I fell in love with Malawi

July 30, 2018 | Samantha, Specialization - International Development and Globalization and Additional Minor - Arabic Language and Culture, Malawi, Uniterra, Art and Global Health Centre Africa, Youth Leadership Officer

In less than 72 hours, I will have left Malawi. Wow, how quickly these three months have gone by. As I wrap up projects at work, say goodbye to friends and stress about how I am going to fit all the things I’ve accumulated into my suitcase, I can’t help but look back at these three months and think about how immensely grateful I am to have had this opportunity.

Malawi had never been on my radar and in fact, neither had this region in general. Although the international internship was one of many things that attracted me to uOttawa’s international development program, when I pictured myself going on one, it was always to Nepal or India, as I’ve mainly been interested in South Asia throughout my studies. However when the time finally came to apply, only one internship really stood out to me. It was with ArtGlo as a Youth Leadership Officer, in Malawi. Like I said, Malawi (or even Southern Africa) had never been on my mind but as I looked at the organization and their work with youth I definitely felt like that was where I needed to spend my summer living, working and learning. Spoiler alert: that was the position I ended up getting and I have not regretted it for one second.

One of the best things has been my internship itself. Art and Global Health Centre Africa (ArtGlo) uses participatory arts based approaches to health issues and I have found myself learning so much about HIV/AIDS prevention, program development, the trials and triumphs of funding raising for a small organization, theatre and a different approach to youth leadership than what I was used to back home. Speaking to youth engaged in ArtGlo’s programming about their dreams, talents, passions and strengths was so eye-opening for me and I am excited to continue to watch from afar and see what ArtGlo and it’s students will continue to do! And when people ask what I miss most about Malawi? My co-workers will be top of the list. Whether we were meeting to work out the next steps on a project, drinking tea on the porch in the mornings, dancing in the office on a Friday, laughing over chips and eggs, exchanging languages (French and Chichewa!), talking about music, driving and chatting during long days in the field or grabbing a drink after work, their energy, talent, humour and warm welcome is something I will never forget. Today we picnicked at the Botanical Gardens and had a staff talent show as my goodbye party and danced in the park; so fun, so ArtGlo.

Besides my work, I was surprised how quickly I fell in love with Malawi itself. From the beautiful landscapes to the colourful chitenge fabric to the economy based on relationships and connection with the people you buy from, to the kids who walked with me each day on my way to work, the culture, people and land of Malawi pulled me quickly. Specifically, the small and quiet town of Zomba has become a kind of second home, with it’s dominating plateau view and a community where you can’t leave your house without running into someone you know! I have definitely fallen in love with this place and the people I’ve met here. A few weeks ago, after a weekend visiting the capital, I found myself so excited to get “home” and I had such a feeling of peace and contentment when I first saw the Zomba plateau come into view! The first month I was here I really struggled with loneliness and some homesickness so it’s a bit of a relief and especially rewarding to now feel so connected and at home here.

As I leave this week with a now overflowing suitcase and a phone full of pictures and numbers of new friends, I know that from now on, Malawi will always be on my radar. And maybe someday, I will come back to this home again. Until then, I am excited to hug my loved ones, eat some food I’ve been missing and go for a long walk along the canal.

Canada, I’m coming for you!

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