On Saturday the 29th November, Team COWLHA Wa Mawa were joined by students from around Boma (town centre) at Chikhwawa Secondary School for an HIV and AIDS awareness day. We employed 10 HTC (HIV Testing and Counselling) volunteers from the District Hospital who set up their services in the school’s classrooms. 

Our aim was to spread the word about HIV and AIDS, bringing an end to discrimination and raise more awareness about protecting yourself and others. For this, we asked the young people attending our event to participate in a talent show where they would have the opportunity to put together acts on the theme of HIV and AIDS and discrimination. Approximately 230 young people aged 14-20 attended. 

The acts varied from rapping and singing to dancing and traditional drumming to poems and drama. They were impressively brilliant! My personal favourite (although due to the language barrier I was only able to catch a little) was a play performed by the Chikhwawa Secondary School students. It was a story about a group of young people, the effects of peer pressure and the lack of knowledge to keep oneself safe from STIs. Other favourites: traditional drumming and dancing from Kalimaso Youth Group and two very funny comedians from St. Michaels Secondary School. We gave the winners (Chikhwawa Secondary) a football as a prize.

Aside from this form of peer education, we also had testimonies presented to us by two members of COWLHA (Coalition Of Women Living with HIV and AIDS), our field officer, Mrs Mbandambanda and our District Coordinator, Mrs Manowa who talked about their own experiences of contracting HIV and how they have been living positively now for many years. Their stories are inspiring and their messages clear – knowledge is power, know your status, change your life.

Our most important aim for the day was to encourage as many young people as possible to go for voluntary HIV testing. We managed 104. Mobilising this age group is challenging, especially with the issues of discrimination and peer pressure. We are proud of our achievement. Josie Pollard and Cien Crawley volunteered to get tested – it was moving to watch the crowd of young girls following them out of the hall to get tested too. 

There is stigma, not only here in Malawi but also in the UK, around getting tested for HIV – why are they high risk? Are they taking part in risky behaviour? They must have HIV. Getting tested for HIV, aside from protecting yourself and others, is the most important way of preventing the spread of the virus and saving lives. If you know your status, you can move forward by using the ABC (Abstain, Be faithful and Condomise) to protect yourself further or by taking ARVs.

Today (December 1st) is World AIDS day and to celebrate, the team asked the school if they could paint a wall mural on their campus. Using the theme of HIV and AIDS and discrimination, Julia Sparkle came up with a creative design to encompass our message. The Baobab tree represents the tree of knowledge, encouraging education and ending ignorance. The diverse range of people within the tree trunk signifies the uniting of those from different backgrounds in order to rise up in solidarity. Finally, the handprints (of the pupils) symbolises the message – ‘stop discrimination’.

We are the generation that can really make a change to HIV prevalence rates by raising awareness, protecting ourselves, educating others and getting tested. We hope that our small part will have made a difference in at least some people’s lives – I know it has ours.

Author: Amy Stops (UK Team Leader)

Photos: Amy Stops and Josie Pollard (UK Volunteer)