Written by CorpsAfrica/Malawi Volunteer Mr. Chiukepo Mwenechanya
It is exactly 14 months since I was deployed to catalyze community-led developments in a local community of Thoza, south of Mzimba District, yet I can’t even remember how I came across CorpsAfrica. It sounds crazy, but my memories can only go as far as the most intensive 30-day training, termed Pre-Service Training or just PST, among the CorpsAfrica family. I think my memories are still fresh not just because of the intensity of the training, but rather the setting of lodging. All trainees were living in a host community, assigned a host family in what Emas Potolani (my favourite trainer) would just call “a Prototype” of the rural villages where we were stationed. We were living and eating the same food as our hosts. It sounds absurd, right? I thought so too. Raised in the city, I remember one day, while I was in my tiny room on a 4-inch, single mattress without a bed for the first time in my life, asking myself, “What am I doing here?” I quickly defended myself, “How am I going to help these people if I don’t know what they are going through or feeling?” Well, living with a host family created some unforgettable memories and added a family in my life apart from preparing me in terms of living in a rural community during my actual service.
My deployment to live in Thoza marked the peak of my service with CorpsAfrica. With training materials fresh in my head, I was confident to apply everything we learnt during training and catalyze developments in my community. I cannot deny it, at first, I was filled with fears and worries on what to expect. New place, new people, and what if they reject me or what if I don’t get along with them? These were some of a million questions that almost stopped my heartbeat for a moment. If only I knew how humble and warm-hearted my community is, I couldn’t have troubled myself with such worries. I integrated quickly due to cultural similarities to mine and through volunteering at a nearby primary school. Thanks to my selfless and loving host family and counterpart, my stay in Thoza was lovely.
I quickly got along with my community and started conducting community meetings with various groups such as chiefs, the Village Development Committee, youth clubs, women’s groups. The meetings helped us understand community priority needs and how we can address them together. Just when we thought things were going on well, Covid-19 broke out. Everything went into a stand-still. The risk of getting the virus was very high. Yes, in a community with a black hole of health-related information and misconceptions, I was worried about catching the virus. People did not believe that Covid-19 is real. Yet I managed to share Covid-19 information and clear myths through Covid-19 awareness campaigns. Thank you, Mastercard Foundation for the $1000 grant, which we used to conduct a Covid-19 response community project.
Despite the Covid-19 outbreak, together with my community, we managed to implement a “Youth Skills Development Project though Carpentry and Joinery,” with technical and financial support from CorpsAfrica. The project built an alternative form of livelihood for the youth who did not have a meaningful form of livelihood in the area, thereby improving their well-being and relevance to the community. We also implemented a community-led “Thoza Women’s Economic Resilience Enhancement Project” with financial assistance from Friends of Malawi. The project empowered the most vulnerable and marginalized women in the area socially and economically through a bakery business. In Thoza area, almost all productive assets are owned and controlled by men, who unfortunately have migrated to South Africa for manual labour and left the women behind to take care of the families, leaving most women vulnerable to poverty. In the end, the project created a business opportunity for these women to improve their socio-economic status in the community.
The growth I have immersed personally and professionally through my service with CorpsAfrica is so enormous and I am so proud of myself for taking this journey. As Emas Potolani once said, “Small is big,” I do believe that I have done my part though I wish I had more time with my community. Saying good-bye to my community has been the hardest part of my service.
Above all, thank you CorpsAfrica/Malawi Cohort 4 Volunteers for the support and CorpsAfrica/Malawi staff for the tireless efforts to make sure that my service is a success. Lastly, a big thank you to Revlis Foundation for the financial support. Without your financial commitment, my service with CorpsAfrica/Malawi would not have been possible.