Callum Campbell, a UK volunteer staff member who has worked with Determined to Develop for nine months, talks about his experiences as a program officer in Malawi.
What is your role at Determined to Develop?
My main role is to support the Malawian staff in the office. My key responsibilities during my time here have been supporting the youth sponsorship program and nursery school feeding program. I have been teaching video production and editing to some live-in sponsored youth, as well as being tasked with running the Determined to Develop deaf club, which has been a lot of fun but difficult!
Tell us about some of your experiences in Malawi, starting with your favorite.
I don’t think I can put my finger on their being a favourite memory. I feel like each day has its merits and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of my time here. If I had to pick one memory among the many that stick out, it would have to be a day spent in the lake with some of the sponsored youth and Malawian interns. The lake was very flat, the weather calm and warm and we played for hours on kayaks and small boats, splashing around and capsizing one another! Also, working in the office with the Malawian staff Ponelo Kalonga and Geoff Mzembe has been fantastic. They have made me smile and laugh each and every day!
What has been the most rewarding thing about working with Determined to Develop in Malawi?
I was working with some of the women’s empowerment groups, meeting often with them and supporting the activities of the small but up and coming businesses that they run. I got to know the groups really well and assisted Ponelo in boosting the capacity of each group. When a change in my responsibilities meant working on other projects, I went to say goodbye to the two groups I supported and they were so grateful for all the help and effort. I was really touched by their appreciative singing and dancing and although I get to go back and see the groups, concluding my time working with them during my last visit as program support was really heart-warming.
What kind of challenging experiences did you come across whilst working for D2D and being in Malawi?
Running the Deaf Club has been the greatest challenge for me for a number of reasons. When I first arrived and started working with deaf club I knew no Chitumbuka or sign language. The teacher knew little English and writing notes on paper to communicate in broken languages was hard work. At the beginning, we often got confused as to what one another were talking about half way through a long conversation! Sometimes it got frustrating, but Mr. Nyirenda, the deaf club teacher, has been so patient with me and over time I have picked up a fair amount of sign language. It was easy for things to get lost in translation but by working together we have made our own way of communicating. It’s been challenging but so worth it!
Which Determined to Develop project impresses you the most and why?
I have been impressed by D2Ds efforts to deal with the local challenges in a holistic way. As a small NGO, they have a big impact. It deals with a multitude of challenges that crop up in the Chilumba area, as opposed to focusing on one area in a wide range. I find it all very impressive and it’s an approach that I had never thought of in the past. I’m impressed by the community integration with the projects. D2D has links with the chiefs, teachers, parent teacher associations, women’s groups, parents, large institutions… Everyone involved with or effected by D2Ds efforts are backing it all the way, which is a pretty incredible achievement and has made me realise how important community involvement and inclusion is, if you want to be a successful organization.
What will you miss the most about working with Determined to Develop and being in Malawi?
Definitely working with everyone in the office. Everyone in the team is so different but we compliment ourselves so much. I am also going to miss seeing the sponsored youth. I have built up a good rapport with lots of boys but saying bye to will be very sad, but also a great incentive to come back one day!
In your ideal world, what differences would you like to see 1 year on at Determined to Develop?
I would love for there to be a deaf club IGA. I know the people who go to deaf club really appreciate it because there is no other deaf community or support structures in the Chilumba region, or even in Malawi in general. The deaf students come and do two hours or more learning sessions because they are like-minded people and really enjoy learning and exploring sign language together. I know that their lives are quite hard and they often ask for help with things that D2D can’t do yet. If the numbers of deaf club pick up in the future, I would love to see the deaf club being supported with a small business initiative.
Have you got any last comments?
Yes… I think everyone should come and see this for themselves. Come to Malawi, come to Maji Zuwa, come to Determined to Develop and see what a fantastic job is being done here. You won’t regret it!
Tawonga chomene (We thank you)!