What is it like to Live and Work in Malawi
Stephen Free, originally from the United Kingdom, has been living and working in Malawi for 7 years now. He acts as project manager for the Billy Riordan Memorial Clinic in Cape MaClear, Malawi.
This clinic was opened in 2004 by Mags Riordan in memory of her son Billy, who loved Cape McClear and its people. The clinic, run entirely on donations, is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
I caught up with Stephen, to find a bit about his unique experiences living and working in Malawi, and leaving the UK.
How Did You Leave England and Work in a Developing Country?
‘I am fortunate enough to have travelled quite a lot over the years – usually backpacking and on a limited budget. The limited budget determined which countries I could afford to visit, so invariably I ended up in developing countries as the money went so much further.
I found many things to be challenging, exciting and interesting, such as cultural differences, difficulties with communication, and poor transport links. I think I learned a lot about myself and my ability to cope with the unexpected during those times. I wondered how it would be to live in a developing country for a period, as opposed to just passing through on a holiday’.
What Motivated You to Choose Malawi?
How Did You Find The Experience?
What was working at the Billy Riordan clinic like and what are the most challenging and rewarding aspects?
Transport is a big challenge. It is an almost 4-hour drive to the nearest town where we are able to get supplies and even then, supplies are expensive and may not be available once we get there. Dirt roads, heat, rain, and pot holes can cause a lot of damage which we must try to avoid. It's very important to maintain ambulances in good order. We cannot risk a breakdown during a patient transfer.
Working at the clinic is incredibly rewarding. The clinic is the second largest employer in the village and provides work for 33 local people and between 10 and 12 volunteers at any given time. This mix of people with different personalities, backgrounds, cultures, levels of education and experiences makes things very interesting at times!
The work and services that we provide at the clinic have continued to grow during my time. It is great to see the local community benefit from these developments through improved health and access to services, which often are not available elsewhere.
What Advice Would You Give to Someone Wanting to Live and Work in Malawi?
1. Make Friends
Make friends with and socialise with the locals. You will learn so much more about the culture and distinct ways others see and experience the world. It's good to get a different perspective on things. It is also good to have a few expat friends. There are certain things that you will miss from home. Shared collective past experiences, humour, people who understand where you are coming from can support you when you have problems.
2. Contact Home Regulary
Stay in touch with home, your family and your friends, but don't be surprised if they don't show much interest in your life-changing experiences; they have busy lives to lead themselves. Keep abreast of the news, current affairs, music and celebrity gossip! Things will change whilst you are away – you don't want to feel like a stranger in your home country when you return. It's easy and cheap enough with smartphones!
3. Be Realistic
Don't think you are going to change the world: you are not. Take your time to settle in and get to know the people, culture and what's going on around you before you start trying to change things. You may be very enthusiastic about the work you are doing and be full of great ideas that you want to implement; the reality is that most of the people you work with are there because they need the money and it's a job. Of course, there are always one or two people who stand out. Concentrate your efforts on helping these to achieve their goals. Don't take things too seriously, including yourself. Have fun.
If you are interested in learning about volunteering abroad at or donating to the Billy Riordan trust.To find more about working and living abroad visit the FCO advice page on living abroad, and for more information on visiting Malawi check out the FCO advice page for Malawi.