Kameme Pad Project

Young women should be able to feel confident and secure 24 hours a day, seven days a week, EVERY week of the month.

Unfortunately, that is not always the case in Malawi. Due to lack of resources and unaffordable supplies, many young ladies are forced to miss school and fall behind when they have their monthly period.

The Pad Project can change that, turning a shameful and uncomfortable situation into a chance to empower young women.

Through your donations of either funding or material resources, the ladies of Kameme Community Day Secondary School will have the opportunity to learn how to create their own reusable (not to mention cute) sanitary napkins. No longer will nature be the decision maker for the girl’s success.

In the true spirit of development (every Peace Corps Volunteer’s middle name), your generosity will not stop with the new found confidence of ONE woman. Once taught how to create the reusable pad, every young lady will be responsible to teach at least two ladies in her community. This may mean her younger sisters at home, a friend at school, or even her mother… It doesn’t matter! She is now a leader of this project and holds the power to help her fellow females.

Material Supplies needed for Pad Project:
-Fabric (preferably something pretty)
-Snaps or buttons
-Thick absorbent material (for the pad itself)
-Plastic barrier (nothing noisy)

Please send all materials to:
Britney Tonning or Isabel Garcia
Box 51

For more information or to donate visit


Isabel Garcia, Britney Tonning and the ladies of Kameme CDSS


Long time no see!

I (once again) apologize for my lack of posts! It is the beginning of rainy season here in Malawi, and as I sit with my friend Amer in my leaky living room I realize there is no excuse to not update you all on my last couple of months!

In-Service Training in September went well, and I was joined halfway through the training by my counterpart at the health center, Mr. Kalua.


During training with our counterparts, we learned about technical skills and project ideas that we could then implement at site. We went over the tedious process that is project planning, and it really gave me insight on how Malawians and Americans work together.

When I am alone at site dealing with coworkers at the health center, I don’t have a lot of time to step back and access the relationships before me. By watching volunteers and their counterparts work in group settings I had a third party perspective, and could really appreciate what each side added to the collaboration.

My take-aways:

1. Americans are strong willed and fast to act, but can have a hard time taking into account the people around them and their opinions.

2. Malawians are very aware of the structures in Malawi, and understand the steps that need to be taken for a successful project. I would never approach someone in power with a project idea I had not completely polished BUT in Malawi, the traditional authority or chief should be the FIRST to know about potential projects!

3. We both are working toward many of the same goals, but approach them very differently at times.

4. Malawians won’t complain about being late to lunch… At least not before the Americans do.

Although I had a lot of fun at IST and learned a lot about my relationship with Mr. Kalua, I unfortunately did not walk away as inspired and ready to start projects in my village as I hoped I would be. The weeks to follow back in the village proved to be my toughest yet, and it was not until recently that I began to have a firmer grasp on my position in the village and what I have to offer. I am happy for those weeks of doubt because I can now look back and reflect on what made me lack confidence, and take the necessary steps to ensure that I feel of worth to my village!
First step: project planning!

Site Assessment and Next Steps


Misuku Hills, Chitipa

It’s hard to believe that I have been in Malawi for six months already. I knew going into this experience that time would pass quicker than I would expect, but these past couple of months have really flown by. The first wave of my service is already over, and it is finally time to move in to the next phase- actually doing something. Basically the first couple of months of service is spent “assessing our communities” and getting a better idea of what needs are in our sites and what kind of projects we can plan to try to address them. This part (and all the parts for that matter) of service is different for everyone and finally after four months of separation we will all come together for “In Service Training” and discuss future ideas for our sites. For two weeks I will be in Lilongwe learning new skills to help create projects (alongside my counterpart) that will benefit my community. As a way to learn more about my community and the needs that are present (and have attainable solutions) I have been required to complete a LONG “Community Assessment” document that addresses key concerns, resources and information about Kameme. This thing is loaded… but for those of you who are interested in learning more about the logistics of my site I have included it below.


Waterfall in Misuku Hills

I can honestly say the last six months have been some of the happiest in my life- and for those of you who know me well you know I don’t waste a lot of time being unhappy. I love Malawi and the people I have met here, and I hope this blog has reflected that. Please if you have any questions you would like addressed please let me know and I would be happy to! Be so free, Isabel

  Site Assessment Kameme 2014  

First 3 Months: ‘bout time I learned how to grow these things!

My neighbors getting wild at last week's backyard rager.

My neighbors getting wild at last week’s backyard rager.

Everyone in Malawi is a farmer. Everyone.
This is both good and bad. Good because my little garden in front of my house attracts a lot of attention and everyone has an opinion or input. Bad because my little garden in front of my house attracts a lot of attention and everyone has an opinion or input.
When I try to explain that, no, my two bedroom apartment in SF split between three people didn’t come with enough room to grow a year’s supply of corn, and yes I would pay for all of my produce (1) people just laugh. Silly muzungu, (2)
As of now I buy all of my own produce from the boma (2 hour bike ride), on market day (45 minute bike ride) or from the ladies selling in the village.

To give an idea about prices:

2 tomatoes= 50 Kwacha= $.13
1 avocado= K100= $.25
1 bunch of greens= K30= $.10
3 large red onions= K250= $.50
1 small orange= K20= $.05

*About K400= $1.00

You may not believe it… but on a P.C. budget this adds up! Meaning in order to assimilate with my surroundings, get a well-rounded and colorful diet and save Kwacha I needed to start my own garden. Plus, it gives me something to talk about and provides good examples of variation in farming to the community members.
Unfortunately, wanting a garden in front of my house was going to be no small feat. First of all, due to years of sweeping (yes… Malawians love to sweep their dirt) the soil around my house was so compacted it was hard as cement. Also, the closest water source is about 300 yards away (not borehole but stream) and would mean me carrying water to the garden daily. To top it all off I would need to have a fence built around my house to keep out all the damn free-range livestock hanging around (3).
Lucky for me, within a few weeks of moving to Kameme two friends from my health center had already built me a beautiful front fence. I am very thankful for all of the support they gave me to help make sure I was comfortable upon arrival!
Next step was tilling up the ridges. With the help of my “farm strong:” site mate Britney, we looked at our combined seeds and drew out a design for the garden. I would have six ridges to begin with. Digging took an embarrassing amount of time. I worked in shifts making very little process and “watering my dirt” for days to try to loosen the soil.
Finally I got to my last 2 ridges and with Britney’s help we broke ground and started tilling. About an hour later we were only 1/4th of the way through, but I was still so proud of us I was about to break out into some type of Alanis/Spice Girl/Rihanna GIRL POWER song.
Before I could even hit my first lyric or start body rolling, a neighbor boy who wanted to help dig joined Britney and me. Until that point I had refused help from passerby’s being my normal stubborn self, wanting to prove… something. I can’t remember what that was now.
Britney, not sharing my stubbornness, gladly handed over the isaku (ho) and the boy started tilling away. He was moving an amazing amount of dirt, working with more skill and power then I had put into all of the ridges combined. Before long he was ½ of the way through and I could feel Britney looking at me expecting me to have him stop so that I could take over. She knew I wanted this to be my project- and she was right. BUT after days of hard work just to watch someone do something so much better then I could… I couldn’t help but just let him keep going. 20 minutes later he was done, the first step of my garden was complete, I had made a new friend (4) and lost a battle I’ve been fighting since my brothers were allowed first dibs cutting down the Christmas tree. Oh well… save the feminism for my girl’s group, right?
Next step was preparing the soil. For a week I watered the dirt (this will be a theme throughout) and added manure from next door. Benefit of living next to pigs and cows is there is plenty of manure lying around; the down side is there is shit everywhere! Funny how one work can change the mood so much… huh?
My friend, Mr. Chiona, at the health center (more on this amazing worker in the future, I promise) knew I was starting a garden and wanted to help. As if building my front fence wasn’t enough, he then offered to bring over seedlings for mustard spinach and tomatoes to get me started.
Britney, Maggie a midwife from the HC and I planted nearly a full row of seedlings. I officially had plants!
Inspired by the progress, that evening I planted some of the veggie seeds that I had bought in country. Peppers, onion, lettuce, peas, cucumber and garlic went into the ground.
After about a month of daily watering and a few casualties from the damn chickens, a few plants were starting to show progress. The transplanted seedlings were looking good but some seeds were deciding not to show up for the party. Two amazing care packages later from my family and I have more seeds then I know what to do with. Brussel sprouts and cauliflower not being part of my diet has left a huge hole in my heart, so if those two are successful I will be the happiest girl in the world.
When I leave on trips, my neighbor boy named Blessing, with a beautiful smile, waters for me. When I return I bring him back cash and a little gift, like eggs or bread. It’s hard to decide the appropriate amount to pay people for their work sometimes, but when I am deciding between a couple hundred Kwacha I ask myself… “would I spend that much on beer?” if yes then I give the bigger number.
This garden will be full of ups and downs (very similar to my Peace Corps experience as a hole), but will be a continuous personal project for the next two years.
I will post photos throughout to show progress… and include the latest muzungu failure that has led to my own personal food insecurity… woops.

(1) It is very eye opening to live alone and separate my compost (for my compost pit) and realize how many fruits/veggies I eat everyday. I mean really, it looks like a juicing graveyard in there!
(2) Malawians name for an outsider or white person.
(3) By the end of these 2 years I will still be a vegetarian but I will not believe in free-range chickens… in fact I want a chicken farm with small awful cages just to watch them suffer and not for meat or eggs. I hate chickens.
(4) The boy’s name is Innocent and he loves running with Britney and I.

First 3 Months: A Day in the Life



So I know I have been slacking on the blog front lately… but I only have internet once in a blue moon. Also, I am depending on solar energy to charge my computer and then must try not use all of that charge on The Office reruns (how are Jim and Pam still so perfect?) leading to a very sorry blog.

Despite all of this, I realize I have been extremely vague when explaining life in Malawi and I apologize. This next blog is dedicated to all of those amazing (and repetitive) questions I am getting from loved ones back home- I dub thee “A day in the Life”.

P.S. This is a fairly exaggerated version of one day so I could give everyone an idea of typical chores and work. What I mean is never would I EVER wash my clothes AND body AND dishes all in the same day. Hell no- not when I am pumping my own water.

5:10 a.m.

WAKE UP, brush teeth, take my malaria prophylaxis and change into running gear

5:30 a.m.

Meet Britney (site mate) at an in-between spot, for a run. We choose between four typical options:

1. Joyce Banda’s house with the hills

2. The secondary school (pretty flat run)

3. The waterfalls

4. The road to Tanzania

Yes, they are all named after the direction they lead to.

6:30 a.m.

Get home, convince myself to add some squats/ab exercises to my morning run and then decide that carrying two buckets of water on my head for 100 yards (twice) works both my quads and my core PLUS gets the water. You know how I love to kill birds.


Get water from the borehole (the pumping also works the back and triceps).

6:45 a.m.

Start the coals in my mbabula and put water on for coffee.

7:00 a.m.

Soak clothes in detergent and water, scrub, rinse and hang to dry.

7:15 a.m.

Take a bucket batha- almost always is it cold enough in the morning to justify warming my water- almost never do I actually take the time to do it. I recently had cement laid in my batha so now I take my baths out of the dirt… this is HUGE news!

7:30 a.m.

Take boiling water off of fire and start some type of breakfast. Usually boiled sweet potatoes with egg or oatmeal with raisins (dried fruit is a novelty to me… hint hint to future care packages out there).

7:50 a.m.

Eat my warm breakfast with a side of French pressed coffee (also a novelty). This might be the happiest part of my day!

8:30 a.m.

This is where you play the “choose your own ending” game.


1. Go to the health center (about 1km away) and help at the ART clinic distributing AIDS medication to the Kameme Community.

2. Go to HS and help at the antenatal clinic monitoring pregnant women.

3. Attend a community mobilization meeting. Since for the first three months of service our main PC responsibility is to assess our community and understand the need, these are extremely important. Sometimes they’re hosted by Red Cross workers, Britney, myself and health center staff . We discuss health disparities in the community such as malaria and proper net usage, AIDS and lack of transport to the clinic for ARVs and sanitation issues because of lack of knowledge and public defecation (to name a few example).

4. Attend a community meeting of one of our local groups (people living with HIV/AIDS, women’s groups, agriculture groups or theatre for development).

5. Sit at home and read.

6. Garden (more on this gem soon).

Noon (or later depending on how long the meeting goes)

Normally I would have made beans in the morning and left them out to cook (about 1.5 hours on coals) then add them to salad. In my village I can buy tomatoes, greens (mustard spinach + cabbage), onions and sometimes avocado. Pretty lucky!

3 p.m.

Once my morning responsibilities are done I normally fill my day reading, gardening, doing chores, making bucket wine with Britney or trying to will my computer to charge on the solar panel at Britney’s so I can watch movies that night!

5 p.m.

Britney and I cook dinner together often- usually curries, curries and more curries… or whatever idea Britney has.

6 p.m.

Watering garden. This is a pain in the ass and will continue to be until the rains come in October. It entails me strapping two huge jugs to the back of my bike (like a true Malawian) and riding down to a nearby creek to fill them, then riding up a hill to water. I am hoping all of this ridiculousness will lead to some amazing summer salads in a few months.

7 p.m.

Reading or watching a movie if the computer is charged.

8 p.m.

Chatting with friends and family back home via Viber (there is a 10-hour time difference here so we can only really talk before I sleep or right when I wake up).

P.S. if anyone wants to chat download Viber and shoot me a text or email Isabel.nicole.ig@gmail.com!

8:30 p.m.

Lights out grandma!

First 3 Months: My home photo blog!


My Peace Corps bedroom. My mosquito net is my best friend.

My Peace Corps bedroom. My mosquito net is my best friend.

I will need to re-create this in the states.  No wrinkles and no hanging on stupid hangers!

I will need to re-create this in the states. No wrinkles and no hanging on stupid hangers!

Living Room and Desk


Desk and chair. Along with mats for sitting in the living room!

If you want to make the wall… send me a photo!

Same goes here!

Kitchen kitchen! Hand-made custom kitchen table with storage. Less than $25!

First 3 Months: Where am I?

My location… ABRIDGED

Country: Malawi

Boma/District State: Chitipa

Area County: Kameme

Village City/Town: Kenya

Above is my new home’s location… in U.S. terms. Basically I am as far North in Malawi as you can get. I live in a little valley wedged between beautiful mountain ranges. My area borders Tanzania and Zambia- and in on bicycle (or if you walk like they do in SF’s Financial District) you could easily visit all three in one day.

After three months training in Kasungu (the flattest area of Malawi) I was DYING to get some hiking time in and explore my new home. Luckily, within one week of Britney and I arriving to Kameme, we already had a hiking date with the village medicine man, Mishik!

I know you’re probably picturing an old man dressed in robes with some type of staff with an unidentifiable skull adorned on top of it- or at least I was- until I met Mishik. Mishik is in his 30’s and worked with the prior environment volunteer contributing to a “Medicinal Plants in Malawi” book. The two of them hiked all of the surrounding mountains identifying, picturing and collecting plants that can be used as traditional natural medicine. As a P.C. volunteer, I will have the opportunity to learn about and make my own natural medicine at ANAMED (Action for Natural Medicine) training in a couple of months. Unlike the U.S. where Western and Eastern medicine often has a hard time collaborating (to put it lightly), lack of resources at health centers and premeditated village beliefs often lead to patients being recommended to see the “Sinanga” (medicine man) BY THE HEALTH CENTER!

The fun thing about hiking with Mishik is his ability to identify most of the plants we pass. I feel like after these next two years working with Britney (environment volunteer) and focusing on being more aware of the resources around me my appreciation for nature will have changed a lot. Hiking in California (aka “The Shire”) was normally an opportunity to escape everyday thoughts and gallop around like mad people. It was less of an appreciation for what was IN the area and more of what was NOT. In my opinion neither is wrong or right, just different ways of enjoying time amongst the trees.

But I digress; the attention to plant life was not the only differences between U.S. and Malawi hiking. I can best describe the difference between the two in the visual representations below.

United States:




(Sorry these are so bad… I had something better but internet wouldn’t load)

That’s right, Malawians don’t believe in switch-backs (or trails for the most part). A hike that Britney and I approximated would take the better half of the day ended up taking one hour.

Fortunately, whatever uncomfortableness we experienced during our 90-degree trek was immediately made up for by the beautiful view of our new home we enjoyed as soon as we got to the top.

For as hurried as the hike up felt, as soon as we reached our destination the three of us found “rocks with a view” and saw for the first time all of Kameme, my new home for the next two years.

Mishik pointed out the different villages of Kameme (spread throughout the valley between the mountains) the range to the right and Songole River that stood as the border of Tanzania and the ranges to the left that were in Zambia.

I am currently writing this entry during a TDI (Total Development Initiative) meeting with multiple people living wih HIV/AIDS group. A lot of great material (for stand-up comedy… maybe). In case you didn’t know, female condoms make HUGE balloons.

Anyways, back to the topic at hand… my beautiful home.

Living in a border town will definitely have its benefits and challenges. First of all- there are about 27 different languages spoken in Chitipa. Although we were trained in the most prominent, Chilambia, the people of Kameme in my area speak Chineha. At any one time people could be using up to four languages for one conversation. This and the fact that people from Tanzania and Zambia will travel into Chitipa (especially for free services at the health center) means that learning the local language will be very hard. Will I know greetings in 10 languages by the time I leave Malawi? YES. Will I be fluent in one pure language? NO.

Another issue is that Chitipa Boma (“The Big City”) is a 2.5 hour bicycle ride from Kameme. The people of Kameme choose to do their shopping in Tanzania at a border town 7km away. Unfortunately, Britney and I can’t take advantage of this town until we pay for visas so for now our shopping/restock options are limited. (I was just informed that fruit in Tanzania is considerably cheaper, so a visa has just become my priority!)

As far as benefits go, living in Kameme will give many opportunities to work with a lot of different groups. Since Kameme was only recently able to be reached easily by the rest of Malawi there are a lot of NGOs and non-profits interested in working in the area.  This means the next two years will be full of collaboration projects, so that is very exciting!

I am currently working on a front yard garden (since everyone in Malawi grows their own food) and some other house projects.  Blog post with photos of my home (hopefully) will be up soon!


Pre-Service Training: Departure

My family.

My family.

“So… what will you wear for the festival?” asked my amayi as she looked me up and down like a mean high school girl.

Uh-oh… I had been waiting for this. Other PCTs had told me earlier that their amayis had asked them the same thing. Our village appreciation, aka the homestay ending ceremony that Peace Corps was planning to thank the families for their generosity, was in two weeks… and the amayis were taking it REAL seriously.

My amayi had been meeting with the other village women everyday for the last week planning the song and dance they would perform for us, and that day they had decided to buy matching chitenges for the occasion. In short, I better look good and NOT embarrass her with my usual tank and tevas.

Luckily, the other PCVs had been feeling the same heat, and we brought it up to the coordinator who agreed to find a tailor to make clothes for us. I decided on a skirt that I would buy the chitenge for… my first custom-made piece of clothing! Even better the total cost for fabric and labor was K2200 (about $5)!

The day before our swearing in ceremony (which took place the day prior the festival at the U.S.’s ambassador’s house) the tailor gave us our clothes. Nothing like last minute Malawi time… but miraculously everyone’s looked great! Although the next three days would be BUSY AS HELL with swearing in, village appreciation and moving to site at least we would look damn good!

The next day we loaded back into the mini-buses for the two-hour trip to Lilongwe. I was impressed by the swearing in ceremony and honored to have been invited to the ambassador’s house. After the ceremony we were treated to catered refreshments where we immediately blew our facade of “respectful Peace Corps Volunteers” and all but attacked the servers handing out food. The next hour is a blur of soda, quiche, cake, cookies, peanuts and smiling faces I tried to avoid so that I could eat more food. I was not alone, either; we were all a bunch of hot messes. But who could blame us after two months of beans, greens and nsima? This was our day… let us eat cake!

Village appreciation was the next day back in Kasungu. I threw on my new “made for Izzi” skirt and joined the other PCVs (now we were official Peace Corps Volunteers!) at the grounds. Peace Corps had brought in tents and a sound system for the event. My amayi was wearing her uniformed chitenge and was awarded the opportunity to give the opening prayer. After a few dances by the women in the village, each PCV danced to the podium with their families to receive their certificate of appreciation. Naturally, my amayi and I had already practiced our dance… so we looked really good.

I loved how much the village women had prepared for the event. Their songs, dances and outfits were on point. The time and thought they put into their part of the ceremony helped make it a perfect closing to our two months together.

Although leaving was sad, I have no doubt I will be in touch with my amayi and host family. I plan to visit this year and we have each other’s contact information. I can’t even explain the appreciation I have for that woman. Although letting someone wait on me was EXTREMELY hard at times, her love and generosity for someone she barely knew blew me away. I wouldn’t have traded my homestay experience for anything, but it was time to say goodbye. On to site and my first home alone!

Pre-Service Training: Take me to Church

I hope I am not condemning myself to hell in the eyes of my religious readers, but I would not call myself a god-fearing individual. I respect the faithful, and at times idolize the unity and friendships they have because of their church, but have never taken part in their worship. I came to this country aware that the majority of Malawians were practicing Christians, but I was not aware just how much their faith influenced their everyday lives, and eventually, my own.

By the end of the first meal I shared with my amayi, I knew the following:

1. Her husband worked for CCAP, the Presbyterian Church in the boma
2. All of her children had met their spouses in church
3. She sang for the church, and was the founder of her choir
4. It was okay that I was “Catholic”(1), because so was her brother and they loved each other anyways
5. She had prayed to God for a new daughter(2), and he had answered her prayers in the form of an Azungu twice her size

Needless to say, church was a HUGE part of her life. Although I had originally decided that I would attend no more than one church session with my host family,the longer I lived with my amayi and grew respect for her the more I wanted to show support for something she loved so much. I ended up attending church in the boma with her almost every time she did for the 9 weeks we lived together, and even donated Kwacha to her choir at their “festival”. Although I continue to hold my own beliefs about religion and the commitment involved in belonging to a church, I was able to see how much guidance and support her faith had filled her life with, and for that I am happy for her.

By the end of my time with my amayi, I considered her one of the truest Christians I had ever met. She was caring, giving, understanding and, most importantly, could separate the teachings of the church with the decisions that were best for her life and the lives of her family.

Since I thought so highly of her, I was not surprised when she made me feel like a sour American by inviting the door-to-door Jehovah Witnesses inside her house. When they knocked on our door, I was the first to answer and immediately responded like my own mother had taught me, by shaking my head and saying we weren’t interested before proceeding to shut the door on their faces. Before I could do so, my amayi intercepted me and began speaking to them in fast Chichewa that I could not understand.

I was embarrassed and afraid of what she would think of me. I had acted so un-Christian! What was I thinking shutting the door on another churchgoer? Of course she would invite them into the house to hear about their beliefs! She understood what it was like to belong to a church, and knew that they had a duty to it just like she did. What an angel to give them their time to shine… or so I thought.

I stood in the next room listening to their conversation, not understanding the fast Chichewa. She allowed them to talk for about five minutes and right when I figured she would accept their words and have them leave; my amayi did something that surprised me. Turns out, she was not as accepting as I had originally believed. All of the sudden the woman whips out her bible and for lack of a better word starts “schooling” them on the word of God, pointing out in her book specific examples of why their religion was wrong. They continued arguing back and forth for fifteen minutes until she finally led them to the door. She had not invited them into the house because she was an understanding Christian, she invited them in to have a showdown of the faiths, and for as far as I could tell from my poor Chichewa skills, she had won.

I should have known that anyone that involved in their church would not take opposition sitting down, but my first reaction was that my way was probably the ruder ‘Merica option, and that she must have a kinder solution to our pesky guests.

Fortunately, other then that little confusion, the majority of my interactions with religion in Malawi have been positive. I learned that a lot of at home care for those suffering from HIV/AIDS is offered through the church, the nicer private hospitals in Malawi are Christian owned and operated, and that an affective way to reach adolescence is through their youth groups at church. In addition, a lot of our volunteers will be working along side Christian non-profit groups and for Christian hospitals or health centers.

Basically, religion, rather I like it or not, will be a large part of my personal and work life for the next two years. It being one of main organized structures within the village means that it is a convenient way to reach a message to a large number of people at once. In a country where separation of church and state is not recognized, it would be limiting to not use the church as a resource while creating projects and planning for my community. I look forward to the challenge of putting my own beliefs aside and stepping into an environment that I would have never considered as a way to do my work. This will remain a continuing topic for the next two years, so for now, end of part one!

(1)“Catholic”= By recommendation of other Malawi PCVs, many of us have told “white lies” about our religion (i.e. we pray at home, our Quaker church is not offered in Malawi) since Malawians often do not understand not having a religion
(2)Earlier in the blog I said I would explain what my amayi had shouted to the crowd in Chichewa when we were united for the first time. She said, “I prayed to God for a daughter and here she is!”