Giving back

Two primary school teachers share their personal experiences of volunteering in Malawi

Carly Williams and Sarah Smith, both primary teachers at Jumeirah Primary School in Dubai, embarked on a two week trip to Malawi last July. Their objective was to deliver teacher training to 20 teachers all linked to schools through the UK charity Inspire Malawi.

“Malawi is situated just south of the East African Rift Valley and is one of the poorest countries in the world. As with many developing nations, progress is slow and costly and many schools in Malawi struggle to meet the needs of every child due to overcrowding and poor facilities.

Any apprehensions we had before leaving were immediately dispelled almost the minute we landed. We arrived in a beautiful, lush green country where the people could not be friendlier. The sunsets and sunrises were some of the prettiest we have seen anywhere in the world.

Michelle Rowe, the founder of Inspire Malawi was kind enough to let us stay in her beautiful yet basic cottage in the village of Mlanda, a two-hour drive from the capital Lilongwe. This is a village where you can hear the echoes of church goers singing, roosters clucking and can enjoy the clearest of days with sun constantly splitting the sky (well luckily for us it did…).
We spent time at the cottage finalising our planning before heading to Theke Primary School. This school is in the early stages of development, with construction work taking place to build two new classrooms and a well to provide fresh, clean water. All of this is being funded through Inspire Malawi and it is clear the community are extremely grateful for us and all the work Michelle does.

Carly Williams with the head teacher of the Jumeirah Primary funded school in Malawi

We realised early on that practical, hands-on activities that could be translated into the local language Chichewa were going to provide the most benefit for teachers. Class sizes can exceed 70 students, and with little and often no resources, it was important to feel confident that we were demonstrating ideas that could be applied and used.

We conducted three afternoon sessions, the first being Maths, second English and third, drama and games and…. we had fun! Getting the teachers to physically play the games with us really helped them to understand and embed the ideas, whilst we were able to get a true grasp of their capabilities, their needs and what to work on next.

Particular highlights included the many counting games we did in groups using resources such as bead strings, skipping ropes and number cards. Also, phonics training where we used actions and movements to decipher the sound of the letters, and finally drama games where a mixture of English language, action and vocal games were played.

Charity in action

Charities Inspire Malawi and Build On are funding the construction of new schools

One area we felt worked particularly well (and from the feedback we received) was having relevant, physical resources to not only donate to the schools, but to demonstrate how they could be used. We were lucky enough to have lots of help from Jumeirah Primary School. Organising these resources took many weeks of work by a team of JPS volunteers who offered their own time to print, cut, laminate and sort so each of the three schools could have their own resource packs. Our own PTA also helped us along the way with some school resources, which, along with kind donations of resources from Findel Education resulted in a considerable 65kg of resources for classes in sports, Maths and English (we had to speak very kindly to the Emirates airline staff!).

All in all, we were blown away by the whole experience from start to finish. Before we arrived, I wondered “Will this be useful?” and “Do they need help?” or “Are we pitching correctly?” and the answer to all of these was a resounding yes. We could not have met more open, willing and appreciative people. Just by being there and showing you care with the simplest of things made it all worth it.

Volunteer teachers from Dubai, Sarah Smith (left) and Carly Williams

During our trip, we managed to make a visit to our very own GEMS Jumeirah Primary School ‘spring fair’ funded school so that we could provide feedback to parents and staff in Dubai about how and where their fundraising efforts are going, which we were delighted to be able to do. It was surreal to see the GEMS Jumeirah Primary plaque above the door of the school. Our safari trip and visit to Lake Maclear was also unmissable and was an amazing opportunity to see a beautiful country. Seeing how far even a small amount of fundraising money can go is extremely humbling. And working with individuals like Michelle from Inspire Malawi who made our trip happen, along with the help from our JPS community, was unbelievably heartwarming.

It has really motivated us to encourage schools across the UK and Dubai to donate to this small but hugely impactful charity. Without sounding too dramatic, we genuinely saw lives and communities changing because of charities such as Inspire Malawi and Dubai Cares and it was a true privilege to be part of it.