Our Project

Engagement in Malawi focuses on strengthening community-based support and services for highly vulnerable households in rural Malawi. Led by Dr. Nancy Kendall, the work is based on the belief that education, broadly defined to include school-based programs and the many non-formal education spaces in society, is both central to and essential for development – especially in creating equity and voice for women and girls.

Activities and Impacts

Between 2018 and 2020, Nancy Kendall, Lori DiPrete Brown, Zikani Kaunda and others worked together, through exchange visits and ongoing collaboration, to develop research to action projects that provide support to communities through community-based research, implementation science, and building the capacity of intermediary organizations. These efforts led to the development of the two projects described below, both of which received funding from internal UW- Madison grant competitions.

Monitoring and Evaluation for Quality Improvement (MEQI)

MEQI takes the point of service provision, whether in education, health care, social services, or other development efforts, as the entry point for change, providing a tangible, practice-oriented grounding for participants to envision quality. Initial success creates an organizational climate conducive to change and gives team members the skills and cohesion they need in order to take on more complex organizational processes. Iterative cycles of reflective analysis and action foster change and help identify system components or processes that need to be redesigned. Outcome measures that emerge from this process are readily understood and accurate, and evaluation and reporting are part of an ongoing improvement process. The MEQI effort began in summer 2017 with an exchange visit from Dr. Zikani Kaunda, a Malawian leader in education and organizational development. We anticipate working on health, education, agriculture, and other critical development activities and having national impact within five years. 

A grandmother-headed household in Machinga, Malawi, 2013. Grandmothers (Gogos) are the strongest thread in the social fabric, holding together life for about 40% of Malawian orphans
A child-headed home In Machinga, Malawi, 2013.
A child-headed home In Machinga, Malawi, 2013.

Next Steps

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Circle of Care: Care and Support for Grandmothers and Children

Circle of Care (COC) will apply UW-Madison expertise and build on long-standing partnerships with colleagues and communities in Malawi to break the spiral of deprivation and social isolation experienced by orphans and grandmother-headed households. COC responds to the harsh realities of Malawi’s 35-year AIDS pandemic. By 2010, 20 percent of Malawian children were orphaned; approximately half live in grandmother-headed households (GHHs). GHHs have faced increasing social and financial marginalization as extended family care systems crumble, AIDS infections continue, and food insecurity expands. The depth of poverty and isolation many GHHs experience undermines orphans’ wellbeing, fueling food insecurity and disproportionately high dropout rates in schools, as well as rising HIV infection rates among orphaned girls.

COC brings together key areas of UW-Madison expertise around orphans and vulnerable children, community-driven participatory development, and quality improvement. Specifically, COC utilizes three programmatic models developed at UW-Madison and field-tested in collaboration with colleagues in Malawi and around the world: a participatory action model, an orphan- care quality improvement model, and participatory monitoring and evaluation model. Working in partnership with the Institute for Participatory Engagement and Quality Improvement (Malawi), COC aims to break the cycle of social, educational, and economic deprivation faced by 900 orphans and their 200 caregivers, the villages in which they live, and the 10 schools that they attend in one zone in Machinga District, Malawi.

Tikuyendadi: Educational Equity for Children Living with Disabilities

The goal of Tikuyendadi (“Let’s Go Together” in Malawi’s national language, Chichewa) is to address these key knowledge gaps in Malawi in order to learn from and contribute to government, school, family, community, and disability rights movement efforts to support students with disabilities and provide equal, inclusive, and transformative education for all.

Through community engaged approaches carried out in collaboration with Malawian researchers, Tikuyendadi will provide essential new knowledge on the educational experiences of children with disabilities in Malawi. Data will be geared towards translational practice. Our goal is to improve school access and retention for students with disabilities by deepening our collective understanding of these students’ common educational experiences. We will also support existing, effective, locally-supported and sustainable approaches. In Malawi, this requires a significant rethinking of what imported social environmental models assume about families, schools, and children; and space for local, culturally-relevant models to be recognized and incorporated into policy and practice. Such rethinking requires new forms of data, analysis, and advocacy.