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Wildlife Justice in Malawi

“Malawi… Where exactly is that?”
This was a phrase I became well acquainted with before jetting off to my Legal International Internship. For those of you who aren’t aware, Malawi is a small, land-locked country in Southern Africa. It’s one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world and one of Africa’s principal hubs for the illegal trafficking of wildlife. Having recently learnt all of this myself, I decided to organise my legal international internship with the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust, and discover what life, work and the law were like in Malawi.

Full of anticipation, I set off on a long flight to the nations capital- Lilongwe, hoping this experience would be worth the countless, painful vaccinations I’d endured over the preceding 6 weeks. Arriving in Lilongwe, everything was unfamiliar. The airport was crowded, disorganised and chaotic but amongst the crowd a grinning face welcomed me with a huge sign baring my name. This is probably the best illustration of Malawi as a country- it can be disorderly and confronting, but it’s warm-hearted people make it all worthwhile.
Lilongwe itself is a dusty and vast city where land can run for miles and miles with just small clusters of buildings. The roadsides are populated by enthusiastic farmers showcasing their goods, mothers with babies bound to their chest, and young women balancing kilos of fruit on their head in what can only be described as the engineering feat of the century. It’s hard to walk more than 20 metres without receiving offers to by some form of miscellaneous good (anything from mangoes to deep fried mice- not rice, mice). It’s a simple existence,  but all of these little quirks helped me take a real shine to a much more simple, cheerful and slow-paced life.

I was working as a legal intern with the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust (‘LWT’), Malawi’s leading wildlife NGO, who, from a legal perspective, play an important role in the change and implementation of wildlife policy. This internship gave me a chance to not only learn so much about the law in an international context, but to develop skills as a legal professional beyond what I had ever imagined. I was attending court regularly, drafting speeches for parliament and completing legal research projects. I felt I was thrown in the deep end and really pushed to challenge myself, but was constantly supported along the way. There is something incredibly satisfying about working in an environment where ‘intern’ doesn’t equate to coffee sherpa, and you’re given a platform to showcase what you’ve learnt throughout your studies, and the guidance to improve upon areas of weakness.
Sure, working in Malawi wasn’t all roses and sunshine. It’s not always easy working in an office with intermittent power in the summertime heat, or finding geckos running rampant in your kitchen, or travelling for 7+ hours overnight to attend court in another city (in the pitch black darkness, guided only by a car with temperamental headlights). However, the luxuries and comforts that the country lacked were very quickly overshadowed by all of the positives this experience gave me. I’ve left with a greater sense of purpose and passion for my future work, an increased level of empathy and admiration for those working in the foreign NGO sector… I’ve even overcome my fear of those wiggly, little critters than made my skin crawl on arrival.

One of the most exciting parts of my internship was being afforded the opportunity to travel all around the country, attending cases in various cities and assisting with court monitoring. My supervisor, Arthur, was with me every step of the way. We spent tireless hours road-tripping across the country, surviving on little sleep and attending court. He never hesitated to go out of his way (in his own time) to ensure I would experience the best of what each city had to offer- from breathtaking mountain ranges, to cheeky baboons or even the pride and joy of the nation (the Carlsberg factory). I was able to see and do so much while interning, without having to plan, stress and coordinate on my time off.  I was also lucky enough to squeeze a weekend safari trip to South Luangwa National Park into my schedule. Spotting wild lions, giraffes, hippos and zebras from mere metres away was an unforgettable, once in a lifetime experience and something I will treasure forever.

My time in Malawi was truly unbeatable. I grew so much from a professional standpoint, but also as a person. I am so thankful to the faculty of UTS Law for organising an international internship subject, and to the UTS BUILD team for making this wild dream of interning in Malawi a reality.

 – Stephanie

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