History of the Peace Corps in Malawi
The first Peace Corps Volunteers arrived in Malawi just prior to independence in 1963. Most Volunteers worked on education and health projects, and numbers quickly grew to more than 350 Volunteers. In total, more than 2,300 Americans have served as Peace Corps Volunteers in Malawi. Under the very conservative Banda regime, the program was suspended for several years due to the “non-conformist” role of some Volunteers, but the program was restored in 1978. Since that time, the program has developed a close working relationship with the government of Malawi.
The change of government in 1994 opened up the possibility of re-placing Volunteers in rural villages (under the prior regime, foreigners had been suspended from living at the village level). With the increased flexibility in programming, the Peace Corps began working with counterpart ministries to focus programming efforts and identify more appropriate areas for collaboration at the community level. Currently, there are approximately 100 Volunteers working in the health, education, and environment sectors.
History and Future of Peace Corps Programming in Malawi
Peace Corps/Malawi focuses on three main areas of vital need: health, education, and natural resource management. These projects have evolved over the years based on the needs of the government and communities with whom the Peace Corps works.
Community Health Project
Malawi ranks among the countries most severely affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic and is also severely affected by many other serious health conditions. The Peace Corps HIV/AIDS and community health project (CHP) works in collaboration with the National AIDS Control Program and the Ministry of Health to address some of the health issues in rural areas. Volunteers work in areas of AIDS education, orphan care, home-based care, youth and at-risk groups, child survival activities, nutrition, disease prevention, environmental health, and women’s health issues. A few Peace Corps Volunteers work in nursing colleges as educators for health professionals. For many years, Peace Corps/Malawi had the only stand-alone HIV/AIDS project in the Peace Corps, and HIV/AIDS continues to be the cornerstone for health activities.
The AIDS pandemic strikes across all social strata in many Peace Corps countries. The loss of teachers has crippled education systems, while illness and disability drains family income and forces governments and donors to redirect limited resources from other priorities. The fear and uncertainty AIDS causes has led to increased domestic violence and stigmatizing of people living with HIV/AIDS, isolating them from friends and family and cutting them off from economic opportunities. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you will confront these issues on a very personal level. It is important to be aware of the high emotional toll that disease, death, and violence can have on Volunteers. As you strive to integrate into your community, you will develop relationships with local people who might die during your service. Because of the AIDS pandemic, some Volunteers will be regularly meeting with HIV-positive people and working with training staff, office staff, and host family members living with AIDS. Volunteers need to prepare themselves to embrace these relationships in a sensitive and positive manner. Likewise, malaria and malnutrition, motor vehicle accidents and other unintentional injuries, domestic violence and corporal punishment are problems a Volunteer may confront. You will need to anticipate these situations and utilize supportive resources available throughout your training and service to maintain your own emotional strength so that you can continue to be of service to your community.
Secondary Education Project
Peace Corps/Malawi’s secondary education project (SEP) provides teachers and teacher trainers to community day secondary schools (CDSS), which are community started and supported institutions. Volunteers teach physical science, mathematics, biology, and English. The Malawi educational system has undergone serious stress and deterioration in the past few years. The initiation of free primary education in 1994 has greatly increased the need for schools and teachers. The project emphasizes girls’ education and life skills training and uses community content-based instruction techniques.
Community-Based Natural Resources Management
This project focuses on community-based management of natural resources in protected areas such as national parks, game reserves, and forest reserves. Volunteers work with border communities that want to use protected area resources more efficiently and sustainably. Volunteers’ work is accompanied by the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices, income-generating activities, and agroforestry interventions requested by communities bordering parks and reserves. Volunteers work with community groups by helping them to identify and prioritize needs via a community assessment process and then by implementing local projects that address the identified needs. Volunteers also serve as liaisons between parks and wildlife and forestry staff and local communities.