the burden of the people of Malawi through the provision of aid alone, the country will remain dependent, with limited long-term benefits or objectives achieved. If the source of the aid is removed, the same challenges and causes of poverty will still remain and things will quickly revert to the former impoverished state.
Instead, if you would like to get involved in helping to address the plight of Malawi, you should look to community projects that provide Malawians opportunities for a brighter future by enabling them to help themselves. Such educational projects can range broadly, providing benefits to people through various means. Chiefly, the education of Malawi’s youth is a top priority among responsible nonprofits. Access to and provision of an improved standard of schooling is vital, as the greater the level of knowledge the future generations of Malawians have, the more they’ll be able to contribute to the country’s development. However, education here not only focuses on core subjects, such as literacy, mathematics, and science but also provision of key skills, including computing, agriculture and vocational training, enabling individuals to improve their prospects. Furthermore, healthcare education and disease prevention and awareness are of vital importance. Other related programs that you may wish to be involved with include child-care and preschool education and sporting projects; these projects have a common objective of supporting the well-rounded growth and development of Malawi’s children, while of course providing welcome fun and excitement.
While trained educators are obviously able to make an important contribution, volunteers from various walks of life can be of value at these projects too. Whilst you may not be capable of teaching at a secondary school, assisting with English or other subjects at a primary school or nursery are areas that most can be of use as a volunteer. Sports skills are also an area in need of real improvement and in which many volunteers can assist. There is some bad press around ‘voluntourism’ at the moment, aimed at those not professionally qualified to assist in areas where help is needed. However, if you do your research, it is possible to find ethical organizations and well-coordinated, sustainable projects, at which you are capable of making a valuable contribution in an appropriate field. For example, most of us take it for granted that we use a computer every day and have IT skills, but even most teachers in rural Malawi will not be familiar with or have used computers.
Another vital, yet more difficult area to get involved in is medical care. Malawi is unfortunately plagued by a number of issues that put a heavy strain on the health care system and private health centers and nonprofit organizations play an essential role in trying to meet the needs of rural communities in particular. Those with a medical background or training, such as nurses, doctors, paramedics, and other medical professionals, are extremely valuable members of medical volunteer programs in Malawi, assisting with vital basic medical care, as well as education in the communities about primary health care, treatment, and prevention of diseases. Well-structured programs also exist, whereby less experienced volunteers and medical students can play an important role in health care outreach projects while gaining exposure to medical issues in a developing, tropical country.
Why You Should Choose Malawi
Volunteers in Malawi have the potential to have a genuine and positive impact on the lives of people who currently require support in order to receive basic human rights and certainly to achieve self-sufficiency in the future. Not only can you have a rewarding and enjoyable personal experience by volunteering in Africa, but most importantly you can leave knowing that you have been part of a movement for sustainable change. You will have played perhaps a small, but nonetheless meaningful, part in something far greater than you as an individual could hope to achieve alone.
In return, Malawi has plenty to offer as a way of thanks, particularly for those also yearning for exploration, excitement, and travel.
Far from being a desolate place, this vibrant country is home to beautiful natural and cultural locations, jaw-dropping sights and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Once you arrive, you’ll find yourself thrust into a world of friendly locals, famous for being so welcoming that the country has been dubbed ‘the warm heart of Africa’. This welcome only gets better as you become part of the community that you are there to assist. As well as the people you’ll also discover great wildlife and nature in the many reserves, making a safari a top priority for many while visiting the country.
Malawi is also home to a number of its own, unique sites, including the striking Mulanje mountain range, an incredible hiking experience through the Malawian wilderness, and Lake Malawi, a tropical body of water found stretching across the eastern border. Here you can relax and unwind, swim, snorkel and even dive, or absorb the culture of Malawi and connect with the locals. The lake is perhaps Malawi’s most incredible location, supporting the life of millions of Malawians and drawing in travelers from far and wide.
If you’re ready to take the plunge, set up your Volunteer Forever profile today and learn what you can do to pursue adventure, have fun, and make a difference! Also, if you’ve got a big heart, but little wallet, check out our list of cheap and affordable volunteer placements.
P.S. If you’re still looking for a volunteer opportunity, check out our list of best volunteer abroad programs and recommended volunteer projects in Africa, Central America, and Thailand. You can also read about 7 Great Medical and Veterinary Volunteer Abroad Projects, 10 Dental Volunteer Abroad Program and Medical Mission Tips for Pre Dental Students, and nursing volunteer abroad projects for students and nurse professionals. Or, if medical volunteer projects aren’t for you, be sure to read about our sports and coaching volunteer abroad, wildlife conservation and veterinary abroad, teach abroad, and intern abroad programs. Lastly, if you’re under 18, you may be interested in a teen volunteer abroad program from one of our many great partners.