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Volunteer story: My Experience in Open Arms Infant Home Malawi

Hello! My name is Nicole Loughlin, a 22-year-old from Ireland! Throughout the past year I have visited Malawi three times. The culture, the people and their kindness, along with my drive to make a difference and combat the developing/developed divide continues to lure me back to the ‘Warm heart of Africa’.

My first visit to Malawi and Open Arms Infant Home began in August 2018. From the moment I entered the infant home, I was in awe, I knew that I was in the midst of a life changing experience. The laughs, the smiles, the happiness, the hugs; These children are an inspiration. From a young age they see no divide but as they grow older, society imposes a cultural divide that is most unethical and un-necessary. The experience forced me to question society’s perspective and challenge my own personal outlook. 

Quite simply, we are all one. Everyone should be treated as equal Global citizens. Bottle feeding a two-week-old baby in Open Arms made me realise this, a baby is the same wherever you are in the world and requirements at two weeks old are quite simply nourishment and love. I think about all the basic needs that were met for me as a child and now see them as a privilege which I am thankful to have had. The children in Open Arms and my time spent in Malawi made me fully appreciate and understand the quote – ‘It’s the simple things in life that bring us the most happiness’

Malawi Volunteer Experience Nicole Loughlin 5

Returning to Open Arms was always a joyous experience for me as every staff member, volunteer and child always made me feel most welcome. The satisfaction of bringing my friends from Ireland to Malawi and Open Arms and watching them go through the same awe-inspiring experience I did has been unbelievable. There is no way to put into words how wonderful it is to see happiness spread from the children to the volunteers.

One point that I cannot emphasise enough is that Open Arms Infant Home is not a lonely sad stereotypical orphanage. Instead it is a home filled with love, laughter and joy that is nothing but infectious. In contrast to a stereotypical orphanage, Open Arms has a highly effective model of reintroducing children to their extended families and local communities when they are older, stronger and better prepared for the world in which we live. I think this is a fascinating aspect and great experience for the infants as they not only have a family within Open Arms, but they also have an outer community to which they belong, something many of us crave. 

Day in the life of a Volunteer 

A typical day of a Volunteer in Open Arms Infant Home Blantyre would begin around 7am – Babies are awake, porridge and bottles are ready, and the madness begins! 

This time of morning an extra set of hands is much appreciated, especially with the smaller babies who need to be spoon fed. Be prepared to have porridge all over your clothes! Babies are then cleaned up and dressed for the day after they are fed. 

We would then usually bring them outdoors to play – this is where you can really appreciate their smiles and laughter. Around 10am there is a snack and most babies would then go for a nap.

Malawi Volunteer Experience Nicole Loughlin 6

During this time, I would visit Harrogate House right next door and play with the older children who range between 2-5 years old. Usually around this time they are attending preschool where a local teacher comes in to teach songs, write, colour, count – a really enjoyable experience! When preschool finishes, I would go for lunch, typically around 12.30-2pm.

I would suggest taking a stroll into town to experience the people, culture and food of Blantyre. After lunch I would return to Open Arms again to help with the dinner time feed and would also help with clean up in the kitchen.

For the afternoon we would play outside with the children in the playground. Your hair may be pulled, your back jumped on, receive the squeeziest of hugs, and it will all be so worth it! Handover to the next shift begins at 5pm. 

During this time, I would help out with the evening feed or also just give some babies some much needed cuddles. I would typically leave before it gets dark around 5.30pm. 

To conclude, if you are thinking about volunteering with Open Arms, then just do it! I promise, you won’t regret it!

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