It’s true; it takes about 2 minutes after arriving in Malawi to discover exactly why the country is known as ‘the warm heart of Africa’. Smiles are beaming, plentiful, and greet you with almost every encounter. And that’s before you’ve even cleared passport control…

This was my first visit to Malawi, and accompanied by my good friends; Jo Hook, and Martin & Ben Collins, I knew that I’d be in good hands. I’d met Jo about a year before at ‘Art for Africa’, one of Temwa’s many fundraising events in Bristol and had had a fantastic night. At the time I was looking to get my family’s business involved with some charities….I loved the Temwa vibe, and knew they would the perfect fit for us.

I needed to make this trip, to see the work done by Temwa over the past 12 years in Malawi’s remote Northern regions, and experience it first hand for myself.

I consider myself relatively well travelled, but I’d never seen extreme poverty like this before. It hits you as soon as you leave the airport; roadside buildings are more like shacks, cobbled together with any scrap material available to hand, and we share the road with, cows, cats, dogs, chickens, goats, pigs and any other animal you might care to mention.

Malawian roads are generally maintained in a condition between dire and dangerous, and there are surprisingly few motorised vehicles or even bicycles. For 99% of Malawians it seems, walking is the default mode of transport, and they do it en mass, come rain or shine. If you need to get somewhere quickly, you run. Simple as that.

Malawi is currently the poorest nation in the world, and Temwa’s projects are geared towards helping the poorest people in the country. Our journey began at Nkhata Bay North on the legendary Ilala ferry, originally built in Scotland in the 1940’s, but still going strong, serving as a life line for people living on the coast of the lake. From here we gradually looped up towards Ruwawe, our first port of call.

We were going to a place with no electricity, running water, roads or phone signal. For me, it felt like a proper adventure; getting truly off the beaten track and experiencing some novelty off-the-grid living. For the people who actually live in this remote region, it’s just reality.

After spending the night at our like-side lodgings, we woke early and travelled by boat around the shore to the village of Khondowe. We were there to see the local impact of ‘Straight Talking’, a project run by Temwa to provide education and support to communities affected by HIV and AIDS.

In Nkhata Bay North, some 16% of the population are HIV positive, meaning virtually every family in the region has been impacted in some way by it. The sheer remoteness of the area makes it incredibly difficult for people to get the support and treatment they need.

In fact, it’s just about as off the beaten track as you can get, as we hike up the rocky paths and over hillsides to arrive at the school for our first Aids Action Club (AAC) meeting. The children in this area come from miles around just to be at school, and a 2 hour walk each way is not unusual.

The Temwa AAC’s are established in every one of the 40 schools in the Nkhata Bay North area, and raise awareness amongst the pupils to prevent the spread of HIV & AIDS. Songs are sung, poetry is read and dramas are acted out, with the aim to educate and inspire the future generation to be responsible, and take the action they need to.

As soon as we sit down and the singing begins, it feels like we’re witnessing something pretty special. There’s a depth to the performance that can’t be faked, because for most of these children it’s not just an act, it’s their reality. One of the pupils – Steve, performs a passionate rap sometimes in English, sometimes in Chichewa. But language is irrelevant here because his energy tells the story perfectly.

We speak after the show and he tells me he’s an orphan, both of his parents lost to AIDS. Only he and his sister remain now, but she has recently been forced to drop out of school so the fees can be spent on much needed maize and other basics for the family.


With inflation in Malawi currently running at 23.4%, this isn’t hard to believe. In 2015 inflation was at 20%, and when the value of a currency is eroded so rapidly, the poorest and most vulnerable people are affected first, and in this case denied access to the most basic of human needs.

One of the fundamental differences between the ethos of Temwa and other NGO’s working in Africa, is their promotion of self sufficient, sustainable development. Temwa don’t give handouts, and for good reasons. A handout, whether it be money, food or a gift of any kind is a bit like sticking a plaster over a gaping wound. It’s a temporary solution, which creates a reliance of the act being repeated and over the long term.

Temwa’s projects are 100% centred around providing Malawian communities with the means to help themselves, and thus eventually breaking the dependency loop of being reliant on external aid. This visionary approach was one of the key factors which drew me to them as an organisation.


For me,travelling with an NGO like Temwa was an incredibly insightful experience, and I felt privileged to be able to witness first hand ‘Straight Talking’ and many of their other projects, from microfinance to agri-forestry and education


Temwa have been in Malawi for 12 years now, and the positive impact of their work was tangible as we travelled through the villages in which they operate. As we walked, sun baked along the dusty roads towards Usisya, Jo stopped to talk to virtually everyone who passed her, many of the locals eager to give thanks and show their gratitude.


People here have been deeply touched by Temwa’s work, not because they have been given anything in particular, but because they have been shown a way to help themselves, for the long term, and for future generations.

It’s hard for me to believe that a country in such a dire economic state, is home to a people with such resilient positivity and charm. But then I guess that’s just Malawi for you – ‘the warm heart of Africa’.


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