After a week we’ve now settled into Mzimba, appreciating the amazing scenery and visiting the markets and shops, putting our Chitumbuka to use and talking to the locals around town. We’ve befriended a group of children (which seems to be growing in numbers) who are often waiting outside our house when we come back, ready to play “What’s the time Mr Wolf?” or sing “Head, shoulders, knees and toes”!

We began the week with a presentation from MANERELA+ which taught us in detail about the HIV virus, how it is contracted and treatments to ease the effects caused by the infection. We learnt about MANERELA’s HIV impact reduction strategy SAVE; Safer practices, Availability of medication and services, Voluntary testing and counselling, and Empowerment, which is something we will be referring to a lot during the coming weeks. We were then given an outline of the programme that we would be following; however we felt that with some alterations we could make a bigger impact during our stay in Mzimba. 

The first step was to attend the DEC meeting (District Executive Committee) where we gave a short presentation to the heads of charities and organisations in Mzimba, as well as the district commissioner, who welcomed us and gave us his support for us to work in the district. Throughout the rest of the week we visited various partner charities and heard about their existing projects and identified any gaps that we could help with. These included working with support groups, youth groups, schools and children’s centres and outreach projects in the rural areas. By the end of the week we came up with a new programme which we will follow, and will be the foundation for the next group of volunteers to continue when we have left. We also created new outputs that we would aim to achieve by the end of the placement; 

  • 150 people living with or affected by HIV having their knowledge and livelihood skills improved.
  • 200 youths’ attitudes and behaviours towards sexual health improved and stigma towards HIV reduced. 
  • To improve the support of 300 vulnerable children who have been affected or infected by HIV. 

We visited two youth groups; both ran by the same organisation. We visited a group that focused on the prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV and after a lovely welcome from a group of over 60 children we were introduced to the Village Head Man who gave us freedom to be in the community.

This group taught about HIV but through the use of sports and games. Some of the group were engaged with a netball game, where the others were playing and singing with the many children. As we left feeling humbled by the level of gratitude we received we were followed by the children as we walked down the dusty path out of the village.

We visited another youth group, which we would be working with, to see how their sessions ran. It was good again to see a group of young people joining together to try and raise awareness and prevent the spread of HIV. They used mediums of poetry, drama and dance as ways to develop their understanding of the disease. It was inspiring to see their passion to tackle a problem that threatens their generation, a passion and unity that can often be missed among youths back home.

By ICS volunteer Charlotte Issac. We don't have photos yet from Charlotte's team - this photo of children in Malawi watching a drama presentation about HIV was taken by the ICS Progressio volunteers who went to Malawi in July-Sept 2011.