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Up to 12 months
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Living Conditions in Malawi

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Peace Corps Volunteer with her cohort

Communications

Mail

Mail takes a minimum of three to four weeks to arrive in Malawi and packages take six to nine weeks.

Once you become a Volunteer, you will be able to get a post office box in your nearest city, town, or large trading center. If you live in a more populated area, you may be able to get your mail sent to your community. Many Volunteers share post office boxes in order to keep costs down and to alert one another as to when mail has arrived.

Peace Corps Malawi will share the mailing address you will use as a Trainee during pre-service training with you in advance of your arrival in country.

Telephones

If you plan to bring a smartphone from the U.S., you must ensure that is unlocked to work on international networks. It is not possible to unlock a phone once in Malawi. You will also be provided a basic smartphone.

Before leaving the U.S., you may find it useful to download applications that will make communicating easier. WhatsApp is the primary way most Volunteers communicate in Malawi. Most communities where Volunteers serve have strong enough reception to receive and reply to WhatsApp messages or emails, but for some, Volunteers may need to move around the house or outside.

For more information on phones, see Peace Corps Malawi's Electronic Guidance.

Internet

Volunteers are highly recommended to bring their own laptops to Malawi. They can make things like completing required reports, writing lesson plans, storytelling, etc. easier. In most communities, the only way to access the internet on a laptop will be via a hotspot off a smart phone. Connection speeds will vary between communities.

*Note that Peace Corps does not reimburse for personal belongings (including electronics) that are lost, stolen, or damaged. Please consider purchasing personal property insurance before your departure.

An example of a typical Volunteer home
An example of a typical Volunteer home

Housing and site location

During pre-service training, Trainees live with host families. The homestay experience is one of the most important aspects of the training program as it facilitates language and cross-cultural learning.

During this period, you will be matched to a community where you will live and serve for two years, based on your individual skills, community needs, and other factors. During pre-service training you will visit your future site to orient yourself to your future home. You will live in independent housing during your service. Almost all Volunteers serve in what would be considered rural communities.

In these communities, Volunteers will report to their assigned work locations depending on their sector - health centers, high schools, or environmental offices. Some Volunteers may live relatively close to other Volunteers, but some may be several hours away by public transport.

A typical pit latrine
A pit latrine

An important element of Peace Corps service is to live at or near the same standard as the people in your host community. Therefore, Volunteer housing is modest—usually a small brick house with a tin or thatched roof. Most homes do not have electricity or running water. Volunteers fetch water from a nearby communal pump, bathe with a bucket, and use an outdoor pit latrine. All houses are upgraded to meet a standard criteria of security requirements. Many Peace Corps Volunteers find creative ways to make their house into a comfortable home.

Electricity

The electric current in Malawi runs 220-240 volts, 50 cycles when it is on. Malawi uses a type G plug. Most modern electronic devices (phones, laptops, etc.) are dual voltage, but you must verify this before charging/running it in Malawi or it could be damaged. Travel converters are available on sites like Amazon if needed, but should be avoided if possible, and are generally not going to be reliable for the long term for things like hair dryers, electric toothbrushes, etc.

Electricity is not common in sites where Volunteers live. Peace Corps will provide a solar device for cell phone charging and basic lighting. Some Volunteers have chosen to bring their own travel solar chargers.

A borehole, which serves as a water source for many villages in Malawi
A borehole, which serves as a water source for many Volunteers

Living allowance and money management

Peace Corps Volunteers receive a modest allowance in Malawian Kwacha, deposited to their local bank accounts monthly. Because it is important for Volunteers to live modestly by the standard of the people they serve, they are discouraged from supplementing their living allowance with funds from home.

Many Volunteers will maintain their U.S. accounts to access additional funds for personal travel. Many local bank ATMs can be used to access these funds, which are distributed in local currency (Malawian Kwacha). For international travel, legal exchange bureaus are located in larger towns/cities, where Volunteers can exchange local currency for U.S. dollars.

Please check the validity of your cards/accounts in the U.S. prior to departure. Some banks require notice of travel, or they will block transactions. Many Volunteers choose to add trusted friends/family to their accounts or provide a power of attorney to assist them during their time in Malawi. 

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Cooking nsima together

Food and diet

Most Peace Corps Volunteers prepare their own food or eat with their neighbors. The staple crop in Malawi is maize (corn). It is finely ground and prepared as a thick porridge called nsima that is eaten with vegetables or beans. With a little creativity, you can enjoy a varied diet in Malawi. Fruits and vegetables are available according to their harvest season. Beans, rice, soy pieces, and greens can also be purchased in local markets. Meat and dairy products are available in towns, though they can be expensive and difficult to store as most Volunteers do not have refrigeration.

Volunteers who are vegetarian or vegan will be able to eat well in Malawi after becoming familiar with local food items and their preparation. Some people may not be familiar with vegetarianism and may not be prepared to serve a vegetarian meal if you are a guest in their home. It is common for Malawians to share meat with a guest as a sign of respect, as meat is expensive and usually eaten only on special occasions. For this reason, make sure to let your host family, neighbors, and co-workers know as soon as possible about your eating habits. They may think it is a bit odd, but will be accepting and may ask lots of questions.

Walking is the most common form of transportation for Volunteers and community members
Walking through a rural village

Transportation

The primary modes of transport for Volunteers are public mini-buses, shared taxis, bike taxis, biking, or walking. Commercial buses and mini-buses travel between cities on irregular schedules (i.e., they only leave when they are full), so travel in Malawi requires pre-planning and flexibility. Volunteers are not permitted to hitchhike, drive any motorized vehicles, ride as passengers on motorcycles, or travel after dark.

Social activities

The most common form of entertainment in Malawi is social interaction among friends and neighbors. Malawians generally love to chat, sing, dance, and be together. It is common to find people watching or playing soccer or netball in most communities.  Such gatherings serve as centers of interaction between neighbors and colleagues.

Volunteers are encouraged to remain in their host communities in order to integrate and develop relationships with their neighbors and colleagues.

Malawi has a number of television stations, which offer local and international news as well as a variety of local and international sports. There are also several radio stations. These forms of entertainment bring people together in addition to being a source of culturally enriching information.

Professional attire
Professional attire

Professionalism, dress, and behavior

Professionalism in the Peace Corps requires an awareness of the host community workplace culture, community values, and your self-presentation. To maintain a positive, culturally appropriate professional standing within a host community or workplace, Volunteers may need to adjust their style of dress, hair style, facial hair, make-up, piercings, manner of greeting others, etc. to demonstrate respect for local culture and customs. How you present yourself, in both informal and professional settings, is a reflection of you as an individual and of you as a representative of Peace Corps and the United States. In the U.S., dress (and other elements of personal appearance) may be seen as an expression of personal freedom and identity. In many host countries where Peace Corps Volunteers serve, the way you dress and present yourself may be interpreted as an expression of regard – or disregard – for those host community members around you.

Volunteers are encouraged to spend time in their communities, to develop their language skills, and to get to know the individual members of their community to better understand their traditions, culture, and local norms. As mutual trust is established over time, there may be opportunities for Volunteers to adjust their personal appearance and dress outside of the more rigid local standards. Volunteers are encouraged to discuss these potential adjustments with staff and other cultural mentors.

Conservative and professional dress is extremely important in Malawi and is considered an outward sign of respect given to and expected from others. Peace Corps Volunteers are viewed as professionals by the Peace Corps staff and their Malawian colleagues. Thus, it is expected that Volunteers dress accordingly. The effort put into their dress will be returned to them in the respect received from their Malawian community members and colleagues.

Volunteers identifying and presenting as women in villages are always expected to wear skirts that reach the mid-calf, or longer. Pants (which are called “trousers” in Malawi) are not acceptable in villages - only in cities. Tops worn by Volunteers identifying and presenting as women should be conservative and can be short-sleeved or long-sleeved. Shorts, tank tops, spaghetti straps, tube tops or anything tight-fitting or revealing are not considered appropriate.

Volunteers identifying and presenting as men in a village setting should wear neat and tidy clothing, nothing ripped or “distressed.” Typical attire is slacks and a long-sleeve button-down shirt or polo shirt. Shorts, muscle shirts, or basketball jerseys are considered culturally inappropriate for the Malawian workplace. Jeans and t-shirts can be worn in the village when conducting physical activity, such as gardening, or when in city settings.

Most Volunteers will conduct activities in schools and will find that the professional standard of dress in schools is high. In a school workplace, women wear nice blouses or button-down shirts (nothing sleeveless), long professional skirts or dresses, a lightweight slip to wear under the skirt, a blazer or cardigan, and close-toed shoes. Men in schools are also expected to maintain a high level of professionalism with respect to dress, including slacks, button-down shirts, blazers, ties, and close-toed shoes