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When in Mtunthama…

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Code of conduct for visitors to Mtunthama

This Code is offered for the guidance of volunteers and visitors to Mtunthama. It comes in response to many questions which have been asked, and also comments from those who have been there before you.


Visitors are always welcome and greeted warmly. It is fantastic place to be. But culturally, Malawi is different and it is vital to respect local customs, standards and sensitivities. Malawians themselves of course, will be far too polite to complain or criticise directly.

It is also a place, obviously, where people live and work – the hospital, especially, is a busy professional environment.


This is different from other places in Mtunthama. The staff at the hospital are working hard, the patients are ill, and may have travelled a huge distance. Woman in wards may be sensitive to male visitors or male presence. The nurses and clinicians have medical tasks to perform.

All this means it is not a place for general visits, or just to go looking for friends! Please go if you have a purpose, or by arrangement. You will find a signing in book at the ‘Reception’ area – always signs in and out.


Sunday service is one of the highlights of any visit. Seating is – ladies on the left as you enter, men on the right. Please respect that.

It is a strange mixture of seemingly informal and very formal moments. Students is particular need to be aware of rapid changes of mood eg: for prayers or Bible readings. For instance it can be fine to take photos at some points, very disrespectful at others.

The Offertory is a big part of the service – everyone comes to the front to give . In fact there are three plates waiting for you – for the Poor, the Church and the Orphans, so have three sets of money with you to put in


The orphanage is the children’s home, and needs approaching in that way.

The orphans have jobs to do too – we are on holiday and tend to forget that – washing up, washing clothes – they may use ‘playing with you’ as an excuse!

Don’t give money directly to orphans – check with someone, and give it only through an adult.

Don’t give out your mobile phone number. Seems nice at the time but you may regret it.


Again a vital part of showing respect, anywhere in the village, but above all in church.

Main thing: for girls and ladies bare legs are rude. Buy a chitenge on day one. No short shorts or skirts whatsoever for girls please. Bare shoulders for ladies are not respectful in church. Cover up! It is a very modest society.

(Hat and sensible shoes for men and women are not to do with culture but plain good sense).

These dress rules are relaxed in the city, Lakeshore resorts,( but not Lakeshore villages), and at the nearby Kamuzu Academy.

Public Displays of Affection (as they used to be called at school )

Boys and girls holding hands, or similar PDA, is not on. Ever.

Oddly, men can hold hand with other men with no problem or innuendo, and likewise ladies with ladies. Do not be surprised if Boyson holds your hand, gentlemen, to walk across to church. But he would never dream of holding a lady by the hand.


Malawians have a lot of time for each other. They do not rush greetings. The men shake hands with everyone entering a room. They smile a lot – far more than we do. Don’t rush greetings, farewells or conversations.


Take your time before promising or giving gifts to anyone. You may be approached for money – which will be considered rude by other Malawians – and you will get to know people as time goes on. Can be wise check with someone – Rev Petro maybe, or an experienced visitor? Take care with promises – it is easy to promise five years sponsorship, but reality is harder eg: how to get money there after you leave etc.

If you do make any long term undertakings, it would be helpful to let Stephen Drew at Medic Malawi know – MM already run various sponsor schemes and we don’t want to double up. But on the other hand MM can’t act as a channel for individual gifts when you are back in UK.

This is not meant to sound bossy. Thank you for going! Remember you are a guest in a foreign country. Mtunthama is wonderfully welcoming. No one there will ever criticize you – which makes it all the more important to get it right , especially in suitable modest dress , and at the hospital, so as not, inadvertently, to give any offence.

Stephen Drew

May 2012