When I left for Madagascar 2.5 years ago I had no idea what I was getting into. I barely knew where Madagascar was let alone what my life would be like as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Now, after two years promoting health education in rural villages I am living in Lilongwe, Malawi as a Global Health Corps Fellow. As I dive into the upcoming year, here are some Frequently Asked Questions about my new adventure.
Q: Tell me more about Malawi?
Malawi is nicknamed “The Warm Heart of Africa” because of its location and its reputation as being home to the “friendliest people you’ll ever meet”. Here are some other fast facts:
- Malawi is geographically one of the smallest countries in Africa. Its population is an estimated 15.9 million people.
- The main religions are Christianity and Islam.
- Malawi is largely an agricultural country and the main exports are tobacco and tea.
- Based on capita income, Malawi has recently been named the world’s poorest.
- Many unique animals can be found across Malawi including Leopards, Elephants, and Buffalo among many others.
- Staple food: Nsima – a thick, savoury porridge made from maize (corn)
- Lake Malawi, which covers 1/5 of the country is home to more species of fish than any other lake in the world.
- In 1968, Malawi became the only country outside of Denmark to have a factory for brewing Carlsberg beer.
Q: What language will you learn?
English and Chichewa are the two official languages. While I won’t need to learn a Chichewa I do plan to learn conversational skills. By learning Malagasy as a Peace Corps Volunteer I saw how much it meant to my community that I was respecting their culture enough to learn the indigenous language. It created a bond that not only allowed me to form stronger relationships but to also better perform as health educator. On a more practical level it is helpful to know the local language when bargaining at the market or when taking public transportation.
Q: Will your living conditions be similar to your house in Madagascar?
No. Unlike my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer living in a very remote village, I am now living in the capital city, Lilongwe. I am living in an apartment with several other Malawi based fellows. There is electricity and running water most of the time which is a big change from my PC home.
Q: What is the Global Health Corps?
Co-founded by Barbara Bush, Global Health Corps is a nonprofit organization promoting global health equity by connecting young leaders worldwide with organizations working on the frontlines of health care. Through a one-year fellowship position, fellows are given the chance to make a meaningful impact at their placement organization while also developing leadership skills. GHC currently has fellows serving in the United States, Rwanda, Zambia, Uganda, and Malawi.
Q: How long is this program?
Our GHC Fellowship year officially began on June 26, 2016 with a 2-week training hosted at Yale University. GHC flew in all new fellows for a program filled with prestigious speakers and interesting workshops to help kickoff the year. Following the training, I will spend just over one year working in Malawi. Throughout the year, I will also attend several professional development retreats.
Q: What will you be doing in Malawi?
I am working as a Program Officer for Save the Children. In a country with significant maternal and child health challenges coupled with an ongoing food insecurity emergency, I will be joining their health and nutrition department to help with knowledge management and program support. I will provide updates regarding my specific job responsibilities throughout the year.
Q: What is Save the Children?
Save the Children is an international relief and development organization helping children by working with families and communities to develop the skills, education, and resources they need to provide for themselves and their children. Save the Children International operates in over 120 countries worldwide making it a globally recognized voice for children. Save the Children has operated in Malawi since 1983.
Q: Why are you doing this?
As a community health volunteer in Madagascar I saw first-hand how health/wellness impacts every aspect of a person’s life –educationally, financially, emotionally, mentally, physically, etc. I saw first-hand how access, or most often lack of access to quality healthcare, can effect someone’s life and lead to many preventable illnesses and death. Healthcare is a human right yet it is often neglected and riddled with injustices. While am committed to fighting for health equality, I know I have a lot to learn which is why I am thrilled to join the GHC fellow community. During my fellowship year I am not only given a unique opportunity to work with Save the Children but I am also provided with leadership and professional development trainings and mentorship.