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Our Malawi Practicum Experience (Part 2)

By Sierra Kochersperger '22, Steven Shamblen '22


As we roll into our 7th week in Malawi, we have experienced a lot of the culture and the beauty that this country has to offer. From eating goat and grilled cassava (a staple plant in the community) to wearing local chitenge garments, we have been immersed in the local customs. We have also been fortunate enough to travel to Nkhata Bay, a beautiful town on the coast of Lake Malawi near Mzuzu, a major city here. 

For our research, we continue to conduct interviews with local chiefs and their villagers on questions concerning the system of local governance. As we do these interviews, we have a lot of help from our research partners, Lucy Banda and Tango Banda, from the University of Livingstonia. They have played an important role in conducting our interviews, as they translate our questions into Chitumbuka, the local language, and then translate the villagers' answers into English. Without them, we would not have been able to accomplish nearly as many interviews, as many Malawians living in rural communities do not know English. We sat down with Lucy and Tango to ask them more about their experience working with us on the research this summer. 


Our Conversation

How has your experience with the research gone this summer?

Lucy: “During my experience this summer I have had loads of fun and learned lots along the way. It is my first time interacting with chiefs and learning about how they solve problems within the villages, along with using my language skills as a translator.”

Tango: “Both Lucy and I grew up in a more city-like environment with less of a focus on the village and its chief. Therefore we have both learned a lot of things, such as seeing how people live in villages and how they interact with the chief and deal with conflicts. Neither of us have ever witnessed a chief's court case before so the justice process in the village is also entirely new for us. For example, I thought that child marriage and family disputes were cases that are typically solved by the police or government court systems, however, through this research we have realized that chiefs often solve these disputes.

What is the most surprising/interesting thing you have heard in one of our interviews?

Lucy: “The most interesting thing that we have heard in an interview is how they solve issues of child marriages. They have bylaws that the community follows. And given how the people answer our research questions regarding child marriage, it is clear that the community follows these bylaws”.

Tango: “To me, the most surprising thing is that witchcraft cases are no longer common. Because it was many years ago, I thought that they would be a bigger problem in the rural areas of Malawi. But we have learned through our interviews with villagers that this is not a common issue anymore due to the lack of evidence that exists in these cases. I also thought it was interesting that the Chief of Sangilo (the village where D2D is located) had a bracelet that is passed down from generation to generation.”

What is the most valuable aspect of this experience?

Tango: “For me, I think the most valuable aspect of this internship comes from the experience I have gained in interviewing. Being able to put the experience from this research project on our resume will greatly help us in our job search after this summer.”

Lucy: “Along with what Tango has said about how valuable interviewing experience can be for the resume, I think that the knowledge we have gained from the interviews will also be very helpful. The villagers provided so many new ideas and opinions on local governance and how to improve it which will be useful to consider later in life.”

What has been your favorite part of this experience?

Lucy: “I enjoy being able to translate for you guys, and using Tumbuka when interviewing villagers. I also like introducing myself on your behalf, its funny.”

Tango: “I really like meeting new people and interacting with people who have different ideas and beliefs.”

And Steve, what has been your favorite part of this experience?

Steven: “I think my favorite part of our research so far has been learning about how the justice system involves so many different groups here in Malawi. Getting to talk with representatives from both the Child Protective Services office (CPS) and Chilumba Police Department was incredibly enlightening. Depending on the case, community police (separate but affiliated with the actual police), the chief, Nduna (advisors), CPS, NGOs, and the court may all be involved in solving the case which is entirely different than in the U.S.”

What has been your least favorite part of this experience?

Lucy: “My least favorite part is getting incomplete answers when interviewing.”

Tango: “I agree. Also, when villagers clearly are not interested in answering and give one word answers. Then we have to try and prod them for more information.”

Sierra, what about you? Least favorite part?

Sierra: “Well, we are in week 7 and at this point we have not been successful in attending a local court session. Whether the accused person does not show up to court, or an event such as a wedding or funeral happens that the chief needs to attend, they are constantly getting canceled. It is giving me the impression that the current system in place does not uphold justice, or doesn’t do so in a timely manner. This is concerning, especially when the cases we hear about in our interviews involve gender-based violence or domestic abuse.”

Would you be interested in doing this kind of work in the future?

Lucy: “Yes, this experience is very valuable. Companies look for survey work on resumes and will pay well for being out in the field. It is useful to have this experience, and I would be interested in doing this in the future.”

Tango: “Yes. This work is productive, other people may sit around and play Bao (a local game similar to Mancala), but we are out in the community.”

Do you think your classes and degree has helped with this research?

Lucy: “Yes, very much so. We used a lot of what we learned in our degree during these interviews. We also had a research course that taught us how to do these interviews and style of work, which we are able to use here.”

Tango: “Yes, we are implementing what we have learned here, as we do interviews and research with you.”



In wrapping up our time here in Malawi we are excited to begin reviewing all our research in its entirety and breaking down our findings. Completing 40+ interviews over six villages has really allowed us to branch out and interact with numerous communities that have all been special in their own way. Lucy and Tango have been an integral part of our research and experience while in Chilumba, Malawi. The challenge of language barriers and appropriate research methods could not have been maneuvered around without their assistance. 

While each village is unique and has their own particularities, we are seeing some interesting broader trends in the data. One example is that many believe they are able to participate in deciding how their case is brought to court (90% yes) and that their rights are upheld and respected within the court systems (80% yes). However, when asking participants whether women were treated equally within the system only 64% of participants answered yes. Further, when asking whether people have access to transportation to the courts 57% of participants answered no. This just goes to show that there is a lot to unpack within our findings as to how effective Malawi’s justice system really is and what kinds of improvements they might hope to incorporate in the future. 

We also got to wrap up our time by observing the local Child Protective services office in their interviews with the head of the local police department and a lawyer practicing in the high court system. These interviews allowed us to better understand how the local justice system is truly a community effort as well as to compare that to courts at the national level. The research that we have conducted will inform our partner organization, D2D in any future work they do in the area.

Sierra Kochersperger graduated from UD May '22. She was an INS student with a concentration in international education and minors in Africana Studies and Women and Gender Studies. After her time in Malawi she will be returning to work for a local nonprofit here in Dayton, OH. 

Steven Shamblen graduated from UD in May '22. He was an INS student with a concentration in global peace and security along with minors in Spanish, political science, and human rights. He is from Saunderstown, Rhode Island with an older brother and a younger sister. Steven has been fortunate enough to study abroad in Xela Guatemala, and spent time working with an orphanage in Belize. After the Malawi practicum, he hopes to find a job where he will be able to get out and see even more of the world!

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Our Malawi Practicum Experience (Part 1)

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