Volunteering brings new friends and worthwhile experiences

“How many copies? Where do they go?” I had said this so often in the last few weeks it felt like it was becoming my personal mantra. Though no sooner had I gotten the words out, they were being echoed off the wall. Except the words bouncing off the wall were in Chichewa. We are in Lilongwe and Chikondi, the local Co-operative Development Foundation of Canada (CDF Canada) program officer, is doing the translating. I look around the room and see the signs of battle fatigue: the tired faces and glazed over eyes. Chikondi must have seen it as well, for he calls a halt and has everyone stretching, clapping, singing, and dancing for the next few minutes. Breathing new life into the participants. Another attempt to recover some measure of alertness.  

My route to Malawi started with an email. I received one a while ago thanking me for my volunteer efforts in the past. Would I like to do another volunteer placement for the VOICE for Women and Girls program in Malawi? I had never volunteered for CDF Canada, but I was interested. Let’s talk. I had racked up about five years of volunteering experience over the last twenty years with organizations, such as VSO, CUSO and Catalyst+. I assumed someone had shared my resume with them. 

Volunteer Keith Forsythe leads a four-day course on internal controls and strategic planning in Malawi.

Volunteering had become a significant part of my life ever since I went into semi-retirement. Many years ago, I read that whatever you put into the pot for humanity, it is always more than enough. I had felt it was high time for me to contribute something for the gifts of life had brought me. It was a symbiotic relationship. I satisfied my travel bug at no cost to me, and they got an experienced professional accountant with a zero charge-out rate. I had never been to Malawi, and I was keen to go. 

The co-operative movement started in Malawi in 1947 with a significant resurgence in the mid 1990s. CDF Canada established a local office here and was supporting the co-operative movement. Hence the email to me. I am supporting the Malawi Federation of Cooperatives (MAFECO) for six weeks as a Finance and Audit Advisor. Sometimes in their Lilongwe office; sometimes throughout the country. With support from CDF Canada, a four-day course is developed for some of the primary co-operative directors. Two days of internal controls with me and two days of strategic planning with another Canadian volunteer.  

I ask the participants, “how is driving a car related to internal controls and financial systems?”  I am trying to relate the concept of controls and feedback systems to these small holder farmers. Many of them had formed primary co-operatives to gain access to markets and avoid intermediaries. I listen to the people talk in their local language and hear the English words: “internal controls.”  If the words do not exist in Chichewa, neither does the concept. 

This is my last session. I am flying back to Canada soon. How have these Malawian farmers benefitted from my six weeks? Perhaps some idea that a strong financial system is part and parcel of a strong co-operative. Perhaps some idea of the weaknesses and gaps in their own systems. The first step in making a change is realizing that the change will be beneficial.  

What did I get? Interaction with local smallholder farmers and seeing how eager they were to learn and understand what their roles and responsibilities as directors were. The benefit of being supported by a competent and caring local CDF Canada office, who were invaluable in making the placement, and my stay, both productive and comfortable. What else? New friends and a very worthwhile experience. Many thanks MAFECO and CDF Canada. 

Join our mailing list today!

Stay updated on our news, projects, and opportunities.

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.