Recently, Team COWLHA Wa Mawa conducted learning workshops with the support groups we’ve been visiting. In these workshops we covered upcycling and composting as well as conducting questionnaires about their HIV status and discrimination.

We chose to do a compost workshop as something we had come across on our visits was that people were finding it difficult to fertilise their crops effectively. This is due to the cost of fertiliser and the fact that these groups are being discriminated against, when they should be receiving aid in the form of fertiliser coupons, simply because they are HIV positive.

In the compost workshops we covered all that we could about the building of the bin, what to put in it, the practicalities of using it and the benefits of doing so. We had also prepared simple instruction manuals in Chichewa for a representative from each support group to take away in order to teach the rest of the group about it and to remind themselves of the process when they go to put it into practice.

With it coming into the rainy season very shortly here, the support groups are hoping to build them soon so that they can start to use the natural fertiliser on their growing crops over the coming months. They were all very happy with being given a new, cost effective and easy way of fertilising their crops, and were very grateful for the information. So… a successful workshop!

The upcycling workshop was led by our practical, ethical, economical fashion guru, Julia, who has experience working with recycled materials to make clothing and accessories. We chose to do this workshop as here there aren’t ‘bins’ as such, and there certainly isn’t anything like bin day and councils collecting refuse. Therefore there’s often rubbish littering the streets, mainly plastic bags and sweet beer cartons. So as to hit two birds with one stone we came up with making bags of all different sizes and styles out of sweet beer cartons, plastic bags and off cuts of left over material from one of the local tailors. The aim of teaching this to the support groups was so that they could sell the items with the intention of securing economic independence, a huge part of COWLHA’s work and an immeasurable advantage for those living positively.

In the workshops we taught two representatives from each support group how to cut out the pieces from the cartons using templates we had made, how to shape and sew the pieces into different style bags, and how to decorate them with lots of different materials. The outcomes were outstanding, and all who participated were extremely proud of what they made. They all found the workshops very helpful and some couldn’t wait to make more, particularly for children’s parties to sell to the children and the parents. We left them with patterns for each bag, pencils, fastenings, material off cuts, needles, thread and scissors so that they can teach their support groups and make more items with minimal cost. So… another success!

Finally, we conducted questionnaires with six randomly chosen people from each support group to get more concrete information about the challenges they face living with HIV and the support available to them. The questions asked about the ARV treatment they are taking, their side effects, the hospitals and services they receive and the counseling offered to them. The questionnaires also asked about the discrimination they face, what parties they find this from and what support they have in tackling this. We conducted these questionnaires with the intention of having tangible, objective information to present to duty bearers in community dialogue sessions. Although it seems we won’t be able to hold those sessions ourselves due to time restraints and the availability of those necessary to hold these sessions, we hope that the next cycle will be able to use the information and that it will be helpful when confronting the duty bearers about these issues.

Overall, the workshop sessions went extremely well, and we were so happy to be doing something that will benefit the people in the support groups. By passing on this knowledge we hope we’ve enabled the participants to empower themselves, given them a better chance of fortifying economic independence, and over time improving their quality of life.


Written by Cien Crawley 

Photos by Vicky Rouine