Thursday, May 13, 2010

Tsogolo Labwino (Towards a Brighter Future)

Author: Krystle Praestiin

A cool breeze caresses my face as I sit under a clump of mature mango trees, listening to the rhythmic beating of African drums and women’s feet as they dance around the drummers, chanting songs that reflect the joy that comes from the lessons and activities that ADRA Malawi has been involving them in. Even the babies can’t escape the celebrations, strapped firmly to their mother’s backs their heads bop to the sway of their mother’s dancing. I laugh as the tiniest of babies sleeps soundly on its mothers back as she bounces up and down, seemingly unaware of the significance of today’s event, yet inadvertently, actively involved. It is truly a community event; even the chickens have come to the open day of the Tsogolo Labwino project (funded by AusAid through ADRA Australia), in the small village of Mndola in the Salima District.

The purpose of the open day is for the community to show case the project's community driven activities to the members of the community, village leaders, government officials and other interested NGOs, through songs, dramas, speeches and demonstrations under the theme “Extension that Works with Partnerships can Make a Difference”.

By far the most interesting part of this open day has been walking around the village to see the demonstrations of various activities, that ADRA trained leaders from groups called Kumanga Umodzi (Buildi
ng Togetherness) have been involved in. Activities displayed included: homestead gardening, manure making, water point management, and food preservation, food processing techniques (e.g. alternative uses of Soya beans), Saving & Loans groups (S&L), Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) mobile clinic for HIV and Functional Adult Literacy (FAL) classes. At each station one of the Kumanga Umodzi leaders would explain what they had been taught and the process they had been trained in to, for example, make their garden or their manure, this was followed by a question and answer time for spectators who wished for more information about various aspects of the activities.

Even though I could not understand what was being said as they were all speaking Chichewa
(seriously need to start learning this language), I could understand the smiles and the gleam of pride in their eyes. For these Kumanga Umodzi leaders each activity represents an opportunity for a better more empowered life, not just for them but for their families and their community as a whole. The gardens represent a more sustainable source of food, the food processing techniques represent a chance to improve their diets and to start a small business to support their family, and the Functional Adult Literacy classes represent greater choices and opportunities in a life that once offered only one.

When I spoke with the VCT mobile clinic volunteer (34 year old Mr Amon Chimphepo, father of four children and also an ADRA community facilitator for the village) he said that because of the readily available tests and information being presented to them people have learnt
the importance of knowing their HIV/AIDS status. It is in the knowing that they can start receiving Anti Retroviral (ARV) treatments; treatments that help them live longer and healthier lives, lives that can save their children from being orphaned. However, he laments that despite people coming for voluntary testing and counseling they have a problem in accessing Anti Retroviral drugs which are found at the government hospital 30 km from the village. This impedes many people who do not have the energy to travel the distance every month to acquire the much sought after medication. Mr Chimphepo was trained by a government run project called Management Science for Health together with a lady assistant and was provided with a testing kit for the community. ADRA's role has been to encouraged him to reach out to as many house holds in the community through the provision of a push bike and diverse skills in leadership and group management. Since the project began in July 2009, he has tested more than 300 people for HIV/AIDS and today he tested 4 more people. He is very proud of the role he plays in the development of his community and so grateful for the encouragement that ADRA has given him to provide this much needed service.

Today, I saw what hope looks like and I saw how important it is to empower communitie
s with knowledge and opportunities to create for themselves a better future. Seeing the activities and speaking with the people was so uplifting and encouraging. It is great to know what I am a part of and if I had not been too shy, I would have joined the dancing circle and celebrated with them.

Note the ff:

FAL- Functional Adult Li

S&L- Savings and Loans

KU- Kumanga Umodzi (Building Togetherness)

VCT – Voluntary Counseling an
d Testing

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