JOSIE Redmonds had a choice to make – was she English, a village girl from Lepton, or was she Malawian?
The 35-year-old – a Swansea University Development Studies graduate with a special interest in eco-tourism – chose Malawi in East Africa.
Josie went out to Malawi briefly in 2001 and returned in 2003. In 2005 she decided to settle there.
She said: “ Malawi has a lake that is 365km long and it is a truly beautiful country. It’s known as the ‘warm heart of Africa’, both for its climate and its people who are surely the friendliest people alive.”
To the north is Tanzania, to the west Zambia and to the east and south, Mozambique.
It’s tropical, green, incredibly beautiful – and very hot.
With Alice Leaper – a woman with the same hopes and ambitions – she bought a backpacker hostel in Nkhata Bay on the shores of Lake Malawi in 2007.
The die was then cast and she has not looked back.
Nkhata Bay is a village about the size of Holmfirth. Its people subsist on fishing and farming. The backpackers bring money with snorkelling, diving and fishing in the magically clear waters of the lake.
Josie said: “The villagers grow their own food, they fish, they’ve got pure water and nobody starves. They are still living sustainably.
“But 20 years ago there was almost no communication with the rest of the world. For better or worse, there is now. We want to make it for the better.”
Malawi is the sixth poorest nation on earth. Economic poverty does not necessarily mean misery, no more than wealth means happiness, Josie has found.
But the Malawian world is changing. Many people have mobile phones and internet connections are readily available.
“This has inevitably changed the way the young people think of the world,” said Josie. “They have ambitions to get an education, to move on, to do different things with their lives.”
The Butterfly Lodge on the lake shore and sandwiched between tropical gardens is a commercial enterprise that provides a launch-pad for voluntary work which the women have named Butterfly Space.
“It’s our vision to create a unique community space that will bring together Malawians and tourists,” said Josie.
“It’s a beautiful place to stay that is also a place of opportunities and learning, music and arts.”
Some people bring skills they can pass on, some get involved in whatever community project might be on the go at the time.
Some stay for a week or two, others for months, teaching, building, engineering, developing IT or youth centres, planting gardens and orchards.
At the moment villagers and volunteers are considering a solar power project.
And one entrepreneur had negotiated a contract to sell the village’s seasonal mango crop – which can rot for lack of takers – to Innocent Smoothies, the fruit drinks company.
At any one time, between five and 20 people can be working in the village, building classrooms, teaching, gardening.
An information and internet room has been finished on site at Butterfly and, more recently, a youth club with pool table and bowling alley.
Josie added: “We have built a nursery school in the nearby village of Chikale which looks amazing as we have added a playground and small garden with some fruit trees which hopefully will fruit in the future.
“We have also been involved in building a number of massive jungle gyms at different places around Nkhata Bay and Kande district.
“None of this would be possible without the constant flow of volunteers who come through, get involved and help.
“Many travellers come to Nkhata Bay to enjoy themselves whether snorkelling in the crystal waters, dancing in the many bars or eating the beautiful Butterfish from the lake.
“But to really get involved in the community is to stay at Butterfly. Things are going on all around you and you can get involved in as little or as much as you want.
“It is definitely a different world from my time in Huddersfield and, although I look forward to coming back here to visit, I think my heart is purely in Malawi for the significant future.
“There is so much pleasure in life over there with its natural rhythms and relaxed way of life.
“If we can help affect some more positive changes along the way, encouraging more people to visit and get involved in local community projects then you can really start to feel that life is worth living!”