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A day in the life of Marie Banaghan, VSO Volunteer

Marie Banaghan, a primary school teacher from Trim Co Meath, Ireland, volunteered with VSO along with her husband Kieran in September 2008. She currently works along Kieran as a professional development facilitator for the Ministry of Education in Malawi. Below Marie describes a typical day.

Wake up call

The roosters start crowing at daybreak in the village where we live and the local people, not having electricity, live and work according to the daylight. But a lifetime of habits is hard to break and I don't rise until about 7am. If the power is working, I'll have tea and toast for breakfast, if not, I'll settle for milk and bread.

My role with VSO in Malawi

I work with the Ministry of Education as a professional development facilitator. The schools are clustered into zones and each zone has a teacher development centre, managed by an adviser. My colleague Kieran, who also happens to be my husband, and I work with these advisers – all 49 of them in a geographical area spreading hundreds of miles north of where we live.

The advisers are former primary school principals and they are responsible for the professional development of the teachers in their zones, sometimes up to 200 teachers. It's a daunting task and that is where we come in. We try to support them with trainings and regular meetings, we facilitate exchange visits between districts and we have helped to improve networking among learners and educators with regular newsletters.


We have a monster jeep, which comes in handy as many of the centres are on earth roads that are often water-logged during the heavy rains. We have to ford a river, two foot deep, on today's journey, but we pull it off and continue on our way. We have gotten stuck a few times, but not for long. Even on a seemingly deserted track, people pop up out of nowhere to help Kieran push the vehicle while I try to steer it out of the mud.

Differences from working at home

One of the biggest challenges I have encountered is adapting to the Malawian work ethic, which can be summed up in the words: “No hurry, No worry!” Meetings are often postponed or cancelled, or simply no-one shows up, communication is poor and there can be an over-reliance on the NGO sector and a lack of initiative on the part of the locals. But, I don't blame them, they have grown up on a diet of handouts and charity, and it has been a real endeavour of mine; to instil independence in my colleagues here.

What I do to relax

I try to get an hour on our veranda as the sun sets. My main pastime here is reading, it is just as well I love books, as there is little in the way of other activities.

What I miss about home

I know it is a cliché, but by far what I miss the most are my family and friends. I have made some new friends here and we are tied together in this shared experience, but nothing makes up for the comfort of old friends and the familiar warmth of family. I can't wait to see them all again.

What I love about being here

The thing that I love most about Malawi, without a shadow of a doubt, are the children. They are the most beautiful creatures full of smiles and giggles, growing up in a carefree world of skipping, dancing, tree climbing and the enviable freedom.

When I arrived in Malawi over six months ago, I felt sorry for the people all the time. I was overcome with pity and guilt, but the longer I am here the more that pity turns to envy. In Ireland, we tend to associate Africa with famine, disease and war, but there is another reality here. There is an overwhelming sense of kinship, community and loyalty, and people are quick to laugh and smile.

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