The opportunity to study abroad as a freshman at The University of Southern Mississippi lit a fire inside 2019 graduate Anastasia Walrod to become more involved as an international volunteer.
Enter the Peace Corps. Since last June Walrod has been serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in the African nation of Malawi. As part of the Peace Corps’ 27-month commitment policy, Walrod expects to be in Malawi until August 2021.
At this moment, the Pass Christian, Miss., native can’t imagine living anywhere else.
“When I announced that I was joining the Peace Corps, I received such praise and comments about how I was going to ‘change the world,’” said Walrod. “Realistically, the Malawian people have impacted me more than I will ever impact them, and their work amazes me every day.”
Malawi is among the world's least developed countries. Approximately 85 percent of the country’s 18 million people live in rural areas.
The economy is based on agriculture, and more than one-third of its gross domestic product and 90 percent of export revenues come from this. The main agricultural products of Malawi include tobacco, sugarcane, cotton, tea, corn, potatoes, sorghum, cattle and goats.
Malawi has a low life expectancy and high infant mortality rate. There is also a high prevalence of AIDS/HIV.
Walrod serves as a Community Health Specialist, with most of her work conducted at a health clinic and local school.
“Peace Corps Malawi collaborates with the national government to come up with goals and objectives for volunteers to work on,” she explained. “National priorities center around HIV prevention in youth and supporting care for children under age 5. Thus, much of the current work and future projects are focused on comprehensive sex education, nutrition care, malaria prevention, and water and sanitation hygiene.”
Walrod earned her undergraduate degree in Public Health (with a minor in English) last May. She had never traveled to the Continent of Africa until beginning her Peace Corps Pre-Service Training with a host family in a rural central Malawian village.
“The village had no electricity or running water, and yet, it was the perfect place to start my journey in the Peace Corps,” said Walrod. “My family consists of some of the most amazing people I have the opportunity to know. My host mom, Napilila, is a maize farmer who absolutely loves dancing and helped me tremendously with learning Chickhewa. She speaks very little English, so our only way to communicate was in Chickhewa.”
Walrod’s four Malawian “siblings” include Kevin (17), Madalisto (12), Manesi (10) and Justice (4). “They are the sweetest group of kids who love to play soccer, dance, listen to music, and read. It was such a privilege to befriend them, and they truly are my second family,” said Walrod.
Following Pre-Service Training, Walrod took up residence in a small community outside Blantyre, Malawi – a locale that she describes as “semi-urban.”
“I have electricity, a flush-toilet, and perfect cellular service,” she noted. “But I access my water from a borehole or a local tap. Picture a faucet at your neighbor’s house.”
While studying abroad during her freshman year as part of USM’s Chateau Program, Walrod said her world view was widened, which sparked an even greater interest in volunteer service. She saw the Peace Corps as an ideal avenue for channeling her service wishes.
“Peace Corps is such a unique institution,” she said. “The ideology is based on world peace friendship that is built through forming meaningful relationships with host country community members. The opportunity to work abroad in public health and doing so in a way that was meant to be sustainable, focused on evidence-based efforts, and with an emphasis on building relationships with community seemed like my dream job.”
Walrod says her short-term goal is to earn a master’s degree in public health. Long-term she hopes to become a college professor and perhaps establish a non-profit organization in Mississippi devoted to education and prevention regarding sexually transmitted diseases.
For now, she is reveling in her new-found love for Malawi, also known as the “Warm Heart of Africa.”
“Malawians are known for their generous hospitality and kindness,” she said. “Everywhere I go in my community, I am always stopped by someone who wants to say hello, or chat, or wants a fist bump.”