“If four things are followed – having a great aim, acquiring knowledge, hard work and perseverance – then anything can be achieved.” – A. P. J. Abdul Kalam

This story has nothing to do with the American reality television music competition “The Four: Battle for Stardom” on Fox, or with Tobias “Four” Eaton portrayed by Theo James in Divergent Series or with Fantastic Four or with the annual Star Wars “May the 4th Be with You” Celebration online, but rather the significance of Number 4 in my recent PULSE experience here in Partners in Health (PIH) – Neno, Malawi. (citation needed)



Four Weeks in Malawi

Time was indeed so fast. I could not imagine I completed four weeks here in Neno, Malawi with PIH. I thought it was only yesterday when I started my first day and without knowing, it’s been 28 days or 4 weeks passed by. I got to know more about my NGO and the people behind the success of their 10-year presence in the mountainous district of the Warm Heart of Africa. Inspiring and amazing stories of people were everywhere. Everyone showed that I was already part of the “family” here.


Four Projects

I officially started my project on first week of July. I received the project plan from the Executive Leadership Team and Finance Team of PIH. The project was divided into two: 2 major projects and 2 wishes from the Finance Director.

The Major Projects. PIH wanted to have visibility regarding “value for money” or the cost-benefit analysis. In other words, I was tasked to create a dashboard or offline template that will show the total amount spent for all programs in different sites over the total number of patients supported by the NGO. (total expenses per program per site / xx nos. of patient).

Sounds easy but after my assessment, it was tough. The template was easy but the data that would be used on the template was hard to sort out. I scanned through the July 2017-June 2018 data (one fiscal year of PIH) and the recording on the system was not as accurate as per ideal scenario. In GSK language, the transactions were not recorded on the correct cost center, business unit or profit center. Their system was not as advance as ours, hence this kind of report was not available to them online.

Two is better than one. Aside from GSK laptop, my NGO provided me a personal laptop to access their system for my project.

The second major project was to identify possible areas of improvement on Finance processes. This would not be as tough as the first one. Finance process here was not complex during my process over view session with the team.

Probably in two months’ time, the report on the process improvement would have been completed.

There were 2 wishes raised by the Finance Director and she was hoping I could help sort it out before I leave on December. She understood that my time here was short but she wanted me to help on reviewing the Finance Manual and establish the Internal Control Framework or compliance on their processes. I was hoping that I could do these in the next six months.

To deliver all those projects; one key is proper planning. I will not share here how will I do it because it will be a long story. I will just put it on my project charter and execute the plan properly. Leaving everyone an inspirational quote from Abraham Lincoln.

“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four hour sharpening the axe.”

And that is proper planning!


Four New PIH Colleagues

Friday night was a blast. Together with other expatriates here, we had a simple gathering and dinner at the lady’s guest house. Our Japanese friend prepared some delicious Japanese cuisines. Noodles, tempura, sushi, salad and other finger foods which I could not remember the name were in attendance on the kitchen and table. It was also to celebrate the birthday of one of the PIH staff and to welcome the 4 new colleagues who joined the organization recently.

We had the new HIV and TB Program Manager from Haiti (but New York based) together with his wife. A Ph D student from Germany (US based) was also in attendance. She was working with research team and staying here for six weeks. All of them were staying on the same guest house with me. Last but not the least was another young lady, who will be working for one year with PIH. She was having a transition role for one of the colleague who will be leaving PIH this year.

We stayed until late night having fun, interesting and amazing stories from everyone. Simple yet memorable.


Four Hours in the Immigration Office

On the same day, I was at the Immigration Office in the city of Blantyre applying for my Temporary Resident Pass. I thought it would be only to submit my application and wait on the following week for my passport to get stamped by the immigration officer.

After one hour, we left the immigration office. We had some other things to do on the same day like paying the tax authority of Malawi, delivering the manual checks to PIH suppliers and go to the grocery to buy some stuffs. After three hours, we returned to the immigration office to check when could we possibly get my passport on the following week. To our surprise, the process of Temporary Resident Pass was already completed on the same day. Even the PIH staff could not believe it. Based on her experience and on the normal scenario, it should be done by one week.

Thankful that I would not be having any immigration issue while staying in Malawi to complete my PULSE assignment.


Four-Letter Word New to Me

It’s my habit to check our Facebook group PULSE10 to see what’s happening to my fellow volunteers around the world. One post caught my attention and even the other volunteers regarding the corporate card issued to us for our expenditure while on assignment.

My fellow volunteer assigned in the Philippines was having an issue withdrawing cash on the bank/ATM to pay for her accommodation in the next six months. The post was suddenly a hot topic in the group since it’s common for all of us. The comment on the post grew long and for the record it’s the longest conversation we had on the secret group. In the middle of the comment section, my fellow volunteer assigned in Tanzania who was originally from London dropped a word which was new to most of us – FAFF.

“I always knew this part would be a bloody faff, thankfully renting in London has prepared me (insert smiley)”

And my fellow volunteer assigned in Budapest, Hungary…

“I have no idea what a ‘faff’ is, but I’m bringing this expression to the US & Hungary…because, if I’m getting it right… going to the grocery store in Budapest is a bloody faff.”

With Mr. Google, I searched immediately the meaning of this word.

Faff – a great deal of ineffectual activity. To spend your time doing a lot of things that are not important instead of the things that you should be doing. Or per my fellow volunteer who dropped this to us was the inefficient, illogical and time consuming way of doing something.

And there you have it. The word of the day – FAFF!


Four Hours Constructing My Ideas

Saturday morning 14th July 2018 when I was thinking about this story for my blog. I had couple of ideas for my 11th story here but I could not come up with a good one. I was still in my bed that morning when suddenly the electricity went off. So, I decided to go out to the terrace, sat on the bench, stared at the picturesque environment and continued constructing my thoughts.

Luckily after the first two hours, I knew the mini stories to be included in one full packed story. But the next thing lingering on my mind was the title for it. I really wanted to have a catchy title, so that I can attract as many readers as I can. I was running out of good title that day so I went to take a nap first. (The weather was perfect that time to have a nap) hihihihi

The view from the terrace of the guest house.

When I woke up, thinking of a good title was still on my mind. Ideas were coming in but I was hesitant to use. I could not connect all the stories here with my initial titles. So, I looked upon my stories and checked if there was any common denominator for all. And at last after another two hours, gotcha! With the title “Four”, I just did some modifications to show the common among the thoughts in this story.

FOUR weeks in Malawi with the goal of completing FOUR projects while creating fun memories with my FOUR new friends after a surprising FOUR-hour immigration application and FOUR hours constructing my story ideas including the new FOUR-letter word I learned last week while wearing my favorite basketball jersey and written on the back… is number FOUR!

And don’t forget my 28th birthday this year is on December FOUR!



  1. This is a great blog – I wish you much ‘four’tune, ‘four’titude and that you never feel ‘four’lorn whilst on PULSE 🙂 Keep your stories coming!

  2. Such an awesome reply Kathryn! 🙂 Thank you so much. Let’s cherish the experience of being a PULSE 10 Volunteers “four”-ever! 🙂

  3. Four-ward moving, four-ever optimistic, four-gone conclusion that you will make an impact in your assignment, never to be four-gotten.

    (I’ll join you in the birthday club, I’m 04/04!

  4. Great theme Gilbert! It was interesting learning about the projects you’ll be working on! Glad you had such a pleasant experience at immigration!

  5. First and FOUR most, this is a fabulous article Gilbert – you have a great writing style and I can see you have given so much FOUR thought to telling your story – the “4” theme is perfect and I hope you have many more inspirations to pull from throughout your PULSE experience and not too many FAFFS along the way! I look FOUR ward to speaking to you soon to hear more!

    1. Thanks Den! I am thankful for the PULSE Program to have this kind of avenue to showcase my writing skills. And it’s good to see you’ve been influenced by the “4” theme on your comment. Expect different kind of styles on my upcoming articles. Weekend here is good to think of outside-the-box ideas. Cheers!

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