Trócaire Blog

 

November 26, 2015

The Gift of Water in Malawi

Sitting under a tree to shelter from the relentless sun, Mary speaks about her worries. 

She speaks slowly and softly, choosing her words carefully. 

It’s about the rain, she explains. They don’t get much of it anymore in her village in southern Malawi, and when it doesn’t rain they can’t grow crops. 

The rain used to arrive each November and last until February, but over the last few years it hasn’t come until December, sometimes even January, and when it does come it lasts only a few weeks. 

The fact that we are sheltering under a tree tells its own story: this is supposed to be the rainy season in Malawi but there are bright blue skies and it is almost 40 degrees Celsius. 

This is the practical reality of climate change: farming people in one of Africa’s poorest countries going hungry while they wait for the sky to give them water.

“Climate change has really affected us,” says Mary. “I often wonder what the future will be like for my children. I have so many pressures in my life. Climate change has brought so many problems on us.”

Mary Belo in southern Malawi

Mary Belo (left) and her friend Emily Nota on their drought-affected land in southern Malawi. Almost three million people in Malawi are experiencing food shortages due to the lack of rain. 

 

The lack of water is the single biggest driver of hunger throughout the developing world. As rain patterns change, people like Mary who are reliant on the rain to grow food are facing increasingly long periods of hunger. 

Almost three million people in Malawi are currently experiencing food shortages due to drought. In Ethiopia, the figure is over eight million. 

Trócaire has installed a water pump into Mary’s village. The pump means that the people there have access to clean drinking water all year round, instead of being forced to walk several miles to get dirty water from the local river. 

The pump is a life-line for them. Even during the current drought, they have managed to carry water from the pump to near-by fields, allowing some crops to grow. But the fields far away from the pump stay dry and lifeless. 

“The water pump has really changed our lives,” says Mary. “Before it was installed we had to get all our water from the local river and there were lots of diseases but now we have clean water in the village. It has made a really big difference for us.”

Children at a water pump in southern Malawi

Children using the Trócaire-installed water pump in Mary's village in southern Malawi. "“The water pump has really changed our lives," says Mary.

 

Solving these water crises involves local and global action. 

On the local side, Trócaire can continue to install water pumps and irrigation systems, while also training communities on soil management techniques that retain water most effectively. 

You can support this work by buying the Gift of Water this Christmas. This simple gift will allow us to deliver clean, reliable water to people like Mary who are living through drought. 

On the global level, we need political action to combat climate change. The temperatures in Malawi have risen by almost one degree Celsius since 1960 but under current projections they are expected to rise by up to five, and perhaps even six, degrees by the end of this century. It is difficult to see how anybody could continue to live in villages like Mary’s under such a situation. 

This Sunday, Trócaire and the Stop Climate Chaos coalition will host a series of marches in Dublin, Cork and Belfast calling for political action to address this crisis. 

Join us and add your voice to the calls to make our world safe. 

Buy a Trócaire Gift this Christmas to help families in the developing world. Order online or by phoning 1850 408 408 (ROI) or 0800 912 1200 (NI)​

November 25, 2015

Transforming men’s attitudes and behaviours to end violence against women

Today is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women which marks the beginning of the international 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign (from 25 November to 10 December).

Today also marks the 10-year anniversary of the Irish Consortium on Gender Based Violence (ICGBV) of which Trócaire is a proud member. In celebration of both events, the ICGBV today held a seminar at the Royal Irish Academy.

Titled “Standing Up, Speaking Out: Transforming Men’s Attitudes and Behaviours to end Violence Against Women”, the seminar explored how engaging men and boys can be an effective tool in the fight to end violence against women and girls. It brought together global perspectives on transforming men’s attitudes and behaviours to end violence against women and girls from organisations working in Malawi, Lebanon and Ireland.

The keynote speech was delivered by President of Ireland, Michael D. Higgins, who has previously shown his solidarity for gender equality as a Global HeForShe Champion.

In his speech President Higgins highlighted the opportunities offered by the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular SDG number 5 which aims to 'Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls'

He noted that the other SDGs cannot be achieved unless we eradicate violence against women and girls and that we need to engage men and boys to reconceptualise masculinity and sexuality.

Other speakers today included Minister Sean Sherlock, Minister of State for Development, Trade Promotion and North South Co-operation; Anthony Nabil Keedi, Programme Manager – Masculinities Unit at ABAAD: Resource Center for Gender Equality, Lebanon; Orla O’Connor, Director National Women’s Council of Ireland; and Dominic McSorley, CEO with Concern.

Transforming attitudes and behaviours in Malawi

Yesterday, Trócaire Malawi co-hosted a related event which was attended by the country's Minister of Gender, Patricia Kaliati, Alice Harding, from UN Women, and Aine Hearns, Irish Ambassador to Malawi, who opened the event reading a speech from President Higgins. 

To mark this year's 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence, Trócaire and fellow NGOs based in Malawi: Action Aid, Concern, Goal, and Self Help Africa, put together a special exhibition showcasing their work with men to transform attitudes toward gender-based violence. The exhibition is being shown in both Ireland and Malawi (four images and stories from the exhibition feature below).

Chimwavi from Salima, Malawi

Chimwavi has held his Chieftainship position for fifteen years and presides over 600 households in twelve villages of Salima, Central Malawi.

He first became aware of the issues facing women five years ago. Today Chimwavi declares “many women are experiencing violence through cultural and religious practises in the area, but in my role as a leader and as a Chief I have a responsibility to ensure that such practises end.”

It is clear that Chimwavi has been taking his responsibility seriously. Over the past five years Chimwavi’s community has been very proactive in tackling destructive traditions such as violence in the home, child marriage and traditional initiation ceremonies for boys. More recently there was a successful education drive to end the practice of evicting a woman and her family from their home when her husband has died.

In the past Chimwavi had the power to adjudicate over even the most serious of gender based violence cases but he has passed this power to the authorities. “We know our role,” he says “I no longer handle cases of rape or sexual violence; these need to go through formal legal agencies. This not a threat to my authority. I feel good that justice is being served.”

Boston Kaluwa, Malawi

Boston Kaluwa (34) is married with three daughters. Perhaps this inspired his work as a volunteer educating his community about equality for women.

Women in Boston’s community are vulnerable to violence, are being married off as children for dowries and being taken out of school earlier than boys to provide household labour. Boston is working with the community to end these traditions and the behaviours that support them.

For example “until recently it was not done for a husband and wife to walk together side by side in public”. Boston says “this was viewed as a weakness on the part of the man; that he was under his woman’s control. Breaking through these stereotypes was a big breakthrough for me”. Breaking through stereotypes like this is a first step towards ending traditions that disempower women and girls.

Increasingly, violence and attacks on women are being reported through Boston to community authorities and the police and 19 cases have been referred in the last two months. Boston is proud of what has been achieved. At home, his wife Mercy is much happier. “Recently she hugged me and thanked me for being a role model in our community, the highest form of praise I could receive!”

T/A Maganga. Malawi

T/A Maganga (46) has been a Traditional Authority for four years and presides over 46,000 people in 62 villages in Salima district (Central Malawi).

Maganga states that “in the past women were viewed as minor beings with no rights who existed to be subservient to men. Times are changing and we must change with them. We must share ideas, we must work together if there is to be equality”. 

Maganga has worked with his junior chiefs and the communities to bring about this change and to promote gender equality. Community Parliaments have been established to formulate by-laws which modify or eliminate practises that are harmful to
the wellbeing of the community. The Child Marriage Law is also upheld and girls who are married illegally are returned to their families.

According to Maganga, “Inequality is often promoted in the name of culture, however where our culture does more harm than good we must change it. It’s not easy for people, we grew up like this, but times are changing and we must change too.”

Alfred Chisale

Alfred Chisale, a husband and father of two daughters, leads a team of 29 people, including 17 women, producing Chitetezo Mbaula clay cookstoves. In doing this he is quietly transforming the lives of women and children on a daily basis. 

Thousands of women around Malawi prefer the safer, cleaner and quicker cookstove. It is portable and saves firewood as wood is sourced less often. Chitetezo users are exposed to less smoke in the cooking place, reducing respiratory infections amongst women and children. Women are saving money through buying less charcoal, and they feel they contribute to protecting their local environment.

More than 40,000 families are benefiting from stoves produced by Alfred’s team. Mrs. Effie Sambani is one of the 17 women who have benefited from Alfred’s company, “I started producing Chitetezo Mbaula [cookstoves] in 2012. Since then my life has been much better. I am able to use the money I save to pay school fees and buy food items”. Effie was awarded Best Producer and received a cash prize at Malawi’s Cleaner Cooking Camp in 2015 having produced 1,101 stoves in 2014.

Supporting women’s economic empowerment can help reduce their vulnerability to GBV. Alfred is a HeforShe champion who is actively addressing gender inequality issues and helping to transform the lives of women in Malawi.

Visit the ICGBV website to see the full exhibition.

The ICGBV was established in 2005 as a response to reports of ongoing and systematic sexual violence against women and girls in the Darfur Region of Sudan, with Mary Robinson as its patron since its inception.

March 20, 2015

Trad for Trócaire hits Malawi

The Fáilte Band took Trad for Trócaire to the students of the Zuze Primary School in Dedza, Malawi this week.
 
 
Zuze is one of six villages in this area benefiting directly from the money raised during Trócaire's Lenten campaign last year. 
 
Since last October, four boreholes have been drilled providing 1250 people with access to water. Additionally, trees have been planted on the river banks to protect against erosion and to improve water retention. Over the coming months, the communities will help construct weirs and canals to enable access to water for irrigating their crops during the upcoming dry season. 
 
2000 goats and 3000 chickens have been distributed, and training has been completed on how to breed, house, and care for the animals so that thousands more families can benefit from them in future. 
 
A variety of seeds have been distributed to thousands of families so that the upcoming harvest will see an increase in food production, reducing the risk of food and income insecurity. 
 
Clean cookstoves have also been distributed to help families reduce the amount of firewood needed which lessens the burden for women, as well as protecting the environment. 
 
The band were delighted to see the difference your support is making. 
 
 
November 24, 2014

16 days, 16 remarkable women

To mark this year’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV), Trócaire has teamed up with other Irish development agencies in Malawi to produce an exhibition that tell the stories of 16 remarkable women.
 
The exhibition looks at how these women and their communities are addressing gender-based violence – its causes and its effects.
 
The images and stories were first displayed to commemorate the visit of the President of the Republic of Ireland, His Excellency Michael D Higgins to Malawi earlier in November 2014.
 
16 Days of Action Against Gender Based Violence Malawi Photo Exhibition
 
Top left to bottom right: Edrina Kenamu (28), Rose Simawo (32), Olive Gunyais (15), Veronica Obed (43), Mafulesi Matengambiri (62),  Anonymous (13), Katrina Shako, Lucia Kanyoza, Malita Chikhosi (41), Martha Hiwa, Nellie Mhango (61), Ezinta Mzoze, Grace Petros (56), Ruth Julius (38), Duniya Mike (25), Duniya M’bwana. All photos by: Chipiliro Khonje
 
Gender inequality is pervasive around the world. In Malawi, it is rooted in strong traditional and cultural factors that both cause and enforce gender disparities. 
 
Culturally it is the norm for women to be submissive and defer to men in most spheres of life. As a result, women and girls face challenges in accessing education and training, information, legal rights, healthcare, economic resources, livelihood options, and being in positions of decision-making.
 
Consequently, their vulnerability to violence in its many forms – the impact of climate change, food insecurity and HIV infection - is increased.
 
In this exhibition we meet girls and women from all over Malawi and learn ways in which they have been affected by these issues simply because they are female. These women and girls have bravely shared their life stories of humility, courage, perseverance and strength. 
 
These experiences are representative of the untold stories of millions of women and girls globally. We hope by taking the time to read these stories you will demonstrate your solidarity with women and girls around the world who struggle on a daily basis to live lives free from hunger and illness, free from abuse and fear – for both themselves and their children.
 
 

Edrina's story

 
Edrina Kenamu, MalawiEdrina Kenamu, is 28, and chief of Kandusiwa Village, in Salima District. She has three children, all girls, and is educated to primary school level. People in her village respect and like her and it’s easy to understand why. Her smile is contagious and she speaks with the confidence of a leader.
 
Edina married at 19 but her relationship was not harmonious. “When I married my husband was going out every day. I knew he was cheating on me. I was scared because our family was at risk of HIV infection. We stopped having sex. I felt bad and I felt unloved. I wondered if I should leave, I almost started an affair with another man.”
 
Her husband explains their violent home life. “I was beating her and I believed I had that right because I am a man. I was wrong. She took the beatings but in turn beat our children, perhaps she had learned this from me.”
 
After nine years of this, things changed dramatically when Edrina’s husband joined MIAA and Trócaire Tiyeni Tisinthe program in Salima. Edina says “It was the best thing that happened to me, to us. My husband stopped going out, and staying away and he started to help me at our home. I never thought that was possible. I am living in a dream. We sit together and we discuss everything, even sex. We trust each other now. There is no more violence in our home and we teach our children they too must live this way.”
 
Edrina is one of the 16 women who shared their stories for the collaborative 16 Days of Activisim exhibition
 
 
November 05, 2014

Ireland’s carbon emissions equal to that of 400 million of the world’s poor

"Climate change threatens to undo all the gains that have been made against poverty", according to Trócaire's new in-depth report ‘Feeling the Heat: How climate change is driving extreme weather in the developing world'.

The report published today (Wednesday, 5 November) analyses of the impact of climate change on the developing world and calls for the Irish government to introduce binding targets to reduce Ireland’s carbon footprint.feeling the heat trocaire climate change report

It was officially launched today by Alan Kelly, Minister for the Environment and Local Government.

Speaking at the launch, Trócaire Executive Director Éamonn Meehan said:

“People in Ireland emit an average of 8.8 metric tonnes of carbon each year compared to just 0.1 metric tonne for Ethiopians. Each Irish person is responsible for as much carbon emissions as 88 Ethiopians, meaning that it would take 404 million Ethiopians – over four times the population of the country – to match Ireland’s carbon footprint.

“Ireland is significantly off-track for meeting our 2020 emission reduction targets. Given that we are the eighth highest carbon emitter per capita in Europe, and the 35th highest globally, we need to step-up to the plate. We need a binding roadmap to guide Ireland towards a fossil-free economy and we need investment in sustainable lifestyles that give people the options they need to reduce their carbon footprint.”

‘Feeling the Heat’ analyses the impact of climate change in five developing countries: the Philippines, Ethiopia, Malawi, Honduras and Kenya. The report is released on the week that marks the first anniversary of Typhoon Haiyan, which resulted in over 6,000 deaths in the Philippines last November.

Amongst the report’s findings for the Philippines are:

  • At least 75 million people in the Philippines are at direct risk from the impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels, storms and damage to agriculture.
  • Temperatures in the Philippines have risen by 0.64 degree Celsius since 1951.
  • There has been a significant increase in weather extremes, with regular drought during dry spells and floods during wet seasons.
  • Without urgent remedial action temperatures in the Philippines will rise by 4 degrees Celsius by 2100, with even the ‘best case scenario’ predicting a 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature by the end of 2100.
  • A 4 degree Celsius rise in temperature will significantly increase both the intensity and frequency of storms in the Philippines, putting millions of people at risk.
  • Impacts on agriculture will cost the Philippines 2.2 per cent of GDP annually by 2100.
  • The report concludes that climate change in the Philippines is set to result in “more malnutrition, higher poverty levels and possibly heightened social unrest and conflict in certain areas in the country due to loss of land.”

 

Amongst the report’s other findings are:

  • 90% of the population of Malawi are at risk of hunger due to drought. Rainfall in Malawi could fall by as much as 25 per cent by the end of the century.
  • Floods and storms have increased in frequency in Honduras, with 65 extreme weather events recorded in the last 20 years at a cost of $4.7bn.
  • Yields from food crops in Honduras will drop by up to 10 per cent by 2020 due to increased drought.
  • Rainfall in Kenya has reduced significantly over the last 30 years and temperatures are set to rise by up to 4.5 degrees Celsius by 2100.
  • Net economic costs of climate change could be equivalent to a loss of almost 3 per cent of GDP each year by 2030 in Kenya.
  • Agricultural output in Ethiopia could fall by as much as 10 per cent as a result of climate change.
  • The growing season in Ethiopia has already reduced by 15 per cent as a result of drought.

 

Commenting on the report’s findings, Éamonn Meehan said: “This report brings home the reality of the impacts of climate change on people’s lives. Climate change is not just a scientific concept or a threat for the future, it is very real and it is affecting people today.

“The most recent IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report has warned that climate change will increase poverty and hunger over the coming decades. What our research shows is that this is already happening to a frightening degree. The poorest and most vulnerable people in the world are on the front lines and are seeing their ability to grow food and earn an income diminish by the day.

“Climate change threatens to undo all the gains that have been made against poverty over recent decades. It is the single biggest threat to humanity but yet the political system has refused to move quickly enough to address it.”

Read the full report: ‘Feeling the Heat: How climate change is driving extreme weather in the developing world'

 

March 28, 2014

Take up something this Lent!

Lent is not only a time to give something up.  It is an opportunity to take up active citizenship, to kick start the changes we need and have a positive impact on our environment and society.
 
Check out Trócaire's new one-stop-shop activist toolkit with great tips, ideas and information for campaigners, volunteers, cyber-activists, schools and church groups.  
 
 
This Lent, the Trócaire team has been meeting people around the country who are bringing about change in their local school, university, parish, or community.  
 
Our Water Project Officer from Malawi, Chitsanzo Kamawatima, visited Ireland recently to bring this year’s Lent story to Irish audiences. 
 
trocaire lent campaigners malawi
Top left: Mary Friel (Trócaire), Canon Brown, Chitsanzo Kamawatima, Fergus Lambe (volunteer), Grainne Neeson, Orla Neeson at Newry Cathedral 
Top right: Orla Quinn and Chitsanzo Kamawatima with students and staff from University College Dublin’s Volunteers Overseas programme 
Bottom left: Eamonn Neeson,Coordinator of Mourne volunteer group with Chitsanzo Kamawatima
Bottom right: Trócaire volunteer Kizito Mutahi in Dublin Co-op with people signing the petition
 
He shared information about the impact of water scarcity on communities in Malawi and what we could be doing locally and globally to address the harmful effects of climate change, which is devastating lives and livelihoods his country. 
 
Chitsanzo’s message had a strong impact on BA and MA students in University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin, Mary Immaculate College Limerick, NUI Galway, Dundalk Institute of Technology, University of Ulster and Water Engineering students at Queen’s University in Belfast. He also spoke to parishes in Ballyfermot, Dublin, Newry, Limerick and the Dominican Grammar School in Portstewart.  
 
Trócaire volunteers around the country are mobilising people to take action. They are asking the Irish government to tackle the climate change crisis and encourage the public to live more sustainably.  
 
Collective action is a powerful force to bring about change. Use our activist toolkit to become the change-maker in your community so that collectively, we can tackle the global water crisis. 
 

Get involved

 
 
Many thanks to all the wonderful people who facilitated our visits around the country: Jane Mellot, Noirin Lynch, Zoe Liston, Ang De Marco (and Julia Shroer), Maurice Harmon, Kathy Reilly, and Ann Cleary. In particular a special thanks to Eamonn Neeson the Trócaire volunteer co-ordinator in the Mourne region who hosted Chitsanzo in Newry and organised an action packed morning speaking to crowds at Newry Cathedral.  
 

May 01, 2013

Malawians Raising Malawi

By Emmet Bergin, Regional Liaison Officer for Southern Africa

Madonna and Malawi were in the news recently when the Malawi Government claimed that the charity the singer heads, Raising Malawi, had exaggerated its work in the country and had not built whole schools, as the charity was said to have implied, but merely added some classrooms to existing Government-built school blocks.

In a country where many children are educated outside, under the shade of trees and often in the blazing sun, all investments in education are necessary and welcome. Sadly the scale of need - 7 million children under the age of 15 - compared to what was built - 12 new primary schools – is massive. Raising Malawi claims that almost 5,000 children will be now be educated in proper school buildings. But what is the future for the millions of other children?

A community that I visited last week in Nkhotakhota, close to the shore of Lake Malawi, has decided not to wait for the Government or an NGO to come to their rescue. Instead, they have built a preschool and an adult literacy centre themselves.  Community members gave their own time, money and labour to construct two buildings as a result of discussions they held under the ambit of Trócaire partner project SWAM.

The preschool is a very simple brick and thatched roof structure, but already it is a focal point in the community.

New School Building in Malawi

Caption:  Children outside the new preschool building.

Innocent Mwale, a volunteer teacher at the preschool, smiled when I told him that in Ireland the maximum limit for preschool is one teacher for every eight children. Innocent will mind an average of 95 children at any one time.

He gets the kids to do the alphabet, recite numbers and understand the clock and calendar when they are fresh in the morning. Afterwards they break for singing and play. Parents join together to provide the maize, salt and sugar that forms the porridge that each child receives, cooked in the school’s basic open air kitchen.

The preschool doesn’t receive a cent from outside sources. It shows in the lack of toys and learning tools that would be used to stimulate a child’s mental development in Ireland.

Yet the pride the community feels in their initiative is palpable. They want their children to be better educated than they are themselves, to have their children primed for learning once they start primary schooling.

School children in new school building in Malawi

Captions: Top left - Innocent Mwale, volunteer teacher at the preschool, Right - Children in the preschool, Bottom left - Community members in 'STAR circle'.

The genesis for all of this work are the ‘STAR circles’ established by Trócaire partner SWAM. STAR stands for ‘Societies Tackling AIDS through Rights’. Community members come together in weekly group “circles” to discuss how to stop the spread of HIV, as well as other issues facing the community, including education, gender inequality and poverty. Preschool and adult literacy are only two of the problems that are being worked on.

Instead of saying 'Rescue Me' to international donors and feeling that 'Nothing Really Matters' this STAR group is told to 'Express Yourself'. They are doing it, not just in words, but in truly sustainable actions that offer a better model for Malawi’s development.

December 11, 2012

Life-changing gifts in action in Malawi

The gift of goats had a life-changing effect for the lives of the Thole family in Malawi.

For years husband and wife, Chakuwamba and Aida Thole, struggled to provide for their family in
Chikwawa,  southern Malawi, one of the hottest, driest and poorest parts of the country. They grew maize, rice, millet and sorghum but it was not enough to feed their family. With money so scarce, Chakawamba would use his wife’s cardigan as a makeshift blanket at night, as he could not afford to buy one for himself.

Husband and wife, Chakuwamba and Aida Thole, struggled to provide for their family in Chikwawa, southern Malawi

In 2006 Chakuwamba and Aida received the gift of two goats from Trócaire supporters. This was a major turning point for the family. With support from Trócaire’s partner the Catholic Development Commission in Malawi (CADECOM), Chakuwamba learned about goat breeding and used the money he earned to diversify into cotton farming.

When we met Chakuwamba last year he told us, “From just two goats I'm happy now to say I'm a very proud farmer. I'm able to send my children to school. I have a boy and a girl in secondary school and I'm able to support them and pay for their school fees. Through cotton farming and caring for the goats I've been able to buy iron sheets and cement and build a new house.”

Chakuwamba and Aida Thole

Chakuwamba  is now helping others in his community. “My task now is to make sure I support many farmers in my village so that they should have better houses.  My wish is that in five years time, more than 20 households will have houses with iron sheets.”

Development worker Raymond from CADECOM  told us of Chakuwamba’s generosity with his time and knowledge, working with other farmers in the community and passing on his expertise. His generosity to his neighbours  has been acknowledged with a certificate of excellence from the Malawian Ministry of Agriculture.

You can support a family like the Tholes by giving a Gift of Change to your friends and family this Christmas.

Captions: Chakuwamba and Aida Thole. All photos: Alan Whelan/Trócaire.
 

October 17, 2012

Retail therapy in Malawi

Mary Thole (28) from Malawi has a shrewd eye for buying clothes. When she displays her second-hand clothes on a mat outside her home, she’s soon surrounded by an eager audience.

For Mary, ‘retail therapy’ has a deeper meaning having helped her to begin again after her marriage unfortunately ended due to persistent abuse. “The ten years of my marriage were very violent and abusive,” she recalls. When her marriage broke up she had to leave home with her four children because she lived in her husband’s village and was no longer welcome.

May 11, 2012

Working to prevent the spread of HIV in Malawi

This is territory that even National Geographic hasn’t been to. I’m with my colleague, Nicky Ndovi, in a village close to the shores of Lake Malawi. Around us, over 1,000 men, women and children are sitting in a circle under the shade of a large tree and under shadows cast by the village’s mud huts.

Facing them under a canopy is the ‘VIP section’, where 20 village chiefs and four religious leaders drawn from the Christian and Muslim faiths sit on chairs. As visitors, Nicky and I, are also seated there but only after receiving a ceremonial welcome involving 16 swaying women in traditional dress singing a lovely chant,(much to our embarrassment and gratitude). The crowd are not here to listen to speeches. They look far too expectant for that. No, they are here to witness the mysterious ‘Gule Wamkulu’, a secret society within the Chewa tribe, perform.  This is part of a remarkable collaboration between the local people and the Malawi Interfaith Aids Association to share best practice messages on preventing the spread of HIV (MIAA), and the first of its kind in Malawi.

A secret society within the Chewa tribe in Malawi

‘Gule Wamkulu’, a secret society within the Chewa tribe in Malawi perform. Photos: Emmet Bergin.

Malawi has more than one million adults and children living with HIV - about one in every twelve of the population. Gule Wamkulu follow some practices that have contributed to the spread of HIV, including engagement in sexual initiation ceremonies for girls. Other harmful practices that traditionally put girls at risk include being married at an extremely young age, and in some cases being forced to gain sexual experience through sexual intercourse with older tribe members after the ceremony. Initiation ceremonies for boys include forced circumcision using unhygienic and dangerous methods, such as sharing a razor blade, which greatly enhance the risk of HIV.

Quote: Malawi has more than one million adults and children living with HIV

After attending workshops conducted by MIAA, Gule Wamkulu has altered the initiation ceremonies for both girls and boys. Many boys now attend hospital to have the circumcisions conducted safely. With circumcision being 60% preventative against HIV contraction, this is a practice that everyone wishes to preserve as long as it is conducted in hospital. In a number of villages Gule Wamkulu are not involved in initiation ceremonies with girls and discussion is ongoing in the communities about delaying their age of marriage.

We witnessed certificates being awarded to male volunteers who met individually with up to 50 other men to share information on safe sexual practices and male gender roles with them. Plays scripted and acted by the villagers investigated themes of domestic violence, unfaithfulness and the taboos surrounding pregnant women.

Then the Gule Wamkulu performance started and their athleticism and dance sprayed dust and scared children and adults. I felt privileged to witness this blending of tradition which brought together some of the most elusive and hard to reach groups, to share and be informed about the hard facts of HIV.

This event and the hundreds of other meetings and events associated with this project will surely have a major impact on the prevention of HIV in Malawi.
 

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Malawi Blogs