Aparna in Mozambique

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Chit Chat, Updates, and Upcoming Plans

October 28, 2007

Chit Chat, Updates, and Upcoming Plans:

Wow, well, I realized that every time I post a blog, I promise things like I will write every two weeks, because I think, the longer I am here, the easier it would be for me to post. I wish I had learned not to promise on my blogs anymore. What happens is that I take time and I think, if I just wait until next week, I can tell them about what happens in this class or at that event. Then, eventually, I become overwhelmed by the amount of things that I’d like to share and it never ever happens.

So, first and foremost, as usual, my apologies from the bottom of my heart and I mean it. I think of all of you (Friends, Family, Rotarians, and Colleagues), all of the time. I just wish that I could share every moment with you as it comes.

These past few months have seemed like the most hectic months that I have been in Malawi for a number of reasons that I can’t explain. And I mostly feel like I have such little time left at this point (just 2 months) that I don’t know what to do with myself other than enjoy every single minute of it. This is also hard because I am wrapping up so many things at school with trying to finish my MPH and also with my projects that I am doing as I want to make sure that they are sustainable after I leave. Yes, so as I am counting my days towards the time when I’ll be able to come home and eat deep dish pizza as well as most importantly, family cooking, I will try to recap the past few months here.

Where in the World Have I Been and School News?

Well, the last time I wrote, I had just come back from a nutrition course in Mangochi. Since then, September was not too full of surprises. I did only one courses for credit, which was an introduction to African bioethics, but my other courses, were just audits because I was nearing the end of my module set. The other courses that I sat in were all on research and bioethics. Within the MPH, there is a specific track for bioethics and the University has a collaboration with Michigan State University in this program. Its so interesting because it is an area that is really developing in Malawi and the region. One of my classmates sits on the national ethics committee, which approves all national research. Its so important because one needs to ensure the rights and protections of vulnerable populations as well as make sure that proposed research falls under international standards, basically the same that they would have to undergo either in the U.S. or Europe, but at the same time one wants to ensure the best outcomes to its population (like new HIV therapies and the like). So, September flew by for my just doing these things. I also submitted, at the end of August, my thesis proposal I am doing research in Zomba on the use of traditional birth attendants (TBAs). I was getting worried up until last week that I wouldn’t be able to do the project, but finally it got approved! Given the fact that I had just been doing all of these ethical conduct trainings, I knew I just had to sit tight and wait while the committee deliberated on my proposal. So, at the beginning of October, I took a few days out and went to Cape Town, South Africa. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world (well, at least that I have ever seen) and I feel so lucky for having been able to see it. At times, my friends and I felt like we were in Europe or South America. There is such a mixture of cultures, landscapes, and history that it is really hard to describe. Instead of try, here are a few pictures for you to see for yourself:


After Cape Town, I have to admit that it was a bit hard for me to get back into the swing of things here. Because the parts of South Africa that we went to were so well developed, it actually made me homesick to be there. I enjoyed just going for walks, going to the movies, and hanging out at the shopping mall. Its so strange because these are things that I wouldn’t even really think twice about in the U.S. but that I really enjoyed while I was here. I think that it was the luxury and novelty of the situation…and it just made me miss home comforts, as much as I hate to admit it, just a little bit. Which is not to say that I don’t have a comfortable life here. I’m not in the Peace Corps after all; its simply that so many things just don’t exist in Malawi (parks, movie theaters, nighttime activities other than bars, and the like). I do have wireless internet, a cell phone, my friends have cars, and I have running water and electricity as well as a variety of restaurants (relatively speaking)….you get the picture.

Ok, back to my school news, so after Cape Town, I had just 2 classes remaining last week, maternal health and demography. I am now happy to say, that with the remainder of the assignments for these courses, I have finished all of my courses, case studies and practical assignments in 9 months! Now, I move on to my research phase, which is what I will be pushing to get through for the next 2 months. Apparently I am one of the first students to do this course in one year, so I am writing something up on this for the college to use and possibly doing a presentation about it. The Ministry of Health is thinking of sending people for just a year instead of part time for 3 years and seeing how it goes so I feel like my feedback could be really important in this respect. Its been a lot of hard work, just as hard if not harder than I’ve done in the U.S. and I’ve learned so much that I am happy to give back in any way that I can.

Rotary News:

Now onto my Rotary news…..let me first start with the donations that I’ve done since August. Earlier this year, I received some generous sums of money from family and friends as well as from Rotarians. With the money that was donated by the Orland Park Rotary club, we were able to support patients who have HIV and are currently undergoing home based care. The money will be used to support nurses that are giving them nutritional support through the Palliative Care Association of Malawi (PACAM) at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital in Blantyre. In addition, the additional money from family and friends has gone to the PACAM to support their nutrition programs and home based care. Both of these organizations have promised me photos and letters about the work they are doing and I am happy to say that I know the funds are being well used and will benefit many people who need the additional support.

Next, I believe that I mentioned it last time, but there is a member of Rotary who is chairman of a charitable foundation called Gift of the Giver. Through this contact, I was able to assist a colleague at PACAM to secure 10 boxes per month (enough food for 100 patients) of their nutritional supplement, Sibusiso. As most of you know, HIV is a debilitating disease and people need additional nutritional support when they are infected. Through this collaboration, PACAM will be able to support their patients for the entire year. In addition, if you remember the school that I have been volunteering at from time to time, I also procured donations for them. I took one box as a trial to the headmaster of the school and advised him to put half a pot of the supplement (sort of like a thick, sweet peanut butter) in the children’s porridge. Apparently, they had much more energy afterwards, so I asked the foundation for a donation of 2 boxes per month, enough to add additional nutritional value to the porridge for 100 children. The man agreed to the first month and I am in the process of writing a letter to secure the sibusiso for the next year at a minimum. I am so happy on this project because those children have absolutely nothing and one filling meal during school hours means a lot to them, I can guarantee it.

The next big project I have been helping with is setting up a Rotaract club at the college of medicine. Apparently in the past there was an active club in Blantyre. In fact, many of the members of Rotary came from this club. So, they know the value of investing in young people in this respect. For those of you who are not familiar, Rotaract is a service based organization that is for young people 18-30 years old and can either be community or university based. I helped identify students at the college of medicine to start the club and they have just elected their committees and executive members. Now, the club just needs to be registered. It is being chartered by the Blantyre club, but I’ve helped bring the budding members to both Limbe and Blantyre. Its been a truly exciting time and I can’t wait to see how Rotaract moves forward in years to come. I hope that future ambassadorial scholars to Malawi can take this project and contribute any support or expertise that they can, particularly in identifying good service activities for the club.

In terms of talks that I have been doing, I did visit one of the other clubs in Malawi, the Rotary club of Bwaila. As I have noted before, there are now 5 Rotary clubs in Malawi: Blantyre, Limbe, Lilongwe, Bwaila, and Mzuzu. I haven’t visited Mzuzu because it is over an 8 hour drive, but it is great to have gone to Bwaila. The Bwaila Rotary Club actually came out of the Lilongwe Rotary Club because they had too many members. It is a very new and young club, so when I visited, I did a talk on Rotaract, Ambassadorial Scholarships, and Matching Grants. They told me that it was very beneficial and took my presentation to make some notes. Although they are just starting, they seem like a wonderful club and once again, it reminded me of just how different each and every club can be. The Lilongwe club has very established professionals and meets at the nicest hotel in Lilongwe whereas Bwaila attracts young budding professionals and has a snack afternoon meeting at the new hip amusement center’s hotel (meaning a strip mall with food places and even mini-golf). And yes, I definitely played a round of miniature golf while I was there, what a treat!

Other small things I’ve been doing with Rotary are trying to compile contact lists for clubs and new scholars in the U.S., making contact for the Solar Oven Project, and making plans to visit a Rotary sponsored project near the lake that supports the growing of Macademia trees for income generation at an orphan care center. I hope that all of these things come to fruition before my next blog so that I can report them to you!

The Question that I’ve been Pondering for the Past 2 Months:

Phew, well those were my updates for the past two months in a nutshell. Life has become relatively calm for me, but I do, as usual, have a few things that have been on my mind. My main question is that, in all of my courses and even in conversations with my friends who work in development, is how can we really get all people the basic services that they need? I don’t have a good answer to this but most people say that we need to have more human resources. I agree with this, but how is this possible with a limited budget and loads of people leaving the country? And then the next answer is that others say that investment and economic growth will lift the nation. Does anyone agree with this? I realize that it is not that simplistic, but these are the two main things I believe to be necessary. Nothing can happen without more helping hands, that’s just a reality. And furthermore, without good economic growth in all sectors, little can be expected on a national scale. But, another issue that pokes me in the side, is sort of what I talked about in my blog on the need for beauty. I agree that economic development is necessary and practicality is necessary but I would like to come back to the miracle of beauty in this world with an old proverb that I found, “When you have only 2 pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one and a lily with the other.” How does this fit into my question? I would love to hear any and all opinions on this.

Ok, well, I think at this point, I will close this month’s blog. I want to hear your latest updates, news, and anything else including pictures as soon as possible. I minimalized my philosophical wanderings for the month so that we could actually just get back in touch and you don’t have to worry about writing me something profound! I am happy just to hear from you and miss you all! I will be home in less than two months, so I’d love to start planning a time to meet and also times to visit Rotary clubs as much as I can. I will be home from December 20-January 15th before I head off to Mozambique so please, mark your calendars. I can’t wait to hear from you and am sending lots of energy, as always, from the warm heart of Africa, Malawi.