Youth of Malawi has always believed that by concentrating our effort on the 1000 residents of Chimphamba, we’d be able to have a deep impact on these lives. Spreading our resources too thin would have resulted in minimal impact. In an effort to keep track of our residents and their progress, and to learn their names, we created plastic photo ID cards with bar codes. The idea was that with this card the villager could borrow library books, tools, receive loans, food distributions, and have their health records and school attendance logs kept using localized automation and databases. Valuing privacy, we intend this information only to be used by the village leaders and the professionals who serve the village: nurses, doctors, teachers, and our employees. And while this has been essential in tracking our progress, it has had an interesting unintended effect – identity.
Most Malawians have never seen a picture of themselves, and this ID card is their first tangible form of that, now, human right. The sense of pride for each villager that they own an ID card, with their name and picture, is almost worth more than the data collection we’ve been able to achieve.
Knowing of their affinity for photographs and their general lack of family mementos and keepsakes, we started a portraiture project where each family was photographed in front of their home. We had these photos taken by a young ambitious Malawian photographer named Malumbo Simwaka, who started “Humans of Malawi”. We blew them up to 8x10, laminated each one, and handed them to each family on our 2016 mission. The tears were flowing. They now hang proudly in their homes, and we have provided a permanent memory for years. We will continue this project in different forms.
A connection to the outside world is also vital to human development, in the view of Youth of Malawi. That is why on 3 occasions, we have developed Penpal programs, with schools in Scarsdale, NY, Asbury Park, NJ, and Long Island, NY.