A Person I met in Malawi

An article about how Giovanna sees her older colleague Shake from Malawi and talks about him and his struggles.
She was volunteering 6 months in Teacher Training Collage with her husband Lucio.


If I have to think of a person I met in Malawi, my thoughts go immediately to Shake. Shake was our translator and supervisor at the preschool project. He is an older man of indefinable age. I asked him several times how old he was and each time he told me a different age; between 70 and 80 years. In the past, in so-called developing countries, there was not much interest in the date of birth.

I think that infant mortality was widespread and that people had more important things to focus on, like survival. There are not many older people in these countries. The few who meet are not so productive, I think because of their living conditions. Shake is an exception even if he lives in poor conditions he is an active and strong person. Perhaps this is due to his background. In the 1970s he was a professional boxer and played at the Berlin Olympics. He was very successful, but when he returned to his country, he continued life living in a rural area of Malawi.

Shake has been working with the DAPP as a translator for 15 years. He has taken generations of volunteers to the villages, riding his bicycle with pride. Shake lives in a rural area near the Teacher Training College with his family. His family consists of 6 children, 2 grandchildren and a wife. Three of his sons live far away with their families, the other 3 with him in a nearby house.

We often went to his house and he was proud to show us his animals, chickens, pigs and even a cow. Living in the countryside in these countries is very hard. Especially when the cultivation of the land is done without the technology we see in our countries. The farmers rely on their hands and the climate. Because of climate change, farmers are conditioned by the climate. One year can rain a lot and give a good harvest for the family and for the sale. Another year there maybe droughts and families suffer from hunger losing their only source of livelihood.

In rural areas it is difficult to get a job and therefore a salary. The only source of wealth is to own land and some animals. But even owning animals is expensive and risky if you don’t know how to treat them. I remember the day that Shake came to work very sad. His pregnant cow, who had been sick for 2 weeks, had died and with it the possibility of having profited from the sale of the calf. He had no chance to call a vet and obviously pay him. Shake is the only one in the family with a salary and in the 8 months we worked with him he didn’t even miss a day, always on time and always present. Unfortunately, it is not a big salary and it is not enough to cover all the ordinary and extraordinary expenses.

He is a respected person among the communities. He knows all the dynamics that are created in the villages and knows how to advise the volunteers. Shake is also good with volunteers, every year he meets people from all over the world. His strength is the ability to adapt to every different culture. I was pleasantly surprised to meet him. I will always remember the small but great Shake that helped us better understand the culture of Malawi.

The connection between us was through the eyes. If something was wrong during the meetings at the villages, he sent me a signal with eyes and we understood each other perfectly. This connection was particular especially considering that we spent only some months of our life together.

The baobab tree is known as the tree of life, with good reason. It can provide shelter, clothing, food, and water for the animal and human inhabitants of the African Savannah regions. The cork-like bark and huge stem are fire resistant and are used for making cloth and rope.



Lindersvold is an international learning center that facilitates courses in community development and certification in non-traditional pedagogy. Our Center provides an opportunity to learn about the big issues of our time while preparing to assist community-driven projects in Zambia, Malawi or Mozambique. We believe in combining hands-on training with theoretical knowledge, alongside community living, gives students the best foundation for working with sustainable development and vulnerable youth.

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