As a secondary school graduate who did not make it to university besides having good grades in my examination, fears of misery and poverty were looming. Growing up in a community where youths bank all their hope on education, my unsuccessful attempt to go to university meant a bleak future for me.
That was in 2011, unknowingly, a year later, the International Citizen Service would open a path to my new passion and future; volunteerism.
I had spent a year at home as I waited for my next attempt at the University of Malawi entrance examinations when a local non-governmental Organisation, Environment Africa advertised an opening for volunteers to work in the pilot ICS program in 2012.
Working at one of the farmer’s vegetable garden in 2012
In June 2012, my placement started. It was a journey of mixed emotions. Our team of three Malawian and six British volunteers struggled to get along in the early days. The Malawian team had never worked with any foreigners so the language and cultural differences somehow challenged the team’s work.
Nevertheless, as our orientation by the Progressio ICS national staff progressed, we learned how to get along. As I started my volunteer journey, I learned how to work in a team. Previously, I had never worked in a team but ICS gave me a chance to understand people who had different cultures to mine.
Our partner organization Environment Africa worked at helping rural farmers in Salima, Malawi by teaching them sustainable agricultural and natural resources conservation methods.
With John and Mphatso, part of the ICS team members, learning about beekeeping from local farmers
As the ICS team, we worked on several projects among them teaching income generating activities to local farmers like Bee keeping, growing vegetables through irrigation and woodlot establishment and management.
And as the Malawi team leader, ICS gave me a chance to experience leadership. At 19, I was entrusted to co-lead our team with my UK counterpart John Ferguson.
John was helpful in nurturing my leadership skills as I learnt team management and group dynamics skills. Through our work with ICS, we helped many farmers to learn sustainable Agricultural methods.
One aspect about the ICS which makes it unique is its model of bringing together local and UK volunteers. To most Malawian young people, when we see a British youth sacrificing their time and resources to volunteer in a poor country like Malawi, this sacrifice spurs a spirit of volunteerism within us.
For instance, it has been five years since I participated in the ICS program, but the spirit of volunteerism that it instilled in me still abides. The ICS program implanted in me a heart to help others and bring change in my community.
In March this year, I noted that many young people in my home district, Salima are dropping out of school. Together with a few friends we started a local initiative called Education Support Initiative.
Through the initiative, we publish stories highlighting the plight of such needy students on social media and call for tuition assistance from willing individuals. Further, through the initiative we visit secondary schools and hold mentorship sessions with students.
Many young people in Malawi drop out of school due to lack of tuition fees and proper guidance. Because of the spirit of helping others that the ICS inspired in me, I am now able to mentor youths and help light a path to their own greatness.
I am currently a student at the University of Malawi pursuing a degree in Communications and Cultural studies. My passion to study Communications and Culture spurred from my time volunteering in the ICS program.
Working in the rural areas with ICS introduced me to the challenges that many Malawians meet every day.
As I moved from one village to the other with the volunteer team, I always thought of a best way to help bring the challenges of the rural people to light, with this challenge, my dream to study Communications was born.
To me, the ICS program was beyond a chance to interact with UK volunteers; ICS provided me a platform to help my community and ignited a lifelong passion of volunteerism and community development.
* International Volunteer Day (IVD) 2017, “Volunteers Act First. Here. Everywhere.”, celebrated worldwide on December 5, is a recognition of the positive solidarity of volunteers around the world who answer calls in times of crisis, helping save lives today and supporting those who want to continue living their lives with dignity tomorrow. #VolunteersActFirst