Summer internship: VillageReach in Malawi

Our last day at the hotline!
Monday, August 26, 2019

As I wrap up my summer internship in Lilongwe, I cannot thank the MacMillan Center enough for giving me the resources to broaden my horizons, grow as an individual and intellectual, and explore a new part of the world!

The last few weeks of our work with VillageReach’s CCPF program (Chipatala Cha Pa Foni - “Health Center by Phone”) have been our busiest yet! CCPF is in the home-stretch of becoming fully-operated by Malawi’s Ministry of Health and Population (MoHP). Therefore, we have been meeting with various members of the team, such as the Monitoring & Evaluation Consultant, Program Manager, and Hotline Supervisor, in order to finalize toolkit materials for this transition. Through these meetings, we have learned so much about how CCPF operates, develops and executes impact evaluations, and strategizes transitions.

Simultaneously, CCPF plans to expand into neighboring countries, such as Uganda, Mozambique, and the DRC. We conducted preliminary research to assess market size, telecommunications infrastructure, similar programs, and more in these countries.  Learning about business models and assessing different markets in GLBL 305 proved invaluable when performing this research, as it better shaped the quality of our research questions, collection, and analysis.

We discussed our findings with members of the VillageReach team; they have been used to help procure funds from organizations like GAVI for program replication and adding hotline services using WhatsApp! As we head back to Yale, we will finish up our research and finish producing a recommendation for VillageReach regarding which country holds the best hopes for successful replication.

While tackling these two projects, we explored as much of Malawi as possible before leaving. For example, we paid a visit to the beautiful Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi, where we went kayaking and hiking, took a sunset boat cruise around the lake, and met many world travelers, including a Yale alumna!

Lake Malawi Sunset

We also went on a safari and saw many beautiful creatures, including giraffes, wild dogs, lions, zebras, and elephants! Our lodge was also visited by hippos, bushbacks, and elephants, which was quite a surprise. I was intrigued by the flora and fauna of this region of the world, and locals enhanced our learning with cultural and historical information about the region.  For example, they talked about their experiences with traditional versus modern medicine, national politics, Rotating Credit and Savings Associations (ROSCAs), and tribal culture. These conversations enriched me in ways a textbook never could, for which I am very grateful.

A picture of a giraffe blocking the road!

Back in Lilongwe for the last week, we visited different parts of town after work, went to our favorite restaurants one last time, and I said goodbye to the new friends I made while playing with the Lilongwe Ultimate Frisbee group. We also wrapped up the work discussed above and interviewed several VillageReach staff about their jobs, the program, and the transition. Even after two months with the program, there were so many insights and perspectives mentioned in these interviews that we heard for the first time!

I am still in shock by how quickly this trip went by. On day 1, I felt very uncomfortable and among foreign surroundings. As I left, I was sad to leave the country that had become a home and the people that had become my friends. Nevertheless, the warmth of the Malawian people has motivated me to further pursue work in the field of global health and development, visit again when I have the opportunity, and explore diverse pockets of the world. Zikomo kwambiri (Thank you very much) Malawi for the most enriching and meaningful summer experience yet!

Written by Yara El-Khatib, Yale College ‘21, B.A. Global Affairs/Global Health Studies