Spotlight: Meaningful Work in Malawi

Spotlight: Meaningful Work in Malawi

Date Published:
Thursday, April 26, 2012

A first-ever faculty-led study abroad program to sub-Saharan Africa provided a group of 11 students a unique perspective on social work in action through service learning opportunities; the experience transformed how they see the world.

Chantal Hemphill, a graduate student and participant in "NGOs in Malawi: Strategies for Social Development in Sub-Saharan Africa," described her time as “the most amazing and life-altering experience. [It] has shifted my views of the world in addition to my role within the world. I now use the phrase: I encountered a lot of people in Malawi, including myself.”

Heather Shaughnessy, director of development for the College of Health and Human Services, agreed. "It was inspiring, heartbreaking and everything in between."

The campus-based portion of the course focused on social work in an international context. The participants raised $2,400 to support the trip and collected more than 600 pounds of special supplies for their projects.

I realized that just by giving, you are not necessarily helping someone improve their way of life. You must be dedicated to helping them help themselves, and, in return, be open to learning from them as well.
Erin Strauss, Student

While abroad, the students participated in several experiential, service-learning opportunities at schools and NGOs serving rural villages in southern Malawi. They also met with students at the only institution in the country that offers a major in social work, a fledgling profession in sub-Saharan Africa.

The course culmination involved working at the Malawian NGO HEEED (Health, Education, Environment and Economic Development) on projects that support HIV orphans in a fishing village on Lake Malawi while studying environmental factors related to increases in HIV transmission.

Diana Rowan, assistant professor of social work, led the group of 11 students on UNC Charlotte’s first study abroad course to Africa and the first social work specific study abroad program to Africa.

"The course included hands-on opportunities to practice social work, both in the months prior to traveling and in Malawi," said Rowan. "We were face-to face with powerful social issues such as the HIV pandemic, poverty and orphaned children. The students had to make difficult decisions about how to invest their resources."

Undergraduate Erin Strauss noted the impact, “I realized that just by giving, you are not necessarily helping someone improve their way of life. You must be dedicated to helping them help themselves, and, in return, be open to learning from them as well.”

Brad Sekulich, director of the Office of Education Abroad, worked with Rowan on the experience. "Working with Dr. Rowan afforded the Office of Education Abroad an opportunity to not only offer our first ever faculty-led program to sub-Saharan Africa but also accommodate the growing interest on campus for experiential learning programs that engage with global communities.”