To me CorpsAfrica never existed. I never knew of CorpsAfrica before, never heard of it until one day a former classmate shared a link to CorpsAfrica’s website where there was a call for applications. I didn’t even bother to open the link or read what it was about. A week later, I was browsing some stuff on the web and I bumped into the CorpsAfrica call for applications for Malawi Volunteers and without a second thought, I ignored it once more. It was all forgotten and since I didn’t open the link I never knew what the organization was all about. The following week, a close friend forwarded an email from Liz Fanning highlighting an opportunity for Malawian young leaders to apply to be in the first cohort of CorpsAfrica in Malawi. This time I gave it shot and I went on to read more on the CorpsAfrica webpage where I understood it in depth. I was unhappy with myself for a second because I was ignoring something I have always desired to do; to serve my country, my community and contribute to developing the lives of my own people. What caught my attention was CorpsAfrica’s unique model; placing young leaders in high-poverty communities within their own countries, plus the idea of locals helping locals. CorpsAfrica for me was the rejected stone that later became the capstone that would build me professionally and help me become who I am today. I knew I had found the right platform to focus on a community and invest my time, knowledge, skills and my life in helping my fellow Malawians. By joining CorpsAfrica, I was convinced I was part of a team committed to selflessly contributing to the transformation of people’s lives in my country.
What was/were the project(s) you worked on with your community?
The Human Centered Design training that we received during the Pre Service Training helped me to entirely focus on the people in my host community. When I joined the Paterson/ Chitete Community, I had no idea of what projects I would end up doing. Observing community needs was tedious work and what was more challenging was narrowing the needs as we prioritized them together with my community before deciding on actual projects to be done. Below are some of the projects that I managed to do in my community:
- Stove Project: In this project I worked with women in my community and together we learned and developed two prototypes for two kinds of improved stoves; the stationed and movable stoves. Before embarking on this project, I never had any prior knowledge or skills whatsoever in stove production but challenged myself to learn and practice with the women in my community. Today, I can confidently tell you that I know how to make stoves, train others who later become trainers themselves, and the experience has been amazing. It is fulfilling to see women in my community make stoves and use them in their kitchens and sell them so they earn a little something for themselves and families. These stoves have a lot of advantages for the environment since they consume less firewood and keep and retain heat as they are being used-meaning the women spend less time to cook food, produce less smoke, creating a cleaner environment for women to cook their food. This means that there’s a considerable reduction in the number of trees cut for cooking - resulting in protecting the environment.
- Water Provision and Sanitation Project: During one of the meetings I had with the community members, one of the main issues that people talked about was the issue of lack of clean water in one part of the community. This side of my community, people didn’t have any source of clean and safe water nearby, forcing them to be drinking from the nearest river, the Shire River. I remember during my first visit to the households residing in this part of the community, I heard touching stories of how some people were attacked and devoured by crocodiles during some water drawing routines at the river.
We agreed to embark on this project although my community thought that it will take ages for this project to be a success, they knew we needed a lot of finances to make it come to pass. I am glad to say that for the very first time in the lives of the people of the Paterson village residing near the Shire River, they stopped drinking from the unsafe and dangerous Shire River and are now drawing clean water from a borehole, which we finished last December 2016. Today, the people have clean water, and worry no more about water borne diseases, not to speak of the deadly crocodile attacks.
These are my main projects that I can share with you, there are also a lot of trainings that I conducted with leaders in my community among many other things.
What part of your service did you enjoy most?
I enjoyed interacting and teaching kids at Chitete Primary School. I enjoyed teaching them how to read and do mathematics. It was heartbreaking to see how many kids failed to read and write despite their age and class as compared to their equals in other parts of the country, especially urban schools. Teaching these kids read and learn to speak English felt awesome.
What do you miss the most about living in your host site?
I will miss my kids at Chitete Primary School. I can tell you that I spent more time with these kids than any other group of people in my community - no wonder I decided to adopt the kids in the class I was teaching. The other things I will miss are the meals I used to eat in my community and the chickens the people used to give me occasionally. I will surely miss my host community, but I will be coming to see them. I am their son and I will be there to walk and work with them wherever necessary.
How has your CorpsAfrica experience changed your personal perspective?
CorpsAfrica gave me an opportunity to serve my country and my community; for this I am forever grateful. This experience has challenged my perspective about life in general. There are things we take for granted in this life, yet there are people elsewhere suffering and dying for the very things we take for granted in our lives. There’s a lot of work to do in our communities and instead of waiting for others to come and develop our communities, ourselves as locals have a candid obligation to develop our very communities - it begins with us. The little efforts we can collectively put together towards improving lives in these communities will result into much greater positive impacts we can never imagine.