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.
Elizabeth Fitzgerald, MD
Co-Founder, President, and Board Chair
Malawi Children's Initiative