Photo credit: khym54

The Warm Heart of Africa

A closer look at my volunteer trip destination

When I learned that I would be assigned to Malawi, I was thrilled. It’s a country where I’ve never been, in a continent I’ve never been. To make the most out of my time on my trip, I did a bit of research to learn more about the place I’ll be heading off to in a month.

An African hotspot
A landlocked country of 16 million people, Malawi sits in the southeastern part of Africa. It has a tropical climate, which means that it goes through rainy and dry seasons. (I’m guessing this will feel very much like home to me as someone who grew up in the Philippines.) And since Malawians are known for their hospitality, their country has earned a doubly apt nickname: The Warm Heart of Africa.

An agricultural economy
Malawi’s economy is predominantly driven by agriculture, which accounts for about one third of its GDP and about 90% of its export revenues.¹ Tobacco has historically been a key export but due to declining demand, there is a growing need for the development of other industries. Besides tobacco, other major cash crops include tea, cotton and sugar. The country’s reliance on agriculture makes it vulnerable to adverse weather conditions. Low agricultural productivity is a significant factor contributing to the persistence of poverty with a majority of the poor living on subsistence farming.

On the path to development
Malawi remains one of the least developed countries in the world.

The chart above illustrates the stark differences between the lives of Malawians and the lives of Canadians. On average, Malawians earn less than half a percent of what Canadians earn and live 19 years shorter than Canadians. Malawi ranks 173rd on the Human Development Index while Canada ranks ninth.² A staggering 71% of the population live on less than $1.90 a day.³ The burden of diseases like HIV/AIDS and malaria on the country is especially challenging due to limited resources. When you live in a country like Canada, it’s difficult to imagine living a life under such extreme conditions.

Uniterra aims to help improve the conditions in Malawi. The program has been in place in the country for 10 years, working to facilitate access to employment and increased incomes particularly for women and youth. In collaboration with key partners locally, Uniterra supports the coordination between market actors to improve market efficiency. My assignment with the Malawi Microfinance Network, which is geared toward making financial services more accessible to the most marginalized members of the population, will be one of the ways through which Uniterra hopes to achieve its goal.

With only a month to go before my trip, the anticipation is definitely building as I prepare to experience firsthand the Warm Heart of Africa.

¹CIA World Factbook
²United Nations Development Program
³The World Bank

To support Uniterra’s development programs across the globe, I’ve committed to raising $7,000. You can contribute to my fundraiser by making an online donation. Just click on the link below to visit my fundraising page. You will get a tax receipt for a donation of $20 or more.