The Way I See It: What is Rice doing in Malawi?

By Brandon Martin

In the weeks that led up to traveling with Rice 360º Institute for Global Health faculty and staff to Malawi in June, the question I got over and over was “What is Rice doing in Malawi?” I had a vague answer but knew it was not as simple as saving babies’ lives or building a hospital ward. To get the real answer, my fellow public affairs colleague Jade Boyd and I took four planes, endured a 15-hour layover in Germany and tried to keep up with two of the most dedicated people I have ever met as they quickly maneuvered through various airport terminals.

As co-directors, Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Maria Oden are the driving forces behind Rice 360º. Jade and I were welcome passengers on one of their many voyages to Malawi, the warm heart of Africa. It was a well-orchestrated trip by the Rice 360º team filled with sound bites praising the difference Rice is making in Malawi and wonderful memories made with the people involved. From the eight Rice interns living and learning from local Malawian students to our local filmmaking colleague and guide, Ernest M’Banga, we covered a 50-mile radius gathering elements to answer the question “What is Rice doing in Malawi?”

The answer was certainly not as simple as saving babies or building a new hospital ward. The answer is embodied in Mary Namkwenya’s 1-day-old baby breathing because he is hooked to a bubble CPAP device created by four Rice senior engineering students in 2009. It is the dedication of a new neonatal ward at Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital because Oden and Richards-Kortum donated the $100,000 from their Lemelson-MIT Award for Global Innovation to kick off a fundraising effort. The answer is also in the hills of Chilomoni, where 4-year-old Chigonjetsu now plays with his two brothers after he was born three months early and survived on CPAP. It’s in the design lab of the Malawi Polytechnic, where Rice and Poly students work late into the night perfecting the next lifesaving device.

Before this trip, I couldn’t say I had ever traveled more than 9,000 miles to answer a question. But sometimes the most fulfilling answers are the ones where you work a little harder. Now when I’m asked “What is Rice doing in Malawi?”, I’ll say that the headlines too often portray the worst of people. This is a story of the best we can be as people, learning together on the other side of the world so a premature baby can grow up to play with his brothers.


About Brandon Martin

Greetings, I am a video producer at Rice University in the Office of Public Affairs. I became a Rice Owl in June 2011. Before that, I was at KPRC-TV in Houston as a special projects photojournalist for seven years, where I covered everything from hurricanes to sports. Southeast Texas has been my home my entire life. I am lucky to have a wonderful wife and two of the cutest girls I have ever seen. Go Owls!