Frequently Asked Questions
Living at Mwaya Beach, Home of Ripple Africa
How do I get to Mwaya Beach?
You will find complete instructions in the document entitled Getting to Mwaya Beach. This document is also part of the Volunteer Handbook which will be sent to you with your placement offer.
How much does it cost to live at Mwaya Beach?
There is a guide to typical costs in the Additional Costs section on the Costs to Volunteer page. There are also further details in the Volunteer Handbook which will be sent to you with your placement offer.
What clothing do I need to bring?
A suggested packing list is included in the Volunteer Handbook which will be sent to you with your placement offer.
Can I drink the water at Mwaya Beach?
Yes, you can drink the water as it comes from a borehole. There is no need to bring water purifying tablets.
Where do I buy my food?
Normally, the volunteers have a “kitty” and most basic food can be bought locally, i.e. fruit, vegetables, bread, drinks. There is a supermarket in Chintheche (25km away) where you can buy breakfast cereals, etc. Your ‘big shop’ will be in Mzuzu where there are a variety of different food shops, pharmacies, etc.
Can I swim in the lake?
The short answer is ‘yes’ with some degree of caution.
People are often worried about bilharzia (schistosomiasis) and, although this is present in most African freshwater lakes, it is normally found where there are reeds, water snails, slow-moving water and people. At Mwaya, there are no reeds and there is good wave action and, to our knowledge, none of our volunteers have contracted bilharzia.
However, there are crocodiles and hippos in some of the rivers and these are occasionally washed into the lake during the rainy season (we have seen them off the beach several times in recent years). We do advise volunteers not to swim between 6pm and 6am because crocodiles are at their most active at night, and we strongly recommend volunteers to be very careful if they go swimming in the lake during the rainy season. Our local staff will be able to tell you if crocodiles or hippos have been seen so ask them before you go into the lake to be on the safe side!
How many volunteer opportunities in Africa are there? How many volunteers will be staying at Mwaya Beach, and what ages and gender?
There are usually between two and eight volunteers at Mwaya at any one time. Our volunteer opportunities in Africa are normally aimed at graduates, but we recruit various people who are dedicated to helping the local community and who we feel have suitable abilities. We welcome volunteers of all ages from 23 to 60+ years old – you are never too old to have an adventure! The majority of our volunteers are female, but the number of male volunteers is increasing, and there have been some couples who have volunteered.
What is the accommodation like and is it shared?
There are five volunteer chalets which are large (7m by 5m), light, airy and comfortable. Each one can sleep up to two or three people. Beds, bed linen (pillowcases and sheets), pillows, blankets, and mosquito nets are provided. Normally, you will either have a chalet to yourself or share with one other person. However, at busy times there may be three people to a chalet. There is a toilet and shower block with two showers and three flushing toilets, a kitchen and storeroom, complete with a fridge, and a large covered meeting area and deck overlooking the lake.
Do tourists stay at Mwaya Beach as well?
Although we have volunteer opportunities in Africa we also have some visitor accommodation too. Occasionally tourists may stay at Mwaya Beach if there’s room. We have two chalets for short stays and guests in addition to the volunteers’ chalets, and we also have three cottages at a nearby property called Lowani Beach where visitors may also stay. We charge US$30 per person per night (paid prior to arrival) for accommodation in the chalets and cottages (if available), which includes food and soft drinks. We are not actively trying to attract tourists – our main focus is to provide a good base for our volunteers.
Can my family and friends stay at Mwaya Beach?
Yes, they can as long as there is enough room (see paragraph above). The charges are as follows:
We charge US$30 per person per night (paid prior to arrival) for accommodation in the chalets and cottages (if available), which includes food and soft drinks.
Returning volunteers coming as visitors, or volunteers working in other parts of Malawi US$10 per person per night (subject to availability), and pay MK8,000 per person per day for food and drink.
The charges above and all money from visitors is paid into the Ripple Africa running expenses fund.
Who runs Mwaya Beach?
Morton (Mwaya Manager) and Dan (Volunteer Projects Manager) manage all the staff, assist the volunteers, and deal with day-to-day issues.
What is the climate like?
Please read The Seasons section on the Malawi Facts and Figures page.
How safe is it in Malawi and at Mwaya?
Malawi is pretty safe and its people are some of the friendliest you are likely to meet in Africa. Our volunteers say that they haven’t been worried about walking around locally after dark and, because of the work Ripple Africa and the volunteers are doing for the community, the locals seem to be very protective of those staying at Mwaya Beach. It is a great place if you are looking for a volunteer opportunity in Africa however, as with any country in the world, you do have to be careful as the cities and towns in Malawi have their fair share of con artists and thieves, and our advice is to be sensible about carrying money and valuables, as you would be in cities in the West. Matete also has several bars and we would advise that you do not visit these or wander around too much after dark to avoid any potential issues. It is important to bear in mind that Malawi is in the top 10 of the world’s poorest countries and, although US$1 is not a fortune to us, it is the average daily wage for a Malawian — if they’re lucky enough to have a job. This being said, we’ve never felt threatened by anyone in Mzuzu or Lilongwe — there’s just the annoyance of people coming up and trying to sell you anything from wood carvings to windscreen wipers!
Is there electricity at Mwaya Beach?
There is now mains electricity at Mwaya Beach but Escom, the electricity provider, is not too reliable and there are frequent outages. There is limited solar power in the office and to run the fridge in the kitchen storeroom. We use paraffin lanterns at night and cook on a wood-burning stove. If you bring phone or computer chargers, a normal UK plug will work in the chalets.
Will I have any free or leisure time?
Yes, you will have plenty of free time, and you can enjoy the beach, swimming, reading, playing games with local children, and other simple pastimes. There are some wonderful walks in the area, and you can visit Kande Beach where you can mix with overland tourists and have a beer, or stay at Mayoka Village in Nkhata Bay and enjoy their Friday night Meat Feast barbeque.
What are the major health risks with volunteer opportunities in Africa?
The most significant health risk is malaria. It is essential that all volunteers take malaria prophylaxis — please speak to your doctor about this. We recommend that every late afternoon, you spray on an insect repellent and/or wear long trousers, long-sleeved shirts, etc. All of the beds have mosquito nets which are treated with an insecticide twice a year. Bilharzia (schistosomiasis), which is easily treatable, is present in Lake Malawi, but to our knowledge none of our previous volunteers who have swum regularly in the lake have contracted the disease. Rabies is also present in Malawi, and we advise all volunteers to have rabies vaccinations if possible. Full details about recommended vaccinations and a list of suggested medicines to bring with you are in the Volunteer Handbook, which will be sent to you with your placement offer.
Is there a hospital nearby?
There is the Community Dispensary at Mwaya, and Health Centres at Kachere (7km to the south) and Kande (7km to the north), but it is unlikely that they would be able to help in an emergency. We recommend our volunteers are taken either to Matiki hospital which is on the Illovo sugar estate at Dwangwa, about 100km south of Mwaya (about an hour’s drive) or to St John’s Hospital in Mzuzu (about 1½ hours’ drive). They are both well-equipped facilities with qualified doctors, clinical officers, and trained nurses. There is also a private hospital in Nkhata Bay. Although you will have to pay for any tests or treatments, the sums involved are very reasonable compared to private hospitals in the West.
What medicines would you recommend me to take to Malawi?
As previously mentioned, definitely your malaria prophylaxis. We have found that taking a broad spectrum antibiotic, like ciprofloxacin, is also very useful for treating serious diarrhoea and vomiting. It is wise to have some rehydration salts — these are essential should you have an upset stomach. Tincture of iodine or an iodine-based antiseptic cream (e.g. Betadine ointment) is invaluable for treating wounds and sores, plus an antibiotic cream. Take wound dressings, and it’s always useful to have your own First Aid kit. There is a pharmacy in Mzuzu and several in Lilongwe where you can buy most medicines that you are likely to require. However, we strongly advise you to consult your doctor before travelling. Full details about recommended vaccinations and a list of suggested medicines to bring with you are in the Volunteer Handbook, which will be sent to you with your placement offer.
What money should I take with me?
We would recommend that you take American dollars (and British pounds if you are coming from the UK) as these are easily exchanged at any Bank. Take US$50 notes and some US$10 notes — these can always be used for paying for safaris, visas, and any other Lodge accommodation. Do not take US$100 notes as no one will change them because there are so many fake notes circulating in Africa. We do not recommend that our volunteers take Travellers’ Cheques as they are difficult to exchange, and there is sometimes a limit to the amount that can be changed at one time. Please note that, if you do take Travellers’ Cheques, you will be required to produce the original copy of your receipt when cashing them at a Bank.
Can I obtain cash with my credit card?
Yes, there are ATMs in Lilongwe and Mzuzu, but there is not an ATM that accepts foreign credit/debit cards in Nkhata Bay.
Can I change money on arrival?
You will not be able to obtain any Malawi kwacha before you arrive, but you can change money at the airport and there are often moneychangers at the border crossings. It is a good idea to be aware of the exchange rate before you get to Malawi.
The Charity, Volunteer Fees, and Donations
Is the charity registered?
Yes, Ripple Africa in the UK is registered with the Charity Commission of England and Wales, registration number 1103256, and with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR), registration number SC043082. Ripple Africa, Inc. in the USA is also registered as a 501(c)3, and the EIN is 26-2059213.
How should volunteer fees and donations be paid?
In the e-mail with your placement offer, there will be a link to a payment page on our website where you will be able to pay your volunteer fees online with a debit or credit card. Donations can be made online via the Ripple Africa website by clicking on the Donate button at the top of each page.
Volunteer fees and donations can also be paid by Bank Giro Credit or online by direct bank transfer into our Bank account, and Ripple Africa’s Bank account details can be found on the Donation Form. Payments by cheque (made payable to ‘Ripple Africa’) can be made by prior arrangement. Please note that we have to pay Bank charges of up to GB£8 per payment for all foreign cheques and transfers, so ideally if you are fundraising it is best to bank the money yourself and pay us the full amount using our online payment page.
Can I bring books for the children?
Your luggage weight allowance will limit what you can bring. However, the children love learning about their country and Africa in general so any fiction where the central characters are Africans will be a great hit. There are some bookshops in Mzuzu and Lilongwe which sell books like this, so it may be best to bring some money with you and buy the books in Malawi. Although many people have collected lots of things for the community at Mwaya, the difficult part is to deliver them because postage/shipping is incredibly expensive. Our best advice is that the most useful contribution you can make would be to provide cash to help with all the projects we are constantly becoming involved with, for example constructing school buildings, developing the environmental projects, etc.
Can I bring prizes and gifts for the children?
Everyone at Mwaya has so little that singling out certain people, adults or children, to give things to is very difficult. It is sometimes useful to bring things that can be used by groups of people, for example a football. Sometimes the students who are keen and come for extra lessons at Mwaya Beach may be given a small item, for example a pen. If you gave gifts out at school, you would probably be mobbed. The best thing you can give the children is your time, energy, and enthusiasm.
What should I bring?
A suggested packing list is included in the Volunteer Handbook which will be sent to you with your placement offer.
Where can I e-mail/telephone from?
There is limited internet access at Mwaya Beach using a mobile internet connection for which you will need a mobile internet enabled Airtel SIM card. More detailed information about this is given in the Volunteer Handbook which will be sent to you with your placement offer. There is a satellite internet connection at Kande Beach. There is an internet cafe in Chintheche, a couple in Nkhata Bay, about two or three in Mzuzu (100km away), and there are also a number in Lilongwe. There are telephones in Mzuzu and Lilongwe, but the closest telephone for you to use is at Kande Beach which is about 10km away, although this doesn’t always work. Because we now have mobile phone reception at Mwaya Beach, we strongly advise you to bring your own mobile phone with you (make sure it is “unlocked” and can be used on any network) and buy an Airtel SIM card at Lilongwe Airport when you arrive or in Lilongwe. You can then purchase phone credits which can also be used for calls or to purchase data to allow you to access the internet. Top up vouchers are available to buy locally in Matete, Kande, and Kachere.
Can I send and receive letters at Mwaya?
Letters can be sent and collected from the Post Office in Chintheche (25km away) where we have a PO Box. Family and friends sending letters to you need to be addressed as follows:
c/o Ripple Africa
P O Box 75
Nkhata Bay District
However, please be aware that letters and parcels can take between two weeks and three months to arrive! And some letters and parcels never arrive at all.
How do I travel around in Malawi?
You will walk or cycle locally, but should you wish to travel further afield there are either buses, minibuses, or local taxis. It costs about GB£6 (US$10) to travel to Mzuzu and back.
What are the ages of the children at the pre-schools?
The children at the pre-schools are from two years old up to six years old, after which they will move into Standard 1 at their nearest primary school.
Volunteer opportunities in Africa – what will I be helping with?
The emphasis is on teaching the children the alphabet, numbers, how to count, and how to write using games, songs, and rhymes. You will assist the pre-school teachers who have had training from previous volunteers, and they will welcome any new ideas you may be able to give them. Helping at the pre-schools is truly inspiring and great fun! Please read the section about Pre-schools in the document called Information for Teaching Volunteers for more information.
How many children attend the pre-schools?
The number of children attending each pre-school can be up to 70 every day. The introduction of the sweet potato project is encouraging more children to come to school as they are given tea to drink and sweet potatoes to eat.
What else can I do at the pre-schools?
The pre-school teachers are always keen to learn new things from the volunteers, so you could run some teacher training classes at Mwaya Beach on Saturday mornings. Also, volunteers have bought paint (which is very expensive) and decorated the walls at some of the pre-schools.
Mwaya Primary School and Other Local Primary Schools
What are the ages of the children at the school?
All the local primary schools in the area (Mwaya, Mazembe, Matete, Kachere, Chiomba, and Kasando) have eight forms, called Standards. The children start in Standard 1 at six years old and progress through the school to Standard 8, where they should be aged 12 to 13 years old. However, they do not progress automatically each year because they have to re-take the year if they do not pass their end-of-year exams. Consequently, some pupils can be 17 or 18 years old in Standards 6, 7 or 8. Please read the section about Primary Schools in the document called Information for Teaching Volunteers for more details.
Volunteer opportunities in Africa – Which students will I be assisting?
Our volunteers normally teach Standards 5 to 8. All lessons are meant to be taught in English from Standard 5 upwards, although the children are not fluent which can make it difficult for volunteers. Please read the section about Primary Schools in the document called Information for Teaching Volunteers for more details.
Volunteer opportunities in Africa – Which subjects can I help with?
You will be expected to assist the teachers with English and maths, and possibly science, geography, and social studies. The curriculum is set by the Malawi government and the teachers stick to it fairly rigidly, but it might be an idea to bring a few books with you as extra resource material. Please read the section about Primary Schools in the document called Information for Teaching Volunteers for more details.
What size are the classes?
The number of children attending the local primary schools can be anywhere between 450 to in excess of 1,000, and there are usually between 70 and 180 children per class. However, not everybody attends school every day, and a normal size class will be 60 to 80 pupils. Now that Ripple Africa pays for additional Malawian trainee teachers at three of the primary schools, the headteachers have been able to split some year groups into two classes which has reduced the number of children in each class. Please read the section about Primary Schools in the document called Information for Teaching Volunteers for more details.
Volunteer opportunities in Africa – Can volunteers become involved in other areas?
We have had volunteers who have gone out to Malawi to work in the primary schools and have found that they are better suited to assisting at the Health Centre. We have also had healthcare assistants who have taught at the school as well. The important thing is for both the community and the volunteers to benefit from the experience.
Kapanda Secondary School and Other Secondary Schools
What are the ages of the students at the school?
The students should start secondary school at 13 or 14 years old, but they can often be older if they have re-taken their Primary School Leaving Certificate exams a few times. Please read the section about Kapanda Secondary School in the document called Information for Teaching Volunteers for more details.
Volunteer opportunities in Africa – Which students will I be assisting?
Our volunteers normally assist with all four Forms. All lessons are taught in English, although the students may not be as fluent as they should be. Please read the section about Kapanda Secondary School in the document called Information for Teaching Volunteers for more details.
Volunteer opportunities in Africa – Which subjects can I help with?
The most useful subjects to teach are English, maths, and science (physics, chemistry, and biology). Generally, the standard of maths in Malawi is very poor, so any help with this subject in particular would pay dividends.
What size are the classes?
The average number of students in each Form is 50, much lower than at the primary schools. There are a comparatively high number of Malawian teachers at Kapanda so it may be possible to split the Forms for certain subjects. Please read the section about Kapanda Secondary School in the document called Information for Teaching Volunteers for more details.
Volunteer opportunities in Africa – How else can volunteers help?
A few volunteers have run training courses for secondary school teachers, especially in maths and the science subjects. We have found the best way to do this is to arrange with the headteacher to run the course at the school so the teachers don’t have to travel to attend.
Mwaya Community Dispensary and Kachere Health Centre
Can I bring medical supplies with me for the health centre?
Yes, you can, but we would suggest bringing a fairly small quantity which you can include within your luggage weight allowance. However, please remember that, with potentially 8,000 patients served by Mwaya Community Dispensary and 13,000 by Kachere Health Centre, anything you bring with you will be a drop in the ocean.
Volunteer opportunities in Africa – What will I be doing at the Dispensary and Health Centre?
This depends on whether you are a doctor, nurse, medical student, or physiotherapist. We suggest that you read the documents called Information for Volunteer Nurses and Midwives, Information for Volunteer Doctors and Information for Volunteer Physiotherapists for more information.
Is there a translator at the Dispensary and Health Centre?
Yes, there will be someone to help with translation. Please ask for this service when you arrive at the Dispensary or Health Centre.
What is the local attitude to women?
In Africa, society is generally very male dominated, and women are generally regarded as second-class citizens. Women tend to work very hard at cooking, working in the fields, and bringing up the family and some run their own businesses and hold quite senior positions in the community, but they are in the minority. Men usually are the business people but many men in our area are without employment as our area is quite poor. Locally, the educated men do understand that our volunteers come from a different culture where women are considered more equal to men, and generally treat them accordingly. As a foreigner, or ‘mzungu’ (white person), you will be treated with respect by everyone, but men traditionally prefer to receive instructions from another man. Ripple Africa is slowly changing that perception as we have employed a number of female project managers and coordinators and most of the UK staff team (who visit Mwaya twice a year) are female and have developed close working relationships with the local community.
What is the local attitude towards Americans?
We have been asked this question by a number of American applicants. Our American volunteers have not, to date, experienced any anti-American feeling, although one of our American volunteers did say he was Canadian! However, we have found no animosity towards Americans or any other nationality for that matter. There are quite a number of Muslims in the country (about 20% of the population), and they live in harmony with the majority Christian population. Malawi really is the ‘Warm Heart of Africa’, and you’ll see why once you get there.
Do I need to get a visa before I arrive in Malawi?
No, most nationalities will not have to get a visa for Malawi prior to arriving in the country but you will have to purchase a 30-day visitor’s permit which costs US$75 (paid in cash) upon entry. This can be extended, depending on the length of your placement, and more detailed information can be found in the Volunteer Handbook, which will be sent to you with your placement offer. Please note, however, that Malawian Immigration does not have a procedure for issuing visas to people entering the country to volunteer. We have been in consultation with the Regional Immigration Office in Mzuzu about this matter, and we have been advised that our volunteers can enter Malawi on a 30-day Visitor’s Permit.
What things can I bring for the schools, Dispensary/Health Centre, projects, etc?
The things you can bring will be limited by your luggage weight allowance. A previous volunteer has suggested that you should bring a little money with you so you can buy materials for any project you become involved with. For example, you can buy footballs in Lilongwe, you can buy paper, pens, chalk, crayons, etc., in Mzuzu, you may wish to buy blackboard paint or paint for the pre-schools, and so on.
Should I bring a mobile phone with me?
Please see the question about e-mails and phones above. We recommend you bring a mobile phone with you but make sure it is “unlocked” and can be used with any network. There is good Airtel reception at Mwaya Beach, although it can be spasmodic, and SIM cards are available to buy in most towns and villages throughout Malawi, or you can buy a SIM card at the airport or in Lilongwe when you arrive. Top up vouchers are available to buy locally in Matete, Kande, and Kachere. You will need to bring your phone charger with you.
How can my family contact me in an emergency?
We advise you to bring your own mobile phone with you (see above) and, once you’ve bought your SIM card, send your phone number to your family and friends so that they can contact you directly. It is also advised that you give your family Ripple Africa’s UK Volunteer Programme Manager’s number too.
What is the normal luggage weight allowance on flights to Africa?
The weight allowance for hold luggage on a flight to Lilongwe with Kenya Airways is a total of 46kg (two bags weighing a maximum of 23kg each) per person plus 10kg cabin luggage. With South African Airways, it is 20kg per person if you are flying from outside Africa or 32kg (a maximum of 23kg in one bag) if you are flying within Africa, plus 10kg for cabin luggage. However, we recommend you check with the airline beforehand. Please be careful not to exceed this as airlines do make punitive charges for excess baggage.
Should I send a letter of introduction and/or photo of myself to Mwaya Beach before I arrive?
Yes, this is a good idea. You can e-mail these to Dan, the Volunteer Projects Manager — please contact us for his e-mail address.
Volunteer opportunities in Africa – Can I travel to other countries whilst volunteering?
When you are in Malawi, you want to make the most of it. Many of our volunteers travel during the school holidays, and a number have been on organised safaris with Kiboko Safaris, a safari company based in Lilongwe which runs good, reasonably priced trips, where they have visited South Luangwa National Park and Victoria Falls in Zambia. There is also another safari company called The Responsible Safari Company, based in Blantyre and run by a couple called Dom and Kate Webb. They are supporting Ripple Africa to help us with our woodland conservation and reforestation projects from contributions paid by their clients.
Volunteer opportunities in Africa- Do I need insurance cover?
Yes, most definitely. You will need full insurance cover for medical expenses (including repatriation), personal accident and personal possessions.
How do I get to Malawi?
Please read the Flights to Malawi section in the Getting to Mwaya Beach document which gives information about getting to Malawi by air. However, some volunteers have flown to Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania, caught the train south to Mbeya (which is the nearest town to the border with Malawi), and then travelled by bus via Karonga and Mzuzu.