Our first Malawi project, in 2009, was building swing sets for the children at the centers, and was among the most enjoyable. We soon discovered that there are two species of timbers available in Malawi: one fairly soft with difficulty holding screws. The other is Blue Gum, which is extremely hard, strong, and difficult to drill. Blue Gum was the only reasonable choice for the swings.
The first year we constructed swings at MOH’s Katondo and Chimwang’ombe centers, and in 2010 we returned to construct two more swing sets at Matapila and Khwamba. Most children had never seen a swing, let alone been on one, but it didn’t take more than the first push before they were screaming with glee and swinging as high as they could go. It was such a joy to bring such fun to children as an escape from the myriad difficulties they otherwise face.
The first couple years we brought handtools: brace and bit, handsaws. With no electricity in the villages for power tools, battery operated tools would have been ideal. But our American battery chargers, designed for 110 vAC @ 60 Hz, wouldn't accommodate the 220 VAC @ 50 Hz at our lodge rooms. We later found a source for European chargers compatible with "Malawian electricity", and working became much easier!
The response to our swings was overwhelming, as great crowds of kids suddenly gathered to experience them. Facing so many other developmental challenges, we moved on and away from building swing sets, but I look back with a bit of sadness that we haven’t found the time to build more of them.
Amazingly now 10 years later, three out of the four swingsets we built are still in very active use: the Katondo swing unfortunately was destroyed by termites. This year we plan to obtain a cost estimate from a welding fabricator in Lilongwe to replicate our swing design from steel pipe. The wood plans we used, however, are included in the technical section of this website, should any group wish to pick up the project.
Buying bluegum timbers at the wood market in Lilongwe
Bluegum is incredibly hard. After breaking a drill bit on the very first hole, we quickly discovered that the only way to drill is while dribbling water (madzi) onto the bit as a lubricant and coolant. Soon calls for madzi! madzi! came over and over!
The swing project initiated a spirit of comraderie between ourselves and the local folks that has lasted since then, and began the concept of "more of them", and "less of us", that is the fundamental we employ today in Malawi Visions.
Then . . ..
and now . . . .