Want to volunteer in Africa but don't know what to expect? Check out this day-to-day recap from our most recent Global Village trip to Habitat for Humanity Malawi by Alayna Dunkerly, Global Village volunteer.
On a typical Monday morning, “excited” isn’t the feeling I wake up with. This particular Monday, though, was Day One of our Global Village trip to Malawi, Africa. This Monday marked the beginning of a week of building alongside 16 fellow volunteers, and an experience that will be forever ingrained in my heart. That Monday I woke up excited.
That morning our volunteer van buzzed with anticipation as we drove down a dirt road into Chekawele Village. The anticipation turned to curiosity when we saw a little boy running toward our van, yelling and waving his arms with joy – as if he were greeting long-lost friends. More children followed, bringing our van to a standstill. What seemed like the entire village soon joined the children, singing, dancing, and waving tree branches. We came out of the van, and marched with them toward the construction site – massive mounds of dirt encircled by even larger piles of bricks – where our hosts enveloped us in song and dance. We were more than just observers, though, as we were pulled one by one into the festivities.
Check out a clip from our welcome to the village:
Walking side-by-side with these families and children, seeing the wonderment in their eyes, and joining them in dance (more so pure embarrassment for me) overwhelmed me with gratitude. I didn’t just feel welcomed; I felt home.
As the singing dwindled to a soft murmur and the villagers returned to their day-to-day, our team got to building! All 17 of us hit the ground running. With staff direction, we divided and conquered – moving materials, digging trenches, and laying bricks to complete a new home’s foundation. By day’s end, we had walls taking shape!
See the site from where we started:
Our ride into the village on the second day was a bit quieter - jet lag was catching up with us and we all felt the aches and pains from the first day of building. That afternoon, though, we met the family whose future home was in our hands – and we remembered that every ounce of soreness was worth it.
Tisauke, a 44 year-old widow, works tirelessly to care for her five children: four daughters aged 15, 12, nine, and one, and a four-year-old son. Their home recently collapsed due to heavy rains, so the young children sleep at their grandmother’s home while Tisauke and her eldest daughter sleep in a small hut next to their dilapidated home. Tisauke welcomed us into their hut, which could barely accommodate standing room for three. In one corner, their sleeping mats lay on the floor, and within arm’s reach was a hammock with all of their belongings, strung up on the opposite wall.
Tisauke’s story was one of daily struggle to provide the basic necessities for her children, one that made it extremely difficult to save the funds to build a standard house. In fact, most days the family is only able to eat a single meal. As she looks forward to living in her Habitat home, Tisauke says she is most excited to be able to take good care of her children. She’ll be able to spend what little income she earns – from piecework and seasonal farming – on food and clothing for her children, rather than pour it into maintaining shelter.
See the video below for the entire interview with Tisauke and her family (warning: it's long but so worth it to hear from this amazing family!):
By the third day, our team was in a building groove! It was exciting for someone like me, who spends my days at a desk, to feel that, “Wow, we’re really building a house!” Some team members were stationed on scaffolding, raising the brick walls row by row, while others made mortar and delivered water to the bricklayers. By that afternoon, door frames and windows were in!
We were strangers just a few days before, but already we worked so quickly and in sync with one another. It seemed as if we’d been longtime friends, building together for years.
Check out the site on the third day:
That afternoon, we put the trowels aside and got another sobering glimpse at these families’ day-to-day lives when we toured the primary school Tisauke’s children attend. When we arrived, we were greeted by the principal and three teachers. The principal shared how difficult it can to be an educator in Malawi. For example, the first grade class has about 400 students, with only five textbooks to be shared among them. When we asked him what kept him motivated to come to work every day despite the hurdles, he answered, simply, “The children.” He went on to share that someone was there for him when he needed guidance as a young child, and he wanted to be that someone for one of these kids. Yes, I was fighting back tears.
In a classroom, a small group of students prepared for their exam to graduate primary school. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” we asked them. Many replied with aspirations of becoming teachers, nurses, engineers, and doctors. How these students maintained big dreams in the face of such obstacles inspired all of us.
Here is a video of the class singing as they said goodbye:
Our fourth day began off the construction site, with a visit to the Habitat for Humanity Resource Center – a project funded by Habitat EBSV’s Global Investment Program. The Resource Center educates young Malawians in carpentry and masonry skills. Graduates can use these skills to find work for hire, or even start their own businesses. The students’ dedication impressed us, as did the program’s holistic approach to supporting students’ success long after graduation!
Then, it was back to site and back to work! We only had a few more rows of bricks to lay, and we’d be done. Our team’s determination to finish the home that morning paid off – by lunch we completed the home up to the roof!
Before starting work on a second home, we sat down for lunch with Kelvin, Habitat for Humanity Malawi’s Executive Director. He was exuberant with passion for Malawi, and Habitat Malawi’s programs and services throughout the country reflect that fervor. Habitat for Humanity Malawi acknowledges that families’ quality of life suffers from more than a housing shortage. Together, with volunteer groups like ours, Habitat Malawi implements the following programs across the country:
- Housing for orphans and vulnerable groups
- Malaria prevention training
- HIV prevention training
- Vocational skills training
- Property and inheritance rights training
- Housing support services
- Water, sanitation, and hygiene
- Disaster risk reduction and response
Click here to learn more about each program.
Hear from Kelvin as he thanks Habitat EBSV for our continued support of these programs:
On the last day of building, we started from square one. Sure, completing one home was great, but our team was determined to build as much impact as we could. So, we started the foundations of two other homes, to get them ready for the next Global Village group (you’re welcome, Habitat for Humanity Great Britain!).
Don’t get me wrong; I was tired by Day 5, but I was kept building by my team’s determination to make as much of a difference as we possibly could. This passion wasn’t driven by the building tasks themselves. We all found motivation in the families pitching in to carry bricks here and there (some with babies on their backs), and the children surrounding our build site and watching us every day. We weren’t just building a home – we were building hope for a better future, and not just for one family, but for the entire village.
On our last day, we saw how this sense of community is weaved throughout these villages when we witnessed a Good Friday service right next to our second construction site. It was beautiful to see the village gather together and join in such uplifting song and worship.
During our work on Day 5, starting foundations for two new homes, Habitat Malawi’s staff put the roof on our team’s first home. It was almost complete! Habitat Malawi will add some final touches to make this house a home for Tisauke and her children, but for now it was time for all of us to give thanks and celebrate the great work our team and Habitat Malawi accomplished over the week – it was Dedication day!
The Dedication ceremony felt like a closing circle. Just as we started the week, we ended it with song and dance. In fact, each of us were in a spotlight of embarrassment as we were pulled up to dance alongside some very talented villagers. The principal and teachers from the school we had visited earlier in the week attended and accepted a small token of our team’s appreciation for their hard work and dedication to the village’s education. The village chef spoke of her gratitude for Habitat for Humanity’s work in her community, and then Tisauke and her family shared appreciation for not only their new home, but for their new take on life.
It was a beautiful Dedication. However, it was not the highlight of my day. The highlight of my day, and honestly my trip, was when we were able to share a traditional Malawian meal with Tisauke and her children. Just a few days prior, Tisauke shared that her family eats only once a day, and they only get to eat foods like meat about four times a year. When I served them a full plate of food, I saw their future flash before me. This was the first of many meals and happy memories for this family to cherish thanks to Habitat for Humanity.