Students, prof work to open health clinic in Malawi

Africa and Hollywood suddenly have a cozy relationship. Films such as The Interpreter, The Constant Gardener and the Oscar-winning Hotel Rwanda portray a more realistic (albeit stylized) view of contemporary African issues.

From pharmaceutical malfeasance to power-hungry dictators to ethnic cleansing, Africa is more central to our western screens than ever before.

But Tinseltown limelight won’t create lasting change. Long after our movie screens go dim and Nicole Kidman packs her bags for Los Angeles, Africa is still a place of intense need. And more often than not, solutions come in small, not-so-glamorous packages.

So while a tiny health clinic connected to Eastern students and faculty is set to open in Malawi without a red carpet or flashing cameras, the event is significant indeed.

Sociology professor Mike Mtika and a handful of Eastern students have been working since winter 2003 to get a clean, stable health clinic established among the Zowe community, a group of 1,000 agriculturalists scattered throughout 10-15 villages in north Malawi.

Eastern alums Christy Acosta and Melissa Wood are living among the Zowe and helped open the clinic the weekend of December 9. According to Mtika, their efforts will help combat the “witch-hunting, drunkenness and various forms of immorality” that exist within the spiritual fabric of Zowe life by giving the community an alternative to witch doctor magic and juju.

“We are taking this opportunity as a time when the gospel can be preached in a mighty way,” Mtika said, “so that by God’s grace they will come to Jesus Christ as their personal savior.”

Mtika said his former students were working to get preaching, dancing and games to accompany the opening. He believes the event will bring about a major celebration in the community.

“I didn’t realize it was going to be up that quick,” senior Dan Leonard said. He visited Malawi with Mtika in June. “I’m really curious to see how it all works.”

According to Leonard, hospitals exist in Malawi but are inconvenient for people living in rural areas.

“If you’re violently ill, what do you do?” Leonard asked. “Just get on an ox cart and go?”

Leonard said the clinic will make health care easily accessible to the Zowe community.

It is designed to give medical staff from a nearby hospital a clean and safe environment in which to work (the old clinic was made of mud bricks and a thatched roof), and to model for other communities how a clinic can accommodate classes, vaccination training and pre-natal care.

The nearby hospital is now asking for a house in the community so they can station a permanent health worker there.

But according to senior Aaron Armstrong, who has twice visited Malawi with Mtika, proper health care is only one piece of a complicated African puzzle.

“As Christians, we are called to help people who are suffering, but to just give them medical care is irresponsible,” Armstrong said. “Unless we work with their culture and their education system and their economy to make them sustainable, the more people we save the more people are going to go hungry.”

The clinic, Armstrong said, is designed to “stem the tide of suffering for today.” But he admits it is just one side of a holistic vision.

Mtika agrees. He is working with Giving Heart Ministries in Chicago to create not only health initiatives in Malawi, but also education, spiritual formation and income-generating initiatives.

For Mtika and his students, there is still plenty of work left to do.

“This thing started with students going [to Malawi] because my initial interest was to just show them third-world dynamics,” Mtika said. “But when they started asking questions, like ‘why is this happening?’ and ‘can we do something?’ they came back here and most of these students started doing these things.”

The professor is pleased with his former students and their grand opening.

“Here are these girls who came up with all this knowledge of faith, reason and justice, and right now they are living it,” Mtika said. “I’m really very proud of this. Eastern should look at this as a lab for the practice of faith, reason and justice.”

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