Shrewsbury School has a longstanding relationship with the charity Medic Malawi, which has funded a number of community projects including an orphanage, nutrition centre and hospital. The trip was an opportunity to see how our donations have been used and to work alongside the local people in the ‘warm heart of Africa’. The group were fortunate to coincide with the days on which the eye surgeries were taking place at the Shrewsbury School Eye Clinic, so they witnessed first-hand the transformation of lives that these bring to people.
Every day, each member of the team was encouraged to write an entry in the trip diary. The following extracts give a flavour of their adventures…
Day 1 – Jetty Russell
The last 48 hours have merged into a blur of planes, buses and airports. We experienced unconventional Ethiopian queuing techniques – a chaotic, three-hour scrum from which we emerged mostly unscathed. There was a momentary panic when we thought we had lost Jac, but it turned out that he had taken himself off for a quiet cheesy omelette, and still managed to get through security before us!
As the plane finally circled Lilongwe airport, we caught our first glimpse of the vast African horizon and miles and miles of red dusty plains. The bus journey from Lilongwe to Red Zebra Lodge introduced us to the perils of African driving: pedestrians carrying whole forests of firewood on their heads; thousands of potholes and suicidal goats running across the road. Mrs Temple was tempted by one of the local delicacies – whole mice, deep-fried and spitted on sticks, sold on the roadside – but restrained herself.
Red Zebra Lodge is beautiful – thatched huts on the shore of Lake Malawi. Sadly, we missed the sunset tonight, but aim to catch it tomorrow. Even without the sun, the lake is stunning, and from the end of the pier, the view is incredible. Our delicious supper consisted of not three, but four courses, and two of them were cake, in honour of Phoebe’s birthday. Amazing!
Day 2 – Orlando Barratt and Evie Mok
The day began with the revelation that the local fish can change gender depending on the temperature of the water, which must lead to some awkward social situations.
In the afternoon, we visited a crocodile farm, which produces crocodile skin for the luxury market in the USA, Japan and Europe. We met their largest breeding croc, weighing in at 1200kg at the age of 65. The crocodiles make their way through ten tonnes of chicken every week, which is even more than Ollie Shutts.
Dr Brown then caused a diversion by stabbing herself in the foot with a stick, resulting in impressive torrents of blood and the deployment of Mrs Temple’s nursing skills. Ollie was so excited that he forgot about eating chicken. Phoebe was less excited when her belt ended up in use as a makeshift tourniquet.
The evening consisted of a masterclass in haggling from Mr Kealy as we watched the sunset over Lake Malawi and chatted to some of the local souvenir sellers. This was followed by a barbecue of epic proportions, eaten around the fire to the strains of Jac’s guitar and incomprehensible Welsh singing.
Day 4 – Jacob Jefferis
Today was our first full day at St Andrew’s. Departure was delayed by our resident musician, who had ‘lost’ his money belt. As Jac bawled his eyes out, Orlando and I turned his room upside down, until Mr Cooley appeared and calmly withdrew the offending article from the top of Jac’s rucksack, becoming the first hero without a cape in Kamuzu Academy.
We then set off for St Andrew’s, where we were greeted by crowds of children singing songs to welcome us. High-fives were dished out left, right and centre, and friendships were established immediately. While some of us stayed at the orphanage to play with the smaller children, others got straight to work painting the dormitories and sorting out the bags of medical donations we had brought with us.
At the start of the day, the pharmacy store-room was as disorganised as my room back home. However, as a cracking team started to plough through the mounds of paperwork, some hint of order started to emerge. Just a drop in the ocean, though – more to be done!
Day 6 – Alex Whitworth and Summer Devine
Today is Sunday, so rather than going to the orphanage, we set off for the village church. We were greeted by the usual warm hugs and handshakes, before settling down for a three-and-a-half-hour marathon of a church service! The joyful music was incredible, especially after the gospel reading, when the whole church erupted in hallelujahs. Everything was translated into both English and Chichewa, even the hymns. Ollie and Frank were called up to give readings, Peter gave the sermon, and the congregation were blown away by the one-hit wonder that is the Medic Malawi team rendition of ‘Shine, Jesus, Shine’.
After lunch back at the Academy, the braver members of the group went swimming in the ice-cold pool. Orlando outlasted everyone by being the first in and the last out. We finished the day with a hearty supper and gathered in the common room to reflect on the day’s events.
Day 7 – Liv Moir
Today breakfast reverted back to 8.30, after an early start for church yesterday. The extra half-hour in bed allowed us all to stay standing throughout what has definitely felt like the longest and toughest day so far.
Frank and Sam went to work in the kitchen, chopping kale and making nsema for the orphans’ lunch. This caused much hilarity among the ladies; gender roles are very fixed in this very traditional culture.
Another group went down to the maternity ward, where they experienced both the joy of looking after tiny babies and the horror when things go wrong.
In the afternoon, the UK took on Malawi at football, with Malawi scoring a 4-3 victory.
Day 8 – Sam Holdcroft
The main focus of my day was getting to meet the orphanage’s hens, all 200 of them. They lay a massive 170ish eggs every day, and today we cleaned and polished each one ready for the market. Each egg sells for 80 kwacha, so they are a valuable source of income for the orphanage.
After a swift lunch, during which the now infamous beef samosas were devoured by all, I moved down to the Administrator’s office, where I worked as a trainee under the supervision of Messrs Shutts and Whitworth, setting up a spreadsheet to manage the hospital payroll on the new laptop we had donated.
As we returned to Kamuzu Academy, a group of us paid a visit to the tree under which the President, Hastings Banda, had learned to read and write. This is why he chose to build Kamuzu Academy on this spot. After dinner, Peter spoke to us about the purpose of Medic Malawi and how it works with members of the local community to run sustainable projects.
Day 10 – Frank Mansell
First thing, a group of us went to see the eye surgery patients remove their bandages for the first time – a moving and amazing experience. We then got stuck into another day’s work. Sam H, Mr Kealy and I were tending the chicken house again, our favourite job! We were definitely getting skilled at this – all the hens fed and watered with only one egg broken!
Lunch consisted of the usual boiled egg, piece of chicken and samosa, with the leftovers going to Elizabeth for the orphanage children. Soon afterwards, I went back up to the orphanage to play with the children for the last time. At two o’clock, there was great excitement when Frederick turned up on the back of a motorbike with a live goat slung over his shoulders. Elizabeth said that this would be the orphans’ lunch on Thursday and Saturday. Frederick slaughtered it round the back of the kitchen with a loud and enthusiastic audience of children.
After another game of football (Shrewsbury + Orphanage 2: St Andrew’s Secondary School 1) we said our final goodbyes and made our way home. Ollie put up his drone to record the way home, and so we were followed by a large crowd of children staring at the enormous buzzing ‘mosquito’! When we returned, we had dinner for the last time and went out for a final gaze at the stars.
Overall, a wonderful day, and most importantly, a wonderful week at Kamuzu Academy – a week that none of us will ever forget!
Please click on the large image below to open and scroll through a gallery of photos from the trip.