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Monday, February 6th, 2017

Headshot, Adam Graham, PIH Canada

By: Adam Graham
Senior Manager,
Programs and Development,
PIH Canada


I’m going to ask you to indulge me in a little exercise of the imagination as you read this…

Try to imagine a massive, raging fire burning down your house. Next, imagine that there is no fire department and the nearest water source is about a half-hour walk away, making it impossible to put out. The fire is now spreading from your house to your neighbour’s and you’ve just noticed that there are people nearby who are coughing blood, probably because of smoke inhalation. You think of calling an ambulance before you remember that there is no ambulance service. Someone tells you that the nearest health clinic is about a 4.5 hour walk away, and that once you get there, you’ll be charged five hundred dollars for the medical consultation, medications, and treatment--a week of your earnings. You look again to the houses on fire, now spreading toward a large food warehouse where much of the food stocks for the year are stored. Now the entire building is in flames and you can smell your primary staple food, burning. It’s the product of efforts from earlier this year, when you worked in the maize fields day in and day out before laboriously pouding the maize kernels with a giant pestle into the white flour that is used to make nsima, or maize meal, that you and your family eat every day.

Does any of that feel a little desperate?

kids in Kaingilira Village

Children enjoy the shade next to a local home
in Kaingilira Village.

It’s exactly what happened in September 2015 when a devastating bush fire in Kaingilira Village, in Neno District in Malawi, left 52 families homeless. The fire spread quickly because of the dry wind and drought conditions. It ended up not only destroying families’ homes, but also their crops, food stores, animals, fertilizers, and essential household items. Even before the fire in Kaingilira, the village was experiencing food shortages caused by changing climate conditions, isolation from infrastructure, and grinding poverty.

Partners In Health and sister organization Abwenzi Pa Za Umoyo (APZU, as PIH is known in Malawi) acted quickly in solidarity with the people of Kaingilira village to identify their most immediate needs after the fire. PIH Canada contributed to rebuilding eight homes for families who lost them in the fire; digging a new well in order to ensure access to safe drinking water; and building a new community centre where APZU has started to provide basic health services for Kaingilira village. APZU teams worked with community leaders and other representatives to identify the most vulnerable families with the least ability to rebuild their homes. Community members pitched in and supported the construction efforts, ensuring that all materials bought for the reconstruction were of high quality and would last.

Community members visit the newly constructed well

Community members visit the newly constructed well
and hand pump in Kaingilira village.

Photos by Forrest Shroyer / Partners In Health

The community also participated in planning for the location, timing, and management of the new water source. The well was constructed to ensure proper hygiene standards would be maintained, as any residue allowed to seep inside would contaminate the new water source and compound already high levels of malnutrition, the link between clean water and health is paramount. The community centre doubling as a health centre is the first investment the village has ever had to facilitate access to health services close to home. Children are now being screened for malnutrition. People in the village are being offered testing for HIV, tuberculosis, diabetes, hypertension. Medication is being brought directly into the village, reducing the need to travel 4.5 hours to the nearest health centre.

The work done in Kaingilira village to rebuild after the fire and introduce new health infrastructure will be of lasting benefit to the community. It serves as an important extension of Malawi’s national health service into a rural community, providing a linkage to referral services for more complex health care and adding resiliency in case of future emergencies. We are grateful to PIH Canada donors who made such transformation possible.

Adam Graham Signature

Adam Graham
Partners In Health Canada

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