Day 6 – Malawi

MAY 20, 2008 12:05 AM| no comments

Two days of manic filming.  We have visited the football stadium where Sunday’s Candlelight Memorial is to be held. They are holding a run through and there are groups of school children, boy scouts and adults waiting to practice their songs. The President of Malawi is expected on Sunday, so the excitement is rising…

The International AIDS Candlelight Memorial is one of the world’s oldest movements for HIV/Aids remembrance, awareness and community action. The first memorial was started in 1983 by four men in San Francisco to remember friends who had died of a mystery virus. Now 1,200 volunteer Candlelight Coordinators in 115 countries host their own vigils involving tens of thousands of people.

The Global Health Council (GHC) oversees the Memorial and this year, the 25th anniversary, Malawi was chosen to host the focal event because of the success that HIV/Aids policies have had at all levels. The organisation Manet+ has the unenviable task of coordinating this snowballing event!

Laura and Todd from the GHC have arranged some visits for us to see some of the progress that has been made. So off we trekked in our Toyota Camry into the unknown. – vehicle not quite adequate for purpose…..

Not even our visits around Illinge and Ezibelini quite prepared us for what we have seen. The difference here is that there is no social support from the Malawian government. The country is one of the 5 poorest in the world. As we headed off the tarred road, the car bottom bumped and scraped on the home-made speed bumps and dived into the potholes.

The only occupation in this un-named community seems to be stone breaking. Children of all ages sit at the side of the road bashing stones for building purposes. We passed women carrying great trees or huge water containers on their heads, children running barefooted in ragged clothes and men just hanging around. It is a hand-to-mouth existence with any money that does come in, immediately feeding the family.

Our first stop in Paradiso Projects – a voluntary group that tries to reduce stigma and discrimination caused by HIV/Aids to a population where this is one of the main barriers to treatment, prevention and care. Paradiso was started by Mara, who lives here. She lost her job when she was diagnosed HIV+ and rejected by friends and family.

Paradiso Project

Mara took us all to Partners in Hope. This is a clinic where they send those that they have think may be infected with the virus. Patients have a choice between a free clinic and one where a nominal charge is made. Alex and Gerald were asked to film a woman who had come with us through her visit to the clinic. She had been counselled prior to the visit and had come voluntarily. The guys followed her into a closed room where the doctor tested her. It only takes 20 minutes for the result and as expected, it was positive. She will now return to the clinic on Monday for more counselling, testing and the drugs that can keep her healthy.

Gradually, in a small way Paradiso is making in-roads into the community. We shared a support group meeting and learnt all about the homemade remedies that those infected with the virus can use to stay healthy both before and after they manage to get hold of ARVs. And certainly it was making a difference to those attending the meeting.

While I attended the meeting with the GHC folks, Sam, Alex and Gerald headed off over a hill with a nurse to make a home visit. Here, there was not even the luxury of a candle – it gets dark at 5.30pm. There was no bed, just a rug on the floor. The man was ill, so no money and therefore, no food to feed the family of around ten mouths.

As darkness fell, I admit that I was worried that I had seen the last of the rest of the crew. This is not a place to be left in at night – particularly with in a Toyota Camry as your only transportation out. Now we know why all these NGOs spend their precious money on expensive 4x4s – it really is a requisite of the job. Roads are not really roads here.

But they did come back. More singing and dancing.

Then we bumped our way back for a shower to wash off the dust and dirt –  how different lives are.

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