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Preparing to Leave

In a few hours I will be leaving for a 5 week volunteer assignment in Malawi, Africa through a program supported by my firm. The program is organized by World University Service of Canada and the Centre for International Studies and Cooperation and has sent numerous professional to volunteer around the world!

Having been interested in volunteering overseas for a while, my firm's program seemed like a good fit. However, even if your company does not have such a program, there are numerous international volunteer programs available from TechnoServe, to Engineers Without Borders, to smaller ones such as CTC International - something out there should fit your interests!

Where I'll be going

Malawi is a small landlocked country in Africa and is one of the world's least developed countries. An economy dependent on agriculture, high prevalence of HIV/AIDS, and corruption are some of the country's biggest issues. Life expectancy is about 50 years.

A number of people have asked if I'll be living in a jungle, desert, or mud hut. Nope! Instead, I'll be living in the financial centre of Malawi, Blantyre. To get there I will be flying with Air Ethiopia to Ethiopia (13 hours), Ethiopia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (!?!?...4 hours), and from Congo to Malawi (1.5 hours). Stops will be less than 1 hour long. Once in Malawi I'll spend the first two days in orientation in Lilongwe, the capital city, then head to Blantyre which is a 4 hour drive away.

What I'll be doing
I'll be working with the Malawi Network of AIDS Service Organizations to assist in conducting a need assessment and develop a long term plan. Won't find out exactly what I'm doing until I get there and speak to the organization, though it seems I might do a little bit of travelling in Malawi to conduct field visits. I'm fairly fortunate that there is a long term Canadian volunteer already there who has done quite a bit of work and has apparently planned my tasks out - 5 weeks is really not a lot of time to get things done in a new environment.

What I'm bringing
Shockingly, a trip to Malawi isn't like visiting New York, London, or Hong Kong, so here are some items I'm bringing, based on what past volunteers have told me:

Malaria pills: malaria is endemic to Malawi, so I will be taking a pill a day from the day before I leave to the day after I return. I'm on Malarone, which has less side effects than other pills. Shortlist of side effects I'm glad I have no chance of getting - increased chance of yeast infection, vivid dreams, increased sun sensitivity
Bug repellent: would prefer not to contract malaria
Mosquito net: would prefer not to contract malaria
Toilet paper: a past volunteer mentioned she had no toilet paper for a short period of time, so I'm bringing some!
Pristine Water Treatment Solution: it is recommended to drink only boiled or bottled water. However, in the event someone has no access to either, they can use a few drops of Pristine to help eliminate bacteria
Diarrhea pills: hope I won't have to use them
Disposable underwear: my mother insisted. Apparently they're comfortable.
All sorts of pills and first aid supplies: probably a natural reaction to bring every possible item you can find in the pharmacy when visiting a developing country for the first time. Who knows what mysterious allergies and cuts I will get while working in an office setting!
Kindle and TV Shows: it is not recommended to go out after dark (sunset is at 6pm), so looks like I may be spending some quality time with the Starks and Lannisters from the Game of Thrones

What I'm not bringing

DSLR camera: I normally bring it on trips, however it would likely attract too much attention. Will have to settle for stealth pictures on my point and shoot.
Tablet: wifi is apparently spotty rending a tablet less useful, so I will likely to go without my evening Facebooking, email checking, and game playing.
Self defence weapon: a number of people have asked me whether I'm bringing a knife, pepper spray, etc. with me as muggings do occur. Though as I child I dreamed of being like Batman and taking down the bad guys, any muggers probably won't be intimidated by me and a small knife. Will settle for crying, yelling, begging, and running.
Pants or skirts above the knee: the culture is quite conservative, though less so in the larger cities. Nonetheless I'd rather not offend the people of Malawi in my short time there. Credit goes to my mother for letting me raid her closet to find appropriate clothes.

Feel free to ask me any questions - will try to update regularly though consistent internet access may be a problem.

Posted by Analyst 02.03.2013 00:22 Archived in Canada Tagged packing preparing

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