A long way from Lilongwe: UNICEF spokeswoman in Malawi has Hatfield roots 

  • Lauren Davitt is director of public relations for UNICEF USA and interim chief of communications, partnership and advocacy for UNICEF Malawi.   SUBMITTED PHOTO

For the Gazette
Published: 6/17/2019 10:45:38 AM

When she was a little girl living in Hatfield, Lauren Weybrew (now Davitt) collected change in a pumpkin-orange box as she trick-or-treated for UNICEF one Halloween night. Davitt, 33, is now the director of public relations for UNICEF USA and interim chief of communications, partnership and advocacy for UNICEF Malawi.  

And she’s a long way from her former home, living in Malawi, a landlocked country in southeast Africa bordered by Zambia, Tanzania and Mozambique. Davitt described her life in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, as similar to her life in the United States in many ways — she goes to meetings and oversees projects. “But I also get to see programs in action,” she said by phone, “which is hugely exciting.”

Last Wednesday, Davitt was going to see the country’s drone-testing corridor for the first time. Malawi and UNICEF have started using drones for humanitarian purposes, delivering HIV testing kits to people living in remote areas. “It’s a way to help mothers, especially,” Davitt said, “as they often have the least amount of time to travel long distances to get themselves or their children tested.”

Davitt, who grew up in Hatfield, credits her high school teachers at Smith Academy, especially her since-retired French teacher Lois Siegel, with encouraging her to pursue a career that would advance human rights and allow her to travel abroad. 

During her junior year at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire, she went abroad to Paris, studying French and history; and as a senior, she had an internship at her college’s communications office. “That internship gave me my spark for communications and storytelling,” she said. 

After graduating, Davitt moved to New York City, where she worked for two PR firms. In addition to working for a large corporate firm, where she learned about communications and public relations, she worked at a smaller progressive company where she learned that she could use her communications skills to support causes she cared about, she said.

In 2015, Davitt started her work at UNICEF in a new position created to support communications strategies in UNICEF’s northeast regional offices. In this role, she traveled to Haiti, Kenya, Vietnam and other countries to document the work of the organization. Among the projects she documented was UNICEF helping a Haitian community build an earthquake and cyclone-resistant school after the damage left by Hurricane Matthew in 2016. She also managed the KIND (Kids in Need of Desks) Fund, which provided scholarships to students and supplied desks to schools in Malawi.

“We worked with a local factory to get the desks,” Davitt said. “So, in addition to supporting education, we’re also supporting local business.”

Davitt said her work at UNICEF USA with the KIND Fund made her a good fit for her new interim role as chief of communications, partnership and advocacy at UNICEF Malawi, where she records the work the organization does to share with donors, colleagues and bloggers.

In addition to using drones to deliver HIV testing kits, UNICEF Malawi is working with the government of Malawi to experiment with drone technology in taking aerial photos, establishing connectivity for telecommunications and delivering lightweight goods. The organization also works with the government and other U.N. organizations and nongovernmental organizations to use drones to support disaster preparedness and emergency response. 

The use of drones in Malawi is just one way UNICEF is furthering its mission of helping children around the world, Davitt said. “After a disaster, a lot of people want to send old clothes and supplies. It can be hard to get them where they need to go, but UNICEF has a lot of people on the ground who can deliver these supplies. And UNICEF has been in Malawi since 1964; most of the staff are local, they know the communities and they speak the language.”

And while UNICEF works with local communities, it also uses its status as a large organization to its advantage, buying vaccines in large quantities, for example, to vaccinate children around the world against diseases such as measles, rubella and tetanus.

“Our job at UNICEF USA is to educate Americans and to help them understand the issues happening around the world,” Davitt said. “We want to empower Americans to take action and to give small donations that will help kids around the world.” 

 




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