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Students spend summer in Malawi for Human Rights Research

By Grace James, Flyer News

This summer five UD students spent nine weeks in Malawi to conduct research on a variety of human rights topics; each student worked on an individual research project that was chosen based on needs within the community. The trip is part of a year-long program where students prepare with a mini course in the spring, travel and perform research in the summer and compile their results in the fall. The program is facilitated by Determined to Develop (D2D), an organization founded in 2009 by UD alum Matt Maroon (‘06) to assist the people of Malawi, a country in Southeast Africa. The mission of D2D is to empower the people of Malawi to implement long-lasting, community-driven solutions that promote human rights and advancement.

Five of the students who recently returned from Malawi are Lauren Breitenstein, Maggie Cadman, Hannah Donovan, Morgan Langford, and Elizabeth Mazza. They all are upperclassmen and have majors ranging from human rights studies to political science. A broad range of research was conducted on topics such as gender equality, technology and education.

Breitenstein, a senior human rights major, researched the effectiveness of a girls’ empowerment program called Girls Club, which works with girls from fifth to twelfth grade. “I talked to girls of all ages and asked them what they liked and disliked, and what, if anything, could be changed,” she said.

Junior human rights major Cadman researched formal technical education in the Chilumba, Malawi area, while Donovan, a senior international studies major, researched the use of social media and technology by Malawian youth.

Mazza, a senior political science major, looked into gender equality in Malawi, and more specifically the role men and boys can play in the empowerment of women. “I’ve always had a passion for women’s empowerment and believe in the importance in the inclusion of everyone, both men and women in order to fully achieve gender equality,” she said.

Each of the UD students partnered with a Malawian college student from the University of Livingstonia to conduct both quantitative and qualitative research. They interviewed locals in the community and recorded surveys to gather their data.

When they first arrived in Malawi, the students had to adapt to the Malawian culture. “A struggle I faced was the language barrier you would encounter with different people,” Cadman said. Breitenstein faced the same issue. “I tried my best to learn a little Tumbuka, which was the language spoken in the area,” she said. “I eventually got a few phrases down, but that was definitely the hardest thing for me.”

Even though the students faced challenges, they all were able to embrace and learn about the Malawian culture, while connecting with the people of Malawi. “Everyone there was extremely friendly and welcoming,” Mazza said. “Their name of ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’ proved to be very true in my experience,” Donovan added.

For Mazza, the landscape stuck out to her the most throughout the trip. “Every sunrise was more beautiful than the last, and I have never seen more stars in my entire life,” she said. As for the results of the research, they will be determined this fall in an independent study course.

After the trip was completed, the students left with not only new information about their fields, but a new community as well. As Cadman put it, “I think what stands out the most with me is that I now have a second family 8,000 miles away.” Determined to Develop also sponsors a student club on UD’s campus.

Research topics studied by past students in Malawi are available on UD’s website.
Applications for the Summer 2019 Malawi practicum cohort will be available during the Fall 2018 semester.

This article originally appeared on FlyerNews

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