Rob Trask writes from Malawi:
Malawi. Day four.
Today we drove north. This country is beautiful.
Although however hard you try and ignore it, mass and uncontrolled deforestation is leaving its scar. Some parts of the 'forest' which dominated the landscape in the north now more closely resemble desert.
Malawi. Day five.
Here we are in Mzuzu, the capital of the northern region - but barely a town by British standards. We met up with Ungweru, an NGO with whom Progressio have developed a working relationship. One arm of their work is HIV/AIDS.
Ungweru took us along to a community support group meeting. Each meeting is open to anyone living with HIV within the community and so popular was it that we ran out of seats. It took place in the front room of the chairlady's house, we began with a prayer.
It is here, surrounding by people with whom they can relate, that the members find their solace. And it was here, that for the first time since arriving in Malawi, that i thought the Malawians have the beating of HIV/AIDS.
The antiretroviral drugs may be the treatment, but it is community support groups like this one which encourage their members to go to the hospitals. Without them, simply put, people just would not go (you need only look back to the past 15 years for evidence of this!). Through operating income-generating initiatives, the group is able to offer benefits to the community at large. And as soon as the groups can offer value, the respect of the community is soon to follow.
In the afternoon we ventured further from the beaten track. More remote communities bring with them their own problems. How to make the drugs available? How to deliver the same levels of education? Because of these complications perhaps the support groups are even more valuable here. Yesaya (pictured above), who seemed like the boss, greeted us. He lives with HIV. His openness about his status has allowed others within his community to follow suit; get tested and live with the results. With such a pivotal figure in the community openly discussing his HIV positive status, any signs of stigma or discrimination quickly evaporate.
Today was a tough day. There is so much poverty and everyday, for everyone, is a real struggle. And I don't mean like getting up on a Monday morning or when there are delays on the trains.
You can't help but feel that some words have different meanings here.
Rob Trask is a finalist in the Guardian International Development Journalism Competition and is visiting Malawi with Progressio to write about the role of faith in responding to HIV.
Photo at top: Members of a Community Support Group working with Ungweru welcoming us in song and dance. All photos by Rob Trask.