How you begin determines where you end: The difficult but formative process of starting a new program in Malawi

For those of you who know that we are working to implement two new programs of Village Savings and Loans and CHE (Community Health Evangelism), you will invariably remember us saying “we are working on it” for about 2 years now. So, in order to better convey where we are now, and so that you don’t think we are lazy hobbit folk, I would like to convey what process is involved in starting a community development program in Malawi.

Specifically, we thought you would appreciate seeing a visual of the structures one needs to follow in order to begin a new program.

Today, my co-workers and I spent a good number of hours at the District Executive Committee (Zomba) meeting in order to present these programs to the committee members for their approval to go to the next stage of “the approval process”. The purpose of this meeting is to ensure that programs are not façades for personal wealth-creation; that programs don’t duplicate each other in the same area; that outside donors do not have the final say in what Malawi needs and to make sure that programs are following the guidelines of the Ministry of Development and Planning.

The following diagram provides the road map one must follow to begin a new program at the community level.

Malawi - Comm Dev Path2

Please note that we are at the top of the diagram – having completed the Zonal or District (government level) today which affords us the opportunity to now visit the Traditional Authority level.  Because there are multiple levels of authority in Malawi (from the government level to traditional and local chiefs and various village committees), one needs the approval of all to begin working.

The third level will then be the GVH (Group Village Headman), which entails various kinds of meetings with the Village Development Committee and the Community Action Group – both of which mitigate the activities taking place in these areas.

Then we are able to speak with the local chiefs at the village level – as well as the Village Discussion Group, Village Health Volunteers and other personnel working at the household levels in order to be mutually aware of the other activities taking place in that given village.

Of course, with an American motive of “stop talking and get something done”, this is a long and arduous process to be sure.

But with another, more healthy mindset, this process can be formative. To me, it has become very clear that “recognizing and affirming others’ work” is central to the entire process.

It is also a humbling process. Thinking your program will save the world once it finally gets started becomes rather foolish. Just today, I met a brilliant Muslim woman (a member of the DEC committee) who – it turns out – is operating a much more effective health education program that we currently are. There is room for growth throughout this start up process, I thought. If we only have our eyesoin getting the project implemented, surely we will miss something crucial along the way.

This all reminded me of Teilhard de Chardin’s lovely words:

Above all, trust in the slow work of God…

We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.

So in all, be assured, we are not only trying to follow the correct process, but are also trying to receive the start-up process as something ultimately beneficial and constructive.  

And there you have it, now I have an excuse if the program(s) don’t start for another few years… 😉

Published by Ryan Hayes

Ryan Hayes is a development practitioner, teacher and co-author of his first book of poems, Paralipomenon. Being born in Nairobi, Kenya and living most of his life in Africa, he has a wealth of experience and understanding into the cultural and linguistic factors of South-East Africa. Ryan is happily married to Justine with whom they have begotten three beautiful girls – Amelie, Lily and Rylee. He is a lifelong learner and devoted student of Jesus, mysticism, quantum physics and the human psyche.

2 thoughts on “How you begin determines where you end: The difficult but formative process of starting a new program in Malawi

  1. Ryan and Justine,

    Greetings. It was great to be in Mbale and to share a meal one even with Ty. I know he Is doing a great job at the school and that he is excited about seeing you all and Ben’s Family for Christmas.

    Blessings on your work – loved the update and diagrammatic explanations and the Great quote at the end.

    Blessings and have a wonderful time with family this Christmas!

    MIKE SCHRAGE Executive Director 417-782-0060 |


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