Assessment Abroad: Student and Faculty Travel to Africa to Conduct Program Evaluation
December 12, 2022
Kristin Van De Griend, assistant professor for Community and Public Health and Megan Poe, a student in the Master of Public Health program at ISU, recently had the unique opportunity to travel to Malawi to perform a program evaluation for World Renew — a faith-based organization with the mission of ending hunger, poverty, and illness across the globe.
Malawi, known as the “warm heart of Africa,” is located in Southern Africa and is bordered by Mozambique, Zambia, and Tanzania. Starting in 2016, the World Renew staff in Malawi conducted a three-year nutrition program aimed to reduce child malnutrition in the catchment area of Mphunzi Health Center. The project's name was Mafuwa a Moto, or the "cooking fire."
Van De Griend was hired as a consultant in 2022 to assess the program and invited Poe to join her to help conduct the research as part of her master’s degree project. During their time in Malawi, they met with local community members daily to gain insight on if and how the program was impacting the community at the time. Performing both quantitative and qualitative research, they held in-depth interviews, focus groups, and administered surveys to local program participants and staff.
Over the course of three years during Mafuwa a Moto, local World Renew staff and community members led cooking demonstrations, conservation agriculture training, as well as education on various topics including the following: breastfeeding, young child feeding, family planning, perinatal care, diversified diets, and hygiene/sanitation.
Poe explained that one part of the original program included monthly cooking demonstrations with the community members, including a one-pot cooking method that encouraged the use of foods from all six food groups in one pot so that all of the daily nutritional needs were provided in one meal.
The World Renew staff also provided training for the women in the community on the importance of washing their hands before preparing food or feeding their children, in addition to breastfeeding education and providing colostrum during the early breastfeeding stage for new mothers. The group also began a preliminary initiative to install a working toilet in every home.
She says her favorite moment during the trip though, was watching a group of farmers explain how impactful the agricultural conservation training had been for them. A World Renew staff member named Hardwell taught conservation techniques that are still being practiced today, which have increased crop outputs so substantially that the men were able to save money and purchase household items such as soap and other needs. Some of them were even able to send their children to school for the first time. Poe watched as they contacted Hardwell via Facetime, who was in China at the time, to tell him how thankful they were for his training.
"At that point I had tears in my eyes because it showed me why I entered the public health field,” Poe said. “Being able to immerse myself into the community and connect with local community members in Malawi is an experience I will carry with me throughout my career, and I could not have dreamt of a more meaningful research opportunity as a master's student."
Upon returning to the United States, Van De Griend and Poe also conducted training sessions for the World Renew team, equipping staff members across the globe with the skills and knowledge needed to plan future public health programs and evaluations.