Urbana and Zomba: Improving Quality of Life in Urban Southeast Africa

Contributed by: Councilman Dennis Roberts of Urbana, Illinois

Several years after receiving a grant to address urban poverty through water, health, and sanitation projects, Urbana, Illinois continues to help its sister city Zomba, Malawi reach its full potential through projects that improve the lives of Zomba citizens.

The relationship between Urbana and Zomba began in 2008. Two years later, Urbana was awarded an African Urban Poverty Alleviation Program (AUPAP) grant to address local health problems in sister city Zomba as well as promote peace and prosperity through people-to-people collaboration. This two-year grant allowed Urbana and Zomba to work towards improving the sanitation and health of Zomba during the project’s two-year time span.

Seven years after being selected for this grant, Urbana and Zomba are just as committed to improving the quality of life in the Zomba community. In August 2017, a delegation from Urbana consisting of Scott Dossett, a retired research scientist; his partner Meg Miller, a retired teacher; and Urbana City Councilman Dennis Roberts visited Zomba. The goal of this trip was to renew the sister city relationship and check on the condition of the projects started as part of the AUPAP grant. The main site of their mission was the Guardian Village at Zomba Central Hospital — a shelter where family members stay while providing care for loved ones in the hospital.

On arrival, the delegation first assessed the condition of old projects such as the ablution block, complete with toilets, showers, laundry tubs, and clothes-drying facility in the Guardian Village, which was completed in 2012. Then, they moved on to current projects. In the cooking shelter, they built higher efficiency “rocket stoves” which burn less fuel (which ultimately reduces deforestation) and provide better air quality for those living in the village. Additionally, with the support of a successful GoFundMe campaign, Urbana was able to construct a new sidewalk, cement platform, and catchment at Guardian Village’s only water tap, which had previously been surrounded by mud and debris.

During this trip, the city of Urbana also donated over 200 pounds of school supplies and bilingual readers to the students in three primary schools and forged new relationships with the leaders at Chancellors College at the University of Malawi. The visiting delegation also had the opportunity to meet Zomba’s newly elected Mayor and city council officials, as well as catch up with old friends on the city’s administrative staff.

While this trip was extremely productive for Urbana and Zomba, they have major future plans. The next item on the agenda will be filling the empty bookshelves of the library at Mubarrack College Complex, Center for Women and Orphans.

The relationship between Urbana and Zomba has truly blossomed into a commitment to citizen diplomacy and making positive change through people-to-people interactions. The collaborative projects pursued by the two cities have improved health, sanitation, and education conditions in Zomba, and have enduring impacts in the lives of people every day.