RIPPLE Africa Volunteer Blog – No. 78

It has been a quiet time volunteer wise at Mwaya Beach which has led to a lack of blog posts in recent weeks. However, this blog is written by Linda Vardy, a volunteer physiotherapist, who started her volunteer placement at Mwaya in mid August.

I arrived three weeks ago as a healthcare volunteer and, although I started when no other volunteers were here, I had a lovely welcoming party to greet me in the form of Arnold, Martha and Geddess – those open arms and big smiles have continued to be a great part of the day.

It wasn’t long before I was joined by three representatives from the Institute of Physics (Eileen, Kristen, and Olivia) who, between them, have returned regularly over the last few years to continue a very successful project aimed at teaching local teachers about practical physics experiments to use in class. They have also been able to assist in the supply of equipment for the schools provided by the Institute of Physics. They very kindly invited me along to the end of training dinner, and you could tell how enthusiastic the teachers were who had attended and also how well the course had run. It has been useful for me seeing how beneficial the projects can be.

Following their departure, I have now been joined by two more teachers from England, Tara and Caitlin, who are currently finishing their induction and are keen to get into the schools once term starts. We have been able to be useful through these initial weeks by assisting with the environmental projects at the Mwaya Tree Nursery.

So far we have helped with grafting the mango trees, a technique used to encourage fruit production, and have made bricks – a messy, but fun task! The bricks are going to be used to make Changu Changu Moto stoves, another successful ongoing project.

My weekly timetable is slowly taking shape, and I have been enjoying my visits out to the clients in villages with Collins Chanika. It has already been mentioned in previous posts about Collins’ enthusiasm for his job and his clients, and I can only echo this – he is a very knowledgeable man who works within a very limited budget with little equipment. As a physiotherapist in England, I am used to a very different environment, although I have spent time in the community and we often have to be inventive there too with how we set up an exercise or make equipment. This week, we have had a fight with a broken wheelchair to remove its good wheels so that we could renovate another chair – Collins described it as ‘equipment rehabilitation’! It definitely needed a bit of muscle from us but I am pleased to say we were successful, and it means one of the Cerebral Palsy clients is able to remain mobile.

Currently, myself and Collins are learning from each other as he has spent much more time treating children than I have and in return I am hopefully teaching him something about the management of adult neurological patients. I am hopeful that, as we continue to work together, this will continue.

Some of our recent visits have also begun introducing me to some of the difficulties with provision of equipment but also the links that Collins, and RIPPLE Africa, are trying to establish with specialist centres in other areas of Malawi. Whilst in one of the villages reviewing a young boy with contractures, we were able to check the prosthesis of one of the amputee clients. The challenge now is to get his prosthesis reviewed at the prosthetics clinic in Mzuzu, and likely renewed, as he is growing out of it but funding for this vital review has to be arranged.

I know many of the previous volunteers who have been out on rounds with Collins will have met Isaac (one of his young clients) and will be pleased to hear he continues to go from strength to strength. He walks out to the track to meet us each time we visit and grabs our hands to lead us back to his house. He is keen to start at pre-school and always has a cheeky smile for us! Susie, you will be pleased to hear he is also getting better at completing his puzzle and, even in the last two weeks, has shown improvements.

After a slower start with the Women’s Health Club, we have had our first proper session this week, and the ladies who attend have some very good ideas about how they want to move forward with the group and use the money they are raising from their sewing skills to help their local community. They are also keen to utilise my skills as a Physio, and we are going to be doing some exercise classes together – I have suggested we use some traditional dance in the classes – this could prove very entertaining for the ladies though as I don’t have a lot of natural dance ability! Hopefully there will be more news from the group as the months progress and they are able to build on the success they have already had.

I will leave it at that for the minute and get back to some ChiTonga practice – Arnold is drilling me regularly and, although my brain seems to remember, my pronunciation leaves something to be desired!

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