What is the focus of Malawi Children's Initiative?
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Malawi Children's Initiative began by funding elementary school students, and in four years has grown to support students in university, nursing school, graduate school, and medical school. We currently support over a dozen school-aged children and 10 post-graduate students.
Access to a quality education is the cornerstone to reducing poverty and improving the quality of people's lives. Malawi Children's Initiative began by funding several local elementary school students whom the Fitzgeralds knew, and in four years has grown to support almost 30 students of different ages and stages of education. We currently provide scholarships to students in university, nursing school, graduate school, and medical school. Two of our former nurse scholarship recipients have gone on to become MCI employees working permanently on the KCH Paeds ward.
In 2018 MCI worked with UNC Project Malawi to build a school Dzama village, located on the outskirts of Malawi, that provides a learning space for almost 100 children.
Four years ago MCI began funding locum nurses to fill in staffing gaps on the Paediatric ward, where there are as many as 500 patients admitted during the rainy season. Today, in addition to locum support, we employ 4 full-time paediatric nursing staff, two of whom are MCI scholarship recipients. MCI built, supplied, and funds the KCH paediatric lab since November 2019, and we have provided the department with computers and Wi-fi access with which to access healthcare resources and digital X-rays. When needed, MCI provides patients with the funds necessary to access studies such as CT scans that cannot be done at KCH. We support the salaries of the tireless hospital social workers, and provide equipment and supplies for the department, including antibiotics, scales and glucometers, when there are shortages on the wards.
In 2017, MCI began by providing meals to patients' families at KCH, many of whom are subsistence farmers without access to funds to purchase food when away from their villages.
In the last 18 months we have focused our efforts on children with Severe Acute Malnutrition (SAM). The KCH Department of Paediatrics admits about 500 children with SAM per year, and one in ten of these children will die on the wards. Over the last 3 years MCI has worked in partnership with the Department of Paediatrics and a consortium of universities working in Malawi (PACHIMAKE) to strengthen the care of severely malnourished children admitted to KCH. We have helped facilitate a locally-led Quality Improvement project that uses hospital data to address gaps in the cascade of care for this high-risk group of patients. This has included the hiring of two full-time nutritionists on the KCH Nutritional Rehabilitation Unit (NRU), trainings for nurses and clinicians, and provision of supplies when there are shortages.
Malawi Children's Initiative was created by my husband Dave and myself in 2017, as a way to build bridges between our colleagues, friends, and patients in Malawi and our colleagues, friends, and family in the United States.
In 2011 we quit our jobs in the US and moved with our three children to Lilongwe, Malawi, where I worked as a pediatrician doing outpatient HIV care through the Baylor Pediatric Global Health Service Corp, and Dave worked at a local non-profit hospital. Shortly after we moved we adopted Malawian twin boys (Kennedy and Shane) and I began working part-time in the adjacent government referral center, Kamuzu Central Hospital. Overwhelmed by the tragic deaths of children every day and my inability to help them, and in the context of parenting five children in a foreign country, I blogged about my experience. From these posts, which unfortunately succumbed to the time constraints of our crazy life, we received offers from back home to help the families I wrote about. We began to dream of starting a non-profit to try to actually make this happen.
In 2013 we returned to the United States, but it wasn't until 2017 that we formalized MCI as a non-profit (5 kids and a fellowship got in the way). Since 2013, through my position as faculty at UNC Chapel Hill, I have been fortunate enough to travel two months per year to Malawi (yes, I leave Dave alone with all 5 children). My academic work at KCH has allowed me to develop and maintain close relationships with both the staff on the ground and the departmental and hospital leadership. This has provided a unique opportunity for MCI to make data-derived decisions about how and where to provide support, and for us to get to know the people who we are supporting. In July of 2019 the Fitzgeralds moved back to Lilongwe for a year as a family of 6 (one in college). During our time in Malawi MCI made significant progress; we opened the KCH Paediatric lab, hired 8 employees in a formalized partnership with the Ministry of Health, and began a quality-improvement project for severely malnourished children. Unfortunately COVID cut our family's year short, but that has not gotten in the way of MCI's work.
Our experience working with the people of Malawi has changed our lives. Dave and I are honored to call Malawi our second home, and continue to be inspired by the tireless dedication of our Malawian colleagues. Since its inception, we have been overwhelmed by the generosity of our donors here in the US, who have contributed financially, held fundraisers, and served on our board. Without their support we could not have grown from a dream into an organization that is actually able to do good.
Although the work in Malawi is daunting, especially in light of the challenges posed by COVID, MCI is committed to providing Malawian children with the same access to education and healthcare that our children have. We are deeply grateful to our Malawian friends for their leadership in formulating our directives, and equally grateful to our donors for helping us build these bridges.
The Fitzgerald family as they embarked for Malawi in July 2019
News and Updates
Meet our first group of students in their new school!
As a mother of five, I think the take home message is that these mothers and these parents love their children just as much as we do and that these children feel pain and fear and suffer just as much as our children would and we have the direct opportunity here to improve their care and give them a chance to survive and thrive and grow and play.
Dr. Elizabeth Fitzgerald, Co-Founder
Every penny donated goes directly towards our initiative to better the lives of Malawian Children
Become a Sustainer
Set up monthly contributions. Even the smallest donations can go a really long way in Malawi. Click the "Donate" button or email us and we'll see you up!
Host an Event
We are thankful for our community's support. Some previous examples include dinner parties, the 24-Hour Run, and elementary school partnerships. Have an idea? We'd love to help you plan!
How to Help
You can contact us or donate by check to:
Malawi Children's Initiative
PO Box 1401
Carrboro, NC 27510
MCI is a 501c3 non-profit
EIN number 82-0674504
All funds donated to MCI are used for care and education in Malawi, minus financial fees for donations and for money transfers.