This week we have been visiting different groups that run activities to do with HIV so we can see where we can help and learn from existing projects and get ideas for the other groups we are working with.

Children's centre

At the start of the week we visited a children’s centre, where volunteers provide daycare for children. They find it very difficult to teach without resources and with only an empty classroom to work in. They feed the children with food that they receive from the community. However when we visited they could not feed the children. They explained that as crops are low at this time of the year they receive much less from the communities. They showed us a garden they had started in order to grow their own crops, however the fences had fallen down, meaning that children or animals could run over the plants.

The leaders said they had a curriculum to follow to help them teach the children but it is in English and is difficult for them to understand. In the coming weeks we hope to simplify the curriculum, make some learning materials and show the volunteers basic methods which will help them run their classes. We also plan to fix the fence! They seemed very happy that we had visited and were eager to learn from us. 

HIV prevention

On Tuesday we visited a school where a group who focused on prevention of mother to children transmission of HIV met. As the children saw us arrive they ran out of their classes and stood and stared at us, some having never seen a white person before. A teacher came out to collect the children and told us the school had 860 children with just 8 teachers: it is amazing how they are able to teach and control a class.

The group explained how they teach pregnant mothers about the importance of going for HIV testing and of going to a hospital when she is in labour, rather than giving birth in her village. They focus on promoting the health of the mother and getting fathers more involved in the pregnancy. They also go into villages and give male to male and female to female counselling to people about HIV. This is a good idea as in their culture it is difficult for the opposite sex to talk to each other. The group are doing lots of positive work and are very well informed in areas of HIV. We were able to learn a lot from them that we can take to other groups. 

Using available resources

During the week we went to Bulala and visited another children’s centre that looked after children between the age of 2 and 6. They taught in a mixed class of around 50 children, talking through the days of the week and counting. They used available natural resources such as sticks and maize as counting tools and ways of visual learning. This is something we are interested in implementing in other children's centres.

We then went to a support group that did a lot of community outreach projects, including group and children’s therapy,  home based care and growing soya and other nutritious foods in a communal garden. There is a shortage of fertiliser so we want to introduce the idea of a compost bin. In Mzimba we’ve noticed there is no waste management and people throw rubbish on the street, when it can be put to better use. Here we were able to introduce the idea of male to male and female to female counselling which we had learnt about on Tuesday.  

Learning through play

We then went to visit a Children’s Corner where there were a lot of children and enthusiastic volunteers who come together after school hours. They run lots of activities and games which teach the children lessons and skills, volleyball and football for team work, tug of war for strength but also for teaching about the importance of persistence, and traditional Malawian games for critical thinking about planning ahead. It was a good way to introduce learning through play. 

We again returned to the Youth Group and taught them about the science of HIV, through diagrams and speech. It went well and the group gained a much better understanding about the process and difference between exposure to contracting and being infected by the disease. We also introduced the SAVE model, by talking about S - safer practices, which is something we will be continuing. 

HIV support group

At the end of the week we visited a group affected by HIV, who made broaches, book covers and bags from scraps of material, which they then sold and used for school fees and other things the group needs. It was good to see the women talking as they sewed and supporting each other. They also make pots from clay, using twigs and dried maize as tools. After a few attempts and a lot of help we were able to make our own pots. The group had a lovely relaxed and friendly environment and normally run  on a Saturday where they also have a children’s centre which we shall visit next week.

After, we visited the maternity ward of Mzimba hospital. The hospital was quite big and in the ward there were 36 beds, all close together, without curtains separating them. There were no cots so the mothers shared the beds with their newborn. We went around to each bed, giving them a gift of 2 bars of soap, one to wash with and one for clothes, for which they were all very grateful. We spoke to the mothers and noticed how young some of the new mothers looked. We learnt that two people had lost their babies; it was hard to see them lying in a room full of new happy families. The hospital does a good job and makes the most of the resources it has. We learnt that there was one doctor twho had a medical degree in the entire hospital and the nurses have to work long hours on very little pay. Like a lot of things we have seen, it made us appreciate things back in the UK. 

In the coming weeks we will be looking at replicating some of the projects we have seen such as the children’s corner to provide care for children in the Mzimba town area. 

ICS volunteer Charlotte Issac in Malawi. Charlotte's group is volunteering with partner organisation MANERELA+. We don't have photos yet from Charlotte: the photo above, of a boy watching a football match, was taken by a team of ICS volunteers in Malawi in summer 2011.