Malawi journey

This chicken was given to Loren and me by village residents we visited. Field scientist Gerald was much better at holding the chicken than I.
In October 2011, I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Malawi with my preceptor, Loren Galvao, to learn about and assist with a project called “Tiphunzitsane: Pathways Linking Poverty, Food Insecurity, and HIV in Rural Malawi.” The 5-year, NIH-funded project (Lance Weinhardt of the ZSPH is the Principle Investigator; Loren the Co-PI) examines links between structural interventions like improved farming practices and village savings groups and health. This project is fascinating because it really dives deeply into the root contributors to health. We know that things like vaccines and healthcare access contribute to health, but through this project we’re learning more about how factors like economic security, women’s empowerment, and food security play a significant role. Though the project resides in Malawi, some of the findings will likely be applicable worldwide—Wisconsin included.

My three weeks in Malawi were packed with excitement. I re-united with Thoko, the project manager, and Esther, the data manager, who work for CARE-Malawi. I had met the two outstanding women a year ago, when they came to Milwaukee for a training. I quickly embedded myself within the CARE-Malawi field scientist team—Chrispine, Thula, Florence, Chrissie, and Gerald—a dynamic group passionately committed to improving the health of Malawians. Loren and I visited with the team to discuss findings and progress on the qualitative and quantitative research. We also met with representatives from CARE, the Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Finance to get a broader picture of current projects and health priorities in the country. 
Loren, joyously welcomed by women in the village
  We split our time between Kasungu, the base for field operations, and the capitol city, Lilongwe, where the head CARE office is located. We went on a few field visits, where we met participants in the study. The women held a village savings and loans meeting during our visit, which is an intervention we are studying. Without access to formal banking in the very rural areas, village residents struggle to save money or procure loans. Village savings and loans groups essentially make it possible for villagers to save and grow their money. Read more about VS&L groups here. It was extremely helpful to visualize how the savings group functions: members each contribute a sum of money to the group; when someone wants to borrow money, she may do so, but must re-pay the amount back with interest in a designated period of time. The group members shared examples of what they do with the loans—buy bikes for transportation, expand businesses, pay for school uniforms and fees.
The field team and me after a day-long data analysis and interpretation workshop

During the weekends, I experienced Malawi culture by attending a wedding (and learning how to do the “money dance,” where money is tossed at the bride and groom in a celebratory dance), visiting beautiful Lake Malawi, and learning how to de-feather a freshly slaughtered chicken.

I’m putting together a mini-documentary describing the project and perspectives of project leaders and staff—stay tuned for the link!
En route to a field visit via motorbike
Many, many thanks to Loren and Lance for making this trip possible--and also to the entire field team in Malawi. I miss everyone!