Mzuni Library Initiative Hits Milestone

7 08 2016

In December 2016, Mzuzu University (Mzuni) experienced a tragic fire during which they lost their entire library of 45,000 titles. This was a major loss for the university and for the northern part of Malawi, where educational books are extremely scarce. I visited Mzuzu University the day before the fire and took was is probably the last photo of the library. In July of this year, I co-taught a joint WASH course for Virginia Tech, Denver University, and Mzuni students at Mzuzu University and was able to visit the library again. I was reminded of the shear scale of the destruction that is captured by the sequence of images below.

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Since January, a growing group of students and faculty at Virginia Tech and Radford University have been working to collect books for a new library. We partnered with the Malawian Education and Children’s Welfare Foundation that has been charged by Mzuni to lead the U.S. response to their library rebuilding effort. The Mzuni Library Initiative has been an intense, but highly rewarding experience for all involved and this past month we reached a milestone with the collection of 5,000 books for Mzuni.

We are now focusing our efforts on finding a way to ship these boxes to Malawi and hope to have them in route within the coming weeks.

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During my time at Mzuzu University this July, I was able to speak with the Vice Chancellor and the Chief Librarian about how Virginia Tech could continue to help their rebuilding effort. In addition securing replacement books, there is also a need to help design a new signature library building. Given Virginia Tech’s expertise in architecture, building construction, engineering, etc., my plan is to find a way for our students and faculty to work on this new phase of the Mzuni Library Initiative. Please contact me if you believe you can help.

For the next two years (or more), students at Mzuni will have access to a temproary library (see below) that is slowing beginning to expand its collection of books. While they have made some progress, they are far from having the full range of books needed to support all of their academic programs. Our hope is that the 5,000 books (~10% of the books lost in the fire) we send will significantly improve their situation.





#HokiesHelpMzuni – Update

3 01 2016

Following the devastating library fire at Mzuzu University, several people and organizations have contacted me in relation to how they can help support the effort of rebuilding the university’s library. In the past week, I was forwarded an email from Hayden Boyd, the President of the Malawi Education and Children’s Welfare Foundation, that I outlines the donation process that Mzuzu University would like groups in the U.S. to follow. I have provided a copy of this email below for your reference.

Source: Dr. Mavuto Tembo

Source: Dr. Mavuto Tembo

Hello to all,

Following the devastating fire that destroyed Mzuzu University’s library, many on this list have expressed concern and willingness to help. I was privileged to serve as a research professor and director of research at the University 2002-2005, and since returning to the USA I have noted its impressive growth in size, scope, and academic quality during regular visits. The loss of the University library is a terrible setback to this progress.

Vice Chancellor Robert Ridley has written me that, despite this loss, the University intends to keep to its academic calendar and open in January for distance learning students and in March for returning face-to-face students. They are working out an interim approach over the next 12 to 24 months, as they seek to get a new library built, plus a strategy to get funds for a new library. Clearly, much needs to be done.

Dr. Ridley has asked the Malawi Education and Children’s Welfare Foundation to serve as an institutional base to promote the University’s cause, receive funds and help the University coordinate support from the USA. The Foundation is a 501(c)3 tax exempt foundation established for the support of Mzuzu University and other educational and children’s welfare institutions in Malawi. Our Board of Directors have all lived and worked in Malawi and I serve as the Foundation’s president.

On behalf of Mzuzu University, I invite you to help support the library’s rebuilding. Checks may be made to “Malawi Education and Children’s Welfare Foundation,” with “Mzuzu University library” in the memo field, and sent to:

Malawi Education and Children’s Welfare Foundation
507 Delburg Street
Davidson, NC 28036

All contributions to the Foundation are tax deductible under US law. One hundred percent of all donations are used for the designated purpose in Malawi, with never a deduction for administrative or overhead expenses.

Many also have suggested donating books, computers, or other items. I believe it would be wise to hold off on in-kind donations until the University informs us of its needs and logistical challenges can be addressed.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely, Hayden Boyd

In a subsequent email from a colleague at Mzuzu University, I was informed that a Library Task Force committee has been created by the Vice Chancellor and University Librarian. This task force has asked each faculty member/department to develop a list of books that they would like to see included in a new library. The Library Task Force committee will liaise with the Malawi Education and Children’s Welfare Foundation as the point of contact in the U.S. I will post updates on this process as soon as I have them.

In the coming weeks, TEAM Malawi (a group of faculty and students at Virginia Tech and Radford University) will meet to discuss the actions we can take to help Mzuzu University recover from this loss. I will post information here on any activities that colleges, schools, departments, faculty, and/or students plan to undertake in the coming months.





#HokiesHelpMzuni – Devastating Library Fire

20 12 2015

On Friday, December 18, Dr. Emily Van Houweling and I travelled to the Lilongwe International Airport, Malawi, to board our return flight to the U.S. after an extremely productive visit to Mzuzu University. We had spent a week meeting with faculty and university administrators to develop the logistics and content for a joint WASH course in Malawi, which we are offering to students at Virginia Tech, the University of Denver, and Mzuzu University in July 2016. On our drive to the airport we learned some tragic news. The Mzuzu University Library – which contained some 45,000 books and other resources – was completely lost to a fire during the early morning. The library had also housed several critical computer servers, taking the university’s web page and other key services offline.

I took the picture of the library below on Thursday, December 17, around 12 hours before the fire. The picture was taken during a final walk of the campus before we began the five hour drive from Mzuzu to Lilongwe.DSCN4498

4The importance of the Mzuzu University Library and its computer servers to the functioning and future development of the university cannot be overstated. The library is the primary source of information for students, from small children, who regularly visit the children’s library (see the image on the right), to graduates. In addition, during our meetings over the past week we learned how the university was planning to roll out a 15 mbps internet network, which represents a threefold increase in the current speed of the network. I suspect the fire will significantly delay this initiative, which will impact Mzuzu University’s plans to launch an expanded online learning strategy.

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In the spirit of advancing a Global Land-Grant Institution and Ut Prosim, I challenge Virginia Tech’s students, faculty, and staff to consider creative ways in which we can support Mzuzu University’s effort to rebuild its library, servers, and research capacity. Please share your ideas via Twitter using the hashtag #HokiesHelpMzuni.

Emily and I plan to return to Mzuzu in July, 2016 for the joint WASH course. Over the coming months we will work with Dr. Rochelle Holm, the Director of the Mzuzu University Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation, to identify strategies to help rebuild WASH-related resources in the library. Similar strategies will be needed in all of the university’s core areas of competency, which include mathematics, chemistry, biological sciences, physics, history, languages and literature, geography and earth sciences, religious studies, forestry, fisheries, education/distance learning, energy and renewable technologies, water resources management and development, sanitation, health sciences, nursing and midwifery, optometry, ICT, tourism and hospitality, and land management and surveying.

In addition to sharing ideas via Twitter, I’d be happy to talk with anyone who would like to discuss their ideas in person. The TEAM Malawi group of faculty and students on campus will also develop a coordinated response. For those students planning to take the joint WASH course, this turn of events will impact how we prepare for our time in Malawi. The experience of working with international partners to achieve a real and important objective will present many opportunities for learning and service.