Google’s Vwaza Video

9 08 2016

Google just created this movie of the trip we took to Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve during the Experience WASH in Malawi study abroad course I co-taught in July. I thought it was worth sharing.





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.





Vwaza!

29 07 2016

Blog (4)Today was the final day of the Experience WASH in Malawi study abroad course. Having spent the last three weeks working hard on research projects, the students visited Vwaza Marsh Wildlife Reserve – a national park to the north of Mzuzu. The lake in the park was full of hippos and surrounded by monkeys and gazelles, which provided our group with many hours of energized viewing.

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I have posted the three final presentations from each of the research teams below along with a short document from the Sanitation and Fish teams that provide an overview of their research and results.

While I may be biased, I believe this study abroad course has been an excellent experience for all involved – students and instructors. We are now looking forward to 2017 when we hope to build on the success of this course and take on new research projects that will have a direct and meaningful impact on communities in Malawi.

Fish Team

Fish

Fish Team Briefing Document.

Sanitation Team

Sanitation

Sanitation Team Infographic.

Mapping Team

Mapping





Final WASH Presentations

28 07 2016

This morning, students taking our joint WASH course in Malawi presented their final presentations to a group of key stakeholders and faculty at Mzuzu University. The session was introduced by Dr. Loveness Kaunda, the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Mzuzu University. I will post the presentations from this session soon, along with the briefing documents the students prepared to capture the key findings from their research. I was extremely impressed by what the students were able to develop in such a short period of time. More to follow on this.

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“Experience” WASH in Malawi

20 07 2016

Having reached the halfway point of our time in Malawi, the students are now fully immersed in their WASH-related research projects. When we designed the course, we decided to make research a central part of the student experience. Having spent a day with each of the research groups this week I can now see how important this experiential component of the course is for building a deep understanding of the WASH challenges facing communities in Malawi. The research projects are logistically and technically challenging, which means students need to work well as a team, learn new skills and knowledge, be proactive, and manage the enviable problems that come with real-world research. This week has also been characterized by the Mzuni students rising to the occasion and taking lead roles in the research projects. Their understanding of local communities and organizations and their mastery of local dialects has proven to be critical for each project. It has also been great to see the U.S. and Malawian students unite around a common research goal and work hard to advance the data collection process.

14Over the past few days the three groups have become known as the Sanitation, Mapping, and Fish teams in relation to their research projects. I have briefly described each project below and have provided a few pictures from the work of each group.

A hygiene and sanitation assessment of public sites. The Sanitation team is testing public latrines in schools, public transportation sites, medical facilities, and markets for E. coli contamination and administering short interviews to assess the sanitary conditions and use of the public facilities. The team plans to assess ten public sites this week and process up to 150 samples taken from various pre-determined locations in and around a sanitation facility. As is typical in a low resource setting, these facilities can be unclean and in a dire state of repair. But this was not always the case. The study of these facilities is providing students with a clear sense of the public sanitation needs across the city. It is also requiring them to visit locations they would never have seen if we only spoke about public sanitation in a classroom setting.

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Mapping the water and sanitation services in a community. The Mapping team is undertaking participatory mapping to understand the water and sanitation services in a community near Mzuzu University. The students are leading these mapping exercises and collecting GPS data that will be analyzed and integrated into one or more maps. These maps can then be used to identify the “gaps” between water needs and existing services to help the community engage in the planning of future water services. During their first day of surveying, it was clear that the data collection instruments were too detailed and needed to be revised/shortened. This experience reinforced the importance of piloting instruments before the full data collection effort begins, a valuable lesson for the students to learn.

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Risk of fish contamination from the boat to the market (Nkhata Bay to Mzuzu). The Fish team is undertaking an assessment of the fish supply chain from Nkhata Bay to Mzuzu. This is perhaps the most logistically demanding project, which begins around 3am as the fishermen leave Nkhata Bay and ends at Mzuzu market some 50km away where the fish caught that morning are being sold. The students are testing the fish, the fish handlers’ hands, transport vehicles, and fish containers for E. coli, and are undertaking interviews with fish handlers along the fishing, transportation, and marketing chain. This project is characterized by intense periods of activity and periods of waiting – such as when fishermen are fishing on the lake. Perhaps, the busiest phase of the research is when the fishermen return to shore and the middle men/women rush to purchase the fisherman’s catch. The students wisely developed relationships with the fishermen to ensure that they can sample their fish when they return to shore and before the fish start their trip to Mzuzu market.

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While we intended the WASH course to be experiential, I underestimated the importance of this aspect of the course, which is where much of the learning seems to be happening. The course provides a great example of the “hands on, minds on” principle that Virginia Tech is working to integrate across the institution. My hope is that we (VT) can develop a way – through initiatives such as Beyond Boundaries, Destination Areas, and InclusiveVT – to make this type of off campus experience open to all students attending the university. There are clearly financial and resource implications to realizing this vision, but the value to students is certainly worth the effort.





The WASH Course Begins in Lilongwe

17 07 2016

On July 10, 15 students from Virginia Tech and Denver University (DU) arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, to join students from Mzuzu University (Mzuni) for a joint WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) course. I am currently teaching this course with Dr. Rochelle Holm (Mzuni), Dr. Mavuto Tembo (Mzuni), and Dr. Emily Van Houweling (DU).

For the first two days of the course we held meetings with key officials in the capital, Lilongwe, beginning with U.S. Ambassador Palmer who described the strong U.S.-Malawi relationship. Ambassador Palmer outlined the various programs the U.S. government supports to spur economic development and help the 6.5 million Malawians at risk from flooding and drought. She also emphasized the unique opportunities that exist for U.S. companies to invest in Malawi. It was interesting to learn that Malawi (one of the poorest countries in the world) is one of a few countries that receives support from all the main U.S. foreign assistance programs.

Palmer

Following our meeting with the Ambassador, students had the opportunity to meet with Edward Monster, the Public Affairs Officer for the U.S. Embassy in Malawi and Carol Spahn, the Country Director for Peace Corps Malawi (below). During this conversation, students were able to learn about foreign service from the perspective of the U.S. Department of State and Peace Corps. It was interesting to hear that students can now select which country they would like to serve in for Peace Corps.

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In the afternoon and evening on the first day, we held some get-to-know-you activities and relaxed a little with some games of volleyball at a local facility.

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The following day, students had the opportunity to speak with Asayire Kapira (WES Network), Thanasius Sitolo (the Department of Water Supply and Sanitation), and Lucy Mungoni (USAID Malawi) about the WASH situation and WASH actors in Malawi. Following these meetings, the group left Lilongwe for a five hour drive to Mzuzu where we will hold the rest of the course.

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Experience WASH in Malawi – Info Sessions

22 01 2016

If you are interested in attending the Experience WASH in Malawi study abroad course, I will be holding two information sessions about the course at the following times:

  • Wednesday, Jan 27, 4:30pm, Room 107, Architecture Annex
  • Friday, Feb 5, 12pm, Room 111, Architecture Annex

If you are not located at the Blacksburg campus, a WebEx connection to each session can be provided upon request.

Draft syllabusApply here.

Internships

Following the completion of the course, interested students will have an opportunity to undertake an internship with different development organizations in Malawi. These organizations include Ngurwu (a community-based organization that provides education and development assistance in many different areas), World Vision, Merion Medical Mission (an organization that installs shallow wells), and the Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) (an organization that could offer internships in health, education, and development). We will work with students to help ensure a good fit between their interests and the needs of the organizations.

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