Mike Taylor, a volunteer with Tongole Wilderness Lodge in the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, tells us about the work he and other volunteers from Europe recently undertook at a school in Chankhokwe community.
The team of volunteers headed for Tongole Wilderness Lodge met at Heathrow Terminal Two and after introductions set out for the “Warm Heart of Africa”, travelling Ethiopian Airlines via Addis Ababa where the majority who had not been to Africa before, first came across the continent through its airline terminals.
On arrival at Lilongwe, we were introduced to Malawian immigration bureaucracy, which although lengthy, was carried out with a smile, something we rapidly got used to. Bentry and Tio Kalanga from Tongole welcomed the old hands and wide-eyed newcomers. The bus journey to the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve caused some eyes to be opened even wider with questionable local driving customs, most of which involved goats.
Before we arrived in Malawi, they had had more than their fair share of rain as well as Cyclone Idai down south, and this turned a 45-minute journey from the reserve entrance gates into an almost four-hour marathon. This really tested the skills of our driver, but also tested the pushing capabilities of the volunteers. With bolt-on humour, this had the result of knitting together the group in atrocious conditions which saw the majority caked in a liberal coating of thick red mud! The lodge was a welcome sight in the dark, and after a drink and sumptuous supper we retired for the night.
The next day we were granted a work-free day by David and Bentry, but we made a visit to the school at Chankhokwe which we would be renovating and refurbishing. This was an eye-opener for the newcomers who had never experienced the conditions the pupils and teachers are used to working under. We met the Head Teacher, Stanley Kamanga, who outlined the work we were to undertake and allowed Bentry and David to assess the materials – paint, cement, filler, brushes, rollers and other decorating necessities. I think many were shocked by the state of the Head Teacher’s house but heartened to see that he was happy to live in comparative comfort.
The way in which the team gelled and got down to the work of transforming two classroom blocks the next day impressed the local villagers. Their school began its rebirth, accompanied by a daily dose of an Austrian techno-ski version of the “Helicopter Song”! The first day saw the distribution of pencil cases to every member of the school, which clearly went down a storm. Later, we visited Chilimani School, another Tongole success story, to touch base with the staff, governors, pupils and elders of the village and to give them orange T-shirts provided by some of the money raised by the volunteers.
The Chankhokwe community school transformation was finished so successfully that we started to tackle the third block, in a much worse state; this work was later finished by the local community members.
Being immersed in the culture of such a marvellous country and its people has changed the lives of the volunteers and the people of Chankhokwe who now have a transformed primary school at the heart of their village. The icing on the cake is the educational adoption of young Kevin and his sister Doreen through secondary school. The volunteers feel they have done something really special here and I guess many will be back to the “Warm Heart of Africa”.
Thank you for sharing this good news story from the Chankhokwe community volunteer project, Mike and the team at Tongole.