Africa and the Middle East Featured Program: Malawi
Malawi is located in southern Africa, bordered by Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania. It has a subtropical climate, with a rainy season that stretches from late November to early May. The magnificent Rift Valley cuts through Malawi’s eastern border, holding the country’s most famous natural resource, Lake Malawi. The lake stretches two-thirds of Malawi’s length and one-third of the country’s area.
The population is about 16 million and is composed of five broad ethnic groups that account for 88 percent of the population. Many smaller ethnic groups make up the remaining 12 percent. More than 99 percent of the people are black African.
Malawi’s languages include English, Chichewa, Tumbuka, Ngoni, Yao, Lomwe and Sena.
With approximately 90 percent of its population living in rural areas, the economy is predominately agricultural and is otherwise dependent on substantial international assistance. Three-quarters of the population live on less than US$2 a day.
The need for permanent housing in Malawi is overwhelming. An estimated four out of five families are living in substandard structures, with little hope of ever being able to afford a decent house. The typical village hut is built of mud and daub with a dirt floor and thatched roof. The agricultural use of land has caused decreased availability of grass for thatching; consequently, roofs are poorly made and leak. Many dwellings are in constant need of repair and often serve as hosts to life-threatening diseases. The well-being for children living in such conditions is severely compromised, as the families focus on self-preservation rather than the future.
Through the provision of improved housing to families, Habitat for Humanity Malawi has remarkably enhanced lives and markedly reduced the occurrence of malaria, respiratory illness and intestinal parasite problems usually found in children under 5 years old.
The first Habitat Malawi affiliate was established in 1985 in the capital city of Lilongwe. In 1989, an additional affiliate was started in Zomba. Two years later, affiliates were formed in South Lunzu and Nambiti. On the basis of the success of these affiliates, a national proposal was approved in 1992 that laid the groundwork for development of an additional eight rural affiliates. Habitat Malawi has served more than 5,660 families in need of decent and permanent shelter in 13 districts (December 2009).
In an effort to serve more families in need of decent housing, Habitat Malawi also launched the Home Improvement Loan project in 2002. The loan allows families living in thatch houses to receive small loans for a durable roof, a floor, a latrine, doors and windows or plastic sheeting and termite treatment to improve thatched roofs. As one loan is paid off, the families may select another home improvement and receive another loan. The model introduces shorter loan periods. The objective of the Home Improvement Loan is to assist families who live in poverty houses to improve their living conditions for better health in an affordable way that will not be a burden to them.
In 2002, Habitat Malawi launched “The House that Grows,” an incremental building program through the Embangweni affiliate. The Habitat Malawi Building in Stages project starts with a one-room house that is less than half the cost of a typical Habitat Malawi house. The mortgage can be paid back in less than five years. After the first stage is paid off, the family can add another room. When the extension is paid off, the family can extend again, finally completing a house that is slightly larger than the previous designs. The incremental building keeps payments and repayment periods down and provides additional incentive to pay the loan in order to move to the next stage of building. It also means that Habitat can help more families in a shorter period of time, because the capital needed to start each house is less.
Types of construction for volunteers
Habitat houses are made of kiln-fired clay bricks, with glass windows, air vents for good ventilation and a cement tile roof. Each house has a foundation made from large stones, brick or cement. Each house includes a pit latrine to improve sanitation.
Habitat Malawi is currently working in the community of Mzuzu. Teams should plan to arrive in Lilongwe where they will spend their first and last nights.
Teams typically have hired transport throughout the trip.
Food and water
Breakfast and dinner will be served at the lodge or guesthouse. Lunch will be prepared and served at the build site. Bottled water is provided at all times.
Traditional Malawian dishes are provided. Meals will vary depending on the area or home, but mainly consist of “nsima,” a cornmeal dish, or rice accompanied by cooked beans, greens, eggs or tomatoes. Cooked meat may be included. All food is well-cooked, safe to eat and usually quite tasty. Be prepared, however, for a limited diet; there is not much variety in traditional Malawian cooking.
Day 1, Friday: Depart for Malawi.
Day 2, Saturday: Arrive in Malawi; dinner and overnight stay.
Day 3, Sunday: Breakfast at the hotel; welcome and orientation with local staff; lunch at the hotel; free time; dinner and overnight.
Day 4–8, Monday–Friday (work days): Breakfast served before traveling to work site; work from 8 a.m.–4 p.m. with lunch on-site; free time in the evenings; dinner; team activities.
Day 9, Saturday: Breakfast; house dedication and farewell ceremony with lunch; travel to Lilongwe; dinner and overnight stay.
Day 10, Sunday: Breakfast; depart for home.
Starting at US$2, 280
View the standard budget.
Most international flights land at Lilongwe International Airport but several flights—especially from Johannesburg and Harare—land in Blantyre. All travelers pay an airport departure fee of U$30 when flying out of the country.
The climate is hot from September until October (35–40 C, or 95–105 F); warm and rainy from November until April (27–35 C, or 80–95 F); cool and dry from May until August (5–25 C, or 40–75 F). Temperatures vary widely, however, from the lakeshore, which is generally quite hot, to the mountains, which are much cooler. Because Malawi is fairly close to the equator, the days are generally 12 hours long year-round, with the sun setting between 6 and 6:30 p.m.