By Robbie Flick, Health Programs Coordinator, Malawi
Robbie began working with APZU, PIH’s sister organization in Malawi, in early September. He reports on his first few days on the job.
The white land rover ferried three Malawian social workers across the rugged hillsides of Neno, still blanketed in the morning’s pale blue fog. As members of PIH’s POSER team — Project on Social and Economic Rights — my new colleagues spend their days working with local Community Based Organizations (CBOs) to help fight the poverty that is at the root of poor health in their villages.
Our first stop was at the CBO Chichiyembekezo, or “Hope” in the local language of Chichewa. The director, in a crisp yellow suit jacket and pressed pants, quickly ushered us into his office, where we sat with community stakeholders under walls covered by public health posters and charts. Together, we gauged the organization’s current work and goals. With guidance and investment from PIH, they have started a carpentry school to provide local vulnerable youth with training in a viable career path. As we walked outside to tour the school, the director proudly announced that the students’ wares — everything from beds to window frames — have been selling well, and he was confident that upon graduation, they will be able to find work.
Our next stop was at Chiyamjano — “Unity” — which runs a tailoring workshop. I chatted with members and learned what the CBO has meant to them. A 21-year-old single mother nursed her infant while explaining how her new skills from the CBO’s training program have allowed her to become financially self-reliant. Another young woman explained the security that a valuable trade skill provides in a community where family life can often be unstable.
At another CBO, members of a knitting vocational program told similar stories; in fact, it became the theme of the day: CBO’s putting forth innovative programs — from agriculture initiatives to restaurants run by former commercial sex workers — and passionately investing in their community with guidance and support from the POSER team.
But one visit in particular stood out in my mind — a small support group in the community of Chifunga made up entirely of people living with HIV. We gathered with them under the shade of blue gum tree, where their chairwoman, Victoria, described how they regularly meet to support each other, plan the group’s activities, and work to improve their community. They cultivate a vegetable garden and raise goats in order to support both a shelter for elderly community members, and a school and childcare program for 62 young children orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. In addition to helping to financially support the school, the members also teach classes and prepare food for the children. Their goal, Victoria explained, is to expand the vegetable garden and their animal rearing program to support even more vulnerable children in their community.
“PIH is a motivation,” she said. “Although we are infected, we have learned we still have life to give to our community.”
My day with the POSER team gave me a greater perspective of how PIH operates. In addition to medical services, the organization also works to invest in and empower vulnerable individuals, helping them develop their communities and ultimately addressing the societal roots of disease.