Malawi

Malawi flag

Living Conditions

Enter alt text

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. 

Enter alt text
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 is social interaction among friends and neighbors. Malawians love to chat, sing, dance, and be together. If you enjoy soccer or netball, playing these sports will earn you many friends—regardless of your skill level.

Volunteers are encouraged to remain in their host communities in order to integrate and develop relationships with their neighbors and colleagues. During holidays, Malawi offers many outdoor activities, including hiking, Lake Malawi, game reserves, and sprawling tea estates. Volunteers also like to visit one another.

Malawi has a limited number of television stations, which offer a few local news segments and programming from South Africa and Europe. There are several FM radio stations, some of which play popular music. Many Volunteers bring or buy short-wave radios so that they can listen to international broadcasts (BBC, Voice of America, Radio Deuschewella, etc.). 

Alcohol

Alcohol consumption in Malawi can carry negative connotations, especially for women, and communities may consider it disrespectful. For that reason, drinking is not permitted during the entirety of Pre-Service Training. Throughout the rest of their service, Volunteers are strongly discouraged from drinking in their communities. In cities, social drinking is more accepted, but should always be conducted in a modest and responsible manner.

Professional attire
Professional attire

Professionalism, dress, and behavior

Conservative and professional dress is extremely important in Malawi and is considered an outward sign of respect given to and expected from others. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will be viewed as a professional by the Peace Corps staff and your Malawian colleagues. Thus, it is expected that you dress accordingly. The effort you put into your dress will be returned to you in the respect you receive from your Malawian community members and colleagues.

Female Volunteers 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 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 appropriate.

Male Volunteers in a village setting should always 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 not appropriate. 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 quite high. Women must 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 very high level of professionalism with respect to dress, including slacks, button-down shirts, blazers, ties, and close-toed shoes.