A Partner in Malawi
by Mercy Chikhosi Nyirongo
Ever since I was a child, I wanted to be a nurse. Public hospitals here in Malawi are free, but they have a severe shortage of staff. I wanted to be part of the solution. So, when I finished my basic nursing and midwifery training, I worked for three years in one of Malawi’s public hospitals.
There, I observed a very big service gap between the rich and the poor. Hospital personnel handled people differently depending on their socioeconomic status. To change this practice, I would have to be in a managerial post. So, supported by a scholarship from The United Methodist Church, I earned a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing from Africa University.
My studies helped me realize the need to emphasize patients’ rights in nursing schools. Having nurses understand these rights from the beginning is a way to change the image that people in Malawi have toward the nursing profession.
The only way I had of saying “thank you” to the church for my scholarship was to give something back. So when the post of Health Coordinator for the Malawi United Methodist Church (MUMC) was created, I applied. At first, I was doing much of the work of this office by myself. Then, last year (2012), the Malawi UMC developed a new Health Board. In addition to overseeing all of the church’s health programs, the Health Board assists my office in proposal writing and strategic planning. It develops policies and makes decisions concerning the church’s vision, mission, and health strategies. We now work together as a team for effective governance of the health department.
Governance is fundamental to the success of our programs. The Heath Board established a plan for quality and monitors its implementation. The board has also established financial controls to ensure that funds are prudently managed.
Our health teams use goal-based evaluation to track the results of our health programs. To ensure that goals have been met, we use the Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound “SMART” targets. If set goals have not been met, new plans are developed. The health teams report to the Connectional Ministries office in Malawi and to the Zimbabwe (UMC) Health Board, because Malawi is part of the Zimbabwe Episcopal Area.
My vision is to see a well-trained Health Board that knows what is expected from its members and what they can expect from others. If board members are well-chosen, understand their roles and responsibilities, and develop a proper structure, I believe the Health Board can meet future challenges and keep health care on track for the good of our communities.
Help From Our Friends
The Health Board in Malawi works with the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Kansas, which funds most of the church’s current health programs. They include programs on health and nutrition, water and sanitation, and early childhood development. These programs are community-oriented and focus mostly on preventive care. For example, as part of the nutrition program, we plant Moringa trees. Moringa leaves are edible and are packed with vitamins and protein. They have a lot of health benefits for our population, including prevention of malnutrition, especially in children under age five, for whom the nutrition program provides one meal per day.
The Church of the Resurrection also focuses on malaria prevention, targeting orphans in an orphan-empowerment program. It supports the training of community health workers and the integration of evangelism and health programs at a community level.
In addition to the support of Kansas’s Resurrection UMC, a Kansas-based foundation called One5 is sponsoring the construction of the first United Methodist health-care facility in Blantyre, Malawi. This occurred immediately after the Malawi UMC formed its Health Board. The One5 Foundation’s goal is to build health-care facilities and capacity in developing countries. There are only two doctors per 100,000 people in Malawi. With only a handful of medical facilities in Blantyre, there is great need for more facilities and training. For more than 10 years, the leaders of The United Methodist Church in Malawi have wanted to build a clinic to serve their community. “We have been praying for something like this since 1999,” said the Rev. Daniel Mhone, superintendent of the Malawi UMC. “We are all overwhelmed by how God will use this partnership to serve the people in Blantyre.”
The Malawi UMC has also received funds from Germany World Mission to support nutrition clinics and currently has a proposal under review with UMCOR for Imagine No Malaria program funds.
Malawi’s health programs are all preventive and community-based. If more churches could find ways to support us in the construction of clinics, we might focus on curative care as well. Having mobile clinics is another wish. We could visit very remote areas where people are dying because of preventable and curable conditions. They simply do not have access to health care. Poverty, poor roads, and great distances are some of the contributing factors.
The Benefits of Connection
The global United Methodist connection has improved the social and economic status of communities in Malawi. It has helped our women to know their value. It has helped us break the cycle of discrimination based on gender, religious affiliation, or socioeconomic status. Being connected to the global UMC helps us to reduce the oppression of the poorest members of society.
Our connection could be strengthened, allowing more church-to-church partnerships, but only if there is a clear understanding of partnership on both sides. The church in Malawi does not seek to be a receiver only, but also a contributor to the global ministries of the church. We have already worked hard to develop our human capacity. If there are ways for us to improve access to new technologies in Malawi, we welcome suggestions and conversation.
Mercy Chikhosi Nyirongo serves as the Conference Health Coordinator for the Malawi United Methodist Church.
In the village of Katondo, Malawi, women wait in the hot sun to draw water. Sometimes they wait overnight just to be first in line.
Photo: Susan Campbell
The Malwi UMC, in partnership with the Church of the Resurreciton in Kansas (USA), enabled this economic empowerment training in December 2012.
Photo: Susan Campbell