Friday, 27 May 2016

Stop Albino Killings Now!

Since I was assigned to be among the contributors of Youth Net and Counseling (YONECO) Blogspot to write more about young people and Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) issues, I have never departed from the assigned task.

However, news of people with albinism being abducted, killed and their bodies being exhumed have been disturbing my mind. A week ago, I was very disheartened to hear that 17 persons with albinism have been brutally killed by silent assassins believing that their bones are a source of fortunes and riches.

I came across this sad news during one of the all stakeholders’ conference on albinism that was held at Golden Peacock Hotel in Lilongwe. To add salt on the wound, 79 cases concerning attacks of persons with albinism have been reported in various police stations around the country country.

This is nothing but evil and unjust. Human life is very sacred and it is very sad that we have lowered it to this level. In our republican constitution, everyone human being has the right to life.

When I was young, I once heard that “albinos don’t die but they just disappear to an unknown place” and in our vernacular language “alubino samafa koma amangosowa”. With the current state of affairs pertaining to the rights and welfare of people with albinism, I have been thinking about such beliefs and I realized that persecution of people with albinism started long ago but we did not realize.

I was also part of the team that marched in solidarity with the Association of People Albinism (APAM) and other Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) who presented their petition to parliament lobbying the August House to come up with laws that should protect our dear friends from being attacked by the unknown beasts.

Further to this, my eagerness to see the end of this gross human rights violations also compelled me to be part of the team that was in camaraderie with a grouping of Civil Society Organizations trading under the banner of National Advocacy Platform (NAP) who presented a grand petition to the Office of the President and Cabinet on the same and other issues of national importance.

Just recently, one person with albinism has been killed and dismembered in Ntcheu district. This is far from what not what I expected, especially when everyone in the country is speaking against the ungodly thing.

Why are these distressing killings still continuing in this nation which is regarded as a God fearing country and why the perpetrators are getting away with this? These are the most difficult questions that I have failed to answer up to the time I was squiggling this article.

Nonetheless, the answers doesn’t matter to me because I believe that life is sacred, no one has a moral mandate to take the life of others because they believe that they can get fortunes.

I would like to implore the Malawi Government that its resources are spent in sending soldiers to guard Dzalanyama forest reserve and Mulanje mountain the government should also remember to safeguard the lives of our fellow human beings who are living in fear, some of whom are reliable and exemplary famers, hardworking students, entrepreneurs, dedicated teachers, doctors, nurses and lawyers just to mention a few.

The Beauty and Pain of Growing Up in Nkhata Bay, Malawi

Written by Charles Salima

Nkhata Bay is a district in the northern part of Malawi which is along the shores of the famous Lake Malawi. The district is very mountainous and is covered with green vegetation, making it look beautiful. This is due to a number of factors such as the fertile soil but mostly due to the district receiving lots of rain throughout the year. Cassava, maize and tobacco are the most popular crops that are grown, and maize is the staple food (Nsima).

Nkhata Bay is the home of the Tonga people. We Tonga’s are a proud and talkative people. Part of our talk is the claim to be much smarter than the rest of the tribes. Family and adherence to tribal customs are the core values of Tonga culture. You learn from childhood that family is not only those you directly share blood with, but rather the whole village who make up your community.

The majority of Tonga’s are Christians and as a result Christian teachings have a large influence on our culture. Unlike other tribes in Malawi, the Tonga’s do not have many tribal beliefs this most likely due to the early British colonial influence on our culture. An example of such colonial influence is the traditional dance known as the  Malipenga dance, a dance with its history rooted in our grandfathers who learnt whilst fighting in the First World War.

These strong family and religious beliefs mean many of those who have grown up in Nhkata Bay are very welcoming to all. These values are well entrenched despite the changing times.As stunning as Nkhata Bay is, it is not without its problems. Our district largely depends on fishing and farming; this is done on a very subsistence level, therefore poverty is high. The lack of income has meant high levels of malnutrition and also high levels of illiteracy as school fees are hard to afford. Poverty is the most major hindrance to the development of the area as it affects everything.

Education in the district is a big problem mainly due to schools not having enough teachers to cope with the number of students. The lack of learning materials such as textbooks, pens and paper means learning and teaching is relatively difficult to those without the funds. It is these lack of resources which means that subjects like physics,chemistry and art are not as pursued resulting in a deficit in those educated on such subjects. 

In such cases of poverty it is typical for people to turn to their extended family as they act as a safety net to those impoverished families. For example, school fees could be provided by an uncle, pocket money by a distance cousin, etc. One way or another, that child is supported through school. The hardship that Malawians undergo explains the resilience that is within them.

For one who has grown up in Nkhata bay, it is very difficult to find a job opportunity regardless of education. Despite the hardships associated with education a lot of young men are still getting educated, however the lack of employment means many loiter around wasting the skills they acquired. When the opportunity does arise it’s a constant frustration to find a lot of jobs are given to those related to those hiring who are not always the best candidate, sometimes under-qualified.

Despite the struggles highlighted, the fact that Malawians and Tonga people are still here, means that they are resilient and are survivors. With continued assistance and good future leadership we will achieve.

Monday, 23 May 2016

International Development or Developed Internationally?

By Olivia Hastie

Part of Nkhata Bay Town 
International development or global development is a concept concerning the level of development on an international scale. It can be considered as the international classification of a country, such as developed country, developing country and least developed country. It also relates to human development and the international efforts in place to reduce poverty, inequality, improve health, education and job opportunities around the world.

When I was preparing for my twelve week placement in Malawi this term ‘international development’ was banded around a lot. It didn't have any real meaning to me then. However, seven weeks into the project, I am beginning to understand the concept in more ways than one.

The beautiful town of Nkhata Bay, my home here in Malawi, is comprised of lush greenery and mesmerising views of Lake Malawi, making you think of a paradise rather than a district suffering with poverty. Despite this, all over the town there are clear efforts and signs of international development.

The Bay is currently being renovated to improve its layout, and introduce a bus depot with the aim of improving public transport links. There is a massive sense of community as the whole town appears united in working together moving the buildings brick by brick from one location to another. From the youngest of children to the elder members, all have been involved in the efforts of this project. It is pure amazement to watch a building from one end of town disappear and then materialise in another as if by magic. Buildings have been broken down to their raw materials, then transported and rebuilt in a completely new location. It reminds me of the ‘Teleporting’ Willy Wonka used to transport his chocolate! Unlike the reconstruction and building done at home in the UK, this has a chilled feeling to it. It is not chaotic or pressurised by deadlines, but a steady beat of progress.

The lack of industrial techniques and machinery is insignificant as the constant force of the hard working community members is enough to fuel this renovation project. For me this is development on an international level. The town has recognised its need for better transport links to the rest of Malawi, and has acted as one to achieve this goal. It has demonstrated development, increasing access to bigger cities aiding in business and job opportunities and thus decreasing levels of poverty.

I feel this is something our societies at home and myself personally can take and learn from. When there is change in the towns or cities I have lived in it is often unknown to myself or I have zero involvement, and for these reasons our sense of community and acting as one has been greatly diminished. This feels like a massive loss as here community is so powerful and integral to the workings of a balanced society. This is not to say Nkhata Bay is not without its struggles but the efforts must be recognised and applauded.

I have also observed international development in a less visual sense during my seven weeks in this tropical land. My purpose in Malawi has been to plan and tour workshops as part of a group of 13 volunteers (7 from the UK, 6 from Malawi) to youths about sexual reproductive health, child rights, drug and substance abuse, and life skills. As part of this programme, we make weekly visits to local secondary schools. I have continually been placed in the same school and here is where I have noticed development. Following my most recent session where I was teaching life skills, I asked the students how they would resist peer pressure. They were able to successfully answer the question. This was an achievement in itself as the students were very reluctant to interact or even respond in the first few weeks we visited. Not only were they able to answer correctly, but they were able to build on their answer with content from previous weeks sessions. I felt immensely proud that we were getting through to the youths and elated the knowledge we were teaching was sticking with them and they were able to apply it to real life situations.

I have also discovered international development to be a sharing of cultures at the most basic of levels. During my stay here in Malawi I have had the unique opportunity to reside with a host family. My host family have been the most accommodating and welcoming of families and I feel blessed to have been placed with them. They have made my Malawian experience truly unique. My eyes have been opened to family life in a totally new culture.

As with most families, meal times are as important here as it is in my family home. It is here is where I feel I have developed internationally. Nsima the foundation of almost all meals out here has been an essential part to my education in Malawian cuisine. My host sister, who is an excellent cook and the main chef of the house, has been an excellent teacher. The effortlessness she demonstrates when gutting enough fish for 10 people, or the preparing of Sunday lunches for her own family of nine as well as the neighbours and their numerous children is a skill and complete dedication. She has also had the patience to show me the steps to cooking nsima, preparing the local vegetables and making the all-important soup, more of a sauce or relish, which accompanies most dishes. In return I have shared with her my very basic cooking skills. My fellow volunteer and I have cooked up chilli con carne, cakes and bangers and mash for our host family with the hope of giving them a sample of a few popular British meals. I hope this exchange of meals has been mutually beneficial. I can certainly say I feel developed with international culinary skills.

All these experiences and life lessons have led me to interpret international development in my own way, I believe it to mean to be developed internationally. This adventure in Malawi has left me feeling internationally developed. I have gained a greater understanding of what family, community and what something is worth all really means. I feel I have grown to realise what the world can offer and what it can't and its brutal injustice. The harsh realities and extraordinary gifts each culture and environment provides is a lesson we can always be learning from. I am discovering we can never be entirely developed, only gain in international knowledge.

Thursday, 12 May 2016


some of the communication applications in the 1st century
In this 21st Century, Information Communication Technology (ICT) has reached its apex and with the coming in of social media the world has indeed become a global village. 

There are a number of platforms which people are now using with a number of such channels providing instantaneous communication among people across the world.

We can talk of WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Immo just to mention a few. It is now easy to send messages as compared to the communication landscape of the early 80’s whereby people greatly relied on ground phones and postal services.

This is undeniably a good development in as far as communication is concerned. However, the question that directly comes to my mind is; ‘to what extent do we use new media disseminate important information for human development including the promotion of Sexual Reproductive Health (SRH) which is a global challenge more especially among young people?’

Access to SRH services is one of the fundamental rights of young people. Its importance is manifested in the declaration by the World Health Organization (WHO) that millions of young people world-wide are at risk of being effected with Sexual Transmitted Infection (STI’s) and increased cases of unplanned pregnancies.

ICT has become so popular among the youth and this provides an opportunity that could be used to advance the promotion of SRH awareness messages.

Among other non-state actors that work with the youth in Malawi is Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO). The organisation uses various social media channels to engage young people. Among other tools, YONECO uses WhatsApp and the institution created a Whatsapp youth forum dubbed as Youth Breeze where young people discuss several topics related to SRH. In addition to this, the organisation has a dedicated SMS line that helps the youth on such issues.

As a country, we can scale up such initiatives like these just to ensure that every adolescent in the country has an opportunity to access such important messages in an effort to protect their lives and enhancing young people’s access to health services.

Many young people have these modern gadgets such as phones, tablets and laptops. Let us think of putting in place proper mechanisms and structures for other young people who live in far-flung areas where access to the internet and mobile phone network is a challenge.  It is the responsibility of the government and all other stakeholders to introduce well-equipped free ICT hubs in remote parts of the country in order to guarantee equality and inclusive access to SRH knowledge and information among young people.

Let us utilize the power and strength that lies in ICT to protect the lives of the youth by providing them with knowledge and reliable information about Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) including HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancies, early marriages among other issues so as to groom an impeccable generation.

Surely, the wave of ICT has an undeniable significance in today’s world and social media holds a great potential towards improvement of young people’s sexual reproductive health and rights.

Monday, 9 May 2016

A branch of Hope grows

Written by Yusuf Khan
Interview conducted by Yusuf Khan & Flora Mhone

We find shade from the sun on the steps of the Chituka youth club (Nkhata Bay District, Malawi) and take a seat. He looks at me gleefully with his small eyes and tells me his name is “Douglas Banda”.  He is 19, a carpenter and an example of what community-based education can achieve. His account is as follows…

The youth (in this community) do not play a large enough role. That is why the workshops YONECO offered appealed to me; they educated me on issues affecting my own and the lives around me that were considered taboo like sexual and reproductive health and the use of contraceptives. These workshops provided the tools to improve lives as I was able to educate others on what I had learnt. One such example of a person I have helped is Stella Phiri; my niece.

Stella Phiri was born with HIV. Her father infected her mother during early pregnancy. Both parents died shortly after she was born, leaving her an orphan. She currently lives with my mother and studies with the hopes of becoming a lawyer when she is older. Stella has had a hard life. Living with HIV meant she went through many ordeals. She was not taught to understand the disease or how to live with it, therefore believing some misconceptions surrounding the disease. Living with HIV is hard in rural communities. Lack of education causes some to mock those with HIV, thinking of them as sexual deviants and treating those with the disease as if they were already dead, as they believe those infected will eventually wither away.

These misconceptions have had a very real impact on those living with the disease, causing many of those infected to feel isolated and become reclusive. The sessions have been good in teaching the facts on HIV especially in understanding its destructive nature, which has reinforced the ideas of safe sexual practices like the use of condoms. However, the sessions also taught that HIV is not as contagious as most would believe, and how liveable the disease was with the taking of ARV medication. This is the information I passed onto my niece, Stella Phiri.

With Stella now regularly taking her ARV medication she has stayed healthy and become much more confident in herself and her ability to make friends. Witnessing a change like this in person proves that the youth can have an impact and that change can occur. However, there is still a lot to improve on. Misinformation purges rural towns. People here are often uneducated on matters like HIV and it is seen in the way they treat those infected. Civic education to such communities especially in regards to HIV should be a priority for NGO’s and government aid. That said those with HIV do not do enough to help each other. Clubs and communities need to be established by those with the chronic illness to offer support, guidance and empathy they would not normally receive. 

Friday, 6 May 2016

Lessons we can learn from our friends - Malawians

Written by Nicole Moyo

During one of the nights at our In-Country training in Lilongwe, I remember being quite annoyed. Once I tell you the reason, you're going to think "urgh, what a brat". To be honest, looking back at the moment retrospectively, I was being a little madam. The reason behind my annoyance was that some of our fellow Malawian volunteers (hereafter ICVs) were playing a really loud game which required them to sing and bounce a ball. They were playing this right outside of my room. I was annoyed because I felt they were disturbing my silence as I was desperately trying to get connected to the internet.

So what was the point in that story? The significance of that moment was that, after taking a step back and assessing the situation, I realised that myself and fellow UK volunteers had forgotten how to live life simply, embrace moments and just be damn happy! What I saw from the ICVs was an almost child-like bliss and happiness that we, the British, lose pretty much when we start secondary school. While the ICVs were having what looked like a good time, I, on the other hand, was getting wound up and stressing myself over something that really didn't matter. I have therefore summarised three things (or lessons) which I believe all of us Britons could learn from our Malawian friends.

If we take a moment and look back at our lives in the UK, when we visit places -whether it be your friend's house or a coffee shop - most of the time, we inquire about the Wi-Fi password. I'm not saying this is what all Britons do, but I'm sure most of us reading this can remember at least one time where they were guilty of this socially acceptable crime. I call it a crime because we have somehow made it okay to be unsociable in a social context. The irony is that this is due to so-called "social" media. So I propose that the first lesson we can learn from our friendsis to be present in the present. After all, it is a gift.

An extension of this aforementioned lesson is that of self-consciousness. The average 18-25 year old would not think to play, for example, 'duck duck goose' with their peers. If it was suggested, it would be perceived as strange or odd. While here, it feels more comfortable to do things out ofyour comfort zone as no one will really judge you. Another example I noted was during one of our workshops out in a rural community. My fellow volunteer, Olivia, and I were tasked with the job of entertaining the kids. We had to break into our best performance of 'head, shoulders, knees and toes!’ It felt so awkward and bizarre at first, but it's safe to say we probably enjoyed it more than the kids. In the UK, I would be horrified at the thought of singing my heart out, especially a nursery rhyme. Thus, the second lesson we can learn is of acting oblivious to the fact that there are people around you. Essentially, let's not care so much about what people think of us.

I now pose a question to my fellow Brits: when was the last time you simply smiled and said hello to a complete stranger? I don't mean to start a North/South debate, but let's be honest,Northerners are a little less guilty of this. Jokes aside, most of us do not crack a smile and wish a stranger a good day. In Malawi, this is common practice. Furthermore, it's normal to greet someone you had already seen earlier in the day; this means you could end up greeting the same person three or four times a day. One might argue the novelty and sincerity of the greeting is lost as the day goes. I, on the other hand, counter-argue that it's always as authentic as the first "good morning,”

Although we are foreigners in Malawi, the sense of community, meekness and humility that its citizens possess has made us feel right at home already. Finally, I contend my final lesson and perhaps the most important: Let ushumble ourselves, let us be kind and let us simply say "hello" toour fellow human beings.