Among the many gems we’ve come to admire about Africa University, one attribute has become abundantly evident; the first private university of Zimbabwe, South Africa, is defiant in cultivating action-oriented leaders. It’s not enough to simply take theoretical courses and memorize complex text; AU students are encouraged to participate in impactful internships and community outreach programs that closely, if not ultimately, represent the role they aspire to play in future employment. Indiana United Methodist Conference had the rare opportunity to interview 2010 graduate Mercy Chikhosi Nyirango of Malawi, a landlocked country located in the Southeastern region of Africa. During our conversation, Mercy expressed how AU has molded her into an action-focused medical advisor, fixated on teaching her community about the leaps of preventive care techniques, and helping to facilitate safer and more accommodative medical resources.
On her past and affiliation with AU...Nyirongo's motivation for obtaining a higher education stems from conversations with an old neighbor who was a nurse at a hospital in Malawi. “I was very young at that time. I would watch her every morning, going out and coming back. She would share stories from the hospital, good stories, bad stories. She would gather all the children in the community and tell us about the events that took place during her shift. So through those discussions, I was inspired. What if I could do something? What If I can help? She would share stories about being overworked from inadequate staffing at the hospital. Such things inspired me to think that someday, when I grow up, I wanted to be a nurse. I wanted to help reduce the ongoing issues in medical care in my community. I wanted to be a part of the solution.”
Mercy Nyirongo received her basic nursing certification and then pursued added training in midwifery, which is a requirement of Malawi’s nursing curriculum. She then went on to work in Malawi’s largest hospital for three years. But those accomplishments barely cured her thirst for reaching the aspirations she had set in place as a young girl. Coming from an at-risk home, with divorced parents, economic struggles, and entering marriage and motherhood at a young age; were all roadblocks that might have, and typically do, discourage young African women from pursuing a higher education. But Nyirongo was determined to ‘do something.’
A member of (MUMC) Malawi United Methodist Church since 1996, Nyirongo learned about Africa University from church personnel and visiting students. When she learned of Africa University’s budding infrastructure, she was determined to gain admission and extend her nursing resume. It was a scholarship from The United Methodist Church that would grant Nyirongo access to what is recognized as a leading avenue of higher education in Zimbabwe.
To date, Africa University has endowed $1.3 million in scholarships to students from all across the continent who are taking aim at a higher education, and hope to one day be the key to alleviating some of the calamities that their people currently face.
On life after graduation…Nyirongo's career goal is to be the Minister of Health in Malawi, and use her abilities to minimize the significant gap in health care quality provided to patients in contrasting socioeconomic positions.
In 2010, Mercy Nyirongo received her Bachelor’s of Science degree in Nursing from the School of Health Sciences at Africa University . “Following Africa University, I went to work in the community, so i’ve seen firsthand, the effects that one’s socioeconomic standing can have on the types of service they typically receive; especially women and girls. So I told myself that I think someday I should do something that will help reduce that gap. My vision, God willing, is to be the Minister of Health. and install policies to aid in promoting community health and preventive care.” Nyirongo firmly believes that giving back is the best possible way to say thank you. As the Health Coordinator for the MUMC, Nyirongo is part of the newly formatted health board and assists in developing policies and mitigating standards concerning the church’s vision, mission, and health strategies. Nyirongo has also held the position of Project Manager of (ZOE) Zimbabwe Orphan Empowerment program since 2011 and is tasked with overseeing the welfare and development of more than 800 orphans in Malawi in their home setting, ensuring that they receive the proper resources and knowledge - base necessary to be self sufficient youth.
Nyirongo commends her AU education for the leadership skills she acquired along the way, crediting AU’s diverse culture for teaching her how to engage and lead people of different personalities, backgrounds, culture and home languages. “I learned to be tolerant, live with others, and strong management skills. I developed relationships and networks from other countries. I even learned some broken French!” said Nyirongo, who also speaks Chichewa - Malawi’s national language, and Tumbuka, the language of the northern region.
On her progress in community health care reform…In February 2014, at a global health symposium on nursing leadership in Nashville, Tenn., a trip sponsored by Africa University, Nyirongo was turned onto the concept of task shifting; the delegation of duties from higher level medical personnel to lower level workers. This is typically done to address the shortage of staff in medial offices. “That caught my attention, because that is one of the challenges we are facing in my community,” explained Nyirongo. “So I went back and did the research to learn what the district was doing to meet our current challenges.”
In Malawi, community health tasks were passed down to HSAs, Heath Surveillance Assistants, who serve as liaisons between the districts, rural communities, and health facilities. At the district level, HSAs were designed to manage a population of 1, 000. However, Nyirongo learned that on average, HSAs were supervising a cluster of nearly 2, 000 people, and even more in some districts. Along with the issue of understaffing came concerns regarding lack of adequate training and supervision. With the support of the District Commissioner and friends, Mercy established a community health task force, dubbed “Wandikweza.” “Wandikweza means ‘the Lord has lifted me up’,” said Nyirongo gleefully. “In order to respond to the needs pressing HSAs.” Wandikweza is made up of community health volunteers who are able to take over some of the overbearing tasks of HSAs, primarily certified nurses and midwives, would normally carry out in the surrounding communities.
Responsible for 15 to 16 households on average, community health workers are tasked with providing non-clinical aid to HSAs in the form of:
- Community Organization
- Data Collection
- Strategic Planning
- Disaster Preparedness
- Maternal / Child Care
- HIV / AIDS Stabilazation
- Malaria Prevention
- Family Planning
- Water & Sanitation
Wandikweza also has hands in community social activism campaigns, building programs to help battle some of the stigmas and social injustices that plague women in many parts of Africa. Campaigns against child marriages like “Don’t Marry me, Educate me (pictured above) procreated by a collaboration of ZOE ministry and Wandikweza efforts, bring light to societal roadblocks that often discourage young girls from pursing a thorough education. This led us to our last question:
Your road to Africa University began with the inspiration you received from conversations with your neighbor during your early years. Are there times when you hope to be that neighbor for a child in your community? “I think I am an inspiration. Because my work is mainly done in the community, i’m approached by young girls all the time and they ask, ‘what do you do?’ I say i’m a nurse, and through our conversation, I try to inspire them to work hard in school so that they can be like me one day, or even better.”
Mercy Chikhosi Nyirongo has visited Indiana 5 times, her last time being being Friday, February 26. In only a matter of days, she will have attended interviews in Nashville, Indianapolis, and San Antonio, to spread the word and gratuity about the incredible feats that have transpired from her pursuing a degree from Africa University, and to illustrate how UMCs from across the U.S. have had a helping hand in helping transform not only her life, but her home country as well. When asked about her goal as she itinerates in Indianapolis, she says, “To say thank you. Thank you for what you do. Thank you for transforming Africa.”
The Africa University Campaign, launched at Annual Conference 2013, was formulated to help accelerate developments at Africa University with donations in the sum of $1.6 million, primarily going towards recruiting endowed faculty for the Faculty of Agriculture and Natural Sciences ($1 million) and providing scholarships to students seeking a higher education and financial aid to the 90% of students who are currently attending ($600,000). With consistent and combined contributions, we've managed a significant portion of our donation goal, with now lack of $290,000, $27,000 of which is dedicated to the faculty recruitment portion.
We very proud of how far we've come, but let's be encouraged to complete the mission!
To donate, click here.
Watch Mercy share appreciation for efforts by the INUMC here: https://vimeo.com/159693009
Learn more about the Africa University Campaign and its development by following: http://www.inumc.org/au
For constant updates, visit the "Friends of Africa University" page on Facebook.