By Alice Leaper
I am writing this newsletter from a very different place to our lakeside paradise. I have come back to England for the first time in three years and of course am already missing everything and everyone, although I have bought the weather with me. It is time to reflect over the last three months and realise that a lot has been achieved.
Josie also took her leave at the beginning of the summer, but of course I was never alone in our fight to make butterfly a better place to stay in and to enrich the lives of those around us. Our first volunteers were Eugene and Connor, two Irish lads who stayed a few weeks on an old Butterfly friend’s recommendation, Ryan, whom they had met in Zambia. They were very handy men and set about fixing up the well used playground, and although health and safety has a different set of rules even we could see that something that had to be done; a lot of it was out of bounds. One of the girls from youth club had cut her leg quite badly on the slide so some new tin sheets and a better design was their first obstacle, they worked really hard replacing things, moving things about a bit and making it more durable. They were a delight to have around and their hard working attitude got the job done in no time. Youth club has had a face lift so it was only fair the playground had the same. The boys who were the first members of youth club 5yrs ago have finally moved on. Of course it was very upsetting as I have known them for so long but there is an ever growing new gang who I am already equally fond of and who have that new enthusiasm for all the wonderful creative ways of keeping them entertained.
A group of volunteers came from Scotland with their own endeavours that youth club also had the pleasure of interaction with. They were all university engineering students and came to bring science alive to the schools in our local community. They had already been in the south of Malawi visiting secondary schools and I decided to give them a new challenge with younger kids. I visited lots of primary schools in the area and told them of their intentions, I waited for feedback from teachers and heads to see who was the most interested and chose four schools among them. Kelda, Colin, Naweed and Alison worked on getting materials for their demonstrations and hands on science activities at the lodge, much to all of our amusement and then went off in pairs to do their teaching each day at St Maria Goretti, Chindozwa, Bwelero and Chikale School, as well as Gulugufe Nursery and even our disabled youth club. There were different reactions at each school but over all the children got really involved and loved their teaching style which was so much fun and enabled each child to make things as they took resources. It was a great opportunity for Butterfly to link and interact with some new schools around. Chikale has had a lot of our help and interest and doesn’t always show the same interest in return. Chindozwa however really welcomed the group and provided translators with a great deal of enthusiasm and positive attitude for receiving more volunteers in the future.
Other people that have been great for school links have been a repeated visitor Doug Funk who I took around secondary schools in the area to see what the most common needs were as well as which schools showed the most willing to comply with simple requests and not just looking for hand outs. We were most impressed with the head of Nkhata Bay Private School that achieves very good school results, is a teacher himself and also offers quite a lot of free places for students who can’t afford fees. Of course the school is a business but the attitude is of improving education. Doug left some money that I was happy to buy cement for the school in order for them to finish their school hall for the examinations.
When a Dutch lady came for a couple of weeks looking for a school to link with as she is a teacher back in Holland this was naturally the school I thought of. After an initial meeting with Hassan, Flora set about explaining her interest in the potential link between international schools. Her main attraction was to get students on the internet so they could be linked via the internet. She made lots of contacts while she was here and was very busy going off on her own missions, also to the blind school to an old friend of mine Peter Munthali. He was as always very welcoming and inspirational to her and she went back thinking of wonderful ways of staying in touch. She also got busy with chess club, even getting a board made suitable for the blind students. She was a great asset to the disabled club that she not only helped with but had small cluster groups meeting for extra days. The girls of the group who often get unnoticed in the group because of stronger character were invited to Butterfly to do some sewing. Flora bought fabric and taught them to make small cushions and teddies; this was not only a fun activity but was a real confidence booster for the girls who don’t have a lot to do in the daily lives.
I could write a small essay on the next volunteer-Saskia, she also transformed the
special needs group among so many other things she put her heart to. She started working at the nursery school before the term ended along with other volunteers Holly, Jesse and Kelda who stayed around. These guys brought lots of fun to school and helped the teachers with the daily routine. The nursery school was also blessed to have some qualified teachers into help. Firstly Hugh who saw early on that his skills would be best used with teacher training. He spent time with the older class emphasising the importance of planning and re introducing the idea of phonics. Celina the teacher took to him immediately and continues into the new term with his new inputs. Whether it was his qualification or his male status he made a real difference and shook the school up. He bought so many resources with him that have really armed the teachers and are used really effectively. There was a also another Irish teacher called Aishling who came along with her sister Ailbe, she is a qualified Montessori teacher who also introduced some new games and ideas before the school term finished. They were also there for graduation which was one of the most fun days I have had up at the nursery. The mothers were all there for a kid’s party with snacks, games and dancing and things got very competitive when prizes were given out as parents cheered on their children. Then the teachers tested the children before hand shakes and certificated were handed out to the children who will move on to primary school.
Hugh also did more teacher training in primary schools, he went to Bwelero and Chindozwa where again the teachers really welcomed his ideas and resources, curriculum, and books he bought as well as his professional and experienced training. I think he has really opened some gates for future teachers who are qualified that felt they can not assist teachers in the nursery but are more use spending time with the teachers themselves. He also approached the early learning centre before his trip. They were very generous in supplying 300 Euros of resources for him to bring to Malawi. I would really encourage other people coming out to do the same with big companies and the things he brought are so valuable out here. Bwelero also asked for help with refurbishment to their desks which thanks to your donations has fixed up 100 school desks for them.
Hugh’s girlfriend, Kat, joined him after his third week bringing lots of old football shirts they had collected. Hugh also trained the young boys team whilst he was here and had undefeated record in all the matches. The kits bought were for younger players with all the popular teams. There were a few volunteers around at the time so I decided to put on a sports day for the youth club. I think we had 50 members turn up for a really good day as each volunteer manned a game and chose winners. We had Israeli Omer doing swimming races and his friend Eran on the dance competition, Saskia and Kelda doing a quiz, Becky doing an assault course around the playground and myself and Aishling and Ailbe doing craft, followed by a running race at the end. It was fun for all and a chance to welcome new volunteers. The football shirts made great prizes. The Israeli boys previously mentioned were very active volunteers and were a pleasure to have around as they introduced us to a great new game CAMBIO. I took Eran off to the hospital where it can be quite hard to be of help without all the correct paperwork but his charm won them over within minutes and he started work the next day. I only got to hear half the stories of his committed daily input there but I think he was shocked with what he saw and how much he was able to help and be trusted. He proved a valuable asset for them and even performed an amputation. Omer was up to very different things as he helped me with the disabled guys each week and invited them round for swimming lessons during the week. He was also busy around the lodge where there have been lots of improvements. We had the blessing of an Alaskan man who is so hard working and passionate about our cause. Before he arrived we had nearly finished the building of an old chalet that had fallen down so he got to work putting a roof on it. He was an early bird and was always such a man to be greeted by at the breakfast table with all his knowledge. He has been generally titivating around the property fixing things and maintaining things, this so something we would always look for in volunteers –a general handy man as there is so much work for them. Kumbu has also been busy with a newstructure of the shop on site. We will be able to fill it with all the wonderful things our groups make and invite others to do the same while keeping a better track of all the different funds going to the correct people.
Saskia who I mentioned earlier had done so much work, also introduced and inspired the volunteers to get into fundraising as she saw the need in particular for the special needs group each to have mosquito nets. It was a very effective idea as they invited people to come and play a game of poker at Butterfly, the proceeds managed to buy 6 mosquito nets. She managed to go round the whole group doing home visits including all the new members and writing up their new profiles for anyone who is interested. It is with great thanks to a new Malawian helper we have at Butterfly, Hilda. She came one day looking for work and admiring the outreach that Butterfly manages and whether she could help. She jumped straight on board and not only came to work with the group but hunted down about 6 new members for the group. As always as the group grows it becomes more challenging but she has provided an invaluable asset to the team that I wonder how we could ever do without her. Along with the usual behaviour problems of the group, with Saskia being bitten weekly, grandmother of Chiefeniro not allowing us to pick her up anymore due to mistrust of funds, mothers not having children ready in time, there has been the added trouble of no drugs for epilepsy, there has been a lot more fitting. This is why we would re enforce the importance of contacting us before you come especially if you have contacts in pharmacies, as there are always things needed out here.
Saskia has also opened another interesting project for future volunteers as she approached the family planning clinic in town. She was welcomed as an extra pair of hands and ended up providing the clinic with some very new and useful information. She was HIV testing and counselling and could really assist and direct people who had just found out their status with any questions they might have had. Salome a new volunteer has already begun to take this position. The FAAWNS our HIV group have also benefited from volunteers, South African Tenille and Becky providing workshops on general health and nutrition.
I have been inspired by a lot the people around me in these three months. Another man Dwellings as well as Hilda heard of the special needs club and came to Butterfly to discuss it with me. He is physically disabled himself and has set up a group in Mphamba which is about 20km away called the PLWD, People Living With Disabilities. He was so encouraging of our group and told me of his own plans and dreams. He is a teacher and has been exposed to the inequality if the system and really wants to make a difference for people like him self. He has already helped individuals by getting them to school by approaching radio stations and appealing to the public. The federation of disabilities for Malawi is based in Blantyre and their budget doesn’t stretch to reaching the northern region. He also has problems getting his group together for meetings due to transport costs. I suggested that I went to pick them up for a day and meeting at Butterfly which was warmly accepted. We had a wonderful day discussing and learning about what they have been through and all their aspirations. This is a group that I will definitely be looking to work with on return and to share their development plans with help that I may receive fundraising back in the U.K.
Another group of people that have been a pleasure to work with is the community of Dindano where the new nursery has been built. Phillip as their leader has made the procedure simple and with less cost as he riles community spirit reminding them how important the school is. The major concern has been the treacherous road up to the village where I have feared for passengers and myself greatly. The building side is now complete and is looking impressive in its wonderfully central to the village location. I had help painting the walls from Omer, Eden, Aishling, Ailbe and Kelda and the designs with Salome and Mbale. ( Mbale is putting lots of love back into the youth club that is fully active again and getting more popular each afternoon with new and old members. ) The children will be in the nursery this month but I will hold interviews for the teachers when I return in February. Of course this is something that will need your constant support as there won’t be fees for children up there, and porridge and two teachers need to be paid for as well as trained. It is a private school again like Gulugufe but the government have already shown their respect and help by providing materials and registering the school.
Of course I must mention all the staff at Butterfly Space who have provided constant support and hard work. It was a very difficult time for us this last month as one of the night watchman passed away in hospital-Japhet Phiri. We have suffered a great loss, as has his family. The funeral showed a team moral that I was proud to be part of despite the sad occasion. Ophanuel Chibowa was leading us as ever, he should never underestimate how much he is respected and loved. I think we all speak the words for Japhet that we pray he rests in peace.
“Hidden in our hearts is a longing to live deeply and with purpose and joy, to know and to be known, to be concerned with another; and to make a difference. In this dance of giving and receiving, we create our community, our World and ourselves”