If you’ve never ridden into an unfamiliar African village and been warmly embraced with singing and dancing after your small van has bumped along on an unpaved, dusty road with more naturally-grooved speed-bumps than trees alongside it, you really can’t fully appreciate how the Fulbright Association’s Service Tour in Malawi came to plant 1700 trees in a watershed area in the village of Naphambo near a river in Zomba.
That is just a glimpse into our delegation’s powerful experience in Malawi this past July. Through the Fulbright Association’s Travel Program, Fulbright alumni have the unique opportunity to further their international exposure and make an impact. The Association organizes two types of purposeful travel programs: Insight Tours are primarily educational, while Service Tours focus on volunteering and fieldwork. The Malawi trip marked a key milestone along a journey that began in 2014. In 2015, the Association officially aligned its travel program with the Pathways to Peace strategic framework, establishing key areas for collective impact that guide our service projects. The Malawi trip became the nexus of three of those impact areas: Global Health, Sustainability, and International Education. The trip also built upon the foundation laid by our institutional member Mercer University’s “Mercer on Mission” trips to many similar locations.
Water and sanitation is a critical issue in Malawi, where water pumps are shared among entire villages and trees are often used for fuel for firewood and cooking instead of preventing sediment run-off into rivers. During their time in country, the Fulbright team worked alongside villagers, the Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD SEA), and the Forestry Research Institute of Malawi (FRIM) to promote sustainable watershed management by planting trees and grasses as part of the Watershed Improvement Project. They also visited local schools, orphanages, and clinics, as well as the Mulunguzi Dam and UNESCO World Heritage Site Cape Maclear. The team’s work received press attention, including two feature articles published in The Nation, Malawi’s national newspaper.
The Fulbright delegation had the opportunity to meet with more than 15 stakeholder groups over the course of nearly 2 weeks. These included members of the Malawi-U.S. Exchanges Alumni Association (MUSEAA), the Malawi Ministry of Health, the World Bank, USAID, Water for People, Rotary International, Dignitas International, Emmanuel International, and YONECO. Part of the team also had the chance to meet William Kamkwamba, who became famous as the author of “The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind” after building a windmill out of bicycle parts, tractor fans, and plastic pipes at the age of 14, when a drought left farmers like William’s father without any income. William was discovered through the local media when his windmill launched and actually worked. He was invited to speak at a TED Global conference in Tanzania, which led to him being sponsored to attend the African Leadership Academy. He went on to attend Dartmouth College and now lives in the United States.
The tour not only served as a direct-impact experience where participants helped plant trees and buy bicycles and recorders for community radio clubs, but also as an opportunity for fact-finding for the Fulbright Malawi team in support of an anticipated multi-year grant proposal aimed at assessing water quality and monitoring, sanitation, and high school graduation rates for girls in rural Malawi. If the project successfully receives funding from Coca-Cola’s Project RAIN (Replenish Africa Initiative), it could ultimately impact and improve the lives and health of between 37,500 and 50,000 people in in both peri-urban and rural areas surrounding the Chulu Chosema and Naphombe village in Malawi. The initiative would actively participate in long-term capacity building to promote an innovative “Model Village” concept that would be scalable and used in multiple areas throughout the country. It would also promote sustainable approaches to water, health, sanitation, and education services; and would contribute to improved health and livelihoods, especially in marginalized areas, and focus on dramatically increasing the educational opportunities of young girls throughout the target areas.
Among others, the Fulbright delegation included Dr. Zipangani Vokhiwa, Mercer University professor and President of the Georgia Chapter; Kim Eger, Vice President of the national Fulbright Association Board of Directors and Chair of the Pathways Initiative; Dr. Gale Workman, a journalist, professor, and International Rotarian; Dr. Sharon Nickols, a professor and former dean at the University of Georgia; and Dr. Jack Allison, a former Peace Corps volunteer who served in Malawi from 1966-1969. During Dr. Allison’s tour, he wrote a number of songs and jingles to promote public health, one of which became a #1 hit on Malawian radio stations. As the delegate went from village to village, singing the songs they learned from Dr. Allison, they found that to this day, many in Malawi still know his songs by heart. Song and music is one key component of how the Fulbright Association grant proposal intents to facilitate sharing of best practices related to sanitation and hygiene, and Dr. Allison has graciously agreed to help write and record some new songs for the RAIN grant-proposal project.
Kim Eger shared his excitement about the depth of connections built on the trip and the future of the Malawi team’s work, saying: “So called ‘downtime’ was rare on this trip. It was usually filled up with something not initially on the agenda, but where one contact led to another — often through the extensive network of our Fulbrighters. The multiple avenues for strategic partnerships sprang up from many directions daily.” As the Malawi delegation moves forward with their grant proposal in the months ahead, we look forward to sharing their work and its impact with members of our Fulbright community.
To see more photos from the Malawi trip, click here. These photos were taken by delegation participant Sabrina Khan, who generously served as the trip photographer! For more information on the Fulbright Association’s Travel Program, click here.
—Kalyn Cai, with the Fulbright Malawi Delegation