On Friday 21 September I flew from Mwanza to Dar es Salaam with four members of the Bridge2Aid team (see previous blog post) who were starting their journey home to the UK. I left them at Dar es Salaam Airport and, after an overnight stay in a transit lodge near the airport, took a Malawian Airways plane for the two hour flight to Blantyre.
After arranging a visa and other immigration formalities I walked out of the airport to be greeted by Dr Peter Chimimba, a gentleman who will be figuring very prominently in the MalDent Project – see later!
We drove to the Sunbird Mount Soche Hotel in Blantyre, where I had stayed exactly a year ago on my first visit to Malawi and which would be ‘home’ for the next three nights. After I’d checked in, Peter and I sat out in the beautiful hotel grounds with coffee and cake, to catch up on progress.
I met Peter for the first time at the Dental Curriculum Conference in Mangochi a year ago. He was one of the team from the Dental Association of Malawi which had drafted an initial version of a curriculum document for discussion.
I learned that Peter had qualified in dentistry from the University of Bristol, possessed a Fellowship in Dental Surgery from the Royal College of Surgeons of England, and had practised both general dentistry and specialist oral surgery in the UK and in Malawi. In addition, for 10 years he had held a senior position within the Malawi Government Ministry of Health after gaining a public health qualification in Oslo.
It was clear from an early stage that Peter would be central to the plans for a Dental School in Malawi and I was delighted to hear that he had recently been interviewed by the College of Medicine for the post of Project Director for MalDent and had subsequently been appointed. This news made the coffee break particularly enjoyable and memorable. Peter then proceeded to brief me on the tremendous progress that was already being made with the BDS curriculum preparations. Peter was brimming with enthusiasm and it was obvious that with his drive, ability and tremendous sense of humour, the MalDent Project was in very good hands.
On the morning of Monday 24 September, Peter picked me up from my hotel and we drove to the College of Medicine campus for a day of meetings related to the MalDent Project. Mwapatsa Mipando (College Principal), Nyengo Makandawire (Dean of the Faculty of Medicine) and Jerome Galagade (College M&E Officer) joined Peter and I for what turned out to be a very intensive but immensely valuable day. Jerome took control of the work plan and with his relentless questioning on the time-frame and deadlines we developed a very detailed mapping of the first six months of the project, with many significant decisions reached.
At lunchtime, Peter took me to the College of Medicine Sports Club, for a plate of chambo (a type of fish) and chips. The sports club has some great indoor and outdoor facilities for the student body. In the context of the MalDent Project, the view from the balcony includes the piece of ground that has been ear-marked for construction of the new Dental School building on the College of Medicine campus.
Hopefully it will be a very different view in three years time!
We later passed a map of the campus and have added an ‘X’ to mark the spot.
We’re also looking forward to employing a sign-writer in 2019!
By the end of the day we had completed mapping the work plan to March 2019 but there were still four items on the long agenda that required further consideration. It was agreed that Peter, Mwapatsa, Nyengo and I would re-convene the next morning to complete our discussions.
Peter dropped me back to the Sunbird Mount Soche and we retired to Pablo’s Bar for a de-brief on the day’s meeting and to relax in the very congenial surroundings. It had been a tiring day but one marked by determination and optimism now that the project was properly underway.
On the Tuesday morning we completed our discussions. Before the main meeting started, Peter and I had a brief informal catch up with Mwapatsa in his office. Since my last visit, Mwapatsa’s office had been re-configured and a portrait had been painted and displayed to accompany the pictures of the former Principals on an adjacent wall.
An early morning meeting with Mwapatsa in the Principal’s Office
We were due to drive to Lilongwe that afternoon, but before having lunch, Peter took me to see a recently refurbished dental suite in the Blantyre Adventist Hospital, very close to the Sunbird Mount Soche Hotel. It was a beautiful facility and showed just what can be achieved with appropriate resource.
Newly refurbished dental clinic at the Blantyre Adventist Hospital
Peter’s many contacts will be very useful as we move towards the design and eventual construction of a Dental School building on the Blantyre campus.
Just before 2pm we were picked up for the drive to Lilongwe. It was a four-hour journey and some images from along the way are shown below:
Goods being carried on bicycles were literally around every corner
Just before reaching Lilongwe we were treated to a magnificent sunset
If you want to know why we were making this trip to Lilongwe, you’ll need to read the next blog post in the series!