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Workshop Construction Project

Malawi - September 2014

This review was written by Ritchie, a member of the Malawi AidCamp project 2014. It is in his own words and gives an overview of the work involved in the project and some of the experiences he and the rest of the Group had whilst in the country.

"The project in Malawi aimed to construct a new rammed-earth workshop in the village of M'Teza on the site of the Landirani Training Village a self-help initiative supported by African Vision Malawi, designed to assist the local community in using traditional techniques and resources to create a model, sustainable, forward-looking, skilled community. The focus of this project was the construction of a new rammed earth workshop that would provide an opportunity for vocational training for villagers (able-bodied and disabled alike) helping to provide the skills necessary to contribute to their own financial security.

The 10 volunteers for Aidcamps, Ian, Pat, Harriet, Caroline, Rog, Jules, Carrie, Matt. Jennie and myself, under the leadership of Bill our AidCamps' co-ordinator, all arrived over the course of the first weekend and bonded fairly quickly over drinks, dinner and the hospitality we received at Mabuya lodge which was to be the base for our weekend.

Some of the volunteers were ‘seasoned Aidcampers' but there was quite a few  newcomers to the organisation and even though everyone had different backgrounds and experiences we all arrived in great spirits and had come together with a common aim. We were also fortunate enough to be joined by Kira and Gabriella from African Vision Malawi where their knowledge of Malawi proved to be a great resource throughout the coming weeks.

After the initial induction weekend we transferred to the village of M'Teza where as this was the first time Aidcamps was ‘under canvas' we were quickly acquainted with our new home(s) for the next 3 weeks - although much to one volunteers dismay as the tents were initially perceived as polytunnels for permaculture, "no" we were told, "those tents are where you'll be sleeping!"

The working days quickly fell into a routine, rising early to collect water from the local bore hole, tending to the permaculture gardens, lighting the fire for breakfast, collecting bread from the local village, all before we started work! Much of the project work we were given to do involved (the lost English tradition of) roof thatching, hilarious attempts at rendering (a form of plastering), tampering floors, digging holes so that the roof supports could be laid and of course learning about and having a go at the rammed earth method of construction.

The camp facilities were ‘basic' but extremely functional and a cold bucket shower was definitely a welcome relief after a hard morning's work in the hot African sun. Cooking on an open fire was a learning curve experience in itself but as the weeks drew on everyone became more inventive in their ‘menus', although I have to say that the bruschetta , Thai veg curry and Bill's dhal all won hands down.

Evenings were definitely a favourite time of day as the group were able to wind down from the day's work and programme of talks and visits by cooking dinner on the open fire and playing endless entertaining games with quiz master Ian's pub quiz causing great competition amongst the teams, all with the backdrop of epic African skies and amazing sunsets over the camp.

Being part of an Aidcamp is not just about the ‘hands on work' as we were also given a number of fascinating educational talks about other local projects that were happening in M'Teza including education, healthcare, water and sanitation, the local library, permaculture, eco architecture to name but a few. We were also able to visit local produce markets to stock up on food and camp supplies.

We visited a number of schools where we spoke to the teachers and learnt about the education system in Malawi and also had great fun in introducing ourselves to each class in Chichewa (the local language). We also had a visit to the local maternity unit where some of the volunteers were able to name some of the new born babies, although the chickens that we took as gifts seemed to go down better with the new mothers!

The weekends allowed us much deserved time off where we had more time to explore Lilongwe including Chameleons jazz bar, various markets for shopping opportunities, local restaurants and a local fabric market. We also had a relaxing, chilled out weekend at Lake Malawi where we stayed at the excellent Cool Runnings on the shore of Lake Malawi to recharge our batteries before the final push of the last week.

As the project came to an end we had a farewell ceremony involving all the volunteers, Landirani trust and African Vision Malawi staff, village chief, local dignitaries and all the builders and people involved in the construction of the workshop where it was a chance for everyone involved in the project to come together to celebrate and reflect upon what we had achieved over the past three weeks. In true Aidcamps' style the ceremony was opened with singing where the volunteers gave a rendition of ‘hallelujah'.

On reflection all the volunteers had a fantastic experience on this Aidcamp with each of us having our own special memories. African Vision Malawi has a great vision for what they are trying to achieve in Malawi and I'm sure all of us Aidcampers would agree it was a pleasure and a privilege to be involved with such an inspirational charity. Some of the group are now looking to go back to Malawi next year to be involved in other projects e,g, education and healthcare so it will be great to see how the work that Aidcamps has started has begun to progress.

So if you have any thoughts about whether you would like to get involved in future Aidcamps projects, it's definitely worthwhile getting in touch to find out more-or be brave and sign up to a project, you won't regret it - promise! I can guarantee that you will have the experience of a lifetime."

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