So, we’ve been in Malawi for about a month now and we have not done a single blog post yet! Most of you are probably wondering—what are you even doing over there?? Well, now that we have a minute to sit down, collect our thoughts, edit some photos, and we’ve snagged reliable Wi-Fi access, we can actually tell you about our summer so far!
Since the start of July, we’ve been traveling with the international non-profit NGO Malawi Matters. This is an amazing organization that has worked in the Central Region of Malawi for over 12 years. It focuses on providing train-the-trainer style programs that incorporate indigenous forms of learning—dance, music, drama, art, puppetry, poetry, sewing, etcetera—to teach about HIV/AIDS transmission and prevention, with the goal of: 1) encouraging people in Malawi to get tested and 2) reducing the stigma of those living with HIV/AIDS. A natural offshoot of the “Creative Methods of HIV/AIDs Education” course has been the development of two more courses: “Equipping Women—Empowering Girls” and “Culture and HIV/AIDS”. This last program was created in coordination with the Museums of Malawi to focus on exploring certain cultural practices that are considered harmful, often key culprits in spreading HIV (I will share more on this in a later post). It has been piloted in approximately four districts in the Central Region.
To date, Malawi Matters has worked in over 180 villages across every single district of the Central Region. Coordinated through a Board of Directors in the U.S. and a Board of Trustees in Malawi, every single activity conducted by Malawi Matters is voluntary. All programs are funded purely through donation. It’s truly amazing to see how much this organization has accomplished on such a small yearly budget. Seriously, I am blown away by how fiscally responsible the organization is, especially compared to other NGOs and non-profits working here. The overhead costs are fabulously low—basically the only money that does not go to programming is the small amount of money used to buy a few supplies, about $50/month to rent an office space in Malawi, and a small salary for the Coordinator, which as of last year is a full-time position. All U.S. volunteers who assist in facilitating the training pay their own way—meals, lodging, transport, all of it. So, if you donate to this organization, you know virtually every single cent of your donation will go directly to the programming!
The core leadership for Malawi Matters in Malawi includes the Coordinator—Mr. David Chilataya (pictured right)—and nine Regional Representatives (RRs). Each of the RRs are responsible for between 2-4 regions, covering the geographic spread for all nine districts of the Central Region.
Every 6 months they make one 2-day visit to each of the specified areas within their region to check with the Area and Local Representatives, as well as the Certified Instructors, to see what they've been doing in terms of sharing the Malawi Matters course material with the people in their villages. So, for example, for someone who has 30 local areas to visit, a two-day trip will take the RR 60 days. He does this once every six months, so an RR can spend up to 120 days on the road checking in with all his areas! Whew, that it dedication!! Did I mention they all have full time jobs and families too??
Let’s meet the RRs! Top row, L to R: Alfred Mwale, Bleston Kalebe, Franklin Gwengwe. Middle row, L to R: James Soko, John Kaliwamba, Kennedy Zintambira. Bottom row, L to R: Mike Dzombe, Peter Banda, Yoweri Desman.
In addition, there are approximately 200 Area Representatives, and literally thousands of Certified Instructors for the two primary programs: “Creative Methods” and “Equipping Women—Empowering Girls”. People in this program come from all walks of life. They are teachers, NGO workers, village leaders and chiefs, farmers, students, nurses, pastors, housewives, and shop owners. Again, except for the Coordinator, all positions are unpaid. Malawians are committed to this program, and they return year after year to continue with the programming because they believe in the mission of the organization. They take time away from their paying jobs, they sell off livestock, they invest their own money for transport and supplies, they travel hundreds of miles, they leave their families for days, all to participate in these trainings and gain knowledge. It’s really empowering to hear their stories and see all they ways they commit themselves to the program. As they say over and over, what they learn in these classes, and what they are then able to go and teach others in their communities, is literally saving lives. Every day, the people of Malawi Matters are dedicating themselves to saving the lives of their friends, neighbors, families, and community members through the power of education.
Have I said enough to emphasize how wonderful I think this program is? No? Well, let me keep going then by telling you what I was actually doing all month. For the month of July, I was working with the Founder and President of MM, Phyllis Wezeman, and the core leadership team to conduct continuing education training courses for roughly 300 Certified Instructors and Area Representatives for both the “Creative Methods of HIV/AIDS Education” program and the “Equipping Women—Empowering Girls” program.
I personally taught two continuing education courses, both course themes were requested directly by people in the villages when I met with them in February-March. The first course focused on clarifying certain human rights issues related to the new marriage and gender-based violence (GBV) laws, especially clarifying at what age a person can legally marry and the reasons behind the removal of the right to "parental consent", which allowed families to sell off their girl children in marriage, often without the girl’s consent.
The second course, called “Coping with Conflict”, focused on exploring as a group how we understand stress, the causes of stress, what stress looks like, and how to better manage stress to live healthier, better, happier lives. I really enjoyed teaching this course, where I learned as much as I taught! We shared together ideas for healthy ways of coping with the stresses in our lives. Hmmm, uprooting my life, moving my whole family to Malawi, trying to finish a double PhD program in five years....yeah, I've got some stress!! It was fun and uplifting to work with each group to talk about the stresses in our lives and see that NO ONE is immune to stress and we can ALL benefit from taking time to think about all the myriad ways we tend to not handle our stress very well.
So, what was Jordan doing all this time? Babysitting! And taking lots of pictures for us! Benjamin was just being a baby. He made friends everywhere he went and he’s already been given a Malawian surname: Mbewe. He also has a new Malawian nickname: Benja. For whatever reason, no one ever says his full name, they just stop at Benja. So now he is Benja(min) Allen James Maiden-Mbewe.