Mercy Nyirongo is passionate about inspiring others to be agents of change and empowering them to find solutions to their most pressing health and development challenges. To turn this passion into something tangible, Nyirongo founded Wandikweza, a health program that trains community health workers (CHWs) to engage and build community-based approaches to addressing health issues, particularly those impacting women and girls in the Dowa district of Malawi. Its theory of change is simple: work with community leaders to identify the most pressing health needs in their communities and then support them through trained CHWs, thus complementing the government’s efforts to strengthen the country’s health system.
“I have seen local people in my community making substantial contributions to community health even though they may not be experienced in administrative procedures,” Nyirongo said. Wandikweza has 30 trained CHWs — 13 women and 17 men — who are each responsible for serving 15 to 16 households.
In addition to Wandikweza’s focus on community health and development, it also has programs to support girls and women and reduce child marriages in a place where it is not uncommon for girls to marry when they are 13 or 14. Wandikweza works with around 45 women ranging from 23 to 63 years, identified by community leaders as the most vulnerable women in their communities. The organization teaches the women to care for their own needs and instills in them a sense of economic empowerment.
The oldest of five siblings and a mother of three, Nyirongo embodies the values and spirit that Wandikweza represents. After starting a career in the computer industry and giving birth to her third child, Nyirongo decided to fulfill a childhood dream of becoming a nurse by going to Zimbabwe and earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Africa University. She then returned to Malawi to work as a health advisor, and while working full-time and raising her three children, began a master’s degree in public health at Walden University, which she completed in 2014.
“I learned to be resilient and accept diversity. It helped me develop confidence and leadership skills that I now use to empower others,” she said of her experience at Walden. Now, in addition to her responsibilities at Wandikweza, Nyirongo is the Malawi Country Director of ZOE, an organization that empowers orphans and vulnerable children around the world to overcome extreme poverty and become self-reliant.
Despite her busy schedule, she does not plan to stop here. Her vision for Wandikweza is to expand to other districts and find additional funding mechanisms to make it more sustainable. On this day, however, she takes a minute to reflect on being a Laureate Here for Good honoree. “I am excited, but this isn’t just for me.” she says. “This honor is for my community and country. It is for everyone. Without the hard work of so many other people, this would not be possible.”