GoAbroad Interview

Sam Galanje - Project Manager

Sam Galanje - Project Manager

Sam was born and raised in the capital of Malawi, Lilongwe. After finishing school, he attended Lilongwe Technical College and became a qualified mechanic. Sam has had opportunities to work in many roles as a mechanic and also for construction companies. His past work experience has been useful in his role as Project Manager with Naturally Africa Volunteers, especially for the building projects he has managed. He really enjoys helping to improve communities in Malawi and working with international volunteers.

Sam Galanje and his family

I am based next door to the volunteer cottage where I live with my family.

What is your background, and how did you get connected with Naturally Africa Volunteers?

I started to work with Naturally Africa Volunteers in May 2012 as a mechanic, driver, and translator, before working my way up to project manager. I first met the directors of Naturally Africa Volunteers when I was working on the project vehicle in 2011, as my training background is as a motor vehicle technician. My current role allows me to use my management experience and practical skills, and I also enjoy interacting with volunteers on a daily basis.

What does your day-to-day look like as Naturally Africa Volunteers’ Project Manager?

As project manager I oversee the ground implementation and execution of project activities. I supervise and provide support and advice to all volunteers attached to the organisation. I chair management meetings for the organisation. I lead the staff and also make sure the volunteers are happy in their fields.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?

The main challenges are managing the diversity of the volunteers integrating into life in the community with different cultures, beliefs, and languages. We give a full induction for volunteers, and include cultural awareness, helping them to fit into community life well.

Naturally Africa Volunteers offers a variety of volunteer projects in Africa, from education to healthcare, and conservation to sports. What is your most popular project placement and why?

It is difficult to say which one is our most popular project placement, as we get high interest in all project areas. The pre-school programme is very popular as it allows the opportunity for volunteers to work with younger children in the morning and older learners for extra-curricular activities in the afternoons. This allows people the chance to combine different interest areas; with different activities on offer in the afternoons, volunteers have a chance to play to their strengths in sports, wildlife, arts and crafts, and extra English clubs.

Volunteers with locals in Malawi

A great part of the job is spending time with volunteers from other countries.

What sets Naturally Africa Volunteers apart from all the other volunteer organizations that aim to “make a difference” in Africa?

I think what sets us apart from other organisations aiming to make a difference in Africa is how well we work with the community we are there to assist. We are focused on making the projects as beneficial as possible for the community and sustainable for the future. Many organisations that aim to make a difference in Africa are poorly managed and resources are wasted.

When we receive volunteers we make sure that we make the most of the skills they are able to offer. Our projects are oriented towards helping the community and we continue to work directly with the community so that the work we are doing directly addresses needs.

We also follow through with all the projects we start; I have encountered many times organisations that set out with good ideas that lose momentum and do not end up materializing in the long term.

How do you ensure all volunteer projects are sustainable?

We make sure our volunteer projects are sustainable by focusing all project areas on education. The teaching projects help to improve prospects for children in the community who will then have more opportunities to improve life for themselves and their families in the future. On the medical side of the project we are training local volunteers to become caregivers in their communities; once they are qualified they are able to continue to operate in their village and we are able to move on to help more people in other villages. Instead of just giving aid we are able to help people to help themselves.

Bicycle ambulances in Malawi

The organisation donated bicycle ambulances to help people in rural areas reach local hospitals.

What has been Naturally Africa Volunteers’ biggest charitable contribution to date? What impact did it have?

Aside from the education sessions the volunteers bring, our biggest charitable contribution to date is the building of an educational resource centre in the village. This will be used for child and adult education. We will work with the primary and secondary schools to teach them about computers and they will have access to the internet, which will be a highly valuable educational resource.

Prior to this our biggest charitable contributions were a secondary school library and laboratory for our village, and also the nursery school feeding program, where we have been providing a high protein porridge to malnourished children daily for several years.

What has been your greatest achievement since joining the Naturally Africa Volunteers team?

My greatest achievement since joining Naturally Africa Volunteers is finding land for and supervising the construction of the educational resource centre. I have also helped to build a strong bond between the community and Naturally Africa Volunteers.

What is the most fulfilling part of your work?

The most fulfilling part of working for NAV is knowing we have improved the lives of people in the community in a sustainable way through education and health care.

Volunteer painting a nursery school in Malawi

I enjoy getting involved in the practical side of the job; we recently redecorated the nursery school.

What are some upcoming projects you are working on that we should know about?

Last year we started to construct an educational resource centre. We are almost finished with setting it up, and we will start to teach people computer skills and will also look at ways we can help with vocational training, so people can learn skills in order to work.