Tuesday, November 1, 2011

White woman in black skin

The time was well past morning. It was cloudy and chilly but with no drizzles insight as is usually the case in winter. The dust was still billowing up—at least that is what Lilongwe is known for, dust.

But on this day, Salima beckoned me and at the mention of Salima my mind started wondering in all directions. I pictured the blue waters, the white sands and myself taking a skin-dip into the water.

I have never been to Salima save for the time I pass through the district when I am going to Mzuzu.
On this particular day, I was lucky in that I was in company of other journalists who are familiar with the place and gave me a briefing on what a Salima had in store especially if you are fun loving

With jokes here and there as Mlaka Maliro kept us entertained, the trip seemed shorter than I had expected.

The trip to Salima was necessitated by Media Council of Malawi in conjunction with Unicef who were touring some sanitation facilities in the district.
We arrived after lunch-time and got down to business straight away.

Facing reality

It is not wrong to dream—especially in colour, this is what the head of state has always encouraged us to do, and I am no exceptional to dreaming in colour. Maybe what was wrong in this case was that I had very (mark very) high expectations before reality hit me in the face, the moment I set my foot in Salima.

It was during a briefing that my coloured dream started fading away and I realised I was in for adventure with a dash of agony, but never the less, I thought they were simply pulling my leg.

In Salima, we were welcomed by several officials from Salima District Assembly and an Italian Non-governmental Organization Coopi that works to mitigate effects of disasters in the district by working with schools which carter as evacuation centres during floods and the community in ensuring that there are sanitation facilities as and when floods strike.

Dennis Kazembe one of the officials from Coopi, told us that our first tour will be Mgando Junior Primary School in Group Village headman Mtauchira and Traditional Authority Pemba’s area located in Salima South-East.

To get to this place, after driving for 20Kms off the tarmac road we had to get off the car and travel by a bicycle. Now that is no fun at all.

There is no road that connects from the main road to the place save for a canoe peddled through the crocodile infested Lifidzi River and other small rivers that surround the area.

In dry season you either have to walk or get a bicycle taxi.

The adventurous and painful ride

The bicycle taxis have definitely found their place in the public transport system. With persistent fuel shortages it would be no surprise if one day these taxis will have MG number plates. In Salima these taxis are called dampas—sorry I have failed all of you. I did not find out what that word means.

For a good 40 minutes, I was on a bicycle carrier though padded but still too hard to sit on. All of us more than 15 set off for Mgando Junior Primary School in T/A Pemba’s area.

The fun of riding on a bicycle was short lived as in came the pain. I lost count of breakdowns I had with the first bicycle I rode on. All the breakdowns were due to a problem with the chain—it needed to be lubricated.

Not wanting to waste time I could walk a distance of five minutes each time the chain fell until enough was enough. I had to call for another “taxi”.

Now this was like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

Unlike the first taxi which was a bit cosy, this one was not padded I had to sit on metals. To and from Mtauchira on this bicycle was a life experience I will live to remember, it was so painful that by the time I reached Salima Boma my backside was sore making it difficult for me to sit properly. I had to cancel the evening fun.

Lighter moments

There is always light at the end of the tunnel so they say. My light finally shone when I was passing by one of the villages. A child, who looked to me to be around three years old, called me “azungu” (White woman). Now, that was the only time I laughed in the whole adventure. As I passed him I waved at him adding more excitement to the little boy who surely had no idea how a white woman looks like.

The mother chipping in almost immediately corrected the boy.
“Iwe mzungu amaoneka choncho?” (Does a white woman look like her?).

I understood his expression in the context that since I looked more polished than the rest of the village girls, to him only a white woman is supposed to be that polished and dress in pants like I did.
I do not blame him or am I blaming anybody for this.

Maybe I should have worn Chilundu (wrapper)or something Malawian maybe then the boy would have known that I am one of them.
Unfortunately; I haven’t found any dressing code that is more Malawian. As we passed another village, a young boy rushed in front of my taxi.

The mother fearing for an accident shouted:
“Iwe akakugunda matofotofowo akutenga kupita ku chipatala?” (If they hit you will the fat woman take you to the hospital?).

I was supposed to be angry because much as I know I have weight issues, I do not take it lightly if someone calls me fat, still I laughed.
Before I got off the bike to the car, I asked my taxi “driver” whether the area was represented in Parliament and he said yes.

“But he does not come here anymore. In fact, he stays at the Boma. The only time he comes here is when he is campaigning. You have seen the problems that we face maybe you will talk to him si muli ku tauni komweko.”
I promised this man, that I would talk to the MP for this area and I will do that for the sake of the boy who called me “azungu” so that maybe if he comes to the city he will see the real mzungu.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Drinking from the Well of knowledge

They may not look that bright because of the dust and also the dirt clothes they are wearing but for sure these pupils captured at Chisitu Primary School in Mulanje, Malawi, know that education is the key to a brighter future.Carrying exercise books and pencils in a packet of sugar--an improvised schoolbag, the sky is the limit, everything being equal. However 17 years since Malawi embraced the multi-party system of government and 47 years since it gained independence, many government schools are an eye-sore.Pupils still learn under trees-- that is if trees which have been cut-down due to population increase and need for more farming land, are available.

Everyone says that education standards have gone down, but no-one wants to act to change the status quo.

Learning the hard way

Pupils at Chisitu Primary School in Mulanje, Malawi. The picture was capture during an impromptu break the pupils had following the noise from a rally that one of the Members of Parliament from the area organized right in the middle of the school premises. Classes were disturbed to pave way for the function.

Repeal homsexual laws

By Sellina Nkowani in Vienna,Austria

As the world has converged in Vienna Austria, global leaders have called upon countries in Africa, Malawi in particular, to repeal its homosexual laws that criminalize homosexuality and laws that also criminalise prostitution.

Malawi was one of the countries that have been asked to repeal their homosexual laws.

On drug users especially drug injectors, the world leaders said countries in Africa and the rest of the world should stop spending money on the police chasing and arresting such people, but instead channel the money to treatment and care for them.

This they said will help countries to respond positively to the fight against HIV and accomplish the Universal Access to HIV care, treatment and support.

In her opening remarks on Sunday evening, President of the Austrian Aids Society and Aids 2010 Local Co-chair, Dr Brigitte Schmied sent a strong message to countries such as Malawi to respect the rights of such people.

“Treatment, not persecution, is demanded. Repeal the homosexual laws,” she said adding that persecution and prosecution and criminalization of such minority and vulnerable groups are obstacles to controlling HIV/Aids in the world.

Sharing her sentiments, Dr. Julio Montaner, President of International AIDS Society (IAS); Director, British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and AIDS 2010 Co-Chair said that sex work is work and should be decriminalized.
This was a quick response from the demonstrators who thronged the conference hall demanding that sex work be recognized as work and that world leaders gathered at the conference should respect the rights of sex workers.
“I agree with you, sex work is work and should therefore be decriminalized,” he said and his statement was met with wild jubilations and applauds from the demonstrators and conference participants.
Montaner said that the theme of AIDS 2010, Rights Here, Right Now was chosen to emphasize the critical and fundamental connection between human rights and HIV.

“There can be no end to the pandemic unless we secure full protection of human rights for those most vulnerable to HIV and AIDS,” he said.
Former USA President Bill Clinton in his remarks on Monday also hinted on the need to secure rights of the most vulnerable groups to HIV/Aids such as Men who have sex with men (MSM).
He said so far MSMs remain the main source of HIV transmission but stigma kills them.
He said there is need to fund what he called “most controversial things” a direct reference to homosexuality, prostitution and illicit drug users.

He added that Obama has not backtracked on his promises on Global Fund.
Clinton added that with the new WHO guidelines, countries like Malawi will have more people showing up for treatment but drug stock-outs discourage people from visiting the hospital.
“Who would want to go to a hospital where there is just an office and the officer sends you back because there are no drugs at the hospital?” he queried adding that this is the very reason for supporting increased funding to developing countries, but advised countries to use the money meant for HIV wisely.

“In many countries this money is spent on too many meetings, too many air-tickets and studies have been shelved on the shelves,” he said.
Assistant Director, Debt and Aid Division in the Ministry of Finance Madalo Nyambose said HIV/Aids services in Malawi are available to everyone. This was a response to a question she was asked on how Malawi intends to achieve Universal Access with laws that criminalise homosexuality and prostitution.

Donor dependence on HIV/Aids response to remain

By Sellina Nkowani in Vienna, Austria

Funding for HIV/Aids projects in Malawi largely depends on donor aid and the situation will remain like this for years to come, Zeke Emmanuel, Health Advisor in the Office of Management and Budget in the USA has said.

This is also true for the National Budget which also carters for HIV/Aids response.

Emmanuel added that at the moment there is nothing Malawi can do to avert the situation since it has no capacity to do so.

“You just have to be efficient in what you do. Focus on what is working and stop wasting resources on what is failing. It is very important for HIV/Aids response to be result-based.”

“One thing that governments are failing to do is to stop wasting resources on what is failing and direct them to what is working,” he said.

Emmanuel made the remarks at the Reed Messen International Conference Centre in Vienna Austria, soon after Malawi representatives made their presentations on Global Perspectives and Insights—Elements of a country ownership Approach.
The presentations were part of the International Aids Conference due to start this week.

He said an example of programs that are working for Malawi was the scaling up and coordination of ART adding that so far Malawi is the best in Africa in the way it is implementing ART.

High on the agenda was the issue of funding for Aids response which has resulted in failure by countries to own projects since they are dictated by donors on how to use the money.

Madalo Nyambose, Assistant Director, Debt and Aid Division in the Ministry of Finance—one of the speakers from Malawi, said currently there is no single solution on how Malawi can come out of donor dependence.

Nyambose however, said that much as many donors have their own priorities and despite the global financial crisis, they have recommitted to helping Malawi and the funding has remained standard.

“Our challenge will be to implement the World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines especially if we fail to get the Round 10 Global funding,” she said.

She however said that the decision to adopt the WHO guidelines is on-going and there are a lot of consultations happening.

One of the things in the WHO guidelines is the recommendation that instead of HIV-positive people starting treatment when their CD4 cell count is 200, they should start when the CD4 cell count is 350 meaning more people will be on treatment.

In his remarks Maclean Sonoso, Executive Director—Friends of Aids Support Trust and chairperson of Malawi Network of Aids Service Organizations (MANASO), said as one example of country ownership into HIV/Aids response the government of Malawi provides overall policy framework and direction.

He added that ownership of the national response occurs when countries exercise effective leadership.

Many countries especially those from Africa, Malawi inclusive, complained on how donors dictate the things to them. One speaker from Botswana said it was sad that despite his country being independent donors still dictate things to them.

However, Emmanuel said the Obama administration which initiated the Global Health Initiative, put country ownership as a fundamental principal in the fight against HIV/Aids.

But warned that it does not mean giving money to recipients and walking away as many countries would believe.

“That is not the Obama attitude to just give money and say deal with the problems but having a donor-recipient partnership,” he said adding that country ownership is not a government ownership but involvement of different players in society such as community leaders and other stakeholders.

The 18th International Aids Conference under the theme, Rights here, Right now, opened on Sunday (yesterday) with a peaceful demonstration by people living with Aids and Aids activists who demanded from governments around the world to scale up their commitments towards the Universal Access to HIV, care, treatment and support.

Tombstones were left behind the conference hall to remind attendees of the 15 million people who are in immediate need of treatment.

The banner read: Broken promises Kill, No retreat. Fund Aids”.

Aids activists and PLHIV were protesting against the US and European governments who are pulling back in their support for Aids care, treatment and prevention and the fact that governments in Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe, have failed to live up to their commitment to fund Aids treatment and health needs as laid out in the Abuja Declaration.

2 BNL journos win regional awards

Two journalists from Blantyre Newspapers Limited (BNL) Publishers of the Daily Times, Malawi News, The Weekend Times, have won regional awards for their articles on poverty, food security and social protection.

BNL’s Supplements Editor Chipiliro Kansilanga has emerged the Southern Africa regional winner for her story, Transferring Cash to Reduce Poverty, which appeared in The Daily Times of March 1, 2010.

Malawi News Weekend Editor Sellina Nkowani is the runner up for her story, Social Cash Transfer; Changes Lives of Poor Malawians, which was published in Malawi News, February 20-26th.

Another Malawian Michael Kaiyatsa, emerged winner for Malawi, for his article, Cash Transfers Giving Hope to Vulnerable Women, published in The Sunday Times of January 31, 2010.

The competition was conducted by Regional Hunger and Vulnerability Programme (RHVP) following an intensive training it organised in conjunction with FrayIntermedia in five countries in the SADC region between the months of October 2009 to January 2010.

RHVP Media Consultant Brett Davidson indicated that the programme was compelled to come up with the regional awards because the entries from Malawi were simply well-thought and excellent.

“We really had an excellent set of entries from Malawi for our competition, following the training. The standard was high, and it has been very tough trying to decide on a winner,” said Davidson.

About the winning article, Davidson said Kansilanga’s article deserved the prize for its in-depth analysis and scrutiny.

“She did not only tell the story of two families and how they had benefited from social cash transfers, but she also painted the bigger picture through reference to some of the latest research from the field,” said the RHVP boss.

On the other hand, Nkowani profiled a touching story of a destitute woman in Mchinji who has turned her life around with K1, 800 which she gets monthly.

RHVP is yet to announce how much the winners will take home.

Other Malawian journalists who got recognition are Patrick Maulidi and George Kalungwe of Zodiak Broadcasting Station for an excellent radio feature and an article on the same topic on the radio’s website and Martin Chiwanda for his piece in Mkwaso Newspaper.

Covering Poverty, Food Security & Social Protection is an RHVP initiative, funded by the UK Department for International Development and is aimed at increasing and enhancing news media coverage of poverty and poverty policy interventions in the SADC region.

Ordinary man with a big heart

“God will make a way where there seems to be no way and he works in ways we cannot see...” So goes a very popular song by Don Moen. The song is popular and been memorised by many especially when they are found in difficult situations, when all hope is gone. We silently sing this verse and believe that surely a way or a door will open.

No matter how thick a forest can be, there is surely a way out of it. Let me say it here that I am not trying to preach but if what I have said has touched you or you do relate to it, then join me on this journey.

In my life I have always grown up knowing or better still believing that if I am in problems, I need to call upon God's name and He will bail me out and often times He has.

But, I also do believe God uses people to help other people.

I have just been vindicated on this but unknowingly I have ignored this fact until one day when my way was blocked and someone, very unlikely showed me the way out.

Richard Botolo, from Mbayani is the type of a man you would want to spare your 'precious' time talking to neither does he have the looks that would make you stop and say there I see someone. In a nutshell, his dressing is shabby, hair unkempt and it seems poverty has done a great deal on him.

He is the true definition of the phrase “Malawian living on less than a dollar (approximately K150) a day”. He is someone you can deliberately choose to ignore with no remorse at all.

I usually walk from home to the office and normally use the shortest route—it depends on how fast one walks as the shortest route might just be the longest route to someone who walks very slow.

Richard is someone I always meet on my way to and back from the office.

There are no minibuses from Kwacha to Ginnery Corner unless one takes two buses to get to Ginnery Corner or simply walk from home. I prefer the latter.

From Kwacha, I pass through Njamba Freedom Park, them Chanache Coffin workshop, up the Polytechnic Main Campus and then I cross the Masauko Chipembere Highway and then pass through the Polytechnic Annexe Campus.

I have to admit, I am always late for work but last to knock off. It is not that I want to make up for the late coming but it just happens.

Before getting to the Polytechnic Main Campus, I cross the Naperi River—there is a bridge made of planks and concrete that joins Chanache and Poly.

The Polytechnic has a built a brick fence around the campus. It has been has been built at a very fast pace. One day, with my watch saying 08:10 am, I found myself at the bridge but facing a brick fence that had no any kind of opening that I could have used to get in or pass through.

I was taken aback, mouth agape, hands akimbo. I just didn't know how I was going to get to the office and time was running out. Going back was not the best option. I was almost there but the fence screamed at me Palibe njira (No through road)!

Did I sing or ponder of “making a way where there is none?” Yes I did but, I had no idea as to who was going to do it for me for there was no-one in sight neither did I had any solution.

While I was still thinking of a way out, there a man dressed shabbily, hair unkempt, puffing his Life Cigarettes shouted at me.

“Chemwali bwerani mudutse kuno”.I feared for the worst. Questions started racing in my mind. Does he want to snatch my handbag? Is his offer of a way out genuine? What if there is no way at all?

But somehow, despite all these questions something just told me told me to trust him. So, I walk on. By this time Richard was busy making steps just adjacent to the bridge and he had already slashed the tall grass and cut down some trees.

He was making a way. Richard lives in Mbayani Township. He is a family man. The first time I saw Richard was in 2007 in Ndirande when he was a makeshift hump at Ndirande Newlines near the post office. Since then I have seen him in several other places doing the same thing. I had questions all this time like who sends him to do this? Is it the City Assembly and who pays him?

You might have seen him, but like I said, he is someone you can choose to ignore but certainly not his work.

As I walked on, I noticed that there was no bridge just water and rocks. For a minute I confirmed my earlier fears. There was no way I could have swam across the river. may I could have stepped on the rocks but then I was not sure if I feet was going to land on the rock properly.

As all this was going on in mind, like a psychologist, Richard read it. He stretched his hand and asked me to hold his hand as step on the rocks. This time I didn't notice his hair at all but the palm of his hand, so rough but it felt so soft. A helping hand can never be rough I guess.

Three weeks after the incident, I decided to talk to Richard.

He started by saying that he gets at the site very early in the morning so that just like and early bird that catches a worm, he too wants whoever will pass by to drop a little something in his plate.

By the way, one is not forced or asked to tip him, but if you are human enough and you know how much it would have cost government or the City Assembly—don't forget how long it would take them to complete, the same job then you cannot hesitate to do so.

“The little that people give me is my payment. I love helping people that is why I make sure that people clear the way for them,” he said adding that he uses the money to feed his family.

As I was talking to Richard, one man who was passing by greeted Richard.

“Malume apa ndiye mwagwira ntchito yotamandika” (You have done a great job). That's all he could say not evening giving Richard a K5.00 for the “great job”.

Apart from clearing the way, I have just discovered that he sells some Life Cigarretes at only K5.00 each.

I kept looking back after I had crossed just make sure he was not following me.

Next time you see Richard or any other person doing similar things, do not just appreciate what he has done by word of mouth but let the pocket speak too—it's a sure way of showing that you really meant what you said.