United Methodist Committee on Relief

Mercy Nyirongo (second row, in pink shirt) poses with other participants in the UMCOR-sponsored Pan-Africa Health Meeting.
Mercy Nyirongo (second row, in pink shirt) poses with other participants in the UMCOR-sponsored Pan-Africa Health Meeting.
Nyamah Dunbar/UMCOR

Empowering Malawi's new Health Board

By Julia Kayser

May 18, 2012 --Malawi, known as the “Warm Heart of Africa” for the kindness of its people, is part of a crucial region for The United Methodist Church. East African congregations are growing fast and connectional relationships are flourishing.

Yet almost half of Malawi’s children are at risk of dying from preventable causes like malaria, diarrhea, and malnutrition. UMCOR, along with partners like Weltmission and Church of the Resurrection, is working to recognize and honor the importance of East Africa by expanding health programs in the region, and Malawi is no exception.

One way that UMCOR extends its partnership is by helping local United Methodist Conferences to create and train health boards. These groups of community leaders identify priorities, envision solutions, and monitor the progress of various projects.

UMCOR’s Ted Warnock facilitates the initial health board training events. He sees them in their nascent stages as they develop organizational structures, bylaws, strategic plans, and reporting criteria.

“It’s really rewarding to go back and see them making strategic decisions about their ministry,” he says. Health boards help African countries to  “set and design their own future.”

While board members are responsible for oversight and visioning, the day-to-day program leadership is delegated to professional Health Coordinators. UMCOR is delighted to bring Mercy Nyirongo onto its Global Health team as the new Malawi health coordinator. Nyirongo is a native of Malawi and a graduate of the Africa University School of Public Health. She’s a dedicated United Methodist who has been identified as a leader by her bishop.

Shannon Trilli, executive director of UMCOR Global Health, is excited to work with Nyirongo because she “shares UMCOR’s vision of community empowerment and investment in local capacity strengthening.”

Mercy volunteered to attend last year’s Pan African Health Workshop hosted by UMCOR because of her passion for community-based health approaches. Her excellent education, background, and volunteerism make Nyirongo a perfect match for the position of Health Coordinator.

Nyirongo’s primary responsibility will be to facilitate the directives of the health board. In addition, she’ll be working in close partnership with the Zimbabwe UMC, which is under the same episcopacy as Malawi.

“The health coordinator is a very integral part of the empowerment process for our local partners,” says Warnock. “She will be the directing person of all the wills and wishes of the board.”

There are four main focus areas for Malawi’s emerging health programs. They are: nutrition for people living with HIV and children under five years of age; water and sanitation, malaria control, and early childhood development. A few projects are already underway in Blantyre. A clinic on Tuesdays and Thursdays screens children for malnutrition and distributes nutritional supplements. An Ecological Sanitation Toilet serves as a demonstration of better hygiene practices. Teachers have been briefed on infection prevention at the Galilea Nursery School.

New projects are already proposed in Madisi, Dowa. UMCOR looks forward to working with Mercy to expand health projects in Malawi.

Julia Kayser is a writer and regular contributor to