From 2002 through 2011, I was a pediatrician for an Indian Health Service Hospital in the Southwestern United States. However, for several weeks in the Spring of 2009, I served as a volunteer pediatrician at Nkhoma Hospital in Nkhoma, Malawi.
MCF was born out of one weekend’s experience involving two mountains; the village in the valley between them; and two lost dogs. On a clear day as the rainy season drew to a close, I was looking for a path down from a mountain ridge. Standing on the ridge, it became apparent that the only path down led right into the middle of a small village’s garden.I had the unrealistic hope that I might slip into the village and out to the road leading back to Nkhoma without attracting much notice. Of course, this was not to be. By the time I was halfway down, there was a large group of children waiting in the garden below me. Cries of “Mzungu” greeted me as I stepped into the cucumber patch.
I was most concerned about avoiding stepping on their cucumbers. But when I was met by the village sub-chief, I quickly learned that the villagers’ concerns had little to do with cucumbers. Instead, they were deeply concerned about the education of their children. I wished only to find the road back to the hospital. However, after a tour of the village and meeting the sub-chief’s family, I found not only the road but the desperate desire that the young sub-chief had to educate the children of his village.The following day on the mountain on the other side of the valley, two dogs followed me down a steep granite ravine. The dogs found climbing up more difficult than sliding down, and they were stuck at the bottom. Hoping that they would find another way down, I hiked back to the village. But later that night there was no sign of either dog, and in the morning their foods bowls were still full.
Knowing that I had to rescue the dogs, I set out in search of a rope. I was fortunate enough to gain the help of a friend from South Africa, who runs the Nkhoma adolescent programs. As we hiked back up the mountain to find the dogs, we discussed the needs of community. After successfully rescuing the stranded dogs, the idea of the Malawi Children’s Fund was born. In the course of two days of hiking, I discovered the needs and desire for educational assistance of the people of Malawi and found the administrative resource to help make it happen on the ground in Malawi.
In the past, economic development within Malawi has depended on outside sources of income from donor countries and groups. Malawi has struggled with internally-driven development, which in the end is the only long-term solution. Malawi’s internal development is hindered by low educational levels and the impact of diseases including malaria, malnutrition, and tuberculosis among others.
MCF’s mission is to try to alleviate the underlying problems that affect economic development in Malawi by increasing the number of well-educated children who have the potential to improve their own lives and the lives of their families. In this process, they can stimulate the economic activity in their local villages and the country as a whole.Increasing the number of secondary school graduates and providing support for training in medical fields as nurses, public health workers, clinical officers and physicians not only supports economic development but will allow Malawians to address the health problems that limit the future hopes of so many Malawian children.
All children deserve the chance to go to school, but the goal of MCF is, with the help of local communities, to find children with the potential to succeed if they only had the community and financial support they need. It is extremely difficult for students to progress beyond primary school (the equivalent of elementary schools in America), because the fees for secondary school are cost-prohibitive. It is in the support of those children that MCF hopes to bring about change in Malawi.
By giving a child a chance to learn we give them the tools to build a better life for their community. Working with local community members we can select students and follow them throughout their education to make sure they receive the monetary and community support necessary to complete their studies.
Now that we live and work in Malawi we are face-to-face with both the needs and the promise of the next generation of Malawians. It is a daily reminder of the ability of individuals who may never set foot in Malawi to change the direction of a country.
MCF is dependent on financial donations from supporters in the United States and the community workers in the villages throughout Malawi.
Alan Schooley, MD