Ruth Mumba, helping Mbando village with health and technology

Ruth Mumba started volunteering when she was 17-years-old. Her volunteering spirit took her to enriching 95 households from a Facebook encounter in Mbando village, Traditional Authority (T/A) Mposa in Machinga- through a non-profit organisation, Abundance.

Abundance was founded by three friends, Deepa Pullanikkatil from Swaziland, Cyril Anand from Qatar and Thangam Pillai in India.

Deepa had worked in Malawi doing research around Lake Chilwa before relocating to Swaziland and she felt attached to Mbando community in Machinga and wanted to give back.

“I met Deepa on Facebook, where she sent out a call for assistance towards a project she wanted to start in Malawi and I responded to the call. This was in 2016 as I was looking for a platform to volunteer says Mumba.”

After exchanging a few emails, the founders came and we started work through the development of integrated development approaches in areas of natural resources, health and education in Mbando Village.

Mbando village, located on the shores of Lake Chilwa, is a fragile ecosystem, and is vulnerable to floods and droughts.

In the recent Cyclone Idai, many houses and farms were affected.

Majorly a farming and fishing community, there are challenges of poverty and lack of learning resources which the village faces.

Realising that communities’ lives are interconnected, for them to thrive, all socio-economic aspects had to be addressed says Mumba who was made director of Abundance on volunteer basis.

Abundance began with interventions in health through the provision of bicycle ambulances to ferry the sick to the hospitals. These have made for easy mobility to clinics for the sick and expectant mothers, resulting in quicker treatment than before.

“The bicycle ambulances are also used in medical emergencies such as road accidents or injuries during sporting activities, says Mumba.”

She explains that they have also been working in the health and well-being of the community through holding sexual and reproductive health seminars, taught girls and mothers how to make re-usable sanitary pads and held focus group discussion to look at how cultural norms affect health practices.

Knowing that electricity power is unavailable to the community, Mumba helped raise funds and set up a solar powered E-learning centre that is housed at Chilimba Secondary School.

“We crowdfunded to provide furniture, solar power, eight laptops, a server with learning resources and 150 keepods for 150 users. “

Access to computers in Malawi is a challenge despite connectivity growing in leaps and bounds. Smartphones have been able to bridge the gap, however poorer people and those residing in rural areas are still finding it a bit hard to get on the internet.

For a long time, cyber cafés have been the first contact for most people using computers. Yet one big disadvantage is that users cannot save their documents on these machines.

A keepod is a computer product, works as any Universal Serial Bus (USB) [used to connect equipment to a computer] focused on bringing personal computing to students in low income communities all over the world, and has been praised as a possible solution to bridging the digital divide.

This, Mumba says has allowed teachers and learners to participate in virtual classrooms there by becoming aware of the world far beyond their village and gain access to education tools that were previously not available.

For the young adults and community members, Mumba says they have access to video tutorials that teach them best agricultural practices that they have been using in their gardens.

Mumba together with fellow volunteers envision maximised potential of technology and its application, through the E-learning centre.

Asked, why they took to this approach in helping the community, Mumba said traditionally as a nation we have sectors, but communities do not live sectoral lives. Everything is interconnected.

“We can’t talk of agriculture without talking about water, health, education and gender, projects that are community based should aim to address things that affect the entire demographics she says,”

“When you provide education and improve its delivery and quality, you see a community developing a different mindset towards issues. More girls stay in school longer thereby delaying early marriages that in turn benefit their health and their future families. Men learn different values, apply best agricultural practices in their fields, become more economically empowered and take care of their families better, she says”

The approach involves everyone in the community. There is more development that comes when the community feels a sense of ownership and responsibility towards aspects that affect their lives.

From 95 households of Mbando, the number of families learning and having improved lives has since increased to 105 households.

Mumba went to St. Andrew International High School. As part of a requirement for graduation every student had to volunteer. When she got into the University of Malawi for a Bachelor’s Degree in Science at Chancellor College, she volunteered for four years with a student’s organisation called Stimulus.

“We worked with children development centres every Saturday for the entire time a semester was in session, she says.”

If she can draw anything from volunteering is that it teaches one selflessness, time management and commitment to see something through no matter how tough things may get.

After her bachelors she began working as a geologist at Geological Survey Department, where she juggles it with a Master’s degree in Science (Geology) studies, from Chancellor College. Her laboratory sample analysis are being carried out at the University of Franche Comté in Besançon, France.

Delving briefly into her work, she says, geology can be used to study the rocks that exist on top of the geothermal resources as it gives guidance to the possible extent to which the resource spreads.

Working for the Geological Survey Department and understanding geology and aspects that affect it has made her aware of the importance of cultural awareness and the need to work with the communities she works in, one of her driving forces to helping communities conserve natural resources.

On challenges she has faced, she says, finding organisations that will allow for volunteering is one of the biggest challenges she faced after she left university. It took her two years to start with Abundance and she was actively looking.

Career wise,” I was always sure of what I wanted to do and my family has always been supportive. My work especially in the field work demands physical endurance and one has to prepare their body for that. However, sometimes you just don’t prepare enough for the 7-hour daily walks over hills and mountains with rocks in your backpack. Another challenge has been poor access to sophisticated geological software that can be used to produce quality data as well as run manipulations to understand the geology on Malawi better.”

Mumba presently a 2019 Mandela Washington Fellow, she looks to do more with leadership skills gained and advises young people to constantly ask what they want out of life and use that to define their path.

“It’s not easy to know what exactly one wants. It takes practice and constant checks. Once that is defined, one should realise it is not going to be easy and the path to get to their goal is not straight forward. Knock on doors and ask for help, she says.”

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