Each year, in collaboration with Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions (RMU), the World of Difference charitable not-for-profit foundation, co-founded by RMU Founding President and CEO Dr. Richard P. Nielsen, organizes a volunteer humanitarian trip to Malawi, Africa, to enhance local education, health and nutrition, and agriculture. This year’s team included, among others, six RMU faculty and staff volunteers. For nearly three weeks, volunteers visited clinics, schools, orphanages, hospitals, local businesses, and met with community and national political leaders to strategize on how best to serve the communities of Malawi, Africa.
“There is a huge need for those kinds of services,” said Kristen Ipson, MS, CCC-SLP, an assistant clinical professor in RMU’s Master of Science in Medical Speech-Language Pathology program and a member of the RMU/World of Difference medical team. While serving on the volunteer clinical team at the Ming’ong’o Clinic in rural Malawi, Ipson noted, “That community rural clinic serves over 300 patients a day with only one medical provider, one stethoscope, and no running water or electricity.”
Other rural clinics the team visited experienced similar challenges, including patients using sand-filled water bottles instead of dumbbells for rehabilitation and some sleeping on bed frames with no mattresses. The team assisted with patients and provided much-needed resources to the local clinics and laid out a strategic plan for continued support and collaboration in the months and years ahead.
Many of the RMU/World of Difference volunteers were saddened to see the inequity in such impoverished conditions. “It was a culture shock,” said Jamie Muhlestein, RMU University Events and Experience Manager. “These people are doing the best they can with the little resources they have and that is where RMU and World of Difference and our volunteers come in–to facilitate assistance to these wonderful people in the remote villages and communities, the majority of which live way below the poverty line.”
Krystal Fullmer, RMU Admissions Advisor Lead, said, “The villagers would walk alongside an oxen-pulled cart with no shoes on. Often there are two or three people riding on the same bike and women carrying baskets or balancing containers of water on their heads.”
One of the focuses for this expedition to Malawi was for the clinical team to tour different facilities and gather information to help World of Difference be more intentional with future partnerships and future expeditions.
Ipson explained, “Hopefully, the information we gathered will help set the stage for meaningful clinical experiences when RMU students participate in future World of Difference expeditions. World of Difference has made some big changes recently to focus on partnering with local organizations and communities to create more sustainable change. It is exciting for RMU faculty, employees, and students to have opportunities to be a part of that growth.”
During this year’s expedition, President Nielsen and Dr. Courtney Taylor, a member of the medical team and nurse practitioner, met one-on-one with the Malawian President, Dr. Lazurus Chakwera, in his presidential office to discuss possible partnership opportunities.
Volunteers also set up workshops that provided locals with resources and taught them valuable life skills. Workshops included instruction on agriculture, a male mentorship workshop, a women empowerment workshop, and a Days for Girls workshop that provided feminine hygiene kits for young women.
“Something that really represented the expedition as a whole was the women empowerment workshop,” Fullmer said. “The focus was on how we can come together as women to support each other.” Volunteers provided local women with small mirrors and helped them answer self-empowering questions: What reminds you of your power? What makes you feel beautiful?
“World of Difference is a lot about the connection,” said Mykal Allsop, RMU Applications Manager. “It’s about helping people find peace and comfort. This is the lesson on humanity; we’re all seeking belonging, love, and connection.”
“That is the mission of World of Difference,” Fullmer said. “It is connecting with cultures and making connections with locals who have the same vision and determining how we can support one other.”
Looking back, participants reflected on the trip. “We were able to have really unique experiences,” Muhlestein said. “I learned so much from the people of Malawi and so much about me.”
Allsop added, “It was great to connect on such deep levels and to create something that’s sustainable throughout the whole year. There is still so much for me to learn.”
“This is a culture who knows how to love, live, and be with their whole hearts,” Fullmer stated. “I’ve never been this grounded or wholehearted in my life.”
President Nielsen shared that through service opportunities like these, “Lives will be changed, forever. Things that we see as most important in the USA truly are re-imagined and find themselves on the least important list. We take things so for granted in this country–being able to flush a toilet, flip on a light switch, turn on water in a sink, sleep in a bed, have shelter over our heads, get food from refrigerators on demand and select which clothing we wear on any particular day. Yet, these people we serve in Malawi may never have such opportunities in their entire lives unless organizations such as RMU and World of Difference with our selfless donors help how and where we can.”
Through World of Difference, President Nielsen and his wife, Jodi, along with RMU students and employees, continue to enhance educational opportunities for the underserved and work to empower those in Malawi, Africa, in resilient agriculture and health and nutrition initiatives and programs. President Nielsen has been doing service work in Africa for 35 years.
To learn more about the World of Difference organization, visit their website.