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Diary of a Volunteer


About Diary of a Volunteer and about me
(and my thoughts of life in Malawi)

Diary of a Volunteer details, in a series of monthly newsletters and photographs, my experiences as a VSO Computer Trainer in Malawi, Africa, between 1995 and 1997.

Over two years of my life were spent living in an alien culture, and I wish to share that fulfilling (and sometimes frustrating) experience with you, here...

A Malawian (host) family,...
Rachel, Steve, tobacco!

Malawian village - team photo
Read my diary...

So yes, for two years, home was a small sub-saharan country in Africa, called Malawi. I lived and worked there as a volunteer Computer Trainer under the auspices of Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).

I arrived in Malawi on March 5th, 1995, full of self-importance:
I foolishly imagined being welcomed by Malawi's President,
Bakili Muluzi. Two years later, I considered the continuing
placement of volunteers in Malawi somewhat pointless(*)...

'The truth' lies somewhere in between; my reflections of that truth lie within this site.

Diary of a Volunteer is about what happened in between and what I think now, with the benefit of hindsight. A series of monthly newsletters written to friends and family, combined with photographs, poetry, and news clippings from Malawian newspapers - this site provides a thought-provoking insight into life in an alien culture

So what's in the website?

What's in the website? Answers to the questions:
  • So what is VSO?
  • What is volunteering?
  • Where is Malawi?
  • What was it like (for a European) to live in an African country for two years?

All of these questions will be answered in the following months as my site evolves and, month by month, an impression of my experiences builds. There are 21 months of stories (newsletters) corresponding to my experiences from April 1995 to Feb 1997. There are also photographs, personal letters, and links related to the main theme of the newsletter, as well as general links. In fact, there are all sorts of items (even a parallel news-item taken from the Daily Telegraph's archives)

(*) What I think now?

Now, in the New Millennium, whilst I question the long term benefits of development (and I mean long-term!), I think that VSO volunteering is one of the best ways of spending development money. Because it's local, and it's personal!

Steve Nash, Aug 2000.

So go ahead...
(and make your own mind up!)

So go ahead and take a browse at the latest Diary of a Volunteer

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About Me

Photo of Steve Nash

My name is Steve Nash.

I can't call myself beautiful, or poor, or even famous (though at times, in Malawi, I felt as famous as Michael Jackson). I'll let you discover just who I am from reading the Diary (and the poems and thoughts below). But if you want to know some background information read on.

Background information:
Born in Huddersfield (northern England), educated at Loughborough University, worked (mainly) in Bristol, and now living in Banbury (soon to be Barcelona!)

I am now trying to eke a modest living from the internet as a web publisher (writer, web designer and developer with 20 years IT experience - ahem!) via sites like TextMeFree.com and Self Help Collective...

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My Thoughts Now: AIDS

What do I know about AIDS ?

I never gave the disease that much thought before I lived in Malawi. But now, now I have known many to have died an AIDS-related death. AIDS is real, and particularly potent amongst people who are poorly educated or who refuse to change their sexual behaviour.

AIDS is a problem in Malawi, as it is in all of Africa (though Malawi is particularly badly affected). People are dying everyday. But Malawi is a very poor country, and people are going to die everyday, of malnutrition, of malaria, of tuberculosis (though this is also an AIDS-related disease)...

A major problem with the "AIDS-problem" in Malawi is that many Malawians believe it to be a myth. So despite the increasing number of deaths, of AIDS-related deaths, Malawians refuse to mention the possible cause, the A-word: AIDS. And unfortunately, many Malawian customs encourage un-safe sex.

As I said before, what do I know about AIDS? I can't help feeling, however, that Malawians are in denial (and who can blame them, I suppose); and many are in denial about what actions are necessary to curb this terrible blight on their population.

Only Malawians can change Malawian behaviour.

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My Thoughts Now: Begging

Everyone of us experiences begging. No matter which country we live in - developed, or developing - and it's usually an uncomfortable experience at best being confronted with someone much needier than yourself. So maybe my thoughts in September 1995 were a bit harsh, maybe these 'people' just can't improve their situation. Maybe there is no alternative for them, but begging. Maybe it's the responsibility of leaders to improve economic circumstances first, such that the need for begging diminishes. (Maybe there's nothing wrong with begging, anyway.)

All I can say now is that my memories of the constant begging are simply that: memories; part of the rich and unique experience that was living in Malawi. Now that the begging does not pervade my every waking moment (or at least that's what it felt like!), I can simply reflect on what was just a part of Malawi-life. My anger has gone (but I find it much easier not to give to beggars in my own country, now).


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My Thoughts Now: MALAWI

March 1996 - Reflections
Malawi is a developing country. Poverty, malnutrition, poor infrastructure, poor education, and an almost crippling dependence on aid - all are evident. The solutions to these problems continue to elude the best minds (though some might argue that the best minds don't actually want these problems solved!). My recent observations on education, in particular, offer no solutions - after all, who am I? - but they do reveal to me the extent of the problem.

In my experience, there seems to be a real inability to problem-solve; whether it's an elementary maths question, or the logistics of a road-accident, or just using Help in a software package. It's a symptom of an education based on rote-learning rather than on understanding and thinking for yourself. In my experience - admittedly I have a government job - there is little motivation to self-develop, to learn from others, to do anything that doesn't actually involve being paid "extra". This is a symptom of a the previous (life-) president punishing severely any that showed initiative. But whatever the cause, it is the educated - the elite - who this country must start to rely on, and not the aid agencies or ex-patriots or even volunteers. That is, if the country is ever to be anything other than a developing country.

As I said earlier, this is not just a country with problems, there are lots of lifestyle attitudes that I can learn from. I am enjoying my time here, but the more you see and hear of the disorganisation that exists in Malawi (and the corruption and greed of its politicians) the more you are forced to try and think of solutions, and then you are forced to realise that - for now - things are just not going to get better. People are going to continue to die, and people are going to turn increasingly more towards crime.

I still agree with these thoughts, really.

I still think that the solution to Malawi's problems - the trick,
the balancing act - is to provide aid without producing a
dependency on that aid. Thankfully, after over 30 years
dispensing aid, development agencies are beginning to
address this issue.

And obviously, you cannot ignore the role of ordinary Malawians
in making their country more prosperous and developed.

We shall see.

Steve Nash, 2000

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My Thoughts Now: CRIME

Everyone of us experiences crime. Whether it's being mugged in the street, or it's car-crime or burglary, or any of the multitude of crimes that make national crime-statistics scary reading. Unfortunately, though, when we experience crime abroad it always taints our view of the country it happened in (especially if your only experiences of crime occurred in that country).

The truth is, though, that crime in Malawi is not that widespread. It's getting worse admittedly, but the incidence of burglaries or muggings are really quite rare. I felt safe in Malawi, and suffered from a mugging because I took one too many risks (walking into town at night!). And as for crime in Zimbabwe, it's worse than Malawi (I imagine), but again we should have taken more care - the main bus station in Harare is renowned for its opportunistic crime.

Obviously, experiencing crime is unpleasant whether it's your fault or not. But, crime happens! And there are many city centres in England, at nighttime, that provoke much greater fear in me, that's for sure!

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Contact Me?

If you want to get in touch simply send me an email to the following email address

Thanks - enjoy reading my personal account of life as a VSO volunteer.

And If you're intersted in 'making a difference' or in 'thinking (and acting) differently about life' or even in embarking on an adventure then I highly recommend you consider VSO (or WUSC or Peace Corps or any other volunteer agency) - See the links page

Adios amigos

steve nash signature

PS Why not come check out my latest sites:
- SMNash.com
  (Coaching, connections, conversations...)
- SelfHelpCollective.com
  (Guru-free self-help site.)


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