Maji Zuwa – “Water & Sun”
Frequently Asked Questions
Maji Zuwa understands that most people have not traveled to Africa and the idea alone may seem quite daunting. It sounds like a great adventure and an invaluable experience but you may not have an idea where to begin.
It is very difficult to sift through the mounds of books and advice on the subject but in this frequently asked questions section we hope to alleviate any worries and illuminate any unknowns. If you still have questions, please contact us. We’re here to make your experience exceptional. Please read through the whole guide as your questions may be answered further down the page.
We’ve broken this FAQ guide into four sections, (1) Volunteering, (2) Finances, (3) Health, Safety and Security, and (4) Travel Logistics
Q: First thing first: Why would I choose Maji Zuwa with all the options out there?
A: Maji Zuwa is committed to you and your experience. There are several companies and non-
profits that host volunteers overseas but Maji Zuwa is especially positioned to give you the
greatest and most truthful experience. We are small and that works to our advantage. We know
the area, we know the logistics, we know the people and we know how to present the visit in a
way that is respectful to all sides. We make a commitment to give you an authentic experience
with components of volunteering, service, education through local people and the ability to build
relationships with an area of the world that is so blessed with hope and love. Our commitment is
directly to you. The volunteer experience is what you make of it. When we are planning your trip
we will get a general idea of the interests of you or your group and try connect you with a project
that fits. We also believe that there must be a balance between work, play and thought and we
purposely schedule in time for you to reflect and share about your experiences. What other
program will you have the opportunity to sit in the evening and discuss the day’s events with the
CEO? What other programs purposely mix the heart and mind with service and purposeful
reflection? At Maji Zuwa, you are our focus.
Q: Why would someone pay to volunteer?
A: You are joining us at an active site in one of the poorest areas of the world where economic
and social conditions are in the process of developing. Your program fee helps to support that
site as well as pay the tab for your visit. In this way, volunteers and visitors are never a burden to
the area but are instead a blessing. Volunteers find that the fee is well worth the education and
experience for which it is applied.
Q: What can I expect to get out of the experience?
A: Volunteering with Maji Zuwa is an experience that you will take with you for the rest of your
life. You will be immersed in a culture that is quite different from your own and will be asked to
keep an open mind and open heart to what you see and hear. Our volunteer experience has no
illusion of “easy” and there will be challenges that you will encounter. Some of the stories of the people and their situations will tug at your heart strings and make you question the injustices of the world. But the hope, life and faith you will encounter will equally balance out the hardship and leave opportunity for an optimistic outlook into the future. If we do our job correctly, by the end of the program you will have a deeper appreciation for your life and a connection to your brothers and sisters who are halfway around the world. By focusing on the heart and the mind, you will leave Malawi with a greater understanding of some of the complex issues the world faces in the next century and how, together, we might be able to make a dent in the inequalities and opportunities our futures hold. If that sounds deep or overwhelming we are doing our job –but let’s take it one step at a time.
Q: What is the cultural “feel” of Malawi?
A: Called “the warm heart of Africa,” Malawi is regarded as one of the friendliest places on the
continent to visit. The Malawian people have largely escaped much of the post-colonial turmoil
that exists in other African nations and, because of few resources, outsiders historically did not
pay much attention to the area. Because of these factors, Malawian people accept modern
Westerners as partners in development. Malawi boasts strong civil leadership in the form of a
functioning multi-party democracy with a president, Dr. Bingu wa Mutharika, who was a senior
member of the World Bank. Demonstrating its peace and functionality, Malawi emerged from a
contested presidential election in the spring of 2009 with no violence of which to speak. There
are different ethnic groups in the country but all live harmoniously without tribalism or ethnic
friction. Local people are humble and loving. The people of Malawi feel pride at being able to
host visitors and show them the true beauty that is Africa and most especially the warmth of
Q: How do I apply?
A: The application process is simple. If you wish to travel alone, as a couple or in a small group
(like a close group of friends or family) each individual will fill out the application on the main
page of the website. The application collects all of your info and asks a few questions (including
health / allergy questions for your travel insurance which is covered through the fee). At the end
of the application each person, whether alone, as a pair or in a group will, at minimum, pay the
deposit of US $275. This will hold your spot. From there we encourage you to book your airfare
through our partner travel agent (see below) making sure to arrive on the program date you
specified in your application. You will receive a statement balance in the mail and you send that
back with your payment (via check, money order or credit card).
Q: How far in advance do I need to book?
A: There is no set time to book ahead though we do suggest giving yourself enough time to
prepare for the trip. Once dates are full they will be taken down as options on the website.
Q: Do I need to have international travel experience or volunteer experience?
A: For our SnapShot Malawi and Volunteer Malawi programs you need not have experience
volunteering or traveling abroad. We do ask that you come with an open mind and a mindset to
learn. We would love for you to help us improve our small part of the world in Malawi.
Successful visitors and volunteers are flexible, understanding and patient. They give of
themselves during their visit and are open to learning new ideas. For our Intern Malawi program,
potential Interns will be asked to fill out a separate application. Since these folks will be staying with us longer and will be given more responsibilities, applicants should have demonstrated leadership, flexibility and a skill set that is evident from their past.
Q: Can I travel with my friends? In a group? With my roommates? With my fiancée?
Spouse? Can I organize a group from my church? School? University?
A: Yes, yes, yes and yes. If you are coming alone, as a couple or as friends simply book and we
will contact you. If you have interest in being a point person for a larger group (7-12 people) let
us know and we will help you organize your group.
Q: What kind of free time is incorporated into the schedule for exploring?
A: Maji Zuwa believes in balancing work, play and thought and, to that end, we make use of the
beautiful facilities we have available. Nestled on the edge of one of the most pristine bodies of
water on Earth, Lake Malawi is your playground. We have many cultural outings and field trips
which are extensively available and organized on your own or through the staff. Bottom line, the
schedule is set up for a balanced service-learning trip where you will have down time between a
bit of sweat. We are organized yet flexible. We are experience driven – not schedule driven.
Q: What are the living conditions?
A: The pictures of mud huts and grass roofs are true and present in Malawi but you will stay in
simple and comfortable buildings. All facilities are clean, solidly constructed and screened-in for
the most comfort. You will have clean sheets and a clean pillow to rest your head after each
Q: Will I be able to keep in touch with home?
A: We are working on internet connectivity at present time but if this is unavailable we have the
lodge phone which can accept incoming calls.
Q: Is there a language barrier?
A: There are 14 languages spoken in Malawi. In the northern region Malawians speak a dialect
called chi-Tumbuka. We will teach you a few basic greetings when you first arrive but you will
also have a staff member who is multilingual and fluent in English accompanying you at all
times on outings. Since English is the national language of Malawi you will find that all staff and
many other people speak it fluently. If you do run into a language barrier, smiling and pointing
Q: When is the best time to come?
A: Since Malawi is so close to the equator there is not a bad time to come. Between December
and March there are daily rains though these are more sporadic than continual. Between May and
November the dry season provides continuous sunshine and fluffy clouds. Temperatures are
warm but a smooth, cool breeze continually blows and serves as a natural air conditioner.
Q: How hot is it?
A: There are three divisions of season in Malawi:
April to August is mild and dry: Warm days, Cool nights
September to November is very hot and dry: Hot Days, Warm nights
December to March is wet and hot: Muggy Days, cooler nightsTemperatures range but are warmer near the lake. Besides during the rainy season, the heat is a dry heat. As always, a smooth, cool breeze passes by helping any situation.
Q: What should I pack?
A: When traveling, do not over-pack! Keep in mind your weight restrictions for international
travel as over-packing may lead to very hefty fees at the airport. This is a packing list for you
while traveling to Malawi:
lightweight pants (men or women) / long skirt for women (when in the rural villages men should wear pants, not shorts, and women should never have exposed thighs or shoulders)
thong sandals / flip-flops (not Birkenstocks, for example, as they trap the sand in your foot)
(1) Backpacking bag or regular rolling suitcase & (2) regular backpack (the kind that can sit on your lap)
Contact lens care: saline solution, contact lens case, any cleaning products (none is available in country)
Spending money (Maji Zuwa can exchange / convert your currency for purchases around town or souvenirs/curios – Traveler’s checks will redeem for less value in Africa – Cash will get you the best rate)
230/50HZ adaptor for any electronics (same as Britain, just google it if confused)
Computer or expensive electronics (iPod okay)
Cell Phone & Calling Cards – you can buy minutes there if necessary but foreign phones and calling cards will not work
Laundry services will be available. Many of our visitors bring clothes that they can leave behind. We collect these throughout the year and distribute them during the especially hard economic time of the year (before the harvest) which coincides with Christmas. Plus this frees up space in your luggage for souvenirs / curios. There is obviously no pressure to participate - Just something to keep in mind when you’re packing!
Q: What should I expect as soon as I arrive at the airport in the capital, Lilongwe?
A: You will fly into the Lilongwe International Airport (LLW) which is the largest airport in the
country but still small in comparison to any airport in the USA. The airport is extremely safe.
You will deplane and pass through a health inspection point where the officer will want to see
your yellow immunization record card or, if you don’t have this, will want to see your shot
record (mostly they are looking for your yellow fever vaccination). Following this you will
collect your checked baggage and then will pass through customs where an officer will ask you
to open your bag. The point of this check is to make sure you are not bringing in anything to sell
in the country as those items have a tax. Be clear that you are taking home everything you are
bringing into the country. Just about all Malawi customs officers are friendly and inquisitive –
wondering why you are coming to Malawi to visit and boasting with pride that you are here in
their beautiful country. Following customs you will exit into the lobby of the airport and you will
see the Maji Zuwa representative holding a placard with your name on it. At this point, we will
encourage you to text (SMS) one of your loved one’s back home letting them know that you’ve
arrived safely. We’ll have a phone for you to do this. Our representative will then accompany
you the rest of your journey north (about a five hour journey) to Maji Zuwa lodge.
Q: Most importantly: what about the food? Is it any good?
A: We pride ourselves on an exquisite menu and serve main courses and sides that are as varied
as the different cultures in Malawi. As a main course, we regularly serve tilapia, chicken, beef,
pork and goat (believe it or not, you’ll love it) and all foods are locally grown. Sides include
traditional and Western varieties of beans, nsima (corn meal but thicker), rice, pasta, spaghetti,
vegetables, and the most delicious in season fruit you have ever tasted (mango, papaya, passion
fruit, etc). As a quick answer: the food is good. We do take into account dietary concerns and
have friendly choices for vegetarians and those with allergies. Please list food allergies on your
medical form when registering.
Q: When is my balance due on my account?
A: We ask that you pay your balance on your account at least 60 days before you plan to depart.
This ensures that your spot is secured and that we will have time to transfer funds to Malawi to
pay for your expenses.
Q: What kind of extra spending money should I bring?
A: You don’t need too much extra money since your experience with us is all-inclusive. That
being said, your trip fees do not cover snacks (we do plan to feed you well so not necessary),
extra sodas, any alcoholic drinks (Legal drinking age is 18; Malawi boasts the Carlsburg
Belgium beer distillery for southern Africa, if you are a beer person!) or any side trips you plan
on taking which are not included in the program. With a bit of notice, we can process a credit
card from the USA and give you cash in Malawi (sort of like a roundabout ATM) if you find
yourself short on funds once on site.
Q: All said and done, how much am I looking to spend on this trip?
A: You will have to add the package and the airfare cost. For example, if you are coming for a 2
week Volunteer Malawi package experience, your fees would be $2295 and if, working with our
travel agent Wafa (see below), you were to find roundtrip airfare for about $1700 your total
experience would be around $3995 without immunizations.
Q: How can I get help with this cost?
A: Many of our visitors from schools and churches fundraise to help with the cost of their trip.
Our partner non-profit, Determined to Develop, has put together a great fundraising guide that
has many ideas of where to go and what to do to get assistance.
Q: I’m not ready to come to Africa but I would like to help out. Is there any way I can
A: Our partner non-profit, Determined to Develop, works on the projects in our area and 100%
of the donations go toward assisting the poorest of the poor here in Malawi. To donate visit
http://www.determinedtodevelop.org or click on the “Donate Now” tab at the top of our
Health, Safety & Security
Q: What are the health risks associated with the trip?
A: Many travel sites and doctors will be extra-cautious in supplying advice to any potential
traveler and we are no exception to that. Our primary goal is to keep you healthy and safe. From
the health perspective most visitors will not be exposed to any higher risk situations unless your
specific skill (ie: medical) calls for such risk. In those cases we will work one-on-one with the
volunteer to equip him or her with the proper tools and precautions. More generally, Malawi has
a high rate of HIV/AIDS and malaria. Any open cuts or wounds should be brought to our
attention so we can be extra cautious in making sure it is sterilely dressed and covered. All
visitors are required to be current in their immunizations (listed in the following question) and to
take malaria prophylactics (pills) while on site and a few weeks after their visit. Many doctors
and health sites will warn against swimming in Africa in general because of schistosomiasis (also
called bilharzias) which is a non-fatal infection incubated by snails. Lake Malawi, however, is
not the ideal incubator for this disease which prefers stagnant water and reeds as found in
irrigated farms and small lagoons. We advise against any/all visitors wading or stepping into
ponds and irrigation fields or any standing water other than Lake Malawi. Your guide each day
will make sure you are aware of any of these obstacles. Malawi has adequate health facilities for
minor sicknesses, accidents, malaria treatment, etc. but in the unlikely event of a serious
affliction, your travel medical insurance will kick in to lift you to a Western Hospital. We ask
that once on site, you keep the program manager aware of any illness or fatigue.
Q: What kind of immunizations (shots) and medicine do I need before I come?
A: Doctors will give you many opinions but the most basic shots you need are:
All childhood vaccines including measles, mumps, rubella
Take a look at your personal shot record as you most likely have some of these vaccinations currently in your system. We do not suggest you spend the money for a rabies vaccination since you are not likely to be in contact with rabid animals (plus it’s expensive).
Without protection, malaria is your single biggest worry while in Malawi. We require all visitors to be on a malaria prophylactic while in country. This will guard against the malaria plasmodium from replicating in your blood after being bitten by a mosquito. There are many options for drugs to combat malaria. We strongly advise against mefloquine (Lariam) because of countless first hand anecdotal reports of severe mood swings, horrible lucid dreams and night terrors. Malarone, we find, to be the best but it is expensive. But with our experience we mostly recommend the antibiotic doxycycline (100 mg daily) as the safest option with the least number of side affects – and it’s pretty cheap. Our legal disclaimer: This advice should be taken anecdotally and should not be used as substitution for a conversation with your doctor. If we do
discover you show signs of malaria we will immediately take you to the hospital to get tested and, if you are found to have the plasmodium that leads to malaria, you will immediately start a chloroquine drip. Contrary to horror stories you might head, malaria caught early is no worse than the flu and clears up very quickly.
Q: What about food? Or drinking the water?
A: Food at the lodge is properly cooked, prepared and served. All staff members have been
trained on food preparation and safety and have completed certificates at technical college for
food handing and preparation. All Drinking water is boiled and/or treated.
Outside of the
lodge guests should take proper precautions as to not get sick. All bottled water outside the lodge
should be purchased with seals intact. Coke, Sprite, and Fanta are ubiquitous and safe. Food
should be consumed using discretion. If in doubt, ask a staff member or err on the side of
caution. Always take water bottles into village settings and never drink from the borehole (well)
in the village.
Q: How about safety?
A: Malawi is nicknamed the “Warm Heart of Africa” for the friendliness of its people. The crime
rate in Malawi is low and, when crime occurs, it is generally non-violent. Petty theft is the
biggest concern and valuables should be kept close or locked in the lodge safe. Unlike many
other African countries, Malawi has few guns (you are unlikely to see a firearm outside of police
hands). Malawi does not have the colonial baggage of some places on the continent and local
people’s attitudes toward Westerners and white people (“mzungu”) are positive. Away from
major cities crime is less abundant. That being said, visitors are encouraged to follow some smart
travel rules to keep themselves extra-safe:
Do not travel with expensive jewelry / flashy anything
Keep an eye on your luggage and carry valuables in your bag that you have with you at ALL TIMES during actual travel
Keep cash and passport in a hidden belt under your clothes. Keep a small amount of cash in your pocket so you are not going in and out of it all the time.
Make copies of your passport and other documents and keep them in a separate place.
After dark, stay in the Maji Zuwa compound or travel with a staff member (mostly because Africa can be pitch dark at night and we don’t want you lost).
Place valuables and money in the lodge safe by speaking with the manager at check-in.
Use common sense as you would in the United States.
There are several resources for independent crime statistic analysis including the US Department of State and travel resource guides found by searching google.
Q: How about Emergency Contacts?
A: 6 weeks before your scheduled program date, you will receive a finalized itinerary including a
listing of emergency contact phone numbers and addresses. You will receive the number to the
ground line of the lodge as well as the three most senior staff members, including the director,
who will be present and on-site during your full trip. We work in conjunction with the US
Embassy and the consulate at the Embassy in Lilongwe, Malawi has all of our emergency
contact information. Our representative, Becky Reidy, will be in contact regularly with you
before your trip and may be used in case of an emergency. During registration you will also list
any emergency contacts in the USA in case we would ever need to contact them.
Q: I have to ask: Am I going to be eaten by a Lion?
A: Unequivocally No. Sometimes when Westerners picture Africa they picture either dense
jungle or sprawling savannah with zebra and lion roaming free. Fortunately (or unfortunately)
this is not the case. Most large animals, and especially predators, have been driven away from
human population centers including rural villages. They now find their homes in protected
reserves and national parks. You may run into an occasional baboon and certainly beautiful
birds, but to see large elephant and gazelle, you will have to set up a safari which can be done
form the lodge at an additional cost.
Q: How do I book my ticket? What’s the best place to fly into?
A: All guests should plan to arrive at Lilongwe International Airport (LLW) on the Saturday that
their program begins. Guests will fly out on Fridays from the same airport.
Maji Zuwa’s USA Office has enlisted travel agent Wafa Langenbrunner of Provident Travel
as the point person for individuals and groups to book tickets. She knows our program and schedule so all you have to do is mention is that you are with Maji Zuwa and the dates of your trip (for which you have made a deposit to hold your spot). She can be contacted at (513) 841-8243 or toll-free at 1-800-323-9230 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays or anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You are, of course, free to book on expedia.com or another travel site and if that’s the case our best advice is to book separate tickets first from your home to Johannesburg (JNB) and then from Johannesburg to Lilongwe as it is generally much cheaper. Sometimes you get lucky, however, and can book a straight-through ticket through Johannesburg or Nairobi. Guests who book and arrive in Lilongwe other days besides Saturday and/or depart other days than Friday will incur a surcharge equal to transportation costs to/from Lilongwe and Maji Zuwa.
Q: Can I travel before / after my visit to Maji Zuwa?
A: Absolutely. And we can help you with some arrangements. Let us know what you are
thinking and we will work with you one on one.
Q: Do I need a visa? Are there any costs?
A: Currently visitors from the USA and most of Europe do not require visas when entering the
country for less than 30 days. For each additional 30 days the visitor must receive an extension at
a cost of $35. This fee is on the discretion of the visitor and not Maji Zuwa though the lodge will
assist in obtaining any extension. All visitors, regardless of nationality, must pay a $30 exit fee
when boarding their plane to leave the country.
Q: How do I get from the airport in Lilongwe (the capital) to Maji Zuwa?
A: A program staff member from Maji Zuwa will meet you personally at the airport with a sign
and will guide you north to the lodge. We use a variety of methods of transport depending on the
size of the group. You may ride up in a regular car or a mini-bus which looks like a large van.
Q: What about traveler medical insurance?
A: Full coverage medical insurance is packaged into your plan including medical and emergency
evacuation insurance. We have partnered with CORE Travel Insurance, a leader in the travel
insurance industry. You will receive a copy of the benefits associated with this policy. Your
policy, which is included in your fees, has the following services and limits:
Medical Expenses: $50,000 Emergency Medical Evacuation: Unlimited Home Country Coverage “Tail Medical”: $10,000 Emergency Dental: $1000 for injury $250 for alleviation of pain Accidental Death: $10,000 Permanent Total Disability: $10,000 Trip Cancellation: $1,000 Emergency Reunion/Trip Interruption: $ 3,000
We don’t anticipate you having to use any of the above services but it is always better to be over-prepared and over-covered and for this reason the above minimum values are included in your trip price. Upgrades to your policy are available at an additional cost directly through CORE Travel Insurance but if you are satisfied with the coverage given then there is nothing additional you need to do.
We have an ongoing relationship with CORE Travel and you should have piece of mind knowing that we have a variety of pre-agreed emergency response plans with the company on the off chance that a medical emergency or other situation would occur.
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