Truck parked at North Star Alliance Mwanza Clinic in Malawi

This post was written by Clementine Noblecourt, North Star Alliance Malawi Project Coordinator.

Truck parked at North Star Alliance Mwanza Clinic in MalawiAfter almost 1.5 years “in the field” (as many people working in the aid and development sector call it) I am able to reflect on the real meaning of my work in Malawi.

Malawi was the place where the first Wellness Centre was implemented in 2005. Now in 2011, the Centre is still up and running with some of the most experienced staff in the organization and I am proud of them because they understand the meaning of their work: they are the ones who change hundreds of lives, of truck drivers, and sex workers…and those of the many other “target group” members that benefits from our services.

So we can use these “aid jargon” words as much as we want, but the reality is still the same: how are we reaching sustainability? Everyone in the development sector has a love/hate relationship with this word. Can we think of anything sustainable in the modern world, with all of the powerful economies in the Western world not doing so well?

As much as I would love to tell anyone that my project is “sustainable”, I still face challenges daily. Where has the industry gone wrong? By spoiling its “beneficiaries”? As much as we want to believe that anyone receiving donor money is aware of its value, we have to push forward to make sure that local partners take responsibility for their own people.

“Stakeholder” is another favourite term. There are two categories of stakeholders: the ones who actually realize that the project you manage is to their advantage and for the well being of their country and the ones you need to have on a list because you are on a long-term mission of convincing them that they need you.  At any point in my young career as an aid worker I have wanted to give up and acknowledge that “Malawi is like this and will always be…” If I ever start thinking that way please take me out of here. It is for this reason that North Star’s model is good, because hitting the walls of long term established systems does not scare us off.

I have seen most aspects of North Star’s project, including having spent time on the road with a Malawian truck driver to understand the heart of my daily work. It’s become clear from this experience how essential North Star is with regard to solving one of the biggest health issues in sub-Saharan Africa: the spread of infectious diseases, especially HIV, along transport corridors. Regardless, however, people on the road are lonely and there is nothing more human than not wanting to be alone…

For all the great people I work with on a daily basis, I want to thank them for their enthusiasm, commitment and sense of great hope for the future of Malawi. Of course, like in most development situations, there are obstacles. But I am optimistic that the national health system and transport industry will take over our Wellness Centres so that they remain as successful as they are today. For me, this represents very real progress toward sustainability.

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Photography | David Childley, Gideon Mendel