It is Saturday morning and the hottest day of our time in Malawi so far. Our destination is Chanzi Support Group. It is fair to say we were feeling slightly apprehensive and unsure of what to expect as it was the first support group we attended during our placement. We started later than expected, which seems to be the custom in Malawi, but once we arrived we were given the warmest of welcomes: a traditional Malawian song and dance was performed in our honour by the members of the support group. 

After initial introductions were made, with help from Annie the Field Officer, we were ready to dive in. We arrived at Chanzi with a clear schedule and lots of activities planned, but it soon became clear that it was not going to be a case of sticking to the rigid structure we had proposed. This was because of communication difficulties, which have been a problematic but understandable and a feature of our time in Malawi so far, in conjunction with our obvious lack of knowledge concerning the running of support groups. However this was only a minor blip. With a combination of quick thinking and the execution of a Plan B we were able to shrug this off and continue positively with the session. 

We started the session by sitting in a circle and introducing ourselves, accompanying our name with an action. This helped to get everyone familiar with each other and served to make both the members of the support group and the Progressio volunteers feel comfortable. It quickly became apparent that fun was the order of the day, so we proceeded with some games. First on the agenda was a good old fashioned round of Hokey Cokey. The Malawians took a little time to pick it up, but once they had found their feet and their singing voices they took to it with great fervour. Following on from this was a very competitive game of Splat which caused much confusion at the beginning but soon became hotly contested and brought an abundance of British and Malawian smiles. The members of the support group then treated us to a traditional cultural dance to a song called Sankha Dona, definitely a contender for the most infectious song I've ever heard.

This brought an end to our very first experience of a Malawian HIV and AIDS support group. Although it was short it was certainly sweet and I can confidently say that we all enjoyed ourselves thoroughly. Despite our minor disappointment at not being able to carry out some of the activities that we had hoped to we had successfully formed links with a fantastic group that will be crucial in helping us achieve the aims and objectives of our placement. The members of the support group were very enthusiastic and were keen to make sure we would return the following week whilst also promising a bigger turn out next time. We spoke to Bahati, a young girl from Tambala Village, which is part of the Traditional Authority Malenga Chanzi Nkhotakota District. She said “Six months have passed since I joined the support group. It was something I never expected to happen in my life. I am now able to access the rights of women and youths living with HIV and AIDS. Also, I am aware of the dangers of having multiple sexual partners and I have learned some significant knowledge that I can share with my friends, especially concerning the importance of getting tested as it is crucial to know your status and to take care of yourself.”

Hopefully at the next session we will be able to ask a few questions to the support group in order to help us plan future sessions and to aid us in meeting the objectives of our partner organisation, the Coalition of Women Living with HIV and AIDS. All in all it was a wonderful start to our placement and we are all very much looking forward to attending and leading more support group sessions.  Until next time...

Jake and Hassan, ICS volunteers