Development by the People, for the People, with the People


Today’s post comes from 2014-2015 Global Health Fellow Mervin Mchenga with our partner organization Global Health Corps. Mervin is a Malawi native and communications expert working with the Art & Global Health Center. This post by Mervin celebrates the realization of the importance of involving the communities being served in developing solutions to crucial issues.

So many times development has been imposed on people. Development policies and projects have been decided and designed in boardrooms in far away countries by professionals that neither understand the people nor their circumstances. They do not speak their languages, neither are they affected by their problems, nor have they, in their entire lives, even stepped foot in these people’s countries. Yet, they seem to be convinced that they are in the best position to be able to identify problems that affect the people and develop solutions to solve them. This is one of the major causes of failure in developmental aid in African countries.

It’s seldom that any meaningful development would take place if the people, who are the primary beneficiaries of this development, are ignored. It is vital that they are involved in their own development. They must be part of the entire development process; from identifying the problem, designing developmental projects and finally implementing them. In all these phases they must be active participant and not merely passive beneficiaries at the receiving end of development that is decided for them.

I am currently part of a team of a rural community intervention on HIV/AIDS known as the MASA film project. MASA is an acronym for Make Art / Stop AIDS. This intervention uses film, an art, to address issues of HIV/AIDS that affect the rural communities.

The MASA film project is one of the best examples of participatory development that I have ever come across.

The film is made up of life stories from people that have been affected by HIV/AIDS. The stories are real life experiences of the actors in the film who are also members of the rural communities we are trying to reach.

In the film, the actors talk of the challenges that they faces as people living with HIV/AIDS or as people affected by it through the infection of a loved one or close friend.

As the communities watch the film, these stories resonate with their experiences in the villages.

They raise questions and spark conversations about the disease that was previously considered taboo. The people discover that the challenges they are facing are the same. They also discover how some of their actions have perpetrated the challenges they have in regards to HIV/AIDS. Together with their chiefs, the people develop ways in which they can resolve these issues and commit to them.

Furthermore, the fact that the actors in the film are people from their own communities, the people they know, has encouraged positive living towards HIV/AIDS. Some men, for instance, even volunteered to be tested for HIV just because they saw their fellow village men advocating for it in the film.

One major lesson I have learned from this project is that people know and understand their own problems. Even more, they have solutions to these problems. Involving them in their own development, therefore, make development successful and sustainable.

Mervin Mchenga is currently a GHC fellow at Arts & Global Health Center in Malawi. We’re looking for the person that will continue Mervin’s work next year — you can check out the details and job description here.

To see the complete listing of fellowship roles that we’re currently recruiting, visit and apply today. Applications close February 3, 2015.

“Wednesday Wisdom” is a weekly series curated by Everyday Ambassador Partnerships Manager Anjana Sreedhar. Every Wednesday, we will feature updates from our partners and reflections from the Everyday Ambassador community. To stay current with our latest posts, follow #wednesdaywisdom or #wordstoliveby on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.

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