Malawi: Lake of Stars

I’ve been in Lilongwe for ten weeks and while I feel relatively well adjusted, I keep encountering the same refrain: “You haven’t experienced Malawi until you’ve visited the lake.” Not wanting to pass on the scene everyone kept talking about, I decided to take a short trip to finally visit the famed “Lake of Stars.”

Cape Maclear 1
The southern lakeshore at sunset.

For blog readers unfamiliar with Malawi, the eponymous lake makes up nearly a third of the country’s total area and provides a sense of livelihood and identity for locals living along its shores. All this aside, Lake Malawi is a global treasure for a number of other reasons. For example, Lake Malawi:

  • Is the 9th largest lake in the world and 3rd largest in Africa, covering an area of 26,000 square kilometers.
  • Has a greater amount of biodiversity than any other lake in the world, including roughly 1,000 unique (and colorful) species of cichlid.
  • Is classified as a meromictic lake, meaning that it has several water-layers of varying temperatures and densities that don’t mix with one another. This allows for  the existence of several distinct ecosystems in which different aquatic plants and fish can thrive.

My own experience at Lake Malawi confirmed what friends and colleagues had been saying about it. I stayed for several days in a small fishing village on the southern lake shore and was treated to sandy beaches, beautiful sunsets, and a snorkeling trip showcasing hundreds of brightly colored fish swimming just beneath the water’s surface. It was a welcome weekend away from the office grind and gave me a better image of Malawi beyond the confines of its capital city.

Back at the office, I re-established routine with field visits to a couple of rural and peri-urban settings around Lilongwe. These were meant to give me perspective on the NGO’s programming and inform the assessments included in my report deliverable (see: blog post 1 and 2). Beyond that, I continued to learn a ton about the challenges facing girls in Malawi and the efforts of local activists to make a difference.

In my first field visit to Dedza, representatives from the NGO, the Malawi Police Force, the Victims Support Unit, and the Social Welfare Office met with village chiefs and local families to readmit pregnant teens into primary school and end several illegal child-marriages.

Chule Primary School, Dedza District

A second set of field visits to several villages in the Lilongwe’s administrative district were part of a mass-sensitization effort to educate communities about preventing violence against children. This included explanations on the different forms violence can take and how its effects stay with children throughout their lives. Trips to each village involved a community-wide gathering featuring local musicians, traditional dancing, role playing, and educational speeches all focused around the theme of protecting Malawi’s children. Turnouts were generally good –  600 attendees on average per gathering – and most importantly, everyone was having fun.

Chitapa 1
Several women performing traditional dances before a round of speeches.

Check out my next blog post for some concluding thoughts on the IEDP internship experience and my final farewells to Malawi.

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