Over the past month, I have had the privilege of getting to know nine graduate students from Mzuzu University. These graduates formed around one third of our study abroad course alongside students from the University of Denver and Virginia Tech.
During the course, all the students engaged in an extensive range of fieldwork that included household surveys, focus groups, technical assessments of water sources, and key informant interviews. All of these activities were made possible by the hard work and focus of the Mzuzu University students, who led the activities in one of two local dialects. For many, this was their first real fieldwork experience, and like the U.S. students, they were able to advance their research skills.
Outside of the fieldwork activities – i.e., traveling to and from the field and through reflexive and engaging conversations during the evenings or over the weekends – I began to hear the life stories of several of the Mzuzu University students. One of the most striking aspects of these stories was the adversity that each student had to overcome (and are still overcoming) to be a graduate student. Several of the students grew up in communities that were similar to the ones we visited during the fieldwork. These communities do not have access to electricity (unless they own a solar panel array – which is rare), have limited access to improved water, and in many cases are located long distances from local schools and basic health clinics. The students from these communities regularly commented on how our research was enabling the U.S. students to see and experience ‘real life’ in Malawi – meaning the everyday life for about 80% of the country’s population.
When you see and experience this life, the gravity of the challenges facing families and children can at times seem insurmountable. It is for this reason that I wanted to highlight the graduate students who we had the privilege of working with as role models for other students in Malawi.
When pressed on how they made it to graduate school, each Malawian student spoke of a role model who encouraged, inspired, or enabled them to stay in school and continue their education. One of the major challenges facing students is the cost of tuition, which is why many seek employment to cover these costs. The profiles below demonstrate an impressive array of professional experience, which many U.S. graduate students would be hard pressed to match.
While finding good enrollment data is difficult, I estimate that the graduate student population in Malawi is less than one tenth of one percent of the total population. Thus, the Mzuzu University Malawian role models represent the future of the nation and I look forward to seeing what they can collectively accomplish in the coming decade. I list them below in alphabetical order (and will add any missing profiles in the near future).
Elton Chimwemwe Chavura: Elton studied Clinical Medicine and Anaesthesiology at Malawi College of Health Sciences, in Lilongwe and Blantyre, Malawi, graduating in 2003. He also earned a B.S. in Public Health at University of Livingstonia in 2015. At present, Elton is studying for an M.S. in Sanitation at Mzuzu University. He has worked with the Malawi Government civil service since 2007 and was stationed at the Kasungu District Health Office. Elton is currently operating a private practice medical clinic within the town of Kasungu, Malawi. Upon graduation, he intends to integrate WASH-related healthcare and hygiene initiatives into his community outreach program as part of his overall strategy to advance sustainable community development.
Charles F. Chirwa: Charles received a B.S. in Environmental Health from the University of Malawi in 2010 and a M.S. in Sanitation from Mzuzu University in 2017. His research at Mzuzu University focused on measuring pit latrine fecal sludge resistance using a dynamic cone penetrometer in low income areas in Mzuzu city, and his findings were published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. I had the pleasure of working with Charles at Virginia Tech in 2016, when he advanced the analysis of the data he collected from 300 household surveys and pit latrine tests. For the last six years, Charles has served as the District WASH Project Officer (in the Chitipa District) for Marion Medical Mission. He recently joined a USAID project as a District WASH Officer in the USAID/ONSE Health, Development Innovations Group, ONSE Project. In the future he plans to obtain a PhD in a WASH-related field.
Gabriel Junior Kapanda, Jr.: Gabriel is a WASH Scientist with 3-years of experience working with non-profit organizations. He is currently a Water Program Manager for Orant Charities Africa – an international NGO working to serve rural communities in Malawi. He is passionate about community development and humanitarian work in rural and remote areas. Gabriel holds a B.S. in Water Resources Management and Development from Mzuzu University, and is now studying for his M.S. in Sanitation. His master’s research focuses on “determining the willingness to pay for, and initiatives for mitigating, indiscriminate household solid waste disposal in informal settlements in Mzuzu, Malawi.” Upon graduation he plans to create a ‘Water and Environmental Protection’ social business enterprise, comprising both non-profit and for-profit operations.
Chifundo Ruth Kayoka: Chifundo received a diploma in Environmental Health from the Malawi College of Health Sciences in 2007 and a B.S. in Health Management from the University of Malawi, College of Medicine, in 2012. She works with the Ministry of Health as an Environmental Health Officer for the Lilongwe District Health Office. Her main responsibilities include planning, monitoring, and evaluating environmental/public health activities, including water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), supervising a team of Health Surveillance Assistants, maintaining the workflow schedule, and supporting a safe work environment by adhering to the Ministry of Health’s protocols and guidelines. Chifundo is currently studying for an M.S. in Sanitation at Mzuzu University, where she is researching innovative ideas to improve WASH services for people with disabilities. In the next 5 to 10 years, Chifundo plans to help operationalize sustainable development strategies and interventions that promote the self-reliance of people living with disabilities across Malawi. She also aspires to work closely with communities to utilize appropriate locally available technology that will improve the lives of people with disabilities. In addition, she plans to contribute to attaining the right to WASH for all.
Madalitso Mmanga: Madalitso received a B.S. in Environmental Health from the University of Malawi in 2007. Since then he has worked for the Ministry of Health in the Ntcheu District Hospital, where he is now the Environmental Health Officer and WASH Program Manager. Madalitso has also worked as a water resources and GIS technician for COMWASH (in 2004) and was an agriculture extension and development officer for the Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Water Development (from 2003-2007). He is currently studying for a M.S. in Sanitation at Mzuzu University. Upon graduation, Madalitso plans to develop a comprehensive healthcare waste management system that will be implemented in all healthcare establishments in Malawi.
Welton Eddie Mtonga: Eddie received a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Malawi in 1999 and an M.S. in Civil Engineering-Hydropower Development from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in 2008. Eddie has 18 years of professional experience, four of which were with an Engineering Consultancy firm, nine were with a water utility, and the remainder have been with the Department of Water Resources Management and Development in the Faculty of Environmental Sciences at Mzuzu University. Elton was the most senior participant in the WASH course and is currently working to complete his PhD in Sanitary Engineering, after which he hopes to work as a faculty member at a university in Malawi.
Mike Petani: Mike received a Diploma in Clinical Medicine from the Malawi Adventist University in 2008 and a B.S. in Public Health from the University of Livingstonia, Malawi, in 2014. He is currently studying for a M.S. in Sanitation at Mzuzu University and is working as an Environmental Health Officer for the Ministry of Health in the Kasungu District Hospital. To earn sufficient funds to support his family and pay for his school fees, Mike created the Come Again Medical Private Clinic and Medicine Pharmacy in his hometown. His long-term ambition is to obtain a PhD after which he plans to expand his clinic and pharmacy to include a maternity wing and X-ray department that serves local communities that are too far from government facilities.