Adrienne Stanfill , M.A.’08: Emissary to the Third World
October 3, 2013 by Lisa McMahon, M.A.'09
What do Malawian orphans, the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program at Niagara University, and the Vincentians have in common? For Adrienne Stanfill, they are all part of a life-altering experience that enabled her to share her expertise with people half a world away.
Stanfill, director of sponsored programs and research at Niagara University, is one of the first two recipients of the newly established Research and Project Award to Address Poverty, a grant provided by the Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, C.M., former NU president, and the Vincentian Community, to support research and/or direct service projects that broaden the understanding of poverty. The $3,000grant enabled Stanfill to travel to Malawi, Africa, where she spent nearly three weeks providing strategic planning, technical assistance and direct service to Malawi Children’s Village, a community-based organization that serves AIDS orphans and other vulnerable children in Malawi, and Orphan Support Africa, a group that funds existing community-based organizations throughout Malawi and Tanzania.
“This (Vincentian grant) was a blessing,” she says. “It just fit so perfectly in with what I hoped and planned to do.”
Stanfill first heard about the children’s village through her work as a consultant to AIDS Community Services in Buffalo. Her increasing involvement with this AIDS work rekindled her lifelong fascination with Africa, and she became determined to visit the Malawian organization to see firsthand what it did so she could help the cause.
“You have to be there to see and understand their needs,” she says.
Malawi Children’s Village was founded 10 years ago in response to the AIDS pandemic that has devastated Africa. It serves approximately 3,200 orphans and their caregivers in 37 villages in the Mangochi district of Malawi, offering medical assistance, clothing, school supplies and vocational training. In the tradition of the Peace Corps, the organization is administered and run by Malawians, who themselves identify what they need to attain their goal of helping these children become productive adults. It has been growing rapidly over the past couple of years, Stanfill says, and is in need of additional resources and funding sources. She knew that her grantwriting skills could help the organization secure the additional support it needed if she could only get to Malawi. In addition, her background in architecture and urban planning led her to focus on sustainable development and global poverty in her master’s degree program at NU, and a trip to the children’s village could be an appropriate and timely part of the capstone project she needed to complete.
And then she learned about the Vincentian grant. “It was the right opportunity at the right time,” she says. Her application accepted, and her award granted, Stanfill was on her way to Malawi.
The trip to Malawi, which took more than two days, was exhausting and difficult. Stanfill’s luggage, containing all her clothes and protective gear, was “delayed” for two days. Nevertheless, she arrived excited to begin a project that would connect Niagara University with both the children’s village and Orphan Support Africa.
Her time in the country would prove to be both consultative and direct-service oriented, and by the end of her visit she would meet with several government, education and business leaders. She would also be introduced to members of both the Malawi Children’s Village and Orphan Support Africa staff and boards, help to facilitate the writing and administering of grants, and work directly with the children served by the two organizations. This included caring for and feeding the infants and toddlers who live in the village, accompanying staff on outreach trips to some of the areas served by the children’s village, and performing administrative duties such as clinical data entry. These activities fulfilled the three distinct components of her mission: to offer direct volunteer service, to develop a strategic vision for Malawi Children’s Village and Orphan Support Africa, and to investigate joint opportunities Niagara University could pursue with the two organizations. Stanfill describes the trip as “a series of frustrating, amusing, shocking, humbling and heartwarming vignettes that … confirmed a deep-seeded passion for international development and sub-Saharan African work specifically.”
Experiences like watching children enjoy playing with something as simple as an inflated balloon gave her an appreciation of the things most people take for granted, while a dinner invitation from a local merchant showed her how the country earned its reputation as “the warm heart of Africa.” But it was the optimism exhibited by the people, some of the poorest in the world, that most impressed her. “I’d never seen people work so hard and have so little and actually have hope,” she says.
Now back at NU, Stanfill is using her experience in Malawi to continue supporting the two organizations. The information she gathered from staff and board members, including the organizations’ founders and current executive directors, enabled her to help develop a funding application and plan for Gracious Secondary School. Malawi Children’s Village recently established the school at the request of the students, who were frustrated with the poor quality of education in the existing schools.
Meanwhile, her meetings with key Malawi leaders are helping her identify and create linkages with members of the Niagara University community who have expressed an interest in establishing projects that may include student-service missions, faculty exchange opportunities or fundraising activities. While these projects will fulfill the requirements for both her grant award and her capstone project in the master’s program, Stanfill says that her work with the children’s village will continue long after she earns her degree. She is becoming involved with the organization’s board activities, and is planning to return to Malawi in the near future.
“MCV founder Dr. Kevin Denny told me that the ‘hope of Africa is in its people,’” she noted. “After meeting and interacting with Malawians, I am hopeful, too.”