A look into an American intern’s experience in Malawi

Doing a community development internship in Africa can take many different forms; it’s a broad concept that can offer various types of experiences, depending on where you’re based, what kind of organization you join, and what goals your work is aiming to achieve. Similarly, a community development internship can align with a variety of academic and professional domains. But the overarching concept is one of impact-focused work that will allow you, as an intern, to fully immerse yourself into a local community, and help this community flourish. We asked our current intern Amanda Drobek, who is doing a community development internship in Malawi, about her experience.

 

Situated on the sandy banks of Lake Malawi, and nestled between towering palm trees, Butterfly Lodge is an idyllic destination for adventurous travelers. But the lodge offers much more than a relaxing stay; it’s a central hub for a number of social impact initiatives that serve the surrounding communities of Nkhata Bay. These include nonprofit organizations focused on health education and HIV support, permaculture projects, primary education, and skill development. The lodge provides a platform for these initiatives that allows them to grow their network and reach, share knowledge, collaborate, and deepen their impact.

Daily tasks at an internship in Malawi

In this unique setting, interns can take on an active role in developing this nonprofit network; a role that is hugely diverse. “As Butterfly Space has such a diverse range of projects, I assist in a variety of tasks,” says Amanda Drobek, who’s currently doing an internship. “I have taken on email campaigns, newsletters, social media posting, fundraising, grant research and writing, comprising an overall communications map and strategy, writing website copy, and doing project visits and assessments. I’ve also set up Google Analytics, I’ve done bartending training, and I have assisted on the ground work with certain projects. There is definitely always something to do whether it be for the lodge directly or a specific program.”

Confirming the multi-faceted nature of these internship opportunities, Josie Redmonds, the lodge’s founder and manager, points out that the community programs are in a development stage. “Our projects have been steadily growing, and continue to do so, so there is scope in many areas to get involved whether the overall structure or specifics with individual projects,” she explains. “While there will always be some specific tasks our interns take on, there is always scope to get involved in areas that each person feels most passionate about too.”

Internship highlights

“One of my highlights so far is participating in a tree planting event in a village just outside Nkhata Bay,” Amanda continues. “It was a great experience working with the local community and spreading awareness on the importance of planting trees. Working together, we planted almost 100 trees and distributed another 300 to community members to plant near their homes. It is inspiring to know what an impact these trees will make for the community in the future.”

Find out more about our community development internship in Malawi!

“Another key moment of my time thus far has been setting up a relationship with the Mutu Youth Organization in Dzaleka, a refugee camp that was built in response to the wars in Burundi, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I had the opportunity to attend a festival at Dzaleka, where I met the founders of Mutu. They graciously showed me around the camp and brought me to their homes, where their families welcomed me with open arms. It was an eye opening experience that inspired us to begin working together. I am able to share lesson plans that have been created for Butterfly’s Youth Club, and I am organizing a poetry event for members to come share their stories and art in Nkhata Bay.”

Career advancement through a community development internship in Africa

The eclectic nature of this internship in Malawi means that it can offer the right practical experience and resume boosts for various careers. In Amanda’s case, it compliments her marketing and communications focus. “This internship aligns both with my university education and my career aspirations,” she explains. “The education I received for my International Digital Marketing Degree [from Indiana University] is put to use daily in the various tasks I do that center around communication.”

“Plus, living on the eco-lodge and being directly involved with community development projects further inspires my passion for sustainable tourism, and my goals of pursuing a career that values the circular economy. By being exposed to new business models I can expand my knowledge to apply what I learn in different settings and industries around the world.”

Full cultural immersion

On top of the practical and widely applicable work experience, this community development internship offers the unique opportunity of living and working in rural African communities. This can be a challenging but mind-broadening and life changing experience. “It was definitely an adjustment at first,” recalls Amanda, “but the people at the lodge and in the community were so welcoming that I have grown to feel fully part of life here. I have gotten the chance to explore all around Malawi while being immersed in the culture and making incredible new friends. Each day brings something new and I am excited for what is to come in the next few months.”

Interested in doing an internship in Africa yourself?