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Diary of a Volunteer

About Malawi


What can I say about the country of Malawi? I can call it a beautiful country, a very poor country, a country famous for its friendly people - all these would be true. Look at the (brief) information contained on this site, visit the link sites, but better still - go and visit the country yourself...

What you'll find on this page about Malawi.

Information about Malawi:

  • Population
  • Economy
  • Geography  

and this page features some sample news-clippings
'borrowed' from local newspapers!


Map of Africa Map of Malawi
Africa Republic of Malawi

Malawi Population

11 million (and rising)

With a quarter of its total land mass taken up by its lakes, Malawi is one of the most densely populated countries in Africa. About 80% of people still live in the villages, with the remaining 20% in the larger urban areas of Blantyre, Lilongwe and Zomba. Indeed, Blantyre has an estimated 10% of the population alone.

Unlike many other African countries, it is difficult to travel any distance without seeing some evidence of human dwellings. One per cent of the population is non-European, coming from Asia or Europe.

Volunteers mingling with villagers
Who is more curious about whom?

Malawi Geography:

Malawi is one of the smaller African nations - some 900km long and between 80 and 160km wide. It neighbours Zambia to the west, Tanzania to the north, and Mozambique which curls round the eastern side of Malawi.

The dominant feature of Malawi is Lake Malawi, an enormous lake - 12th largest in the world, and 3rd largest in Africa - officially classified as an inland sea. The lake lies in the deep trough formed by the southern portion of the African Rift Valley as it runs through Malawi.

Mulanje Massif contains the highest peak in Malawi (3000m), and lies in the south-eastern corner of Malawi. Other high-lying areas include Zomba Plateau (2100m) in the south, and Nyika Plateau (2600m) in the north. The lowest point in Malawi - and probably the hottest - is the lower Shire Valley, which gets as low as only 37m above sea level (lower than the lake)

The tropical climate consists of 3 seasons: the hot-wet (November to April), cool-dry (May to August), and hot-dry (September to November). As with most weather patterns around the world, the seasons seem to come later and later each year. Temperatures vary from freezing (high altitudes) to 38oC (the lowest altitude).

Map of Malawi


Malawi Economy

Malawi's wide range of climactic conditions have lead to the development of such tropical and subtropical crops as maize, tobacco, sugar, cotton, groundnuts, timber, tea, coffee, rubber. The quality of tea and tobacco is world-class, and so these crops are the main ones used for export.

Tourism is another major earner of foreign exchange.

A vendor selling vegetables at Blantyre market
Much of the economy is based around subsistence farming


More Little Differences...

  • In UK it's a frail sunshine engulfed by a pervasive murky grey; whilst here in Malawi we have a vigorous gladiatorial sun: big, bright and burning!
  • In UK I'm just an ordinary bloke; but over here I'm this rich mzungu - gold-filled pockets, the finest clothes, the most exclusive of residences.
  • In UK it's 4 to a taxi; but in the squashed, squeezed, hurly-burly of Malawi it's always: "Room for 4 more!"
  • In UK you say "OK?" to a stranger, your reply is a cold suspicious silence; in The Warm Heart of Africa, a friendly greeting returns many happy retorts.


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Malawi NEWS

Date: July 1995

Thieves steal K42,000 worth of goods from MAP

Ten thieves on Tuesday night broke into the Malawi Against Polio's (MAP) workshop and got away with K42,000 worth of goods.

The thieves, who were armed with [machetes], knives, guns, and stones, tied up the guard before they broke into the general store.

After ransacking the general store, the thieves broke into the workshop where they took a grinding machine and other items.

One of the staff members, who is housed at the workshop, Mr. Hussein Manduwa, said, 'When we tried to come out of our houses, the thieves scared us off by throwing stones at us.'


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Malawi NEWS

Date: December 1995

The Chisupe concoction now forgotten ...

... can the Machakas cure or prevent AIDS?

An HIV/AIDS concoction is claimed to have been found by the union of Machakas at Blantyre's Misesa location with much divine intervention, the family says.

The drink is made from soaked roots from a tree only known for such administration by Mr. and Mrs. Shadreck and Eluby Machaka, as disclosed to them separately in their sleep by divine power.

For those who are only sceptical about their HIV status, one litre will be required while those who are really sick need to complete a dosage of five litres of this Machaka speciality.

On side effects, the Machakas said that they were told in their dreams that both the suspecting and the really sick 'kind of open bowels to clean up the system' after which their immunity is invigorated.

Mr. Machaka started getting visions of Bible revelations from three years ago. 'In my dreams I could hear a voice telling me to read Isaiah 33:2 which reads 'Lord, have mercy on us. We have put our hope in you. Protect us day by day in times of trouble'

While he was still reflecting on the visionary messages, divine power shifted approach to his wife who saw a woman, all in white from head to toe, telling her that she was chosen to bring delivery to all people suffering from AIDS and HIV-related illnesses.

After being reprimanded in another revelation for not taking heed and being covetous, they took steps to have their finding laboratory-tested for the people's safety, but to no avail.

Speaking from Soche Police Station where they had been going for advice on how to handle the matter, the Machakas believe it is high time they went ahead 'for divine power is bothered by the delay'.

Mr. Machaka said this on payment: 'People will give according to what they have or if they feel thus obliged.'


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Malawi NEWS

Date: March 1996

Villagers hampering government's efforts

Works Minister, Mponda Mkandawire, said in parliament Friday that villagers around the area where floods have damaged part of the main road to Mangochi were removing sand bags meant to control the water.

Mr. Mkandawire said the local community around the area were doing so because they wanted floods to continue as they got money in guiding motorists who wanted to pass through the kilometre stretch of road which is immersed in water.

He said the removal of materials meant to control the floods were hampering government's efforts to have the road to the tourist attraction area usable.

This reporter witnessed a villager demanding K50 from a motorist after the villager helped push the former's vehicle when the villager deliberately misguided the motorist to have his car stuck. After bargaining, the motorist paid K10 only.

Villagers who are also repairing the road voluntarily are forcefully demanding payment from motorists.


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Malawi NEWS

Date: April 1996

Poverty exacerbates the deforestation in Malawi

Susan 12, Mary 10 and Patuma 8 are girls often absent from free school as they engage themselves in the collection of firewood, and vending around trading centres.

Their family, circumscribed by poverty, has no other choice in generating family funds other than cutting down branches of trees to make ends meet.

Malawi has a deforestation rate of about 150,000 hectares per year, higher than in neighbouring countries Zambia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. This makes fetching firewood a difficult task.

The three girls, accompanied by their mother, spend about six hours in the bush to gather firewood. Normally, they leave before sun breaks out and without any bite, for distant indigenous forests. They eat once a day, mostly during evening hours.

The following day, Susan, Mary and Patuma have to assist their mother in carrying the pieces of wood to barter with maize flour and husks.

Like Susan, Mary and Patuna many intelligent girls are cramped by poverty form pursuing their studies...


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Malawi NEWS

Date: July 1996

Girls Fined for Loitering

Five girls were on Friday last week fined K50 each by the Soche Magistrate court for loitering around the streets of Blantyre City at an odd hour.

The five girls, aged between 16 and 20, were hauled into Blantyre police station under the rogue and vagabond charge. Second Grade Magistrate Ramsay Chamba meted out the fine.

The court heard that on July 10, constable Bunya arrested the five girls while on patrol at about 8.00 in the evening.

They all pleaded guilty and had nothing to say in court. Magistrate Chamba fined them K50 each or in default one month imprisonment. They all paid the fine.


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Malawi NEWS

Date: September 1996

Stop Promoting Condoms ...

Government should stop promoting the use of condoms as a preventative measure against AIDS if the country's eroded cultural values are to be reinstated by the year 2020.

This observation was made by over 65 religious leaders in Mzimba Thursday during their meeting with some Vision 2020 core members.

They said government was promoting promiscuity by encouraging the use of condoms instead of appealing to married people to remain faithful to their partners and unmarried ones to abstain from sexual relationships until marriage.

The leaders also condemned the wearing of trousers by women which they said was not in line with Malawi's cultural values.

Turning to their vision on development, they said all pastors' houses should have a phone which would be useful in times of emergencies like funerals. They said many of their dead members were being buried without church services because in most cases, it had been difficult to inform pastors of the deaths.


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Malawi NEWS

Date: November 1996


Chileka residents last Saturday joined the current spate of mob justice that has gripped the country when they set ablaze a man police and onlookers only identified as Adamson.

According to Alfred Moffat, who witnessed the incident, Adamson broke into a chicken kraal belonging to Mr. Mbewe at 10pm and stole one chicken.

When Mbewe heard noises from the kraal he shouted for help and his neighbours came quickly to his aid. They managed to corner Adamson.

The mob did not hesitate emit a dose of justice on the spot. Adamson was savagely beaten unconscious before being set ablaze.

When Chileka Police Station was informed about the incident, they ordered the burial of the remains of Adamson. Chileka Police confirmed the incident and added that Adamson was a well known thief in the area.

This system [of justice] started last year and the general public cited that torching system was the best solution available to township residents caught up in a flurry of heightened criminal activity.

People claim that thieves handed over to the police do not stay long in police custody. 'When you hand over a thief to the police, and you go home, you find that the thief is already home, free before his captor reaches home,' said a Chileka resident when asked to comment.


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Malawi NEWS

Date: February 1997


Dear Editor,
Not long ago, the Government of Japan donated over a hundred ambulances equipped with all the necessary facilities for the job. The Honourable Minister of Health and Population, in many cases publicly presented these ambulances to hospitals or health centres in person. I recall that there was jubilation and great happiness at most of these occasions.

Countries like Japan are friends to Malawi and the donation of ambulances and other such vehicles cannot go without the country pronouncing its most sincere gratitude.

But there is one thing that's worrying a lot of people. There was in one of the Lilongwe garages two of these ambulances being serviced. The external body looked intact and still beautiful, but it was shocking to see that the seats inside are damaged. The seat covers are torn to shreds and the floor very dirty.

The outside rear view mirrors were broken. It was unbelievable considering one of the ambulances was hardly ten months old and had been handed over for field work hardly six months before being towed to the garage for maintenance.

There are some conclusions to make from this. The people entrusted to look after the ambulances are unfortunately not doing their work. The drivers may not be taking care of these vehicles by perhaps allowing passengers - sick or otherwise - to sit anyhow and carry and luggage including firewood.

People using these vehicles do not really seem to care. Why? One may ask. Malawians have now somewhat grown careless and [are] not really taking care of what has been given to them even if it is for their own benefit.

Foreign countries who are friendly to Malawi donate some of these equipments like ambulances not because we are poor but because they believe Malawi would look after them. It is, therefore, an appeal to all of us that the state of ambulances seen at a servicing garage in Lilongwe should not be the rule but an exception.


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Diary of a VSO volunteer living in Malawi, Africa -- www.snash.org/doav/

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