Working Away at Matandani

As we have travelled through Zambia and Malawi, we have mostly camped at a variety of schools — Primary, secondary, government-funded, and private. Most have shared a few common traits:

  1. Extreme hospitality to two road-worn cyclists looking for a place to pitch their tent
  2. Generosity to share what limited resources they can (locked classroom, water, toilet),
  3. Lack of teaching resources due to insufficient government and/or community funding
  4. Classrooms averaging 60-100 students per teacher.

Along the way, we have brainstormed ways to give our our thanks to the schools that have offered us safety and shelter. We were even asked to give recommendations on where family/friends could donate (great idea Katherine!). Our dilemma with giving money was having someone to give it to, and knowing that the money is spent in the right way. Would we send the money remotely or deliver it personally? How would we know how it was spent? If there has been one thing we’ve learned, it’s that giving a money to an individual may make that person’s day, but it creates an expectation of hand-outs and doesn’t lead to sustainable change.

We were thrilled when our friend Andy, who has spent the past three years traveling to Malawi to rehabilitate a government school, mentioned that he often takes volunteers. We took it as an opportunity to give back, but it has also given us the opportunity to develop our ideas on volunteering, donations and sustainability. Andy has chosen to work with a government school, because they do receive a small amount of regular funding. He is hoping the changes he brings (running tap water, flushing toilets, new classrooms, desks, sporting fields, etc.) will be maintained after he leaves by the committed staff he has built relationships with. He has personally fundraised and been able to bring in additional grants and donations, and has even paired the school with an iPad project supported by the Royal Norwegian Embassy, UNICEF and VSO. However, there is still a lot of work to be done at Matandani school. Andy is currently seeking funding to finish a block of new classrooms to bring 120+ class sizes down to 60. He would also like the school to have a storage area (right now a classroom has been converted for storage while the other classrooms are being built, which meant two 120 students classes are combined in one room). We feel comfortable giving a donation to someone who we know will spend the money responsibly (we’ve seen his bartering skills) and give updates on progress.  We have supported the school with a donation. If you would like to do the same, he has a donation button on the school’s website:

This is what 240 students in one classroom looks like!

Alternatively, you can also apply to volunteer with the school in a variety of manners (teaching, construction, etc.) Over the past week, we have helped build the football pitch (with international standard sized goalposts and nets), painted/organized a teachers resource room, worked on the website, assisted in the iPad classroom (Olivia also painted a beautiful picture for the children to enjoy in the resource centre that houses the iPads).

There are always lots of projects needing assistance. Not only is it free to volunteer (often volunteering comes with a fee attached), but Andy pairs volunteers with tasks that compliment individual skills/talents. If you have any interest in learning more about volunteering at Matandani, here is the link to the “Work Away” website.

As rewarding as it’s been to volunteer with Andy, and be spoilt by his kitchen facilities, shower and a comfortable bed, it’s time for us to continue our journey and get back on the bikes. We’re heading off tomorrow – our sights set on crossing Mozambique into Zimbabwe. We know it is going to be a tough stretch with days getting extremely hot in October across the region. We even heard the area we are cycling through in Mozambique is referred to as the devil’s armpit because of how hot it gets this time of year. Fingers crossed for a tailwind and a few clouds!

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