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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#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.





Experience WASH in Malawi – Course Application Open

11 12 2015

If you are a student at Virginia Tech, please consider applying to the Experience WASH in Malawi study abroad course. The course will run from July 11–29, 2016 (Summer II). The application deadline is February 1, 2016.

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Experience WASH in Malawi – Info Sessions

5 11 2015

On Monday, November 16, I will be holding two information sessions (at 9:30am and 3pm) on the “Experience WASH in Malawi” study abroad course I will be offering during the summer of 2016. The information sessions will be held in room 111 of the Architecture Annex (and via polycom in room 220, Prince Street, Alexandria, VA).

This applied and service oriented study abroad experience will provide undergraduate and graduate students with a grounded understanding of WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) in Malawi. The first part of the course will take place in the classroom with lectures, discussions, and small group projects led by faculty at Mzuzu University, Dr. Emily Van Houweling, and I. The course will begin with a general review of the state of water and sanitation services in different parts of the world and will raise the question of what constitutes access to water. We will review important concepts in WASH and provide an overview of the most pressing WASH issues in Malawi. Following this introduction, students will study the design of relevant WASH technologies and educational programs from the perspective of public health, cultural appropriateness, and sustainability. Armed with an understanding of critical WASH issues and technologies, students will then undertake community-based fieldwork on a WASH-related problem in partnership with the Mzuzu University Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation.

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A unique aspect of the course is that Virginia Tech and University of Denver students will work alongside students from Mzuzu University to explore a wide range of WASH issues both in the classroom and the field. This pairing of students will promote cultural exchange and enable discussions about ethics and power in the field of international development. The joint teaching model, combined student cohort, and experiential approach to learning will provide students from the U.S. and Malawi with a rich educational and cultural experience.

The course is designed for students interested in working in the global WASH sector or pursuing a career in international development.





Experience WASH in Malawi (Study Abroad)

23 09 2015

If you are a Virginia Tech undergraduate or graduate, please come to the Drillfield today to learn about a new WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) course I will be offering during Summer II, 2016, in partnership with the Mzuzu University Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation.static_qr_code_without_logo

To keep up to date on course news, please join the Google group.

Course Flyer

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Course Information
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Images from MalawiPoster_images