Today marked the commencement of our internship with Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust. As I noted in an earlier post the MMCT in remarkably involved within the Mulanje District and is as concerned with livelihood diversity as it is forest conservation. The best way to explain it is that it’s an NGO that actively seeks financers to fund local projects throughout the district.
The group of us who are interning with MMCT are doing so in a rather unorthodox fashion. Instead of following around a bunch of MMCT officials all day and grab them coffee, we’re tasked with creating our own project to be completed in 10 days. We operate almost totally independent of MMCT, but are required to submit a report on our recommendations and findings at the culmination of our time here.
We’ve divided the project into 3 broad goals. 1) to promote ecotourism and global awareness of the Mulanje District 2) Identify invasive flore species on the Mt. Mulanje and 3) to organize community projects to better integrate the villages of Likhubula and Mbewa with the CCAP House. It’s hard to explain but the CCAP House, where we’re staying, is sort of seperated from the villages and villagers are not allowed to wander up here without permission. It creates a sort of island effect and promotes a semi-hostile attitude to the CCAP, so some of us are trying to find a way to build a bridge between the two.
I’m the “chairperson” for objective one, and I’m working with Dillon and one other undetermined person. We don’t have set agenda yet but we do have some pretty good ideas of which direction we want to move towards. Social networking and promoting tourism may sound like the more mundane task of the project but it actually is perhaps the most important. If no one knows or cares about Mulanje they won’t come to visit, which means they won’t put money in the local economy, which means that the many men who rely on the tourist season for income will go without. I’m thinking about establishing a program in conjunction with the MMCT and CCAP which would allow tourists and students to come to Mulanje and engage in service. Dillon works at Amizade, which if you go to WVU you know that they do “service learning” and people really do want to come out to rural areas like here and help people out. The program would be set up by us but then left in the hands of the MMCT upon our departure and used as an option for tourists who are looking for something to do while here. We’re going to establish a branch of the organization back at WVU so that we can actively manage and fundraise for the program back in Morgantown.
I’m excited by the challenge of the project but I know that it’s something that IS attainable and something that could potentially better the lives of Malawians here in the Mulanje District. Whenever the internet becomes more reliable, Dillon and I are going to create either a website of facebook page for our project and I hope everyone will join it to help spread awareness for this incredible area.
My pictures of little children running around the mountain and women carrying 30 kg bags of rice on their heads should make a great marketing tool.
I was feeling a little nostalgic and a tad homesick (more excited to share stories with everyone than actual homesickness) on the mountain this weekend so I want to let you all know that I love and miss you all.