One student's memories of his month in Africa, with the Summer 2012 Beaconsfield School expedition.
As I am sure many of you already knew 15 students from The Beaconsfield School have been fund-raising for over a year to go on an expedition to Malawi. This summer the moment finally arrived where all our hard work fund-raising, and all the generosity of countless people finally paid off. We arrived in Malawi very apprehensive, and many of us were quietly wondering to ourselves what had we let ourselves in for. Some of us, myself included, had even started counting down the days until we would be returning home to England! However, less than a week in and everyone had already settled down to the slow pace of life that Africa brings. There is a lot to be said for their way of being, living life for what it is and taking every day as it comes. It was a relief not to have to hustle and bustle and stresses that everyday life in a developed country brings.
Having said this, the relaxed attitude approach to punctuality in Malawi was, at times, something of a burden when we had deadlines and appointments to meet and keep. If you booked a mini bus you could guarantee it would turn up at least 3 hours late, which also brings me onto the unfortunate subject of breakdowns. In the month we were in Africa, we experiences 6 breakdowns in a variety of modes of transport; from boats to mini buses, from safari trucks to pickup trucks, we collected them all. One of the most hair raising breakdowns was when the engine on the boat safari gave up the ghost and we were floating without power, away from the camp in a river invested by thousands of hippos and crocodiles. And, as if that wasn't enough, we were out of range to radio camp for help.
The main aim of the trip was not to break down although we did achieve that objective very successfully, but the to carry out a community project in a local school. We arrived, armed with paint brushes, to paint as much of the school as possible. In under a week we had managed to paint 4 class rooms, 2 toilets, and the inside and outside of a girl’s dormitory as well as numerous murals for educational and decorative purposes. We also turned our hand to plumbing and I can proudly say that we somehow managed to fix all the broken toilets and water taps (with a little help from Mrs Williams). Not only did we do all this but every afternoon we brought games to play with the local children which they loved. I felt a great sense of achievement and pride about what I and the rest of the students on expedition had managed to achieve. The Head Master of the school was very impressed with our efforts and touched by the fact we spent lots of time interacting with the children. He even took the time to write a three page letter of thanks which he presented to us on our final day at the school.
We also tested our physical and mental stamina by climbing Mount Mulanje, all 3002 metres of it. The mountain is a plateau that is 35km long and our route entailed us climbing up one side of the massif, trekking across the top of the mountain for 3 days before descending on the other side, camping and cooking our own food along the way. We each carried our own personal belongings although we were ably supported by a team of 10 porters who carried our food and tents. Our mountain guide was very impressed as we were the first school group he had taken up in his 20 years of guiding that had carried their own bags. Reaching the top of the plateau was amazing, you felt on top of the world, being able to see for 100 miles around and seeing the little pin prick glows in the distance from villages lighting their fires at night.
Finally we would like to thank all of those who supported us and backed us all the way with our expedition, especially Mrs Williams and Mr Barraclough who spent countless hours of their own time helping us raise funds and also coped with having to put up with us for one long month. I believe that I and the group have learnt a lot from this trip through what we have seen in Africa and also most importantly in learning more about what we are capable of when put to the test. We have learnt that we can achieve whatever goals we want to if we set our mind to it which will be a great attribute to have in later life. I would recommend my experience to anyone and would not change it for the world. I went to Malawi counting down the days until I could return home, but I came back counting down the days until I set off on expedition once more.