Student group provides help for African hospitals

Photo courtesy of Allison Guttman
Helping hospitals · Members of Project Malawi pose with a group of Malawan children during their trip to Africa last summer, which inspired the group to fundraise money for hospitals in the country.

In Malawi, the sick children at Mzuzu Central Hospital in dire need of medical attention were forced to lay on the floor. Life-saving drugs were out of stock. The patients outnumbered available doctors. These were just a few of the problems that Jared Alswang, a junior majoring in health promotion and disease prevention, witnessed when he traveled to Africa with the Norwegian nonprofit Luke International last summer.

“I was doing an AIDS research project when I visited a hospital and toured the pediatric ward,” Alswang said. “The conditions were heartbreaking, to say the least. I asked a nurse if I could take a picture, and she said ‘of course, but don’t just take a picture and leave and forget about us.’”

When he returned to USC, Alswang organized Project Malawi, a student group that aimed to fundraise to help improve conditions in Malawi hospitals. He immediately launched several campaigns, hoping to open two Medical High Dependency Units at Mzuzu Central Hospital and Chitipa District Hospital as well as a minor operating theatre at Nthalire Health Centre. He did a fundraiser with Alpha Epsilon Pi, which raised about $8,000 and later partnered with the Rotary Club of Mzuzu and the Lions Club.

“Fundraising has been a lot of trial and error,” Alswang said. “I reached to hundreds of corporations but no one was interested. I tried to do it all myself but it was harder than I expected.”

Realizing that a project with such a large size and scope would require the support of additional people, Alswang assembled a core team of students who assists him in handling the various aspects of Project Malawi, such as his co-president, Will Belshe, a junior majoring in global health.

“Jared is the logistical side with the people of Malawi, while I’ve taken on more of the USC-centric portion of it,” Belshe said. “I’ve been working on outreach, talking to people in Alpha Epsilon Delta, [and the] Red Cross to co-opt efforts and talking to USG about funding. I’m most involved with the home turf aspect, while Jared is more international.”

Together, Alswang and Belshe were able to bring Project C.U.R.E., a nonprofit organization that delivers medical supplies and equipment to developing countries, on board. They agreed to provide a 40-foot container with $400,000 to $500,000 worth of medical equipment and supplies to the Malawi hospitals.

“I wrote a proposal for them to support the hospitals and they said they agreed to provide the crate of medical supplies, but I would have to fund the transportation costs, which is about $24,000,” Alswang said. “I’ve been working with them a lot, helping them to prepare the medical supplies they need, trying to raise the money.”

Alswang and others in Project Malawi are already considering their next steps in how to further improve the medical facilities and treatment in the hospitals they have worked with. For example, they are applying for USC’s Africa Student Fund to go to Malawi again this summer and follow up with the steps they have taken so far.

“We want to talk to the medical school there about the possibility of setting up a scholarship with them to address the doctor shortage,” Belshe said. “We’re also looking into the idea of entering into infrastructure, water projects or expanding into a full-fledged nonprofit. I think there’s a lot of promise in the future.”