Unplanned and unforgettable

I always seem to do the bus-based updates. We are on the road between Sangilo and Karonga. The latter being our final stop in Malawi before we walk over the border into Tanzania. The last few weeks have been spent in Ruarwe – possibly the most remote place you can imagine. As Lily wrote in the last blog it was a real journey to get there via the MV Ilala ferry (that boat has history if you want a Google).

We hadn’t really planned to go there but an in-depth read of the travel guide by Lily, a speculative email to a charity founder in the UK, and a brief conversation with a lodge owner in Nkhata Bay led us there.  However with no signal in Ruarwe, the team didn’t know we were arriving… a slightly shocked but warm welcome was waiting for us. Jeroen, a Dutch biologist doing temporary lodge management with his wife Annelies, and Philippa, a British nurse and trustee of Phunzira were our welcoming committee. A second nurse, Gloria, was also volunteering at the local Phunzira-supported clinic. It was very sad to say good-bye to four amazing people.

So a little background… Ruarwe is the village, Zulunkhuni is the lodge (and also the lodge’s neighbouring river), Phunzira is the UK-based charity and NYM is the community organisation based in Ruarwe.  Charlie set up Zulunkhuni, Rosa was asked to support the community so she set up Phunzira which then built NYM with the community. NYM has now been handed over to the community with Phunzira and volunteers providing advice and guidance as needed.

We were asked by Philippa to spend some time with NYM reviewing their micro businesses to see where they can make a little more money which in turn will ensure their long term sustainability. Over the two weeks we sat with Watts, Castaway (so named because when he was eight weeks old, he and his mother were in a small boat that sank and she managed to swim with him to safety!), Frank and Matilda in the NYM library. The library is one most English councils would be proud of and testament to Rosa’s hard work in generating donations. It was a real centre for learning. Together we spent the days looking at the micro businesses (things like providing an electronics charging service, renting out solar panels and battery banks, selling home grown fruit and veg), providing recommendations, doing some project planning and crunching numbers.

Ruarwe is a really special place. It’s so remote we walked 30 minutes over cliffs on the lakeside just to get to work. If it’s raining you’re met by waterfalls, if it’s dry then you’re met by such beautiful scenery that you know you’re in paradise.

Living at the lodge, we decided to keep costs down by cooking for ourselves on the wood fire every other meal. We brought some basics with us but needed veg most days. There really wasn’t much around so you would put out a few ‘feelers’ as you walked to work; ‘tomatoes or greens today’ you would ask and later that afternoon someone would arrive with some veg for you to buy. The ‘bush telegraph’ is the most effective means of communication still!

We had some great time off as well, spent swimming in the lake, exploring routes up hills to get reception, learning locals games and generally chillin’.  Ruarwe really was a highlight of our trip.

So, we’re a little bit behind ourselves on the updates – more to follow very soon!

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