Cameron Beach is still serving Malawi

Saturday October 9, 2021

    It was during my college experience at Centre College in Danville, KY that I made it my goal to become a Peace Corps volunteer after graduation. Through my courses in international development, taught by my advisor and RPCV Niger, Dr. Lori Hartmann, I became drawn to international development work in sub-Saharan Africa. As I went through the Peace Corps volunteer application process, I did not choose a particular country, but I specified a preference for placement in sub-Saharan Africa. I was elated when I was sent an invitation to become a Peace Corps volunteer in Malawi. I had first learned about the Warm Heart of Africa in my Political Economy of Development class with Dr. Hartmann where we read The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba. It was even more exciting to learn that our PST would take place in Kamkwamba’s home district of Kasungu. Dr. Hartmann continued to support and encourage me throughout my service and even visited me for a week at my site.

After PST, I was sent to teach English at Mkomera Community Day Secondary School in Dedza. I initially taught English language and grammar to forms one and two. I also became involved in public health and food security activities, teaching HIV/AIDS and Malaria prevention and treatment, gardening, and farming. When I arrived, I found that the community had begun building a girls’ hostel, but had run out of funds to continue building the structure. After learning about PC grants and and grant writing, I worked with the community to identify and write a grant to help complete the girls’ hostel. By the end of my first year as a PCV, we were the recipients of a Peace Corps Partnership Program (PCPP) Let Girls Learn (LGL) grant to help with the roofing, plastering, flooring, and panting of the hostel.

It was at Mkomera that I would find not only challenging and fulfilling work, but also a family and community that would impact the course of my life. The headteacher at Mkomera, Patrick Kalolo, immediately welcomed me into his family and his wife, Lucy, became my Malawian mother. It all started during my first week at site, when I was struggling to start fires for cooking. I was embarrassed and had to muster up the courage to ask for help. After my Malawian mother taught me how to get and keep a fire going, she took on the role of teaching me all I needed to know about living and thriving in Malawi. She taught me everything she could about Malawian culture, respect and traditions. We traveled to weddings, funerals, markets and friends’ houses together. After I began going to church with her, she encouraged me to sing in the women’s choir, and I ultimately joined the chigwirizano (women’s guild), wearing the white and black uniform. My Malawian mother taught me how to cook nsima, all of the side dishes (terere, beans, goat meat, etc), kusinja sinjiro (pound groundnuts), and so much more. We cooked together, ate together, and traveled together. The whole community knew that wherever we go, we go as a duo.

After being abruptly evacuated and given 24 hours to say goodbye to the school, community, and family that I called home for 22 months, I was truly devastated.  I left my students in the middle of the school year without a teacher, the hostel did not have toilets, bathing facilities, or a kitchen, and therefore could not open, and I left my life and work in Malawi unfinished. I knew immediately after arriving home in March 2020 that I wanted to return to Malawi. In May 2020, I was graciously given the opportunity to spend 6 months living, working, and learning about sustainable agriculture and food systems with fellow RPCVs Jesse and Athena Fleshier at Athena’s Harvest Farm and Training Center in Santa Fe, TN. Throughout my time with Athena and Jesse, I bounced around my thoughts and dreams of returning to Mkomera and I ultimately made plans to return to Malawi in January 2021.

Before departing for Malawi, we were delighted to receive at grant from FOM to finish building everything we needed in order to open the hostel. Once I arrived, we began construction on a beautiful kitchen, bathrooms, pit latrines, and a privacy fence. The hostel is expected to open for the new school year in January 2022. I continued teaching my students and I was able to focus my time and energy on preparing the form 4 students for their MSCE. Of course, I had missed my Malawian mother tremendously and we were thrilled to be able to continue our life and work together. We were able start a home garden and I had time to help her with the rest of the agricultural season. All of our friends immediately welcomed me back, we continued our church activities, and I fell right back into my old life. It was almost as if I had never left. It is these relationships that motivate and inspire me to continue this work. We may have a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences, but our support and love for each other and our common humanity overcomes any challenges we face.

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