A few people have mentioned that they’d like to hear more about my trip, and how they can get involved in a similar kind of trip if they wanted to.
What you're about to read
Why I went
I’ve been wanting to get more involved in projects in Sub-Saharan Africa for some time.
I spent much of my younger childhood living in Nigeria (see if you can spot me in the school photo!)
From there we traveled often to South Africa to visit my grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins, who still live there, and spent time in Zambia in my twenties working in a safari lodge in the Luawnga Valley.
Supporting African causes
Since that time, I’ve been involved in conservation and education in that area, but I haven’t been able to have a hands-on approach.
I’ve spoken to a lot of charities about supporting the work that they do over there, but nothing ever seemed to quell my yearning to get back out there and do something meaningful.
How the trip came about
And then out of the blue, earlier this year, a client of mine messaged me about a trip she’d heard of that was heading out to Malawi to run some workshops with women and do some work in a school. She sent me some details, and within a couple of days, I had committed to go, and my flights were booked.
There were 10 of us who went.
The group had been pulled together by Kate Webb who set up a company called Orbis when she was based in Malawi to enable people to travel with adventure, & purpose. Most of us didn’t know each other, other than through the meetings we had on Zoom ahead of the trip.
We had done a lot of planning together to prepare the workshops we would deliver to the businesswomen in Blantyre.
So when we met at Heathrow on a Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago, it was the first time we’d ever connected in real life.
And it’s one of the things that I was nervous about – what if we didn’t get on, what if one of the group was really annoying. As it happened, it was an incredible group, and we all got along really well. Remarkably, there wasn’t any friction, and if there was someone who was annoying on the trip, I think it was probably me.
We were from all different backgrounds. We had an architect, an accountant, a couple of people with marketing backgrounds, 3 people who have a wellness and therapy background, an HR consultant, an exam invigilator and a quantity surveyor.
All of us were based in the UK, apart from Susan, who is based in Australia and she arrived a couple of days early and met up with us at Blantyre airport.
Arriving in Malawi
The flight over there was fabulous. I sat for the final hour looking at the incredible landscape through the plan window as we came to land in Blantyre which is Malawi’s second largest city.
There’s not much to the airport, and once we had moved through immigration, we met up with Ken who would be looking after us for our trip, and Earnest, who would be driving the mini bus.
It turned out that we would spend a lot of time in the minibus as we covered a lot of ground.
Our first journey by road was a couple of hours to the beautiful tea estates in Thyolo, home to Huntingdon House which would be our home for the next 3 nights.
It was originally a family home to the founders of the estate and was a beautiful colonial home. We were greeted there by the staff, shown our rooms, and told to meet on the lawn for afternoon tea.
We’ve literally never seen so much food. Afternoon tea was an incredible feast and we felt terrible that we left so much of it uneaten, but we asked if we could box it up and take it with us the next day to the workshops so we could share it with the ladies who we were going to meet there.
Soon after tea, we piled into the back of a very comfortable pickup truck, and drove through the tea estate to have sundowners. We stopped on the way to watch the monkeys, and walked the final stretch as the truck couldn’t pull us all the way up.
It was good to stretch our legs after our long journey on the plane.
The sun goes down around 5.30pm and by the time we got back to the house in the dark, dinner was already being prepared.
We had the most incredible 3-course meal and headed to bed for an early night.
Wifi was surprisingly available in the main reception area. We had all been given our own wifi codes with a quota of data, so some of us connected with home before retiring for the night.
The next day, we travelled to Blantyre to run the workshops we had prepared.
The welcome was a true Malawian welcome. The Orbis staff greeted us off the mini bus, and the ladies who had arrived to spend the next couple of days at the workshops with us, greeted us like old friends.
Those days that we spent with the ladies were truly incredible. They are such remarkable women who are determined to facilitate change in their country by creating job opportunities.
One of the reasons that I’ve always been so keen to work with women in Africa is because of the ripple effect that they can create. For every woman who creates success in their business, it is likely to have a positive impact on up to 20 other people.
Because they are committed to empowering change not only for themselves and their immediate family, but for their entire community.
It was a theme that we saw throughout our time there – a hunger to change things for the better.
The businesses that they were running were diverse, from schools, to bean factories, to wig creation, to cleaning businesses to social enterprises and so many more between.
These women face challenges every single day, through economic disadvantage, power outages, red tape, connectivity issues and social bias, and yet they show up with determination and resilience.
It was truly humbling to be with them.
The workshops that we ran with them covered mental well-being, marketing, proposal writing and idea generation.
We had prepared the workshops in advance, but it was hard to know what was going to be the most use to them, but they hung onto every session and participated with huge enthusiasm and commitment.
We wrapped up our final day of workshops with them with an exercise to help them craft their elevator pitches, and it was so fulfilling, to see the difference in the way that they talked about their businesses, from the first day when they stood up and sheepishly introduced themselves, to the final day after the workshops where they stood up and spoke with confidence and clarity about the work that they did.
It was truly a highlight of the trip.
From Blantyre, we left at the crack of dawn to head to do a 2-day climb of Mount Mulanje.
As the mountain loomed ahead of us, we were in awe of it’s size and excitement grew as we got closer.
The idea of the climb was to support the local communities by paying porters to carry a lot of the kit for us. So we only climbed with day packs. It felt as though we were cheating, but at the same time, we knew we were putting money into the pockets of local families, and that felt good.
It was a steep and hot climb, but the scenery was fabulous and by the time we stopped for lunch, we were only about an hour from the hut where we were going to stay that evening.
We sat and gathered ourselves and then Laura ran a fabulous yoga session for us.
Soon afterwards, Dorothy, who was accompanying us from the Orbis office, suggested taking us to a river where we could cool off.
It wasn’t far to walk, and was an inspired idea.
We found an area that had pockets of deep pools where we could bathe, and spent a good hour or so splashing around. It wasn’t until we were getting out that we realised that we were covered in small leeches, but it didn’t take much to wipe them off, and we headed back to the hut for food.
That evening, the porters lit a fire for us, and we sat around the campfire and made a plan for the next day.
Some of us would get up at first light and hike to the peek, whilst the rest of the group would head down and meet us at a waterfall near the base of the mountain.
We were fortunate that the moon was incredibly bright that night, and so it was a beautiful evening.
We all slept out on the veranda of the hut, and as the moon came round through the night, it literally felt as though a light has been switched on.
I had actually got up at 2am and sat to watch the moon go down over the mountain as it was so stunning. It meant I also watched a weather front move in as the sun rose.
So by the time we got to the summit, it was a total whiteout.
But it was still a fabulous walk, and meant that it was much cooler, and as we dropped out of the clouds to join the rest of the group at the waterfall, the beautiful African weather resumed, and we had several hours swimming at the waterfall which was beautiful.
When we came down from the mountain, we went to a lodge nearby, and were delighted to be greeted by monkeys as we arrived at our rooms.
It was a short visit, as we left first thing the next morning to start heading towards the lake where we would be working with the Rainbow Hope Secondary School.
Liwonde National Park
On our way, we stopped for 24 hours at Liwonde National Park and it was incredible.
We had to cross the river to the lodge where we would be staying, and before we even got on the boat to cross, we could see elephants over the other side.
That evening we went for a game drive and we saw elephants, lion buffalo, a lot of different antelope, such as waterbuck, impala, kudu, bushbuck and a sable antelope which I’d never seen before, a jackal, and monkeys and baboons galore.
When we left Liwonde the next day, we headed for Mangochi which is where the school is based.
Rainbow Hope Secondary School
We arrived at a beautiful lodge on the shore of Lake Malawi, and met up that evening to meet with the principal of the school who told us so much about the work that he and the school are doing with the local communities to change the ideals around teenage girls in education, and employment opportunities for women in the area.
It’s very acceptable in Malawi for girls to marry at 14 and be mothers by the age of 15. This creates a perpetual cycle of poverty as education is impossible once they are married with children, and yet it’s the norm. Infant mortality rates are very high in Malawi and so are deaths in childbirth.
A girl who has attended education is far less likely to die during childbirth.
The Rainbow Hope school encourages girls to stay in secondary education by providing boarding facilities for them until they finish their education. This means that they don’t get drawn into the household tasks when they go home in the evening which is what was happening before they introduced boarding.
Our day at the school was incredible. What amazing kids. We had prepared a project in advance to talk them through building a business plan for an imaginary cafe.
We split them into 5 groups of 10, assigned them all roles within their new business and set them to work with different tasks.
At first, the language barrier seemed to be an issue, but before long, they were busy working on their business plans, and by the end of the day, they presented their plans to the entire school.
Afterward, we sat in the school courtyard and watched the amazing performances that they had prepared for us, before playing a netball match with the girls.
It was a truly fabulous day, and we were so sad to only spend a day there.
Blue Zebra Island
The next day, we left to travel to Blue Zebra Island Lodge on the Lake, where we spent a couple of days reflecting on the incredible experiences that Malawi had gifted us so far.
There is so much else I could say about the trip, but this is a whistle-stop tour and hopefully gives you a flavour of some of the activities we participated in. All in all, it was an amazing way to see the country and to travel whilst feeling as though we had delivered small parcels of value along our trip.
For anyone who wants to incorporate some kind of purpose into their travel, I would highly recommend speaking to Kate at Orbis and finding out about the next trip that they are organising.
Our participation doesn’t stop here. As a group, we’ll be meeting again in the next couple of weeks to decide on how best to distribute the funds that we raised before and during our travels.
We already made a contribution of books and equipment to the school whilst we were there, but we know that we’d like to do something going forward to support the fabulous ladies that we met and the children at the school.
If you’d like to donate at all to our ongoing efforts, our gofundme page is still live and the link is in the description below.