Friday, 29 April 2016


It was on October 10, 2015, Chisomo not her real name was summoned to her uncle’s house, upon arrival, she asked him the reason she was summoned.

Surprisingly, the man who claimed to be a brother to her mother demanded that he wanted to have sex with her.
artistic demonstration

He threatened her, forced her down and later managed to quench his wicked form of thirsty.
Later, the man was arrested and found guilty by Mwanza First Grade Magistrate court on charges of rape contrary to section 133 of the penal code.

The court committed the monster to 9 years jail term. the Mulunguzi First Grade Magistrate Court handed over a custodial record sentence of 16 years for a man who defiled her two step daughters and infected them HIV, however, despite  handing over hefty punishments to defilers, the    continue registering plentiful cases of defilement.

Just recently, media houses reported that a 31 year old man defiled a three young kids in the range of 7, 8 and 10 in the Kasungu district, maybe by this time you understand how big is the problem in the country is.

Just to complement, these are just few examples as thousands of Malawian young girls have been left with life time scars of defilement.

Almost each time I read a newspaper or listen to news on radios in the country, a day cannot go without a story of defilement or a woman being raped.

Shockingly, the perpetrators of the disgusting act are parents, relatives and guardians of the victims a thing am failing to calculate real intention of such cruel men who take an advantage of innocent children when we have beautiful night queens who are desperate for customers.

Defilement could have serious negative effects such as infertility, trauma, the contraction of HIV/AIDS and terminal illness and even death.

If you analysing the above demerits mentioned above, you will agree with me that as a nation we cannot move forward in aspects such as social and economic areas.

I think as a country we have an obligation to fight for the rights of vulnerable groups such as women and children who are also entitled the full enjoyment of their rights.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Welcome to Nkhata Bay, Malawi

Written by Yusuf Khan

Orientation sessions on SRH tools ready for field activities
We arrive in Malawi; Welcomed by the blisteringly hot, yet somewhat, vitalising African sun.  Frantically we shuffle around Lilongwe Airport trying to exchange British Pounds to Malawian Kwacha, before being quickly moved into a compact Toyota bus and driven towards our lodge where we would receive the In-Country training.

I understood that Malawi was a less economically developed country, however did not realise how significantly less developed it was. The Country is bare, mostly covered in vast grasslands stretching far with the occasional settlement or government building. This is even the case in Lilongwe, the capital, where you would expect some degree of urbanisation. Much of Malawi’s population is reliant on agriculture as their primary income source, with the countries two biggest exports being tobacco and maize. Trade deals favouring importers means like many other African countries Malawi is not given a fair trade price which is one of the main variables in the reason for its GDP per capital being just $226.46, whereas in the United Kingdom it is $41,787.47.

The lack of urbanisation does have a silver lining, however, the remarkable night sky. As a person raised in London, the City lights have always acted like tape over a portrait. In Malawi, the tape has been torn revealing the marvels of our cosmic back garden. “There‘s the southern cross“ my roommate Ethan says overcome with a childish zest.  “I’m pretty sure that’s Centaurus” I contend, and after an hour long debate we agree it’s the moon and eagerly return watching the night sky.

Our initiation into Malawian culture started in Lilongwe, where we first met the ICV’s, our bemused interpreters, tour guides and friends. We all had our premeditated beliefs of what they would be like. In my case, the ICV’s were supposed to be technologically uninformed, non-English speaking and apprehensive individuals. How wrong I was! The ICV’s represent the majority of the people in Malawi - well spoken, driven and gracious individuals. Malawi’s future lies in the hands of its youth. If they are like the ICV’s then its future is bright.

We were next introduced to Chitonga, a bantu language which is a fusion of the languages Chitumbuka and Chichewa. The language itself is quite simple. Very simple, so simple it becomes difficult.  An example of such simple complexities is the phrase “I” which is spoken in three different ways (“Ni”, “Di” and “Um”) depending on the context in which it is spoken due to the languages limited vocabulary.

Language is the first of many cultural differences I have noticed out here in regards to the British and the Malawian culture. Most strikingly, for me, is the very traditionalist family dynamics within these households, with grown men typically being the breadwinners whilst the women and children usually prepare meals and hand wash clothing etc. One peculiar difference I have noticed is the Malawians tendency to be very forward and take things very literally, dulling our English Sinicism.

The UK team in Nkhata Bay
Our particular project is based in the picturesque Nkhata Bay. Sitting on the shore of the huge Lake Malawi; its population is located within a collection of settlements of varying sizes. The town relies mainly on fishing and farming as their primary income. Tourism has also brought business as well as a cheerful Caribbean vibe, with its population very welcoming and eager to offer a service. This however, has attracted the trafficking of narcotics such as marijuana and cocaine to the region, which has contributed to increased levels of drug and substance abuse, teenage pregnancy and sexual reproductive health related issues. As such, our team of thirteen ICS volunteers are helping tackle these issues concerning the youth through education and awareness with our local partner organisation, Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO).

Many of the problems of addiction and sexual health are preventable through educating and inspiring individuals who would normally lack such knowledge. Accordingly our team uses workshops, trainings and awareness days focusing on key topics like HIV/AIDS, family planning and peer pressure, targeting mainly youths in rural areas of Nkhata Bay and in-school youths.

You would be correct in assuming ICS is not a holiday; it does require a lot from you. Waking up at 6:30 a.m. and leaving at 7:30.a.m. to take a short cut down a near vertical mud spattered hill is not as fun as it sounds. Although, providing proactive and sustainable development to the young people here in the “warm heart of Africa” makes it all worth it. 

The UK team of volunteers comprises of Tom Greenidge, Nicole Moyo, Nimo Ali, Yusuf Khan, Olivia Hastie, Nicole Norton and Ethan Brooke and will stay in the district with YONECO for the period up to June, 2016.  

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Malawi Needs More Child Marriage Terminators like Senior Chief Kachindamoto

Child Marriage Terminator ; Snr Chief Kachindamoto
Several studies have indicated that in developing countries like Malawi, one in every three girls gets married before reaching the age of 18 and one in every nine girls get married before reaching their 15th birthday. 

Furthermore, government statistics show that half of the girls will be married by their 18th birthday, with some as young as age nine or 10 being forced to marry.
Child marriages are a threat to the development agenda of developing countries. 

No wonder countries with the highest rate of child marriages like Malawi are ranked among the poorest countries in the world.

Young girls who marry at a tender age do not have an opportunity to attain formal education and this greatly diminishes their economic opportunities. Such young girls who are usually forced into marriages become too dependent on their husbands, a situation that also makes them vulnerable to violence and abuse. Their low education levels prevent them from contributing to the development of their societies and their children also inherit the same situation – the cycle of poverty.

One thing that has to be clearly understood is that we cannot ably win the fight against poverty if we continue to ignore the impact which child marriages have on our development efforts. This is why this article is dedicated to one strong woman in the country who has taken a bold decision to fight against the malpractice. 

 This is none other than Senior Chief Kachindamoto who hails from Dedza district who managed to annul more than 800 marriages in just three years. The chief further made sure that those who were withdrawn from child marriages have returned to school.

The development is worth emulating and this issue will be history once all traditional leaders are committed to ending child marriages.

Further to this heroic act, the female chief is now lobbying the government to increase the marriage age to 21 years as one way of making sure that young people should attain high levels of education and not marry at a tender age.

Snr Chief Kachindamoto is the kind of leader Malawi needs if we are to achieve Sustainable Development Goals

Just recently, I was privileged to meet chief Kachindamoto at a certain workshop that was aimed at promoting the rights and welfare of the girl child in Malawi. The Snr Chief explained at length the devastating effects of child marriages and how the fight against the malpractice could be won. She left me with a sense of relief to note that there are wise traditional leaders who are willing to lead the fight against child marriages in their areas.

I strongly believe that Malawi will soon create a safe environment for young people. Hail Snr Chief Kachindamoto!!!!!!!!!! 

Saturday, 16 April 2016

YONECO Reaches out to Special Needs Learners with SRHR Information

By Jordan Tseka

YONECO in collaboration with Ntcheu District Social welfare Office organized a Sexual Reproductive Health Session for learners with special needs at Gumbo Primary School in Ntcheu district. The initiative came against the background that several studies have indicated that efforts by different actors in the process of disseminating HIV/AIDS and sexual reproductive Health Rights and Information (SRHR) leave out young people with special needs. Most SRHR programmes only target students in general and this consequently
leaves learners with special needs behind and it is a nightmare for them access Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE).

SRH information in that session was framed and delivered to meet the needs of the targeted audience and several methodologies were employed to make sure that all learners should easily comprehend and retain the information.

The session also provided a platform where the youth with special needs shared their experiences and challenges regarding SRH.

During the sessions, it came out clear that the youth with special needs greatly need SRH information and most of those who attended the session indicated that they do have sex. Furthermore, the learners also stated that the lack of comprehensive knowledge about sexual reproductive health has consequently led to school drop outs among many learners with special needs because of pregnancy.

A specialist teacher at the school commended YONECO and the Department of Social Welfare for organizing the sessions. The teacher explained that the sessions will enable the special needs learners to make correct and informed decisions on issues that concern their SRHR.

The teacher further explained that the session will go a long way in averting sexually transmitted infections, school dropouts and unwanted pregnancies among the youth with special needs. The teacher also highlighted that children with special needs are vulnerable to Sexually Transmitted Infections including HIV, as well as unwanted pregnancies. The teacher indicated that this is the case mainly due to the fact other people take advantage of a particular disability as well as the limited knowledge of SRHR and turn them into sex objects.

Authorities at the school revealed stated that YONECO is the first Organisation to conduct a Sexual Reproductive Health session with learners with special needs.

Gumbu primary school has a total of 45 learners with special needs. Among the learners who attended the session were the deaf, dumb and blind.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Children and Street Life in Malawi: A Look at the Challenges and available Opportunities

As countries worldwide continue lobbying the United Nations to officially set April 12 as the World Street Children’s Day, a number of issues came into my mind as I lingered over a number of challenges that affect children in street situations. 

 The challenges which such children face are countless and other people, except the street children themselves, do not have any idea that there are also such challenges.     
However, it is undeniable fact that there are also a number of heartrending health hazards which these children face. These young people surely need to be protected from various forms of abuse from older members of the society and they are the easy targets for child traffickers. 

Looking at the issue of health and the welfare of street children further left me with a lot of unanswered questions.  Young people who live with parents or guardians are better off in terms of getting guidance and counseling on a number of things like alcohol and substance abuse as well as on issues pertaining to sex and sexuality.

I asked myself several questions like;
“Do these children have Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) Information?”
“Do they have access to SRH services and the most needed SRH counseling and support that everyone needs more especially during adolescence?"

My reaction to what I have observed in this country is that these children are not given the proper care and attention they deserve as human beings. The society tends to look at them as throwaways and the conditions in which these young people live in proves that no one cares about them .

As a nation, we have an obligation to make sure that these young people have adequate information and access to health services as a way of ensuring that their lives are protected from Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) including HIV, trafficking and many other undesirable endings. 

The international day for street children is aimed at given platform to street kids to voice out their concerns so that they rights should not be ignored and access to SRH services and information is one of them.

There is a need for Malawi to have well-laid-out social development strategies that accommodate the lives of children who live in the streets. Some local as well as international Non-government Organization are trying to set some standards on the ground concerning this issue but the government still has the mandate to provide such critical services to everyone in the country including children who live in the streets.

If nothing is to be done immediately these children will continue facing different abuses which some of them will have dire consequences despite their having an inborn right to ‘access health services’.

As we are working towards achieving the ambitious 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development Goals, let us remind each other that one important target is to ‘ensure inclusive universal access to SHR services and information’ and children living in the streets of Malawi are not a minus.

With this few annotations, let me join the rest of the world in lobbying the UN to accommodate street children in its internationally recognized days. In this way, we can all remind and affirm our commitments and fulfill our obligations towards improving the lives and welfare of children who living the streets. 

Friday, 8 April 2016

The Concerns of Traditional and Religious Leaders over Young People’s SRH Situation

Listening to the concerns of several traditional and religious left me sad, albeit, sympathetic.  I wondered whether young people do not want the best for themselves when it comes to issues that concern their sexual reproductive health.  The leaders I met in Chikwawa district during a meeting on young people and sexual reproductive health expressed their great terrors over what has become of young people of today. The leaders pointed out several SRH challenges which young people in the district are facing.

This entry is a result of how I felt obliged to engage fellow young people over SRH challenges that have made the custodians of culture and the clergy to have that deep fear. The frontrunners in religion   high rates of planned or unplanned teen pregnancies, increased prevalence rate of HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) among young people, child marriages and many other such challenges.  

Local leaders indicated that apart from forced child marriage happening here and there; most young people who marry before reaching the age of 18 make the decision to do so against disapproval and wise counsel from parents and older relatives. I do not know how far true this statement is but I have also seen some young girls dropping out of school taking matrimonial vows against the wishes of parents. Upon facing resistance, some young boys and girls just leave their homes and start cohabiting with a partner.

However, the war against forced child marriages is slowly being won and the progress is also evident in the way local leaders have avowed their commitment to end forced child marriages in their areas.

Another traditional leader openly accused young people of indulging in sexual promiscuity and justify their actions by asserting that they are doing such things because they were told at initiation camp. The leader further added that, nowadays, most initiators do not talk about sexual cleansing anymore.  My take on that one is firstly on the youth who live in urban areas where they do not go to initiation camps. Young people tend to blame information from initiation camps and take it as a cover to indulge in unprotected sex. 

Information about the dangers of unprotected sex is just everywhere and it is hard to note that the youth are not willing to take heed. Secondly, young people who go to initiation camps should be assertive enough to challenge some wrong information they get. It is high time young people across the country started visiting health centres and clinics where they can get correct and reliable info ration about SRH.

Some religious leaders also blamed young people for their shyness which prevents them from knowing their denomination’s stand on various SRHR services like contraceptives. One religious leader indicated that he is always saddened by the increase in the number of young people from his church who are getting pregnant. 

Young people need to set their priorities straight. This involves setting goals in life and using all possible and legitimate means of achieving their goals. This also includes saying no to child marriages, preventing STIs including HIV as well as avoiding unwanted pregnancies through abstinence from sex or seeking SRHR services. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

2016 International Women’s Day

Written by Roseanna Anderson

YONECO pavilion at Lukalazi school in Nkhata Bay
On the eighth of March, 2016, women from an array of backgrounds: journalists, police women, farmers, peanut butter connoisseurs and business women as well as mothers and grandmothers from rural communities filled a plot of land on the outskirts of Nkhata Bay. We were celebrating International Women’s Day. As Progressio and Yoneco volunteers we rallied onto the pitch, our lurid green chitenjes proudly advertising the charity and the parity it stands for. Other women were uniform too, with countless chitenjes displaying a portrait of Arthur Peter Mthalika (the current Malawian president) beside images of maize- the country’s staple source of carbohydrates.

While the female presence was overwhelming, it was incredibly reassuring to see such a high volume of men too; often it can be perceived that feminist issues exclude men and boys. The #HeForShe campaign is evidently having an impact here as young photographers paraded the hash tag on t-shirts and a section of the speech recognised the importance of equal participation and responsibility to achieve equality of the sexes as well as stressing the need to focus on boy’s education.
2016 saw International Women’s Day with a local goal: to ‘call, commit and act for parity’. In the past it seems social action has been somewhat unsatisfying and while the country is seeing gender restraints loosened there are still visible effects of the deep running matriarchy that dominates the nation. For example, of all the chiefs of all the tribes gathered for the event, only two were female amongst a crowd of men. Patricia Kaliati –an MP and Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare- spoke of the sad statistic that one in three women are subject to gender based violence and 27% of Secondary School girls have experienced some form of sexual harassment by people close to them.  The need to focus on keeping young girls in schools and out of early or forced marriages was reiterated, highlighting how half of the population being lowly educated not only decimates any attempt at the future’s equality but also hinders the economy. Ms Kaliati proceeded to place emphasis on individual action for men and women; she called for a collective movement towards a stronger, most just society.

Having drawn attention to some uninspiring figures, the ceremony continued with a parade of female accomplishments. From police women to MP’s, each individual had a narration of their successes. This served to remind how far Malawi has come towards gender parity and that individual bravery to act against gender norms can aid to diminish inequality. A round of enthusiastic applause and celebration followed each story as the women circled the field, energising the crowd before the music ensued. And of course, being in Africa, more and more people broke into dance.
A group of male traditional dancers arrived dressed entirely in white with feathers decorating their headpieces. Next a body of women in vibrant chitenjes began to move in sync with the music. Seeing the joy that dancing had catalysed among the crowd was enough to encourage me, after much persuasion, to join in. The decision proved to be worthwhile because as soon as I began dancing the crowd let out a whooping cheer of appreciation. I even received personal thanks and handshakes from a few ladies beside me; they clearly appreciated my engagement in the dancing that is so fundamental to Malawian culture. It was an honour for me to be so welcomed in an entirely foreign ceremony.
Minister of Gender Hon. Patricia Kaliati with the UNWomen and UNAIDS country rep launching the Gender Policy at Lukalazi in Nkhata Bay

The day had filled me with enthusiasm and energy to continue pressing for equal treatment of everyone. It reminded me of how the feminist movement is evolving as the country adapts while it noticed the leaps that still need to be made. It was a celebration of the achievements of women and while the day was commendable and arguably imperative to change, I am hoping to see a future in which educated and professional women are no longer seen as anomalies. YONECO also shared the messages to the people who gathered at the function on programs conducted by the organisation which included life skills, sexual reproductive health rights education and issues of GBV and helpline services through 116 Toll Free Line.   

Examining HIV stigma and discrimination, its psychological effects and how informing and catalysing active conversations can better educate society, decrease discrimination and aid prevention for new generations.

Written  by Roseanna Anderson

Alice with her two children 
Alice Pande is a twenty five year old mother of two living in the rural village of Mpamba, Northern Malawi. Her children, Zoe (who is almost two years old) and Joseph (four years old) joined her throughout our parenting session and the interview. Zoe slept and nestled in her chest or clutched at Alice’s breast for milk, while Joseph sat at his mother’s ankles, gazing up at her when she spoke. The young mother spoke with a relaxed confidence as she told her story...

Growing up in rural Malawi in what she described as a ‘poor family’, she has constantly struggled financially. 80% of Malawians live in rural areas and are often plummeted into difficult times when low rainfall destroys the crops they rely upon. Alice observed poverty and its repercussions all around her: women resorting to prostitution and parent’s inability to provide for their families being among the few worries. Alice chose marriage at the age of nineteen and she described to me how she saw this as sanctity from prostitution and HIV. Moreover, she had married ‘for love, not money’ and she and her husband are now struggling to provide basic education for their eldest son because of this, despite their relentless efforts.

While Alice leads a difficult life, she is among the community of HIV negative and talked about her conscious effort to avoid it. Before agreeing to marriage, her and her husband had walked together to the hospital for HIV testing. They only headed to the registry office when both of their statuses were revealed to be clear of HIV. In a country where approximately 10% of the population are HIV positive (according to a 2014 UNAIDS study) this course of action is understandable.

While Alice was not directly affected by the tragedy of HIV, she had to confront it when her older sister revealed her status. A young woman herself, Mercy was initially plummeted into the encompassing fear that HIV commits on sufferers. Too afraid to talk, Mercy contained all of her anxiety within herself for weeks: she eventually began contemplating suicide. It was at this precipice that Mercy turned to her family for help. After revealing what must have felt like a confession with all the bravery she could summon, her family exiled her. They refused her a seat at the dinner table because of her status and fed into the discrimination. All of her fears had manifested in the ones she trusted the most. It was only Alice who showed her any sympathy.

She was at that time her only friend. Alice spent time cooking for her and acting as a councillor. Reassuring Mercy of the possibility of a healthy life, Alice enlightened her to regain the happiness she had once known. She directed her to professional councillors and doctors who treated Mercy with ARV drugs as well as aiding her mental health. Mercy is now living a fulfilling life again with her five children. Sadly, this is not the case for so many who experience stigma and discrimination, it can only be thanked that Mercy had at least one person to turn to.

Alice had been active in the sexual health and parenting workshops. These sessions had given her the understanding to confront HIV without trepidation. She had access to the services provided by YONECO in partnership with Progressio and was brave enough, in the midst of discrimination, to stand beside her sister. She chose information and understanding to abolish her own fears and preconceptions and is now catalysing this change in others. She tells me that after a parenting session in Mkumbira, she realised the need to be open with her children about sex and sexuality for their health and well-being. She wants to discuss HIV with them too. Her biggest fears, she says ‘is that they will not listen to her’ and put themselves at risk; she will do all she can to best educate her children. Observing the admiration they have for her, this fear will surely subside.

With Progressio developing in new locations such as in Nkhata Bay, where YONECO operates, there will an ever growing population of people fighting stigma- first internally and then in their communities. There will be more parents like Alice: free from prejudice and unafraid to lead the fight against HIV and AIDS. Malawi will thus grow ever more liberated from the social ailments of HIV/AIDS. Currently 15-19 year olds count for almost 40% of new infections (UNAIDS 2014) but with more youth being engaged in active conversations about HIV there is hope that Malawi will see this figure decrease.

Education and information must forefront social change leading to a more just nation. Malawi can hope to see its population better educated and better able to battle both the physical effects of HIV/AIDS and the stigma and discrimination too. Ameliorating the fear of discussing HIV/AIDS will result in a generation of youth better equipped to protect themselves from psychological effects such as depression due to HIV/AIDS but also from developing new infections. While there remains much farther as a country to travel towards a HIV free society, every individual feat is a great accomplishment and Alice’s story can spur hope and motivation for the remaining battle.