Sunday, 25 December 2016

My first work experience

Written by ICS Volunteer, Elizabeth Mwale.

I first found out about this volunteer opportunity at the beginning of August 2016 when my parents told me about an advertisement that I was encouraged to apply for and sent off to YONECO by hand. After submitting my application I began to worry and was afraid of what the job will be like, how I could cope with other volunteers especially those from the UK?...So I decided to research through other previous volunteer's stories as well as additional information regarding the volunteerism itself.

A few weeks passed and I finally received a call back to congratulate me for getting through to the first set of interviews. This went really well and I went on to my second interview all the way in Lilongwe. When I arrived I was incredibly nervous and worried that I may not pass the second set of interviews. However, this proved wrong when a week later YONECO called me once again congratulating me and offering me a place to work in their team alongside other volunteers for three months. I was very happy after hearing this news and accepted instantly. I was so excited to meet new people and learn how to work well as a team as I had never had any opportunity before.

On the September 27 I arrived in Lilongwe alongside many other in-country volunteers and UK volunteers for an orientation session and preparations for the job. Whilst there, we were told to choose roles and I chose the role of community liaison. Something else I was worried about was how well I would be able to cooperate and communicate with the UK volunteers. My first day in the office consisted of learning how best to perform my role with my colleagues who would be taking the role on alongside me.

As time went on, despite the language barrier, I began to form an even closer bond with my two colleagues; Sarah and Anna whom were both UK volunteers, also allocated to the role of community liaison. Due to the UK volunteers not being fluent in my local language, I took on the responsibility of contacting the schools and communities in the local areas of operations. Although Sarah and Anna could not make the phone calls, they still had so much to offer by organising which schools and communities to get in contact with to arrange visits throughout the week.

One of the challenges we faced included being unable to get in touch with some targeted schools/communities due to the fact that their phones were often offline. This initially discouraged me and my colleagues. Nevertheless, we used this to motivate ourselves to push on and keep trying.

After a day of planning our session as well as booking many other schools for the same week; on Tuesday afternoon we arrived at our first ever Life Goals session. I was afraid that I would become be unable to manage speaking in front of a multitude of youths. However with the enthusiasm and team spirit, we were all able to achieve a confident, entertaining session. Six weeks down the line, I was now very used to my role and enjoy every aspect of the responsibilities that came with Community Liaison. I am also incredibly proud of the challenges I have faced and skills that I have developed such as being able to comfortably speak in public. Through the challenges that were faced in the first half of the placement that gave me courage for the last six weeks during my placement in addition to learning how to cope with other difficult tasks ahead of me. 

Now after this learning period am confident of doing more to my community through the role I played very much well. I am also happy as I have learnt some new skills and one of it being speaking confidently in public.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Development through the Lens of a Young Volunteer: Young People's Contribution towards Social Change

 By Eric Veeto Nyengani - Team Leader 

A life skills session with young people 

Sparing some time to volunteer with YONECO is the best thing one may think of in life. This could help bring answers to some of the questions we usually have.

Different organizations work in the communities where we come from, but it becomes very difficult to understand the impact of the work they are doing to the lives of people. Now YONECO in partnership with ICS, has answers to these and so many other questions and worries.

Knowing all the personal challenges which people are facing in the society may compel a person not to think of volunteering because they may be thinking that they will not meet their targets in life.

Looking back to my school life, my teacher in primary school used to say that nothing is achieved without being sponsored financially, and because of this I thought that volunteering was a waste of time. This was the case as I was focusing on achieving my goals in life, volunteering is not financially supported. Little did I know that volunteering can also have a huge and long lasting impact in achieving my personal goals.

As a community member now, I am fully aware of various negative perceptions about Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) and people to get accurate information to smash out these beliefs. Consequently; people, especially the youth, have so many unanswered questions and this also prevents them from finding ways of addressing various SRHR challenges in their communities.

People are constantly trying to understand so many things about SRHR. For instance;  before the YONECO - ICS Programme, both old and young people were asking questions like;

·      Where can I go and access SRH&R information in Nkhata Bay district

·      What can I do if am being abused or my friend is being abused?

·      If my first daughter has been impregnated due to unprotected sex where can I go to get help so that I can protect my second daughter from falling in the same trap?

·      As someone who lives in a rural and remote village, do I also have freedoms and rights?

YONECO - ICS volunteers have assisted a lot to provide answers to all the questions that are present in the community. Furthermore, the Tithandizane Toll Free Helpline number (116) has been widely publicized so much that communities are now able to report cases of abuse and other issues they face.

Our efforts also saw an increase in the number of young people and parents who were visiting  YONECO office in Nkhata Bay to seek SRHR information and counselling as well as some other l issues like the role of parents in the promotion of young people’s sexual reproductive health.

I am very hopeful that the answers that have been given to these communities will have a positive and long lasting impact on their lives as we are all going towards achieving sustainable development.

As an individual, I also benefitted a lot during my placement as a volunteer in Nkhata Bay district. Before we commencement of our activities, I also had my own worries an questions like;

·      Will I be able to stand in front of people to make a presentation and facilitate a session?
·      How am I going to understand the organization’s work in my community?;
·      Where am I going to get the office and field?

A life skills session with secondary school students in
These were some of the questions I had as an individual before I knew YONECO and ICS. My involvement in the ICS program responded to these personal questions which I had by providing answers. I managed to get responses for all the questions that I had.

I experienced this in my first three months as a volunteer when my knowledge was being sharpened and my understanding of situations also increased more than I expected.

However, challenges are always there that is life we just need to accept, being stressed at one point was one of the major challenges I faced in leading the team, coping up with emotions and stress was one of the life skills sessions we conducted in the second week of our placement. This topic contributed further to my understanding in a way that I learned useful management skills on how to deal with such situations.  
This has contributed to my personal development in a way that I understand that without even a single Kwacha {money} one can still develop his/her career. As an active citizen now, I see that volunteering is very rewarding - not financially as most of us expect. The rewards of volunteering are far much greater than what money can buy.  It is so gratifying to see how your contribution is changing people’s lives while you are also building your own self in the process.

The development of our society depends on how everyone will utilize the answers they got to the questions they had. One thing I know for sure is that; answers have been provided for community members to move forward towards the right direction.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Is World AIDS Day Worth Commemorating in Malawi?

HIV and AIDS has claimed a lot of lives in Malawi since the time it was discovered in the 80’s. The pandemic has negatively impacted on the world’s socio-economic landscape on top of making numerous children orphans some of whom have grown up but are still feeling the tweak of the vulnerability it caused them during their childhood days.

According to a report by AVERT; 10.3% of the total population in Malawi is living with HIV and young people who form over half of the country account for over 50% of new HIV infections.

The very mention of HIV sends shivers among many Malawians especially the youth and the whole concept of commemorating the World Aids Day is something they fail to grasp till today.
HIV and AIDS are terms that remind many people about the loved ones they lost as well as the stigma and discrimination which they or their dear ones suffered or are still suffering. Malawian society has not fully grasped the effects and dangers of stigma and discrimination that I perpetrated against people are living with HIV. Consequently, the on going stigma and discrimination is a thorn in the flesh towards the efforts of fighting against HIV and Aids.

Despite various interventions by the government, local and international Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and other development partners to deal with the two vices, stigma and discrimination based on one’s HIV status is still a menacing innocent lives of people in schools, communities and in work places. A number of people, including the youth, have lost their lives because of stigma and discrimination and this is a cause for concern.

On the other hand, Malawi has made commendable strides in the fight against the pandemic and this is a cause for celebrating such efforts.

This background justifies the need why the Malawi nation should join the rest of the world in celebrating the achievements that have been registered so far and look at ways on how to arrest the spread of the virus. The World AIDS Day also provides an opportunity for the AIDS servicing organisations, the private sector, the academia and the general public to seriously look at various issues surrounding the pandemic and collectively find solutions to such challenges that include stigma and discrimination.
HIV prevalence rate for young people in Malawi is still on the rise. Young people make up to 60% of the national population and there must be more interventions to protect the future in a way that there must be much investment in HIV prevention programmes and much advocacy on provision and accessibility of quality Youth Friendly Health Services (YFHS).

Just like in many other countries, the World Aids Day in Malawi is marked by a national event with traditional dances, speeches and testimonies. This is a day whereby people reflect and build hope for tomorrow. We further remember those who died of HIV and AIDS and many others who contributed positively in the fight against the virus.

Even though the country has lost a lot of productive citizens because of AIDS, there is great hope for life, accomplishment of dreams so long as we provide care and support to those living with the virus while at the same time keeping the promise by ensuring that those living with HIV should avoid re-infection and infecting others with the  Virus.

An HIV free generation is possible.

By Timothy Bengo