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Students help southeast African village pursue sustainable economic initiative

Malawi_t.jpgBOONE—What can you learn from a journey to Malawi?

Eleven students from Appalachian State University recently traveled to Malawi to learn first-hand about managing Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) and the obstacles to Malawi’s economic development. The trip was part of a course offered by the Walker College of Business.

The trip in early January was the college’s first short-term study abroad program to Malawi.

“Malawi was selected because it is such an extreme example of a country and economy with almost insurmountable obstacles to development,” said trip co-leader Dr. Marty Meznar.  “Also, World Camp’s headquarters are in Ashville and we have known of their work in Malawi for several years.” Meredith Church, who works with Meznar in the Walker College of Business and who also was a trip leader, had previously worked with World Camp in Honduras.

As a result their experiences, the students have used their business skills to help one village develop a plan to reduce its dependence on fluctuating funding levels from various support organizations.

Malawi, a republic located in southeast Africa, is one of the 10 poorest countries in the world. Its population has been ravaged by HIV/AIDS and the average life expectancy is less than 40 years.  Hundreds of thousands of children have been orphaned as parents succumb to the virus. The country is land-locked, there are few paved roads, and an unreliable electrical grid reaches only 4 percent of the country’s 11 million residents.

The Appalachian group was hosted by the NGO World Camp, an organization active in AIDS education and prevention efforts, among other projects. The group also met with other NGOs such as the Jewish Heart for Africa and Never Ending Food.

“The trip provided students with opportunities to improve their cross-cultural communication skills, to understand some of the unique administrative challenges faced by non-governmental organizations and non-profit organizations in general, and to apply their business skills in a very practical way,” Meznar said.

While in Malawi, students participated in a home-stay in the village of Mchezi, about an hour’s drive outside of downtown Lilongwe.  Life in the village is coordinated by the Mchezi Community Based Organization (CBO) which offers home-based care to 150 AIDS/HIV patients in the late stages of the disease, provides food and supervision to 3,700 orphans, oversees 600 children in its early childhood development program, and offers job training programs (such as sewing lessons) to community residents.

Because these efforts are supported by grants from various governmental and non-governmental organizations, when funding ebbs, the efforts cease.  To help address the village’s economic needs, the business students developed a plan to fund community efforts through the construction of a corn mill.  Currently, village residents transport their corn several kilometers and pay to have the corn milled into flour.

Students identified the start-up costs of establishing a mill in the village, assessed the monthly operating costs, determined the projected revenue from milling fees and found that start-up costs could be recovered in the first year of operation.  The revenue generated from the mill would be sufficient to fund the activities of the Mchezi CBO, eliminating the reliance on outside donors.  The mill also would create several jobs in the community.

“Getting the mill running will cost around $20,000 in U.S. currency,” Meznar said. “That includes not just the mill but also the electrical equipment to power the mill.”

The students have now formed a club to raise funds for the Mchezi Maize Mill project. Mchezi CBO leaders have applied for electrical service and permits to operate the mill.

For more information on the Mchezi Maize Mill project, contact Ethan Herman