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A letter from Jim McGill in Malawi

October 27, 2009

Dear Friends and Family,

Photo of a large outdoor billboard with a photo of a nurse who appears to have wings. The copy reads, "Treat nurse/midwives well. Retain all nurse/midwives. Train more nurse/midwives. At the top it reads, "Soon there will be no angels on earth."

This billboard in Malawi is part of the government's campaign to keep nurse/midwives from leaving the country in search of higher wages.

The nursing shortage situation here seems to be one of “two steps forward and one step back.” About five years ago, with international funding assistance, Malawi took measures to increase retention of nurses and the number of nurses trained by subsidizing schools for the cost of the students’ training. It also embarked on a campaign to sensitize the nation regarding the nursing crisis. Although the rapid increase in the number of nursing students had a downside—inadequate training and accommodation facilities and inadequate supervision—the nursing institutions had been making the changes necessary to accommodate students.

Well, that funding is about to end. Three days before nursing schools throughout the country were to begin, the government announced it will no longer subsidize training of nursing students. The sudden change in policy meant that students would have to find $2,600 in three days if they wanted to start school. For Ekwendeni Nursing College, it meant that at least 40 percent of new nurses had to drop out. Thankfully, a few of the nursing students are sponsored by PC(USA) congregations and the Medical Benevolence Foundation, so they will be able to continue their education. We pray for achievement of a balance between the financial realities of Malawi, the need for quality nursing education, and the need for nurses.

For more information about the nursing shortage at Embangweni Mission Hospital and in Malawi see this article by Christine Gorman. Additionally, there’s a cover photo on the June 2009 issue of the American Journal of Nursing of Ms. Mphatso Ngulube, previously the deputy director of the Ekwendeni College of Nursing and now the director of the Synod’s HIV/AIDS control program. Her master’s degree in nursing was partially subsidized by MBF. (For more about Mphatso, see our October 2006 newsletter.)

For several years Jodi has been part of the Synod’s scholarship fund, which primarily supports students needing assistance for secondary school (high school). She is now the fund administrator since the previous administrator, a missionary with the Presbyterian Church of Ireland, moved back to Ireland with her family. In 2009, the donations to the fund met the school fees of about 160 students.

Photo of a woman sitting in a chair with a broad smile aimed right at the camera.

Mphatso Ngulube as she appears on the cover of the American Journal of Nursing June 2009 issue. Photo by Christine Gorman.

The fund will take on even greater importance now that the Malawi government has stopped its support for church-operated schools. For the 2010 school year, that means that although students will still be selected by the government to attend the church schools, the government will no longer share the cost, and students will have to raise their own money if they wish to attend high school. The result is that instead of paying about $180 a year they will have to pay $250 a year.

Jim is settling back into his position as coordinator for water and sanitation. The latest innovation is that the sanitation promoters are working on a “humanure (human manure) bank” modeled on the community grain bank. The humanure bank allows for a secondary composting of the manure taken from the composting latrines. This insures uniformly high quality and pathogen-free manure. We hope to obtain a pellet-making machine to form the manure into pellets—a marketing technique that increases the value of the manure and therefore increases the use of latrines in the villages.

Thanks to Rotary International sponsorship, water should be turned on at the piped water system in the Livingstonia community within the month. Much effort has gone into the preparation of the constitution for this system, establishing the ownership rights between the mission station, which has owned the water for the last 100 years, and 15,000 new users in the surrounding villages.

Also, deep boreholes (150  to 300 feet) are finally getting drilled after more than a year of defaults on contracts. Every day with these boreholes has been a learning experience, and we believe now that the Synod will obtain a portable drilling rig to fill a niche within the water supply of Malawi. The rig should be a more cost-effective alternative for deeper wells where rock will not be encountered.

Our entire family says thank you to everyone who has been praying for and thinking about us since the robbery in July. Having to make an unwanted move to a new house in June was traumatic in the first place, but having thieves break in during the early hours of the morning and threaten us and some visitors while they “shopped” made settling into a new home even more difficult. We thank God for keeping us all safe during the event, for helping us to adjust to the new house and the ability to move forward. We thank you all for your continued and unwavering support and prayers.


Jim and Jodi McGill

The 2009 Mission Yearbook for Prayer & Study, p. 44


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