‘We are happy and we are strong’ — living with hope and HIV in Malawi

Christian Aid is supporting HIV self-help groups in Malawi’s Karonga District. Pictured are the chair and vice-chair of one such group, Elina Mutambo (left) and Cosmas Jussa. Credit: Chrisitan Aid/Tomilola Ajayi.

HIV prevalence in Malawi is among the highest in the world: one in every 18 people or 1 million people in the southern African nation are living with the virus.

That said, the country has made great strides over the past decade, with the number of new infections dropping from 98,000 in 2005 to 28,000 in 2015/16.

Empowering self-help groups

Christian Aid and our partners are playing a part in national efforts to reduce the spread of HIV and support the many Malawians affected by the virus.

We are working in the northern district of Karonga, in a project with Action Aid Malawi, to prevent HIV but with a specific focus on preventing mother-to-child transmission.

As part of this project, Christian Aid’s partner FOCUS (Foundation for Community Support Services) has been working with local self-help groups for people living with HIV, training them in key areas such as nutrition.

Credit: Christian Aid / Tomilola Ajayi

‘Our quality of live has improved’

Elina Mutambo (pictured, above left) is the chair of one self-help group in rural Karonga, which has around 15 members. With support from Christian Aid and FOCUS, the group works together to help develop income-generating activities, encourage those living with HIV and fight stigma and prejudice towards people living with or affected by HIV.

The project has helped Elina’s group to plant a community garden in their village, which has fruit trees and other crops, to both eat and sell as a way of making money. This gives them a sustainable supply of nutritious foods, which is key, since a healthy diet is crucial for ensuring anti-retroviral treatment is effective. This is vital in a country that has been suffering its worst drought in a decade.

‘Since we have been working with [Christian Aid partner] FOCUS, they have really encouraged us. With their help we were able to do group therapy, and we were also trained in use of herbal medicine. Our quality of life has improved. We’re now healthy. We are happy and we are strong.’ -Elina Mutambo

Standing ‘on their own two feet’

Vincent Ngwira, who works for FOCUS says: As FOCUS and Christian Aid, we are making sure that those living with HIV are able to join support groups and be helped financially — and even socially and psychologically. These are unique groups that are trying to fight stigma and discrimination in the community.’

‘So we thought that training them in Village Savings and Loans would empower them economically, at community level, so that when this project is phased out we can guarantee that the groups will still sustain these initiatives and stand on their own two feet.’

Chrisitan Aid/Tomilola Ajayi

The secretary of the self-help group, Meserina Mwantandare, believes that the support they’ve received has made a difference. She says: ‘We were trained in village saving and loans, and also on nutrition, and on foods that we can produce locally.’

‘Through the village savings and loans, each one of us is now able to support our families. From the savings, we were able to send our children to school. We also have access to cash and use it to buy fish.’

‘We recently heard someone was selling poultry. So we contributed some money to buy 114 chicks [pictured above]. As a group, we contribute money to buy feed for the chicks. We really appreciate these activities.’ -Meserina Mwantandare

The group’s vice-chair Cosmas Jussa (pictured below, centre), is the only male members: he was persuaded to join by the women members, who wanted to encourage him to ‘live positively’.

Comas is grateful that they took him in. He says: ‘I want to take this opportunity to say thank you for the support group. No other group welcomed me, but this group welcomes me and I benefit from the things that they are trained in.’
Members of the HIV self-help group in Karonga, Malawi. They have one male member so far, Cosmas Jussa, who pictured in the middle of the bottom row. Image: Tomilola Ajayi

‘We appreciate FOCUS for continuing to support us: that is how the group has stayed strong until now. We are liked orphaned children. Please keep on supporting us, so that with this help we can also support our friends.’ -Cosmas Jussa

To find out more about Christian Aid’s community health work, visit our website.