During the summer, St Andrews explorer scouts Kirsty Smyth and Tamara Levy travelled to the south of Malawi for five weeks with 35 other explorer scouts from all over Scotland as part of New Horizons 2011. This is their report.
‘‘During our time there we lived in tents and carried out a variety of construction projects on the campsite alongside the Malawian scouts who were staying with us.
The key purpose of the expedition was to complete and hand over a maize mill for which scouts all over Scotland had been fundraising over the past year. This will help to generate an income for the Malawians and go some way to helping the Malawian Scout Association become more independent.
While we were there our other aim was to work alongside local Malawians to renovate the campsite. The improved facilities mean that the site is more attractive for other international scouts to come and visit, hence boosting the local economy. It also means there is a place for leadership courses to take place.
Prior to the trip, a lot of hard work and dedication was required. Initially we felt overwhelmed by the amount we had to fund-raise in order to cover materials and travel expenses, however through organising a variety of events (such a bingo night, a ceilidh, cake sales and numerous supermarket bag-packs) and eventually achieved our goal with pride. We also had to attend a number of training camps where we learnt tricks of the trade such as wall building, key survival skills essential for life in Africa (such as beastie handling and first aid) and also made really close friends with other members of the team.
After a hectic journey, passing through six countries and lasting the best part of three days we arrived at our destination tired, apprehensive but extremely excited and ready to start a new life for a month.
On arrival, we began site work straight away working together in small teams. Each team had three days on each project and then on base camp. During our stay we built a toilet block which involved digging foundations, brick-laying, plastering and plumbing; installed a water tank and dug pipe lines around the campsite in order to connect the new water supply; put up bamboo flag poles; renovated the site chapel; put up a ceiling in the “Commissioner’s House”- a bunk house used for leader weekends - and put a roof on the external kitchen which is used to cater when there are visitors on camp (although not for us as we cooked on an open fire). Putting up the roof involved cutting down bamboo to make our own scaffolding
Life at camp was not easy but, after a month there, it certainly felt like home. We lived on a basic diet of porridge and bread for breakfast, tinned meat rolls for lunch and either a rice or potato dish for dinner. The trip involved trying a lot of new foods such as nsima; a warm doughy mush, which Malawians eat every day. When chicken was on the menu, 14 live birds were taken on camp and slaughtered as this was the only way to ensure that meat was fresh.
All meals were cooked on an open fire by base camp team. While on base camp, you also had to clean the site, wash clothes (by hand) and go to the local market in Zomba to haggle for food.
By the end of our time there, the toilets had been installed. But, at the very beginning, half the camp had to use long-drops as there were not enough facilities for everyone to use.
When visiting the toilets it was important to check for bugs and beasties as snakes, spiders and scorpions were possible. The showers were freezing cold and often didn’t work. However, despite these hardships (and possibly even because of them) we all grew really fond of the site and many of us felt “homesick” for it once we had gone.
We spent a lot of time with local Malawians. We taught them card-games, while they taught us how to play traditional Malawian games such as Boa. We also arranged Scotland versus Malawi” football matches and a massive “fun weekend” where 100 Malawians of all ages came and camped on site and we held a Malawian Highland Games and a ceilidh.
We also had the opportunity to see some Malawian wildlife when we went to Mvuu National Park, and to view the stunning scenery during a hike up the Zomba Plateau.
The trip was amazing! It has not only been great for each of us, but also for the numerous Malawian scouts who have benefited from our work.
‘We really want to thank those who helped and supported us in our fundraising efforts as we couldn’t have done it alone.’’