While working on my master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling at Mercer University, I signed up to volunteer with Mercer On Mission (MOM).  My experience with Mercer on Mission in Malawi, Africa was life changing!  My expectations of the mission trip were matched on a visual and physical perspective.  The hospitality we received from Reverend Dr. Silas Ncozana and his wife Margaret, and the rest of his team members ( Sam Ncozana, Masa Chikapa, and Chief Dickson Chikwakwa) was TOP-NOTCHED! 

 I was not totally prepared for the “emotional” journey I experienced on the trip, however I knew the opportunity to volunteer in Africa would be a once in a lifetime experience for me. To give you some perspective on what MOM is about, here is a program description for Mercer University’s website: “Mercer On Mission is a unique blend of study abroad and service-learning that provides life-changing experiences for students through academic instruction, cultural immersion, meaningful service, and spiritual reflection.”

Although my colleagues and I completed this trip in 2011, the experience of international volunteerism has a lasting impact on my life.  Today, I look at”my world” differently.  I have made a conscious decision to not take things for granted. My mindset is to deal with life challenges as they are and to not worry and complain about trivial things.  For instance, water conservation is a major concern of mine.  Monitoring how much water is utilized in my home is vitally important to me.  In Malawi, people live a life that is seemingly deprived of the luxuries we are accustomed to in America.  For instance, during our twenty-one days in Malawi we had to become accustomed to taking very cold showers, or no showers at all.  However those same luxuries have made us very dependent and almost cripple.  Our dependency on cell phones, internet, abundance of running water, and electricity has made us very inflexible and at times unproductive and incapable of accomplishing simple tasks.

Being adaptable was an essential characteristic needed on Mercer on Mission.  I found this to be a challenge for many members of the group. Wholeheartedly, I felt it was vital for me to have an open mind in order for me to flourish, enjoy, and accept all elements of Malawi.  It was important for me to allow myself to be open to accept the challenges I faced. It was difficult for me to see the poverty stricken people in Malawi. It is my hope that the Malawian government and humanitarian organizations continue to work on developing plans for action in eradicating extreme poverty and hunger.

I have changed for the better in such a way that I do not want to be idle with my time.  I want to make sure that my work at home and in my professional life has meaning.  By witnessing the difficulties Malawians endure to survive on a daily basis has put a yearning in me to be more productive. I recall seeing people walking for what seem like miles without transportation, and often without shoes on their feet.

I think of the mothers I saw walking during the early mornings to look for firewood. This is a big deal and part of their daily living activities. I tried to imagine having to get up early every day to gather wood to cook, and to keep my home warm.  I knew the walk to the woods would be the easy part of this task and the more difficult part would be carrying the wood back home. I witnessed people walking for miles carrying pallets of wood on their heads over very difficult terrain; those images were humbling.

I also reflect on the lessons taught to us by so many individuals. I truly enjoyed our visit to the Mulange Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) and the discussion with Mr. David Nangoma. Mr. Nangoma shared with the group the various objectives the MMCT carry out in order to improve the community. Mr. Nangoma’s visceral reaction to our questions were engaging and showed his passion to improving the environment and sustaining the viability of Mt. Mulange.  Some of the objectives he shared with us were:

  • Environmental Education, Awareness, and Communication:  this goal is to educate the community about the resources of Mt. Mulange and the role they play to impact the forest reserve.  Local and distant communities are educated by utilizing publications, websites, etc.
  • Forest Co-Management and Conservation: this program makes meaning of conservation and sustainability. Building alliances in conservation and making sure people understands efforts.
  • Conservation, Research, and Monitoring:  the main objective of this program is to conduct research to make informed decisions.

Mr. Nangoma informed us of the need for epidemiologists, aquatic biologists, and individuals in the human services field to assist with research in Malawi. The MMCT would like to have continued research on forest regeneration, conservation and sustainability, and climate change.  Furthermore the topic of Community Based Natural Resource Management was discussed.  Mr. Nangoma educated us on the initiatives the MMCT has taken to make the community more accountable for the preservation of Mt. Mulange by creating opportunities for the local community to “co-manage” sections of the forest to promote small business development. Community members entered into contracts with the government with the intention of protecting and managing sections of land given to them to develop. Some members have produced harvest items for sale, beekeeping, and even fruit canning. Overall the visit to MMCT was very informative and enlightening.

The main objective of our trip was to successfully install a solar-powered water pump in the Chuluchosema Village that would bring running water to the village infirmary.  As a part of the team, we all worked hard at digging trenches for pipes to be laid.  I must admit digging the trenches was hard work!  I felt so physically out of shape. It was absolutely fulfilling for me to contribute and complete the tasks needed in order to complete this project. I truly feel like I made a difference. 

Although the installation of the solar-powered water pump at Chuluchosema was done to improve accessibility to water, it does not address the issue of eliminating water contamination. As we completed the water pump installation project, I remain concerned with the issue of contamination in the water supply at the village. The water from the well and stream may be a source of disease. The water samples taken from both the well and water stream showed fecal contamination.  I was shocked and alarmed by the water testing results since the villagers use the water for all domestic purposes.  Inevitability, I had to remind myself to be content with the success of the installation as it was truly rewarding to see water run from the facets in the infirmary and to witness water coming from the spigot that was installed in the village.

Overall I am very grateful for the experience I had in Malawi and the lessons I have learned about environmental sustainability and loving this earth. The MOM trip has helped to shape my thinking about volunteerism. I have always remained active in my community by participating in various volunteer activities, but my exposure to Malawi has broaden my vision as to how far reaching volunteerism can be taken.  The work I participated in during my visit as a student at Mercer University has forged a life-long connection and relationship with many individuals in Malawi. As a result, I have decided to continue my support by raising awareness of their struggles with poverty, HIV infections, and deforestation.  I want the world to know about the needs that must be addressed. I am a humanitarian liaison who can stand in the gap by raising funds and awareness to support The Chuluchosema Villages. All donations collected are being sent directly to the Chuluchosema CCAP Church.  

Chief  Dickson Chikwakwa, Session Clerk, Chuluchosema CCAP Church works closely with me to oversee the handling of funds to ensure support is given to the indicated projects on my MISSIONS Page!  

To learn more about Chuluchosema CCAP, please visit their FaceBook page and the other links provided below. 

Chuluchosema CCAP: 

https://www.facebook.com/dickson.chikwakwa?pnref=story

http://sacpc.org/tag/dickson-chikwakwa/

 

Diahann JohnBaptiste, MPA, MS, LAPC, NCC  ©