To say the least, the first week in Mzimba district has been interesting, educational, challenging and daunting. The first day that we arrived in Mzimba, Sunday 15thJuly, we met the three volunteers we would be working closely beside for the next nine weeks.  The three volunteers, Harriet, Joel and Kondwani, all work for the partner organisation we have been assigned: Tovwirane HIV/AIDs organisation (THAO). Before beginning our first orientation session on THAO’s profile the group was introduced to a few important figures working at THAO; we were then given a tour of the offices which we were surprise to find consisted of a small library. 

Tuesday morning was spent learning Chitumbuka and in the afternoon we were with some of the youth members of Tovwirane as they rehearsed for a variety show they had organised for Saturday 21st July. At the rehearsal, Hiliwona, Jordan and Hassan had the opportunity to utilise their acting skills for an improvised drama on forced, unprotected sex and the possibility of contracting HIV. The actors managed to turn what would be considered a serious and sensitive topic into a light-hearted but educational drama. In the evening, Katy sadly sprained her ankle and this forced her to become inactive despite her willingness to persevere. 

Our first work day outing to the ‘field’ was on Wednesday to Mnthonje. The forty-five minute drive was so bumpy and dusty that we were advised to take a headscarf for the ride. The first part of our visit involved viewing a HIV Testing and Counselling (HTC) session. The HTC session educated us on how people are tested and registered for HIV. During this visit eighteen people were tested and nobody tested positive. The second part of our visit involved meeting a Village Saving and Loans (VSL) group also known as village banking; this is a system that enables villagers to lend money to one another. The VSL group that we visited consisted of forty members who meet on a weekly basis to lend out money and collect repayments.  Members are allowed to borrow money for a variety of purposes including starting up businesses, paying for living expenses and/or school fees for children. 

The next day, Thursday, we were back on Malawi’s bumpy, dusty roads heading to Chizungu to meet seven support groups for people living with HIV/AIDs. At the start of the meeting we were invited to make a small trek towards a garden patch where the 170 group members, who are all people living with HIV/AIDs, grow nutritional food to supplement their diet. The group also had two pigs given to them by Tovwirane.  The piglets produced by these pigs would then be shared out between the members to provide food and to act as a form of income generating activity.

The following day, seated at our breakfast table, we were informed that that we had the day off – a welcome respite considering our action packed week.  The day was used to explore the area that we lived in.  Our first week in Mzimba was rounded off with a game of sports with the local community where our team showed their skill (or lack of in some cases!)on the football and netball courts. 

By ICS volunteer Faith Nikobari

Photo: Team Mzimba at the house of local volunteer Harriet Mwamlima. Front (left to right): Hiliwona Solomon, Harriet Mwamlima, Wakisa, Kondwani and Jordan Goodridge. Back: Faith Nikobari, Hassan Butt, Katy Coats, Harriet’s Mum and Dad and Edd Webster.