HDFS faculty member Malinda Colwell and graduate student Holly Wright participated this summer in a unique research and humanitarian project in the African nation of Malawi (map from Wikimedia Commons). Along with faculty colleagues Mary Murimi (Nutritional Sciences) and Markus Miller (Animal & Food Sciences), and student assistants of these professors, Malinda and Holly traveled to Malawi to study the effects of nutritional assistance on behavioral and physical markers of child development. Malinda wrote the following first-person account of her summer trip and provided the accompanying photos.
I am part of a multidisciplinary team of faculty and students working on a research project in Malawi, Africa. We are assessing the effects of goat meat consumption on young children’s development, as well as the health of the children and their mothers. Malawi is the third poorest country in the world. And, although people have access to some food, it is not nutrient rich. Therefore, people often die from malnutrition and more specifically, a lack of protein in their diets. The participants are fed goat meat 5 days a week and we then assess the children’s development in all domains (social, emotional, physical, cognitive). This summer, Holly Wright, an HDFS graduate student and I (along with other faculty and students from various departments) traveled to Malawi to work with the families and to collect the developmental data from the children. Our project is a partnership with Circle of Hope International (COHI), a non-profit that provides food, education, and housing to orphaned children in Malawi. We will continue to collect developmental data from the children every 3 months for a year. We hope that the addition of goat meat to the diet is associated with increase in health and development for the young children in Malawi.
The people in Malawi are very friendly and welcoming. I especially enjoyed spending time with the children, who are fascinated by “azungus” or “white people”. The children are very curious and have a lot of questions about the United States and they are eager to help visitors in any way. Although the people are living in extreme poverty, they are full of joy and thankfulness. Malawians are relational and hospitable people. They take time to greet each person in a group and they have a sincere interest in each other’s welfare. It was refreshing to be among people who spend so much time investing in one another and in their relationships.
The travel was exhausting and very long. But, when we arrived at the Grace Center, all of the children greeted us with singing, lots of smiles, and a welcoming ceremony and that made the long, tiring travel worth it! One of my favorite things about Malawi is the silence and the natural sounds, particularly at night. There is not consistent electricity in the village where we stayed. So, other than the sound of a generator we had for a couple of hours each evening, at night we would hear people singing from our village and surrounding villages, animals, and people talking. There weren’t the electronic sounds of computers, phones, etc. and it was refreshing. I didn’t really realize how much “noise” we have in our lives until that “noise” was all gone.