Ready for the Mzuni Delegation

10 02 2018

On Monday, an 11-person delegation from Mzuzu University (Mzuni) will be visiting Virginia Tech for a week. The purpose of their visit is to engage with students and faculty in relation to the design of a new library for Mzuni. In 2015, Mzuni lost their library, containing over 45,000 titles, to a fire caused by an electrical fault. Since then, the Mzuni Library Initiative – an effort led by Virginia Tech and supported by Radford University, local community groups, and the Malawian Education and Children’s Welfare Foundation – has shipped over 8,000 books to Mzuni for their temporary library (see the video below).

During the past year, four faculty and around 20 students in the School of Architecture + Design have developed three conceptual designs for a new Mzuni library (see the images on the front of the binders below). During their visit, the Mzuni delegation will explore each of these designs and connect with faculty across Virginia Tech who are supporting an effort to design a data analytics and visualization research+learning facility that could be located in the new library.

The students will be publicly presenting their library designs on Wednesday, February 14, from 1-3pm in the foyer to Cowgill Hall. Please consider attending this event of you would like to learn more about this project.





End of Course Team Spirit!

29 07 2017

At the end of our 2017 study abroad course in Malawi, teams of students from Mzuzu University, the University of Denver, and Virginia Tech displayed their team spirit through African and Western song. Enjoy!





Reflecting on First Week in Malawi

16 07 2017

The image below was taken at 5am on Wednesday by Emily Zmak, a graduate student at the University of Denver. It captures a moment of reflection in the early morning on our first day in Mzuzu, Malawi. A day earlier, the vehicle carrying our luggage from Lilongwe to Mzuzu had a mechanical failure. I arrived at Joy’s Place (where the students have been staying) in the hope that our bags had been delivered overnight. Since the bags had not arrived, I took the opportunity to watch the sun rise and absorb a waking day in Malawi, the warm heart of Africa. Emily managed to capture this moment in her wonderful picture.

Our group from Virginia Tech and the University of Denver will be here for three weeks working alongside students from Mzuzu University as part of a WASH (Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene) study abroad course. Students from each university will work in teams in three different regions of Malawi to evaluate the impacts of a rural shallow well program that has been active in the country for more than two decades. The data they collect will help the NGO running the program better understand what aspects of the program need to be improved and which aspects are functioning well. I will say more about this research in a future post. We leave to start the fieldwork at 6am tomorrow.

During the first two days of the course, the students met with key staff from government agencies and national and international organizations in Lilongwe, who provided valuable overviews of the challenges and opportunities that face the country. For example, only 8% of the population have access to electric and around 11% of rural households use an unimproved water supply (such as surface water). In terms of income, Malawi falls among the poorest nations in the world.

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We spent the second part of the first week at Mzuzu University where faculty and invited guests provided seminars on a range of topics from Malawian culture and practices to deforestation trends across the nation and changing fishing practices on in Lake Malawi. We are grateful for all the work of Dr. Rochelle Holm (Director of the Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation) in arranging these sessions. They provided an essential context to the research the students will be undertaking.

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When reflecting at Joy’s Place on the days ahead, the richness of the study abroad experience for the students at all three universities was clear. For many, it is their first time in Africa and I’m keen for them to experience the beauty of the country and warmth of the people, as well as trying to navigate bustling taxi ranks and the local cuisine (which is some of the best I’ve eaten in Africa). There is then the experience of learning with an international student cohort at Malawi’s most northern public university. Finally, the students will be exposed to the challenges of undertaking a research project in three regions of the country. The fieldwork will provide a hands-on, minds-on experience where students will be responsible for undertaking household surveys, focus groups, key informant interviews, water quality testing, and technical assessments of the installed shallow wells. They will also be tasked with processing these data while in the field so we can begin to identify key findings from the research. Given the need to hold the interviews in the local languages, the Malawian students will take lead roles in this research with support provided by the US students. The students will need to work closely together, which should provide a unique opportunity for cross cultural exchange and learning.

After a busy first week, the students visited the Vwaza Wildlife Reserve and Nkhata Bay this weekend, where one or two students (and I!) learned to paddle board for the first time.

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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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WASH Course in Malawi – Week 1

17 07 2016

We have now complete the first week of our joint WASH study abroad course in Malawi. After starting in Lilongwe, we travelled to Mzuzu where we will be based for the remainder of the course. 20160715_201346The students are settled in Joy’s Place and seem to be enjoying the relaxed environment and great food they serve. Interesting, we all underestimated how cold it can be at night, but a nice warm cup of hot chocolate seems to help.

The course is based at the Mzuzu University Centre of Excellence in Water and Sanitation and the Mzuzu SMART Centre, which have all the facilities we need and are surrounded by low-cost water and sanitation technologies that are being designed and tested by staff at the centres. This immersive environment is the perfect place to be learning about WASH in Malawi. We are also fortunate to have the technical staff on hand to answer any questions we have about these technologies.

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The focus of this first week has been on introducing students to the water and sanitation situation in Malawi and the three research projects they will be undertaking over the next 1.5 weeks. The research will begin tomorrow and I will post a few pictures from each of the research teams over the next week. Our objective is for the students to present their findings to key stakeholders on July 28, after which they will be tasked to develop an academic journal article to document their findings. We have challenged the students to take on real and important research, and they have risen to this challenge by diving into their projects with energy, enthusiasm, and the focused needed to collect high quality data. I have also been very impressed by the way the students from the three universities are working as one cohesive group, which we hope will promote cultural exchange and build friendships that will last beyond the course.

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Since we are based at Mzuzu University (Mzuni), we also invited several Mzuni faculty to provide guest lectures related to their areas of expertise, and had a CLTS training session provided by World Vision who have an extensive range of projects underway in Malawi.

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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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