10 Lessons I Learned from My PULSE 10 Experience

“Hands down! This is the best day I can ever remember…”


Pamthunzi is a Chichewa word which means “in the shade” in English.

It serves as my home for six months during my PULSE assignment in PIH Malawi.

A place where memories are created and lessons are learned.


Number 1 : Be brave.

The moment I expressed my intent to my line manager about applying in 2018 PULSE Program was the very first step to be brave enough to leave my comfort zone. Throughout the application process, I must be prepared physically and mentally to cope up with the upcoming changes as I moved to Malawi.

As I stepped down from my 22-hour flight (including 3 lay overs), I knew that it’s going to be a pristine environment for me to witness. The airport, the road, the people, the afternoon scenery, the items for sale at the roadside, the mountains, the houses, the food and the place where I stayed for 6 months – Neno District.

These were new to all my senses. If I wasn’t brave enough to face these, I would not be able to complete my assignment.

As the GSK PULSE Program Director once said to us during our London training – Be brave!

GSK PIH Volunteers
2018 GSK volunteers for Partners In Health (PIH)


Number 2 : Hope builds the future.

What is the future? The future is hope. Without hope, your life is on hold, empty, waiting and you have no hope beyond your mission.

I was assigned to Finance Team of Partners in Health (PIH) – Malawi or locally called Abwenzi Pa Za Umoyo (APZU). During my first few weeks at my NGO, I was exposed on their different programs at Neno District. I joined several trips on the fields to see what they were really doing in providing quality health cares for the people of the mountainous district in Southern Malawi.

Based on my observation and stories I heard directly from some PIH employees and some recipients of their programs, they believed that people living in Neno would be able to live well with access to quality health cares – which was really happening, and I hope it would continue for a longer time. (Click here for an amazing and inspiring story.)

I hope that GSK PULSE Program would be able to send more volunteers in the future here in Neno, Malawi and on other parts of the globe.

Malawi sunset as seen from Neno District.


Number 3 : Turning the idea of making a difference into a reality.

You may always hear someone telling you that they want to make a difference. Well that is great to hear. It is indeed a statement which will have an impact to anyone who will be hearing that.

But here’s my question: How are you going to turn that idea into a reality?

Answer: Put that into action!

GSK is kind enough to send me as a PULSE 10 volunteer in Neno, Malawi.

PIH Malawi is committed to provide quality health care programs to Neno District.

Thus, it makes a direct link for me to witness how can I (being a GSK employee) support PIH Malawi on delivering their commitment.

I was deeply touched during my last week stay in Neno. The Finance Team organized a chicken & beef barbeque dinner as a farewell surprise. Several managers from other teams also joined and had their presence on that night.

Before the end of the dinner, everyone on the venue gave their speeches and expressed their gratitude for having me at PIH. I could not imagine that I really made a positive impact to most of them for only 6 months of stay. I humbly accepted those kind messages and at the same time told them that I was thankful as well for being part of PIH Malawi.


Project-wise, I would like to highlight 2 out of my 7 projects I did while on assignment.

Cost Effectiveness Template. A manual template designed to provide an overall view to the management about the effectiveness and value for money on all PIH Programs,

Impact: Aside from providing an overall view about the PIH Programs, the template helps the medical team to evaluate their spending on certain periods and provides comparison at national level in terms of spending at national budget level.

There will be a high chance that the manual template will be converted into an online report on their system to avoid the manual work around so that the report will be one click away for all the users. I hope that it will also be used on other PIH sites globally.

Actual Expenses vs Budget Comparison Template for Funds/Grants/Donation. This is not initially part of my projects stated on my previous blog, but this is indeed a good one. The template is designed to have an analysis and comparison about the actual expenses and the budget for the year at fund level.

Impact: There are several funds managed by Finance Assistant in PIH Malawi. Comparison reports are required to be prepared. The template I created addresses the challenge of having a standard report every month/quarter. Ways of working as well has been introduced and taught to the preparer to be able to come up with that report in my absence.

A Finance Manager from Boston Head Office came to visit PIH Malawi and saw the report presented by the Finance Assistant. Upon seeing that and the usefulness of the report, she told the Finance Assistant that she wanted to use and implement that on all PIH sites.

It will be lengthier if I will discuss the remaining 5 projects.



Number 4 : Smile paints a picture on one’s face.

Malawi is dubbed as “The Warm Heart of Africa”. This is not only because of their summer but more importantly the people and their culture I have experienced that ever since I set foot on their land. (Click here to see the feature story.)

PIH is generous enough to put me on one of their guest house. It’s less than 5 minutes away from the office and nearby the Neno District Hospital. Two local banks, market place, grocery store, police station, and restaurants are also walking distance from the house.

As I head on into the office every day, I always meet people from different walks of life. It is normal for them to look and stare at you for a few seconds but don’t worry and don’t be scared, just smile and say bobo (Hi). They will also do the same for sure.


Number 5 : Be thankful. Be grateful.

If I am going to give a GSK Awards after my assignment, I will give it to the following:

GSK PULSE Team, especially Den, for a smooth application process as a volunteer and relocation to Malawi. The support is tremendous throughout my assignment.

Nittan, my big boss, and my home team in BSC Kuala Lumpur for allowing me to have this once in a lifetime experience and ensure that the work I’ve left will not be a hinder on smooth operation for my market. (Click here to see the feature story about my team.)

GSK BSC Kuala Lumpur Leadership Team headed by Nancy for allowing us to promote PULSE Program at the centre before we depart. (Click here to see the story about this.)

My fellow PULSE 10 volunteers for a wonderful experience meeting you during the London training and reading your blogs & Facebook posts in and outside our group. There will only be one PULSE 10 in the history of PULSE Program. (Click here to see one of my feature story about PULSE 10 volunteers moment.)

Team Pinoy in Malaysia for adjusting our annual Christmas Party and making sure I will be able to join and host the games upon my return. (Click here to see the feature story about Team Pinoy.)

My family and friends for all out support and prayers while I’m in Malawi.

PIH Malawi for the support and trust on my projects, friendships built and wonderful experience.

Hats off to all of you!


Number 6 : Adapt and Adopt.

I prepare myself to a different kind of environment. Thankful for my PULSE buddy Sylvia about our catch up and the amazing stories on her blog. (Click here to see her blogs.)

Sylvia – 2017 GSK PULSE Volunteer in PIH Malawi and also my PULSE Buddy when she had a vacation at Neno District.

Since I will be living on the mountains of Neno for 6 months, I am concern about the water, food and electricity.

Safe drinking water is available and can be ordered on some local restaurants. However, the water supply for house hold use, sometimes, is not always available. I have experience days without water hence taking a bath will always depend on the availability of water supply.

Food is not also a problem (for me). Fresh veggies, local fruits, eggs, chicken, beef and sometimes cooked fish are available at the local market place. It depends on you on how you are going to mix and match these ingredients to come up with a delicious meal. I have tried also eating nsima or the staple food made from maize (corn) flour.

There will always be a day in a week which the electricity will go out. The guesthouse has solar powered lamp that can be used at night. I have experienced many nights having dinner by candle light. There’s also a time when I was cooking using the electric stove and suddenly the power went out. Thankful I have a flashlight to use which is a gift to me before my departure from Malaysia.

Some of the employees are going to their home outside Neno on a weekly basis. The service vehicle has been provided by PIH. Most of the time I just stay at Neno and enjoy the slow, simple and quite life. The patio of the guest house is my favourite place to stay and serves as the silent witness on those weekends.

If you stay at Neno during weekend, it’s called Neno Weekend!

Panoramic view of the PIH guest house where I stayed during summer.


Number 7 : The universe finds connection while you are on a journey.

Born in the Philippines and living in Malaysia for the last 5 years, now I find myself in Malawi for a short 6 months. This PULSE experience surprises me with the following:

In Malaysia, I am the only guy on my team. Here in Malawi, the Finance Team has also 1 guy.

My hometown in the Philippines has 7 lakes, hence it is called as the “City of Seven Lakes”. Here in Malawi, the main tourist destination is the Lake Malawi which I visited last November.

The local name and pronunciation of corn in Philippines (mais) is the same here in Malawi (maize).

My PULSE Buddy Sylvia returns to PIH Malawi on my last week and I am grateful for the opportunity to meet her again. #PULSEReunion

PULSE (depends on how you write it) signifies life. Part of your life you offered to others means that you are already part of their life as well.

Lake Malawi.


Number 8 : Patience is not only a virtue but also our attitude while waiting.

Trivia: The lesson above is based on the writings that can be found on the accounting office of my college Alma Mater.

At GSK, if we are expecting something to be completed but unable to receive it on agreed timeline, we escalate to ensure things are properly done.

During my assignment at PIH Malawi, there are times I experienced delays on receiving data for my projects and the availability of contact persons. I escalate it however I also want to understand their situation. I put myself on their shoes. I manage my patience towards them since I can do adjustment on my part in terms of completing the projects. Otherwise, I do some other useful stuffs while waiting.


Number 9 : Believe that you can do it.

I completed my assignment as a proud GSK PULSE Volunteer. I shared what I could offer to my NGO. I shared what’s as well the impact of my projects.

Do I still have doubters? I do not know. The important thing here is that, I prove to them that I can really do it. I still care for you even if you have doubt on me. (Click here to see the story about this.)

Here’s a paradox (source of it: I will not provide) for you that might be merely worth playing:

What do you do if there’s an evil you cannot defeat by just means? Do you stain your hands with evil to destroy evil? Or do you remain steadfastly just and right even if it means surrendering to evil?

If you choose any of the options, evil still remains.

I wish you have sweet dreams on your sleep tonight.



Number 10 : Do More, Feel Better, Live Longer

The undying purpose of GSK. The reason why our company exists. The battle cry of every patients who receive our medicines.

For the next batches of PULSE Volunteers:

Do More while you are on your assignment. Explore the community and inspiring stories behind it. Exert more effort to serve your NGO to the best of your ability.

Feel Better seeing the impact of your projects and the time you are spending on the community where you are assigned.

Live Longer and enjoy every moment being a PULSE Volunteer.

Once a PULSE Volunteer, always a PULSE Volunteer!

2018 GSK PULSE Volunteers a.k.a. PULSE10 at GSK House.





  1. Fantastic, Gilbert…!
    I’d love it if you could share with me your cost effectiveness and impact templates. Very interesting, as I am doing a costing study for PIH in Rwanda!

  2. Bravo @iamgilbert1204 & well said.. “Once a PULSE volunteer, always a PULSE volunteer! ” So glad to hear that you had an AMAZING PULSE experience – Congrats & all the best for the journey back to GSK!!

    1. Thanks Manu. It’s been a wonderful journey and experience. Thankful for being part of PULSE10. I will forever cherish that.

      “One a PULSE Volunteer, always a PULSE Volunteer.”

  3. Great job Gilbert, thank you for sharing. I’m still working on my last blog post of change. Love the way you summed it all up.

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