Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Door to National Service

It has been like this for many years: US citizens come to volunteer in Malawi for two years and leave, often with fond memories and a passion to help end extreme poverty; their lives changed, forever.
Some, like Michael Buckler, have continued to help Malawi while back in the US. Others, like Adam Gaskins, have come back to found NGOs that are working with rural people. Buckler founded Village X, an organisation that is drilling boreholes in rural corners of Malawi.
All this is good, yet not enough. Peace Corps volunteers who lived in Malawi left one desire that was never met.

Peace Corps volunteers in Malawi, and across the region, have inspired a generation of young people who have developed a passion to help end extreme poverty in their own countries. Sadly for Malawi, there was no program for young people to volunteer and get life changing experiences by helping rural people realize their potential and meet their needs.

Of course, once every year, in April, there was Youth Week, a voluntary week in which young people did social services in their areas. But that was during one party system of politics under Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda.

Youth Week ended once Malawi adopted multiparty politics of government in May 1993. In fact, that year’s Youth Week was poorly patronised because multiparty advocates castigated the week as oppressive. The idea of voluntary work was suffocated.

Now there is an opportunity, for young people to volunteer not just for a week, but for a year; a year of living and working with rural people and helping them help themselves.

CorpsAfrica, founded by Liz Fanning, has rolled out in Africa, starting with Morocco, now Senegal and Malawi. Says the introduction on CorpsAfrica website:

“Modelled after the successful Peace Corps program, CorpsAfrica will recruit men and women from developing countries of Africa to move to high-poverty communities within their own country. Each volunteer will stay in a host community for one year to create and support small projects that eliminate barriers to economic growth and prosperity.”

The website adds that CorpsAfrica will build up confidence through national service, give volunteers job skills, “and an understanding of poverty that only comes from living it.” The hope is that CorpsAfrica volunteers will be the next generation of NGO staffers, government officials, academics, business leaders, journalists, philanthropists, parents. (For more go to www.corpsafrica.org)

The startup director for CorpsAfrica in Malawi is Adam Gaskins, a Peace Corps who volunteered in Dedza. He came back to Malawi to continue helping people help themselves. Adam has experience in working with people, especially those in rural areas. Prior to joining CorpsAfrica, Adam founded and served as CEO of Nutreerich, a commodities export company based in Malawi that assists farmers in supply chain management and crop diversity. He holds a degree in business administration with an emphasis on management from Northern Kentucky University. He is fluent in Chichewa.

There is something powerful in voluntary work, something that makes former Peace Corps volunteers come back to Malawi to help. That something powerful will now be planted in Malawians volunteering in Malawi. That, I think, is the desire left by Peace Corps volunteers, now being satisfied.