Wow! I feel so out of touch after being offline for nearly a month except for the occasional Montage Monday posting. Frankly, internet hasn’t gotten much better but I was excited to share with you about my latest volunteer post. I spent 25 wonderful days in Malawi, well nearly wonderful (ahem, Ilala Ferry ride). The first two weeks I was volunteering with the Back to School Foundation in Monkey Bay on Lake Malawi. It is a fantastic organization focusing on secondary education, and I only wish I had more time to spend there.
The Foundation’s Beginnings
Birgit Albers is the founder and manager at the Back to School Foundation. The foundation sponsors young adults to go to secondary school and has a free tutoring center open to anyone in Monkey Bay in secondary school, whether they are sponsored or not. Birgit was traveling in Malawi about 8 years ago when she landed in Monkey Bay. A young man offered to show her around the area. At the end of the week, Birgit wanted to pay him for his guide services, however she didn’t want to give him cash that he may likely turn around and spend on beer. So Birgit offered to buy him something, under the assumption that he may want clothes or a new pair of shoes. Instead, he told her that he wanted to finish secondary school (it is not free in Malawi). The next day Birgit walked with him to the school and paid his fees. Not even a day later, she had kids lined up at her hostel wanting her to pay their school fees. While she couldn’t afford to educate the entire population in Monkey Bay, she took photos of the kids and young adults and went back to Australia to search for sponsors. Hence, the beginnings of the Back to School Foundation.
The tutoring center is run by volunteers. I tutored Math and English, while two others tutored Physical Science, Biology, Math, and English. Oddly enough, I only tutored boys the entire time I was there, but it was a lot of fun. There was Chikondi (whose name means love), a 23 year old who came everyday to study. There was Frank, who although failing his first term math test, was dedicated to improving, and did much better on his second term test. Coming to the center is obviously up to the individual, so most of the students there have come because they desire to do well in school and get an education. Many of the kids do not have books of their own, so they are also able to make use of BTSF’s library to study. I did a little bit of work in the organic garden, but there were two volunteers working in it full time. The vegetables are either sold to locals, providing a small profit for the foundation, or picked by the volunteers for meals. If you are looking to volunteer in Africa, this is an excellent place to end up. The foundation provides free accommodation and volunteer work, and all you need to pay for is food. The hours are 8-12pm and 2-5pm during weekdays. Birgit is also very helpful at arranging weekend trips if you are interested in seeing other parts of the country.
About the Students
I had a wonderful time tutoring the kids and young adults and learning more about their lives in Malawi. At any given time there might be 20 students at the center getting help. Since some kids go to school in the morning and others go in the afternoon, there are students at the center throughout the day. There are different types of secondary school, and some students only go to school for 3 hours a day. Their classes may have 70-100 kids in them. The foundation’s impact on the community is impressive to say the least. As most of you know, I feel very strongly towards education and can’t say enough good things about BTSF.
If you can’t make it to Malawi as a volunteer, please consider making a small donation to the cause. You can sponsor a child’s secondary education for $180 Australian dollars per year. If it sounds a bit out of your budget, find a few neighbors or friends and sponsor a child together. Have a yard sale or host a pasta dinner for your neighborhood. The donations are going directly to these kids that need it. The money isn’t a handout. It’s providing a high school diploma so that these kids have a chance at a future and becoming self-sufficient. There are employees that maintain the foundation’s grounds and the tutoring center, however Birgit takes no pay. She goes home for 4 months every year to work so she can afford to dedicate her time to these kids in Malawi. I have yet to volunteer at a place where a director didn’t take any pay. I can attest that this is a cause well worth the donation!
Note: The Back to School Foundation has since had to close its doors after a very unfortunate incident. It was a truly amazing project and such an inspiring place.