Nutritionist and first aid volunteer Kirti shares his story about his time at Mwaya, an exert of which is below. But even better, he has several videos showcasing life in Malawi on his YouTube channel which allow the viewer the chance to share in Kirti’s experiences. These videos are shared below.
I came on my trip with so much and so little of a plan: I was going to volunteer in local clinics, teach first-aid, and teach nutrition. At least that is what I told everyone when they asked what I was going to be doing there – but I had no idea how things would be different in Malawi.
During my first week visiting all of the projects, I met Maston, Matilda, Kevin, Watson and Rebecca. A rough idea of the various projects I was hoping to do was starting to take shape. But as life likes to do it decided to take a turn.
I was trying to register with the Malawian Medical Council to help in the clinics as I am a registered and working EMT at home but half way through registration and lots of paperwork issues and confusion, decided to stop and switch my focus to nutrition and first-aid education, volunteering directly on Ripple Africa’s projects. This turned out to be one of the best decisions I could have made. Not only do I think I was able to make a more unique impact through my teaching projects, I now had the opportunity to meet and interact a lot more with the community.
My favourite part over the next week or so as I started to create, teach, and adapt my first-aid and nutrition workshops was testing adaptations to traditional recipes which could add nutritional content to commonly eaten foods. The main recipe I focused on was finding ways to incorporate the rinds of fruits which contain nutrients and are typically just thrown away. I first tried to test adding lemon peels to veg relish which was not a success. The lemon peel when cooked became extremely bitter. I knew right away it wasn’t a success when Martha and Geddes tried it and immediately winced. The next day I bought tangerines from the market and tried again. This time however, Geddes and Martha’s first reaction was to try more! After a few more alterations, I started including cooking demonstrations within all of my nutrition workshops.
It was super comforting to learn that the community enjoyed the recipe and as I would learn much later on when I followed up with some of the fruit tree clubs, many continued using the recipe, at least occasionally, when they ate oranges. In addition to the trainings with Maston’s Fruit Tree project, there were additional trainings for community groups including four which I did with Bonnie, a nutritionist visiting from Canada with her husband and two granddaughters. To assist with communication we had the help of Victoria who translated. She tasted the orange peel recipes the first day and by the last training had mentioned that she and her family had started adding the orange peels to their veg!
For first aid, I tried my best to tailor the material for whatever audience I was with and what they were interested in learning about. In every group I would at least cover bandaging, splinting, burns, and dehydration as those are some of the most common emergencies. I was impressed and surprised by just how much they already knew from their lived experiences.
Two of my favorite moments during the trip were at larger 30-40 person nutrition trainings with Maston, one which we did on my last full day in Malawi. I enjoyed them so much because at the end we would all prepare and eat lunch together which was an amazing opportunity to be immersed in and experience the local culture.
Throughout my trip I was also trying to complete and submit my various applications to medical school. I had submitted the first portion prior to my trip but began receiving the second portion at the beginning of July and continued working on them until mid-August. This resulted in many early mornings and late nights working on essays. Most mornings I would watch the sunrise over the rocks from the couch on the deck as I was writing essays. I loved the view so much I had Faston paint a painting of it based on a picture I took of it on a particularly amazing morning. Medical school applications are a lot of work but since I had to do it, I couldn’t imagine a more spectacular view to have while working on them.
I learned and saw and experienced so many things during my three months in Malawi. Many of which I will eventually forget, but one of the lessons I will continue to hold on to is to have joy in your life regardless of the circumstance. I think this was best demonstrated by Chadula Fruit Tree Club who are always dancing and singing. They would sing and dance for everything from celebrating guests to traveling with 40 other people on the back of a flatbed truck.
Someone I was incredibly inspired by during my time was Kevin, the HIV health worker at Kande Clinic. However, I met him through Maston when he was assisting Maston’s project by providing nutrition education. Despite not having studied nutrition, he turned out to have knowledge and a passion for nutrition as well as just helping his community. His girlfriend of many years was currently in Lilongwe at university so to keep himself busy he enjoyed volunteering and helping wherever he could because he said he felt a duty to help his community. His volunteering gave him no financial benefit nor advancement in his career as an HIV health worker yet he was still extremely willing to dedicate his time to help in a variety of roles. Near the end of my trip, I connected Kevin with Watson who runs Ripple Africa’s Family Planning, Sexual Health and Life Skills project.
I had the most incredible 3 months while in Malawi and I hope to come back one day!