Friday, August 15, 2014

‘When Mother is a Child’ project takes off in Mulanje

By Elias Banda
‘When Mother is a Child’  (WMC) project has taken off in Mulanje to address matters of early marriages and reproductive health issues among other related risks facing teenager mothers.
The goal of the WMC project is to reduce teenage pregnancies and improve the health and socio-economic status of teenage mothers and their children. The two year project which is being supported by DANIDA through ADRA Denmark is targeting 300 teenage mothers between the age of 10 and 19 in Traditional Authority Juma in Mulanje District.
According to the Project Coordinator Judith Kumwenda, the project would build the capacity of teenage mothers on matters of sexual and reproductive health and human rights in order for them to make informed choices in life. The capacity building would also include; child care and cultural friendly practices, income generating and saving skills to meet teenage mothers’ physical, social and cognitive needs. The skills acquired would increase the mothers’ resilience to deal with cases of malnutrition and prevention of childhood illnesses.
Kumwenda said the intervention would also include putting in place mechanisms to encourage targeted teenage mothers to be either reintegrated into the formal education system or enrolled in the informal learning institutions such as REFLECT literacy classes and others.
The project has emanated from lessons learnt during the implementation of the   Action for Social Change Program in 60 village communities which revealed socio-economic challenges due to early sex debut, pregnancies and early marriages among girls of school going age. The consequences of these predicaments were glaring in the communities and they included high illiteracy levels, high school dropout, HIV/AIDS and poverty.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Chinomba community formulates laws ahead of initiation camps.

By Elias Banda
Initiation camps for boys and girls begin the first week of August every year in Mulanje but this year, the Chinomba Village Community would like to treat the ceremony differently by formulating laws restricting the entry age and the curriculum.
The decision to restrict initiation operations  commonly known as thezo in local language came into effect after the community discovered that the number of girls dropping out of school for early marriages was on the increase.  The irony of the matter is that girls and boys aged between 7 and 9 are now considered legible for the ceremony and while at the initiation camps, they are taught sex theories and family matters centrally to their age.
Though the camps are separate for boys and girls, they run on the same period of about 14 days and when they graduate they are instructed to practice what they learnt at the camp by sexually cleansing their bodies. If they don’t sexually cleans, they would not get married in future or their bodies would have unexplained fatalities according to Vax Mwaukila, one of the community members at Chinomba. It is on the basis of  this belief that girls are forced to practice sex after graduating from the ceremonies in order to keep the bad spirits at bay. Enelesi Manganisha of Chinomba village said the sex theories and practices have a huge bearing on child education because girls prefer sex to education and they eventually drop from school to go for early marriage.
School going children who did not undergo initiation ceremony procedure are being marginalized and segregated by peers and they react by either abandoning school or going for an early entry into entry at the initiation camp. The impression is that those who went through initiation are considered the best people in the world.
After graduation, there is a special ceremony for girls known as Chitseko (dancing on the flat door). Here, girls dance while being half naked with beads around their waist and neck in full view of the community members. During this ceremony, girls display their sexy dancing skills and they send a message to the world that they are now have all capabilities to be wives. Enelesi Manganisha argues that the practice attracts a wrong sort of attention because it creates an opportunity for men and boys to choose sexual partners. She further argues that making some one dance while being half naked without his consent is a direct attack to her dignity.
It was against this background that a ADRA Malawi facilitated a community dialogue session were people advocated for change of the approach on the initiation ceremony. During the discussions, community members outlined the consequences the culture is bringing in the community including the escalation of HIV/AIDS cases, unwanted pregnancies and birth complications among others.  The agreed age is 13 and above and that sex matters should be removed from the curriculum and those found defying this law would pay a goat and K5000 (about $125).  

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mwanza woman finds gold in VS&L initiative

By Grey Sagawa and Kingsley Namizinga

Catherine Makungwa, 29 and mother of 4 boys hails from Sudala Village, Traditional Authority Kanduku in Mwanza District. In 2012, Catherine was divorced and life for her became unbearable as it was difficult to cope with responsibilities that go with a single parent. She struggled to find food and sending children to school. All hopes were shattered and in desperate situations, she spent most of her time doing ganyu (casual labor) in other people’s fields. Ganyu sapped all her energy that could have been used in her own field, thereby creating a vicious circle of food insecurity in her household. It never rained on Catherine but poured on her when she only could afford one meal in a day and eventually, her children started showing signs of malnutrition. Meanwhile, the grass-thatched house she lived in was dilapidated and was on a verge of collapsing.

 But in a dramatic turn of events as though she was dreaming, Catherine breathed a sigh of relief when in October 2012 she got the news that the Village Savings and Loan program (VSL) was introduced by ADRA Malawi through the DFID supported Enhanced Community Resilience Program (ECRP). At first, Catherine felt that she was not the right candidate because she was too poor to meet the requirements of the VSL initiative. But she gathered courage and joined the group called Tiyese (let’s try). The name depicts the doubts the members of the group had, whether their lives would improve after joining the group.

Upon joining VSL, she was happy to discover that her needs were met. She was happy when for the first time in her life, she got her first loan of K10, 000 (about $25) and she used the loan to set up a business selling doughnuts and bananas. A few months later, her life started changing and the more she repaid the loan the higher were her dreams for her household. At the first sharing out, she bought 24 iron sheets for her new house. Apart from the improved livelihood, Catherine’s self esteem has also been raised because she is now economically independent.

And Catherine could not hide her excitement when she said, “ I would like to thank ADRA Malawi for introducing VSL in our village. The most marginalized members of our village have now changed for the better and VSL is indeed the weapon for defeating poverty”

 The ECRP project is being supported by DFID, Irish aid and the Royal Norwegian Embassy to reach out to 4000 households with climate change mitigation initiatives in Mwanza District.

Friday, April 25, 2014

ADRA Malawi, partners, release research findings on FISP

By Elias Banda
A research report on small holder farmers’ perception on the ongoing Farm Input Subsidy Program (FISP) has been unveiled in Blantyre, sparking debate on whether it was necessary for the Malawi Government to continue with the program or not . The function, which took place at Ryalls Hotel,  was attended by  researchers, politicians, agriculture experts, lecturers and journalists.  The purpose of the function was to report farmer’s perception on subsidized fertilizer program and its impact.
Speaking during opening remarks Michael Usi, ADRA Malawi Country Director said the issue of FISP emanated from community dialogue sessions in the ADRA Malawi’s Action for Social Change Program (ASC) impact areas and it further prompted for more research into the matter.  For this reason, ADRA Malawi entered into partnership with the Civil Society Agriculture Network (CISANET)  and Centre for Agriculture Research Development (CARD) of the Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) and commissioned them to conduct a study of FISP between August and September 2013.

Michael Usi Speaking during the function
Participants listening to presentations and speeches

Presenting the findings of the study, Dr Donald Makoka from LUANAR said data for the study was collected from both FISP beneficiaries and non-beneficiaries and key informants in 6 districts of Malawi of which four ; Mulanje, Mzimba, Lilongwe and Machinga were ASC impact districts and the other two were Chikwawa and Mchinji.  On community perception  of graduation of FISP 47% of  the total sample size of 898 indicated that   FISP should graduate while 53 % said FISP should not have a graduation component.  On the future perception of FISP, Dr Makoka said that over 50% of the sampled FISP beneficiaries in 5 districts apart from Chikwawa, indicated that the program should phase out and the price of fertilizer be reduced. He said the average fertilizer price beneficiaries wanted to be reduced would be at K5000 (about $12.5)/50kg bag.
Nevertheless, the study found that 67% of the non-poor beneficiaries, 70% of the poor and 63% of the ultra-poor beneficiaries, all reported that the 2012/13 FISP had reduced their household food insecurity. The study also found that the majority of the sampled FISP beneficiaries still do not have harvest enough to last them the whole year. However, the FISP improved the beneficiaries’ ability to have food for about 2.6 months, from 4.5 months to 7.1 months in a year. 
Dr Makoka also pointed out that the FISP program has a negative bearing on the relationships in the community. He said that 87.3% of the sampled households reported that community relationships have worsened due to FISP and the proportion was highest in Lilongwe. He said traditional leaders complained that   the majority of non-beneficiaries refused to participate in community development because they were not part of the FISP program.
Dr Lipita speaking on behalf of government at the function

Currently, the FISP Program is targeting 1.5 million farm families and a researcher Hanfrey Mdyetseni From CISANET said during his presentation that the Malawi Government spent a staggering K60 Billion (about $150, 000,000) in the 2013/2014 agriculture season and the figure represents  10% of the total national budget. 
Mr Mdyetseni bemoaned the unavailability of audited report on the FISP expenditure and failure by implementers of the program to provide data on how the program has been implemented are some of the issues the general public was skeptical about.
Speaking on behalf the Malawi Government Dr  Lipita, Director of Extension Services in the Ministry of Agriculture commended ADRA Malawi and partners for the research activity. He said the research findings were thought provoking and that government would look at both sides of the debate and analyze it further to come up with a conclusion. He also said that he took note of the challenges in the implementation of FISP Program.   
The Action for social change program is being supported by Denmark to bring about individual and society change in Malawi.



Monday, March 31, 2014

Community passes law to reduce illiteracy

By Elias Banda
In a bid to increase literacy levels community members at Group Village Mdondwe in Lilongwe have passed a law enforcing men and women to attend adult classes. During a village meeting community members agreed that those who would not register and attend classes would pay a fine of K3000 (about $6). The unanimous decision was arrived at upon getting the news that all 22 people who sat for October 2013 examinations in the village adult class failed to reach the passing mark.  
Speaking in an interview Village Head Mdondwe said the results were unacceptable given the high levels of illiteracy in his village where many people could not read and write. He said it was difficult for his subjects to participate in community development activities when they could not read and write. During the interview the village head was visibly shocked by the results his village got and expressed concern that his village would lag behind in development if illiteracy was sustained. He therefore gave a stern warning that he would deal with failures. The chief however said he was optimistic that things would improve with the imposition of a fine because people would now be serious.
 Last year ADRA Malawi, through the Action for Social Change Program facilitated establishment of an adult class in the area for people to learn how to read, write and count. Meanwhile, classes have resumed in the village and an impromptu visit to area showed an overwhelming class attendance.
The Action for Social Change Program is being supported by Denmark to bring about individual and society change in Tradional Authority Tsabango in Lilongwe.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Eliza Mdezo dies

Grief engulfed ADRA Malawi staff on Friday after the death of Elizabeth Mdezo.  Eliza died in the early hours of Friday, March 7 at Mwaiwathu Hospital in Blantyre after a long battle with cancer.
When the news broke, the state of shock was overwhelming among staff and Dyson Mbengo, ADRA Malawi Human Resource Officer described the passing on of Eliza as huge loss for ADRA Malawi.
Eliza was until her death ADRA Malawi Chief Accountant and at some point served as Acting Finance Director. She is survived by two children, Stanley and Emma. According to family members, Eliza would be buried in Nkhatabay, her home area on Monday, March 10.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Community amends initiation policy to control early pregnancies in Mulanje

By Elias Banda
The  initiation policy has been revisited in Traditional Authority Chikumbu in Mulanje to bring under control cases of early pregnancies while fostering the promotion of delayed sex debut among younger girls.
Prior to the review process girls and boys aged between 9 and 10 years were legible for initiation and were exposed to sex and family matters, a situation widely condemned by the community because such issues were morally against their age.  And when they graduated, they were expected to put what they learn t into practice, a  situation that led to increased early pregnancies and marriage. Early sex debut   also had a bearing on school dropout among girls as they highly preferred marriage to school. 

mothers are now encouraging and supporting the girl child to go to school
Hot issue: community members debating the initiation ceremony policy review.
ADRA Malawi through the Enhanced Livelihood Gender Empowerment Project (ELGE) launched a sensitization campaign by engaging community leaders and traditional counselors known as Anankungwi in the local language, emphasizing on the effects of   the custom. A series of community dialogue sessions were conducted to analyze the impact of the cultural practice and how it would affect the society at large.
Group Village Headman Chitambi said things were now changing and it was imperative that some of the traditional practices especially those that impinged human freedoms were removed from the society.
The current policy adopted by chiefs enforces that those legible for initiation ceremony should be 13 years and above and that matters of sex and family should be removed. The new policy also highlights that religious organizations should be engaged to provide spiritual and moral support to the girls and boys while they undergo initiation ceremony. 
Speaking in an interview, ELGE Project Manager Andiyesa Mhango said since the amendment of the policy, there is an observed shift from reliance on traditional counselors as sole girl instructors to mothers taking more responsibility of instructing their daughters.     Andiyesa said that the increased women enrollment in the adult literacy program is encouraging more parental support in the girl child education. She said that her project is monitoring the situation though there are positive indications that the targeted communities are now placing more value on education than culture.
The ELGE Project is being supported by Sweden to bring about individual and society positive change in Mulanje.