MDG Malawi Project June 2012
July 02, 2012
Led by faculty Caroline Diehl and Jen Warren, seven VVS students (Nic Plum-USA, Blue Sheffer-USA, Matt Shupack-USA, Rebecca Weiss-Germany, Vicky Wu-China, Emma Nyguen-Vietnam, Sonata Brokeviciute-Lithuania), and one VVS alumni (Keely Bates ‘11-Germany) travelled to Malawi from June 3-June 26th. Gertrude Dudley also helped lead the group again this year. With participants from 6 nations, this was VVS’s most diverse group of volunteers and exciting new partnerships significantly expanded the scope of our work in Malawi.
Partnership with Open Arms Infant Homes
Students spent the first week volunteering at Open Arms Infant Homes in Blantyre. It is estimated that there are over half a million children orphaned because of HIV/AIDS. Open Arms Blantyre specializes in the care of AIDS orphans from birth to age five, the most critical years for childhood survival, which ties into the UN MDGs to decrease child mortality. Open Arms’ aim is to return immunized, healthy toddlers to their extended families before they reach age five. An extended outreach program with schools, medical support, feeding centers, and follow up visits helps make this possible. For those orphans who cannot return to their villages, five foster homes have been created. We were involved with all aspects of their program which included feeding and care of the children, planting and composting in their garden, painting Harrogate House, and working at the feeding centers and foster homes. We also donated many desperately needed supplies like baby blankets, clothes, toys, crib sheets, diaper covers, and infant multi-vitamin syrup.
Partnership with the Lion’s Club
At the end of that first week, the months of preparation for the Eye Glass Clinic at Chirazulu District Hospital in Blantyre came to fruition. Over 800 Malawians arrived that day to be screened for vision problems and receive free eyeglasses that were donated through the combined efforts of VVS, the Lion’s Club in Sedona, Dr. Kalua (doctor at the Lions Eye Hospital in Blantyre) and VSP and Zeiss Laboratories. VVS hand delivered almost 400 pairs of glasses to the clinic, with a total retail value of over $68,000. Of those 400 glasses, there were 24 pairs of high powered prescription glasses made specifically for children Dr. Kalua had identified that had been learning by braille because the glasses they needed were not available in Africa. For these children, and for all those served, this clinic was truly life changing!
At the clinic, the VVS students gathered necessary intake information on all patients and were taught to do preliminary vision loss screening. Those screened who had potential problems were referred on to the team of 4 technicians and Dr. Kalua to have a full exam and be outfitted with glasses. Many of those attending had medical vision issues, like cataracts or conjunctivitis, that couldn’t be fixed by glasses, but help was available for them as well. They were seen by the medical doctors present who were able to treat them and/or set them up for eye surgeries also donated by the Lions Club. The event was such a success that we plan to hopefully triple the number of glasses we provide next year. Rebecca Weiss said, “I truly accomplished something that day and changed many people’s lives, but I also discovered something about myself and awoke a stronger passion for helping and interacting with people… It was truly an amazing experience”.
Medical Ward, Teaching and Open Arms in Mangochi
During the second week, VVS again partnered with Open Arms but this time at their Mangochi branch and VVS students also taught regularly at the Victory Primary School. Teaching in basic conditions with very few books or tools available and only tiny stubs of chalk to write on the failing blackboards was an eye-opening and great experience. Despite the difficulties, VSS students loved working with the Malawian children. In the end the children were very sad to see the VVS students go.
During this week we also purchased the paint and painted a new medical ward at the Koche Health Center, part of a Catholic Mission which serves the extensive medical needs of the surrounding community. By painting the medical ward, which was built to serve expectant and new mothers, we were bringing it one step closer to being usable. Each day while we were painting, we’d watch as the mothers would line up on the ground or squeeze together on outside benches waiting to get immunizations or to have their babies weighed and given protein supplementation to ward off malnutrition. Knowing these women and children, with our help, would soon have a clean indoor ward providing cover from the rains or hot sun was really rewarding and aligned with the UN MDG’s to improve maternal health and decrease child mortality.
Our final week was spent continuing our ongoing projects in Kamangilira village, which have greatly increased teacher and community morale over the past 5 years. Our students helped stucco the walls of the large community center built last summer and brought books to start its library. Doors were purchased and installed and the cement floor was completed. The new community center will provide additional indoor space for teaching, community building initiatives, and training workshops. Currently students must travel long distances to sit for exams, so with this new space they will be able to host exams in the village for the first time as well. Our students also taught Standard 5, 6, and 7 at Kamangilira Primary School, which serves approximately 900 students and has only ten teachers. One classroom still had a dirt floor, so we cemented that floor and re-painted the room. The blackboards in all of the classrooms were repainted as well. More educational supplies and soccer equipment were donated, as these have added greatly to the quality of classes and student accomplishments over the years. VVS is also sponsoring 20 girls to go to the local secondary school in September, which includes paying for their yearly school fees, exam fees, uniforms and books. The money to do this was raised by the MDG Hunger Banquet and Raffle held in April 2012. We want to promote gender equality and equalize girls’ access to education, as studies have repeatedly shown that when a woman is given an education, maternal health increases, child mortality decreases and there is a large ripple effect of positive growth in the community.
Face-to-Face AIDS (F2F)/Kang’oma Youth Group
At the conclusion of the trip, our students visited with the The Kang’oma Youth Group who use drama and theater to raise awareness of HIV transmission and prevention and encourage testing in Malawian villages. The youth group is made up of mostly children who have learned about HIV and been given training is communication and are using what they know in an effort to slow the spread of AIDS. They also educate others about malaria and tuberculosis, which fits with the UN MDG’s to eradicate these major diseases. Kang’oma has become a model community with the environmental sustainability initiatives and food security measures they have developed, which include growing foods rich in the nutrients that those with HIV most need, providing these foods to families struggling with HIV, and working in teams to cultivate the gardens. Getting to know these inspiring youth, seeing their gardens and drama performances, and playing soccer with them was enough to convince all of us that we want to make them a bigger part of our Malawi project in the years ahead.
Ken Wong, a NYC photographer, created the Face-to-Face Project’s AIDS PhotoMosaic, which contains two giant panels of 48 photos of people with HIV. His work was first displayed on World AIDS Day in the James A. Michner Museum in 2004. Since then it has been displayed at the United Nations, St. John the Divine in NYC, Harvard, Princeton, Colby, City Tech and many other universities. He has also created a smaller PhotoMosaic of the Kang’oma Youth Group and has agreed to have the Kang’oma Youth Group PhotoMosaic displayed at VVS this Fall. He will visit VVS in October to speak and do panel discussions about the HIV pandemic worldwide and his on-the-ground efforts in Malawi and Cambodia to combat its spread. This will be especially powerful for our VVS students who met with the Kang’oma Youth Group and know first-hand about their projects, but will surely be a moving experience for all. This is one of many efforts to make the awareness and growth engendered by the Malawi Trip 2012 come full circle to inspire the entire VVS community to remain committed to changing the world one community at a time.
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By: Caroline Diehl
Click here to learn more about VVS's work in Malawi.