Written by CorpsAfrica/Malawi Exchange Volunteer Mr. Mostafa Essalai
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” -Gandhi
I like this quote because sometimes it is better to keep your problems inside and focus on outside challenges and solutions. This is one of the lessons of service as Gandhi said. It gives you renewed positive energy and strength to overcome obstacles in your life and community. Each time problems become easier to solve because you grow stronger and more experienced.
My name is Mostafa Essalai. I’m 26 years old, and I’m one of the Second Cohort Exchange Volunteers in CorpsAfrica Malawi. CorpsAfrica is an NGO with the same working vision as Peace Corps. It gives opportunities to African leaders to serve in their own countries in order to combat poverty. In different areas across Malawi and Africa, CorpsAfrica trains its volunteers to apply the newest approaches to international development including empowering local communities, promoting collaboration among NGOs, and monitoring and evaluation skills.
I think two months of meditating on the beauty of this country is more than enough time for me to fall in love. Malawi, or “The Warm Heart of Africa”, is located in the South Eastern region of Africa. It’s a country with great nature, stunning lakes, forests, and diverse wildlife. The landscapes of the country gives Malawi an added value in comparison to other countries.
On October 7th, 2017, I left the Kingdom of Morocco with a heavy package of expectations which included bad and good thoughts. I carried my mixed feelings all the way to Malawi, but after a few days in country, my expectations transformed to love, happiness, and enthusiasm. I quickly became eager and fearless to swim deeply in this experience as a CorpsAfrica Volunteer which should be one of the greatest years in my life, full of personal and professional growth.
I spent the first month in Malawi living in a small village in the Dedza district. This is where we had Pre-Service Training (PST) as the Second Cohort of CorpsAfrica Volunteers. Our Cohort includes 18 Malawians, 2 Moroccans and 1 Senegalese. During PST we gained the basic tools of how to successfully integrate in our communities. This included topics on group dynamics and facilitation skills, as well as Asset-Based Community Development which identifies “an approach that catalyzes change and development by leveraging the existing gifts and capacities of people and their community.” According to these tools, the Volunteer should work as a catalyst and mobilizer of community change. S/he should be a facilitator and the liaison that acts as a bridge between the community and potential outside resources.
November 12th, 2017 was one of the great days in my life. It was the day when I was sworn-in as an official CorpsAfrica Volunteer. At Cross Roads Hotel, I met many types of people who were eager to support us as Volunteers. They didn’t hesitate to give us words of advice, motivation, and encouragement. When I was sworn-in, I looked to the audience which included the U.S. Ambassador to Malawi, USAID Mission Director, Peace Corps Country Director, Dedza Head Chief, Dedza Parliament Member, some Peace Corps Volunteers, and Volunteer’s families and friends. All of them were happy for us to start our new journey with positive energy.
One day later, I opened my eyes and heard the sound of the car that drove me to my new community where I will stay for the next 11 months and start the next chapter of my life. On that day, I left Lilongwe with a small backpack of clothes and materials, but a heavy mind full of dreams, passion, enthusiasm and some worries. After a long trip that took almost three hours of driving, my site mate Naomi and I arrived. During the first half hour of being in my new community, I met kind people who communicated with their eyes “Don’t worry Mostafa, you are in safe hands.” In the short meeting, they gave me all the keys to well integrate in the community and my inner peace began to increase.
After finishing the introductory meeting, the staff took me to my host family where I stayed for the first two weeks in the village. Living with the host family gave me the chance to better integrate. When reaching the house of my host family, I found them ready to have me be a part of their family. My family has a father, a mother, three sisters, and one silly brother. After leaving my stuff in my room, I asked my host brother to have a short walk around the village to know the potential places that might be good for programs in the future. My host brother doesn’t have the word “No” in his life dictionary, so in one hour, he took me to all the areas that I wanted to know, including the market, primary school, secondary school, church and mosque. “Sadiki,” the name of my host brother, doesn’t speak English, so we communicated by sign language and using the basics of Chichewa that I learned in PST. After coming back from our trip, I had nsima for dinner, which is the staple food in Malawi, as well as beans and a bunch of mangos. I quickly learned how to cook nsima because people here think that if you don’t eat it every day you are going to be weak.
Since arriving in my permanent site over one month ago, I have continued to integrate, meet people, and learn about the community. I have also started to initiate programs with other volunteers in my site. But more on that next month.
To be continued….