Ready to confront African realities

Last updated 12:00 27/12/2013
THIRST FOR TRAVEL: Abi Guest will teach basic language skills, maths, reading and writing to primary school-aged children in a rural village called Bwengu.

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The village where Abi Guest is heading to is so remote even Google Maps can't find it.

The Palmerston North teenager has her bags packed and is ready to jet off next week for a once-in-a-lifetime placement in a small African settlement in northern Malawi. 

She will teach basic language skills, maths, reading and writing to primary school-aged children in a rural village called Bwengu, a 10-hour bus trip from Malawi's capital, Lilongwe.

Also on the curriculum is teaching children about health education, including HIV/Aids.

"It's an incredible thought because it's just not a topic talked about often when you're living in little ol' Palmy," she said.

Abi's interest in Africa stemmed from her friend Namwaka, who is from Lusaka, Zambia.

Namwaka inspired her to do a school project on the country when she was in Year 7.

"They said ‘pick a capital city, anywhere you like' and because she was my friend I thought I'd do her home city and with free rein on Google I saw a lot of shocking stuff, and some good stuff as well, but they were images that really stuck with me years on," she said.

Abi set a goal as a 10-year-old to spend time volunteering in Africa. Now, seven years later, she is off for a seven-month placement through Lattitude Global Volunteering.

Abi said she has been mentally preparing herself for home sickness, culture shock and being confronted with poverty on a daily basis.

"I'm sure I'll be in shock and crying a lot when I get there, but [in our orientation] they did focus a lot on the negative stuff and the things that could go wrong to help prepare you for it," she said.

"I just plan to keep my mind open and take it as it comes."

Abi, who has fibromyalgia - a condition that leaves her with muscle pain and fatigue - said there will be challenges, but she feels ready.

"I've always had a thirst for travel . . . and have been really keen to get out of Western culture.

"I don't know if it's just me being an angsty teen, or what, but I see a lot of negative things in this world," she said.

"But saying that, I'm not trying to be an angel and save all the children in Africa.

"You can't go there with the mindset that you can save people's lives, or change their world, because you just can't, it's impossible.

"I'm going to be the one changed the most."

Abi has been in touch with Namwaka via Facebook and the two plan to meet next year.

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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