In July of 2018, the Fulbright Association returned to Malawi for its second Service Corps Trip in the country, following a successful program in 2017. Eleven participants, ranging from age 12 to age 74, met in Lilongwe City to work with nonprofit organization LEAD SEA (Leadership for Environment and Development in Southern and Eastern Africa) on Pathways to Peace projects to promote sustainability, global health, and education initiatives.
The participants represented a diverse demographic, including professors, musicians, a retired physician, entrepreneurs, and high school students, and included both Fulbright and Peace Corps alums. The group was led by Dr. Zipangani Vokhiwa of Mercer University, who, along with former Fulbright Association Vice President Kim Eger, a sustainability solutions expert, laid the groundwork for the Pathways to Peace initiative.
The core sustainability service projects were built under the focal point of W.A.S.H. (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene). Following up from work begun during the 2017 program, participants planted trees in order to combat mass deforestation that has been rampant in Malawi.
A population boom in the last 50 years has increased the number of people living in Malawi to over 18 million, from just under 3 million in 1950. However, infrastructure has yet to encompass this growth, and 80% of the population does not have electricity. As a result, wood is an important commodity for fuel, heat, and cooking, leading people to chop down trees. But in addition to negatively impacting the environment and native wildlife, deforestation upsets local streams and rivers, which has in turn led to larger issues with water sanitation.
The Forestry Research Institute of Malawi (FRIM) has initiated efforts to work with communities for replanting and caring long-term for trees. The Fulbright Association team collaborated with them, along with members from local villages and primary schools, to plant new trees in an attempt to mitigate the severe effects of deforestation.
One of the most exciting parts of the service trip was seeing the growth of the trees planted during last year’s Service Corps Trip. Participants who joined last year’s service trip had planted over 1700 trees in July of 2017, and were proud to see that not only had 77% of the 6- to 8-inch saplings survived, some had grown up to four feet tall.
“The most powerful part of the trip was seeing village leaders in Naphambo light up at the sight of a Fulbright Association team returning for the second time, with more trees,” says Kim Eger, participant and one of the organizers of the trip. “In that moment, you could see in their smiling eyes that trust had been earned as they saw us following through, just as we said we would. Seeing how well our trees had been cared for, based on outstanding survival rates signaled to us that we’d found great partners who also did the hard work of watering and ensuring the investment would pay off in the future.”
Another cause that the participants contributed to was the promotion of girls’ education.
Girls and young women in many developing countries including Malawi face a difficult obstacle when it comes to daily school attendance: a lack of access to affordable menstrual hygiene products. This means that many girls are limited to either using unhygienic alternatives or be forced to stay home while on their periods, which inhibits their ability to receive an education.
The Fulbright group teamed up with Grace Pads, a local non-profit that seeks to enable girls to stay in school by distributing reusable sanitary pads. At about $10 per kit, the pads are washable and can last up to 18 months. The menstrual hygiene kit distribution project was conducted in several primary and secondary schools in partnership with Grace Pads at Chuluchosema, and the group had the chance to meet with hundreds of schoolgirls and connect with them personally over the course of the program, which ultimately seeks to increase female graduation rates from 15% to 75%. Thanks to Fulbrighters personally sponsoring the project, the Fulbright group was able to distribute 300 menstrual hygiene kits.
The Fulbright Association’s Georgia Chapter jump-started this effort on May 28, 2018 when they collaborated with Grace Pads and LEAD SEA in launching the first official Malawi event for Global Menstrual Hygiene Day. The event took place thanks to the efforts of visiting Fulbright Scholar to Malawi, Dr. Suresh Muthurkrishnan and his wife Rashmi Janakiraman. Read more here.
By empowering girls to stay in school, the project in turn empowers women to receive vocational training and boost their economic status, as well as lead to further professional and educational opportunities.
EDUCATION AND PUBLIC AWARENESS
Another facet of the service project was social campaigning through music. Jack Allison, a returning Service Corps participant and Peace Corps alum, and James Hunt, a musician, collaborated with YONECO (Youth Net and Counseling) and the Zomba Street Child band to record songs that explore and bring attention to social and economic issues in Malawi, including Jack’s own song “Girls Not Brides”. They hope to produce a full album that would be used to highlight and raise funds for YONECO’s work.
The group additionally were able to meet the Executive Director of YONECO, MacBain Mkandawire. Two of the Fulbright team participants, both high school students, are planning to advance the work of YONECO back home by holding a fundraiser event at their school in Georgia.
The Fulbright team also had the honor of being interviewed on the TV show Speak Out, featured on MBC, a local Malawi news channel. Along with Professor Sosten Chiotha, the Executive Director of LEAD SEA, several delegates from the Fulbright team participated in a program entitled “The Spirit of Volunteerism”. Dr. Zipangani Vokhiwa, Dr. Jack Allison, Ms. Sienna Eger, and Mr. Kim Eger spoke about their experiences and goals with the service project work.
CULTURAL EXCHANGE AND LEARNING
In addition to volunteer work, the Fulbright Service Corps team engaged with the community to learn more about Malawian culture. They went to the Mtakataka Kungoni Cultural Centre and the Mua Museum to study the history and traditions of Malawian people. They met with school teachers and staff at the Kachitsa Community Based Child Care Centre in Salima, Malawi. At Zomba Market, they had the chance to eat popular Malawian cuisine, and took in the breathtaking landscape of Malawi at the top of Zomba Plateau and the shores of the UNESCO World Heritage Site at Lake Malawi.
Several participants also had the opportunity to celebrate the Fourth of July at the United States Embassy in Malawi, and had the pleasure of meeting Ambassador Virginia Palmer, the embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission Andrew Herrup, and fellow Fulbrighter and Public Affairs Officer, Edward Monster.
But what was both most impressive and memorable to the Service Corps team was the warm welcome and kindness they received from the local communities and organizations, who were passionate about improving life in Malawi. It was truly meaningful to collaborate with these groups and support them in their important work.
The Fulbright Association is continuing its efforts in 2019 and plans to return to Malawi with another Service Corps Trip in 2020. To learn more about the Fulbright Association’s travel programs, please click here.