Personal Reflections on SFA Co-Director’s visit to Malawi

by Stewart Paul

The SFA Malawi hub was honored to be accorded a visit by the Network’s co-director, Dr. Deepa Pullanikkatil in April this year (2019). From Lilongwe to Mzuzu, back to Lilongwe and then Zomba and finally Machinga. It was a fulfilling and exciting journey. This visit couldn’t possibly come at a more opportune time, as our hub was named to host the next SFA Symposium in 2020. Aside from facilitating development of several grant proposals, Dr. Pullanikkatil substantially led the development of a photo essay on public spaces as well as the introduction of the SFA Network to diverse key and potential new partners and members. This piece reflects on the fruitfulness of this visit by highlighting the major achievements accomplished. You can watch a short documentary of our journey here.

Lilongwe

Deepa’s engagement with us started with our visit to UNICEF Malawi head offices in Lilongwe. This meeting was set up to brief UNICEF about our Network, both local and international, among others. In the end we made new connections with 8 UNICEF staff members working in various disciplines. Further e-mail communications led to SFA Malawi hub linking up with the Drone head at UNICEF which we hope will engender a collaboration on SFA Malawi hub’s upcoming Drone Project entitled Placing Communities at the Heart of Humanitarian and Environmental Drone Use: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities”. Funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), the project has many collaborator institutions and organizations such as Abundance Worldwide (NGO), the University of Glasgow (UK), UNICEF’s GIS and Remote Sensing Center, Malawi Civil Aviation Authority and Malawi Department of Surveys.

Next was a 2-day workshop on grant proposal writing which was held at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR), where the Hub is based. During the activity, three proposals were developed, to be submitted shortly. This was followed by a presentation on a recent paper (about the tree Faidherbia albida)written by Deepa and the Hub director Dr Boyson Moyo. Students and staff from LUANAR attended the seminar. 

Mzuzu

We had a different programme for the Northern part of Malawi. First, we held meetings with Mzuzu University and University of Livingstonia (UNILIA). At UNILIA we met with the Vice Chancellor, and they showed interest to join the SFA network. We also met with Moses Mkandawire, director of Church and Society which is a governance desk for the Synod of Livingstonia of the CCAP Church. The goal of these meetings revolved around introducing the Network to these institutions and personally inviting them to join the Network. Our engagements in the “green city” of Mzuzu further involved one of our Hub members, Elson Kambalu, of Art House Africa. His project was to take photos for an essay on Public Spaces, which together with outcomes from discussions with users of such spaces will soon be published.

A final activity was a visit to Chintheche on the beautiful sandy shores of Lake Malawi. More documentation of public spaces was done. Most importantly, Dr Pullanikkatil and Dr Moyo made final edits on the Faidherbia albida paper which was submitted for publication later that day.

Meeting with University of Livingstonia top Management (Vice Chancellor, Registrar)
Group photo after SFA Malawi hub’s meeting with Mzuzu University

Zomba

Upon arrival in Zomba we headed to Sunbird Kuchawe for a dinner meeting with the mission director for USAID in Malawi. This happened to be a very successful encounter as we held discussions on a wide range of topics. We found a contact for a staff member of USAID working on drones and hopefully should be very valuable in our future endeavours. Dr Moyo agreed to have an audience or give a talk to the head of USAID Agriculture section and his team. Our Public spaces photo sessions extended to Zomba Botanic Garden which was created to promote agricultural enterprise by displaying an experimental area for newly introduced plants. Since the DC for Zomba was engaged with other pressing matters, we delivered our letter of introduction to his office. The final engagement in Zomba was a meeting with LEAD who explained their projects, including one with University of Southampton on drones.

SFA Malawi team visiting ArtGlo’s offices in Zomba

Machinga

The climax of our journey across Malawi was our visit to Mbando village to explore the Population Health and Environment (PHE) nexus within the community. Using role plays and facilitated discussions, we were able to capture informative feedback from the community and ArtGlo has produced a report on this. Chanco TV covered the event and two documentaries were later beamed on their TV station.

SFA members later visited the E-Learning centre that was established by Abundance with funds raised through Global Giving. Relying entirely on solar energy, the centre has 8 laptop computers that are connected to the offline learning resources through a device called Rachel. A video link to a documentary about the centre is available here. We also met with Machinga District commissioner. At the end of our fruitful meeting, an opportunity arose to extend the drone project to the human-wildlife interactions at Liwonde National Park and surrounding communities. Consequently, the DC invited SFA to present their projects and updates at the District Executive Committee (DEC) meeting.