Effie is a young Malawian woman. Her mother and father have recently passed away due to HIV & AIDS leaving her alone to care for her younger sister. She pulls herself out of school and is left alone as her aunty wants nothing to do with her because of her mother’s condition. The village chooses to ignore the presence of AIDS saying instead that her mother died of Malaria. Because of this Effie feels isolated and feels like she cannot tell anyone the truth about how her mother died. HIV & AIDS can be a taboo subject. Effie is the victim of real stigma in her village.
For some, this is reality in Malawi. For us this was part of a training film for what we are going to do. This was a scenario facilitated by the in-country volunteer JK and the UK volunteers. It opened up a discussion about stigma and how it affects lives every day. As a group we shared what stigma meant to us as young adults in the UK and Malawi and came to the conclusion that stigma is a spoilt identity. It means labelling someone and seeing them as inferior.
It soon became clear however that there is not one single word for stigma in the Chitumbuka language. This might have been a problem but with the fantastic help of the national volunteers, we managed to come up with a way to describe stigma easily for the communities of all ages to understand.
On Monday the training becomes real. We will be travelling to real communities and holding meetings that aim to educate on stigma as well as other topics, such as business management and healthy living.
We ended the session looking at how it must feel to be stigmatised because of HIV. But also how a positive and assertive attitude from both the community and the victims can help-where the person living with HIV is understood, accepted and loved. This really can lead to people with HIV living full and enriched lives.
Hope I can remember all this for Monday.
Written by Nick White.
Photo: JK (national volunteer) leads the discussion on stigma with UK and local volunteers at Tovwirane Head quarters, Mzimba. Photo by Ryma Danvers.