MA in Public Advocacy and Activism, NUI Galway
Steven was sponsored by Irish Aid to study for an MA in Public Advocacy and Activism at NUI Galway for the 2011-12 academic year. He took a study break from his role with the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace to pursue the programme.
I work for a faith-based organisation called the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace. As a church organisation, we work for vulnerable groups of Malawians, regardless of their religious and political affiliations, on social justice and development issues directly affecting their lives. We do this in the context of human rights, democracy and good governance through awareness raising, research, capacity building and policy advocacy.
I work as a Projects Officer in Mzuzu Diocese and my overall task in the organisation is to ensure that we take a human rights based approach to poverty alleviation in the implementation of our projects. Working with the affected people, together we isolate most common problems and look at workable solutions, strategies that would help solve the problems, which we translate into projects. We do our work in good collaboration with both religious and non religious structures, including traditional leaders, religious leaders, other organisations and government departments.
In Malawi, faith-based organisations play a crucial role in contributing towards policy formulation and changes because it is through the church based structures that we are able to get the real needs and concerns of vulnerable groups of Malawians. Most elected leaders have developed a tendency to betray their electorates by not being transparent and accountable to them. The church structures provide the best forum for the affected community members to freely express themselves on issues affecting their lives, they propose solutions that in turn are channelled towards policy formulation and change.
The nature of the course and the type of work I do fit each other well. As a social justice worker, I am looking at social issues and their relation to actual policies on the ground. It’s all about empowering people to be able to stand up on their own, to speak on their own, to understand their rights and the laws of the country.
I’m currently obtaining greater skills and capacity to perform my duties back home. By the end, I see myself having advanced capacity in public advocacy work, monitoring and reporting, and also environmental issues - that I can link up with my work experience, their applicability among the people and Malawian policies. This course will help me in my work and whenever I need to speak, with the people, to government officials and policy makers – sometimes in face-to-face meetings, sometimes through writing.
I’m very much privileged to be an Irish Aid fellow in Ireland. I have gained a lot so far, especially the historical and theoretical perspectives of previous advocacy campaigns. The course materials are taken from a global perspective and I’m learning what writers from across the world have written and experienced. When I go back I will have improved theories and standards which I’ll be applying together with the people and policy-makers.
I have realised that to be successful in advocacy, institutions and activists need not only to have adequate financial resources but also appropriate strategies, proper collaboration, clear understanding of the context in which the advocacy is taking place. Previously, I experienced an advocacy initiative that almost failed due to a range of factors - partly because we did not do it much in collaboration with other organisations. With my new experience I’m very sure I shall be able to build up more support with other organisations in my country and in other countries and also to learn from their experiences of what they have done before.
With international support, I hope that Malawi will succeed in achieving the global Millennium Development Goals and become a poverty-free country where every citizen can fully enjoy his or her rights and elected leaders would be obliged to transparency and accountability.