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Saturday December 3rd

#CoupleGoals: This UNC-Duke doctor couple is working to help the children of Malawi

Dr. Elizabeth Fitzgerald works to improve the lives of children in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world. Photo courtesy of the Malawi Children's Initiative.
Buy Photos Dr. Elizabeth Fitzgerald works to improve the lives of children in Malawi, one of the poorest countries in the world. Photo courtesy of the Malawi Children's Initiative.

Over 100 members of the Chapel Hill community gathered together for a night of live music, cocktails and a silent auction of Malawian art to benefit the children of Malawi.

The Malawi Children’s Initiative hosted a Cocktails for Kids event this Saturday at the Horace Williams House. UNC School of Medicine professor Dr. Elizabeth Fitzgerald and Duke University School of Medicine professor Dr. David Fitzgerald piloted the event as part of their effort to advance the education, healthcare and food security of the children living in what is considered the third poorest country in the world by the International Monetary Fund.

The Fitzgeralds were introduced to Malawi after expressing an interest in moving abroad and working in Africa. Elizabeth Fitzgerald worked as part of the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative while David worked with the University of California, Los Angeles at the Partners in Hope Medical Center, both in Lilongwe, Malawi. Together, they helped to introduce antiretroviral therapy and educated local clinicians on how to treat HIV.

Since 2012, the Malawi Children’s Initiative has sponsored 20 children a year to go to school and funded the work of a nurse at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe, Malawi. It has provided the resources to feed the caregivers of hospitalized children as well as fund degrees for a hospital social worker and a nutritionist.

“The last time I visited Malawi was in January," Elizabeth Fitzgerald said. "Every time I go there I see kids whose stories I feel like I need to tell. If people knew about their stories and knew that there was a way to help them get through the things that they’re facing in life, that they would want to reach out and help too."

One of the goals of the Malawi Children’s Initiative is to connect the Chapel Hill community to the people of Malawi by increasing awareness about the conditions that they live in.

“We’re hoping to be that conduit, that way to bridge between two communities," Elizabeth Fitzgerald said. "This is a way for them to be interconnected, child to child, family to family and UNC to Kamuzu Central Hospital."

Malawi is a magnet for international aid not only because of its friendly people but also due to its relative stability. The World Bank considers Malawi to be a peaceful country, making it easier for medical professionals to access it.

Once in Malawi, David Fitzgerald witnessed poor living and schooling conditions. He was inspired by the suffering he saw to start helping Malawi outside of his work with the Partners In Hope Medical Center.

“In that time we really saw a lot of suffering," David Fitzgerald said. "Children dying, malnutrition and adults dying and leaving orphaned children."

Knowing that the pain and suffering of the Malawi people didn’t end once their two years in Lilongwe were up, David and Elizabeth created the Malawi Children’s Initiative to continue their work.

After spending a semester working with UNC-Project Malawi, UNC junior Daniel Margolis came to the event to show his support for the country that has had a positive impact on his life.

“Malawi’s tourism slogan is ‘Malawi: the warm heart of Africa,’ and it really is," Margolis said. "Everyone there is extremely nice, and even in the most impoverished conditions, they have a perspective on life that makes you reevaluate your own."

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