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Written by CorpsAfrica/Malawi Volunteer Mr. Lusekelo Simwela

As a Volunteer, we are ‘armed’ with some tools that help us work and fully integrate into our communities. These tools have been helpful in my service but there is one tool that I used that is not in any Human Centered Design book. This tool is called a Bawo. It is an ancient ‘count and capture’ game that is played in Malawi and a few countries in Africa including Tanzania and Uganda. The name itself is ‘Yawo’ (one of the major languages in Malawi) for board games. It is played on four rows of eight holes. It is reminiscent of the old days when men of all ages would congregate on large Mango trees that are prevalent on the lake shore of Lake Malawi (where the game was first introduced to Malawi) and play the game which requires skill and strategy to master. It brought people together, which was what gave me the idea to buy one.

A slightly above average player myself I took it to the community for the first time. I sat outside my host family’s house which by luck has several mango trees. I called for a bench and sat with Rafael, the youngest of his sons and started playing the game. The game is played with marbles, as we played the sound of the marbles hitting the wood board echoed through the village. Little by little men and women came to where we were and sat down waiting for their turn. We played the game for hours, whoever lost would let another come to his/her place to play the winner. I won a few games that day which was great but above all   I learned a lot about the community. I found out that I got a chance to interact with people in a more informal setting, I asked them questions without the pressure that comes in more formal interviews, I made friends that day, friends who have helped me in my service up to date.

​I write this at 1:00 pm, I have a meeting with the chief but I am taking my treasured Bawo with me, he beat me last time and I need my revenge. Thanks for reading and God bless you.


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