Mary Chichera


Mary (right) carefully measures and cuts material for a shirt.

Tucked in the southern corner of Malawi not far from the Mozambique border is a small house literally filled with children. A dozen of them, ranging in age from 6 to 17, live here along with their mother, Mary Chichera.

A tiny but feisty woman with dancing eyes and a warm smile, Mary cares for all of them by herself—six are her own children, six are orphans who lost their parents to the village’s AIDS epidemic (one local leader estimated over 600 AIDS orphans in this village alone). A disease that disproportionately affects the poor, HIV/AIDS can also trap those living with the disease with the burden of poverty—both those infected by HIV, as well as those caring for a patient or a child orphaned by the disease.

It’s easy to supply each of the kids with love and attention, said Mary. “It’s a very hard life trying to support all the children and get them enough food, blankets, paraffin, school materials, and everything,” she said. “This makes many heartbreaking situations.” For example, one of her children was accepted into a prestigious private school—an opportunity to escape poverty. Pausing to wipe her eyes, Mary explained how she was forced to choose between this promising future for her child, or food for the rest of her children.

PIH’s partner organization in Malawi, APZU (Abwenzi Pa Za Umoyo) is working to eliminate these kinds of difficult choices faced by those affected by HIV. APZU’s Program for Social and Economic Rights (POSER) initiates programs that directly address poverty, which is often a root cause of diseases like AIDS.


The POSER team helped procure sewing machines for the co-op to share.


Some examples of the clothing tailored by the women in the co-op.

Partnering with a local community based organization (CBO) called Chiyanjano, POSER has helped create a clothes-making co-op for women who are either living with HIV themselves, or are caring for HIV patients or orphans. With training from experienced tailors, supplies, cloth, and sewing machines donated by POSER, Mary explained how 30 of her neighbors are now working together to sew clothes. She glowed with pride as she showed off some of their products—brightly colored dresses, shirts, and jackets. These products are then either given to AIDS patients and orphans struggling with poverty, or sold in the market to provide an income to help Mary and the other women support their families.

POSER has also commissioned the co-op to produce an order of school uniforms for poor students in the district, as well as uniforms for APZU staff and curtains for the local hospital. Edwin and his team plan to help the women sell their products overseas in the US and the UK in the near future.

“We are really being empowered,” Mary said with a smile.

“Due to the growing number of HIV patients and orphans, we were so desperate,” added Ezra Dzomodva, the director of Chinyanjano. “And then [POSER] came to our rescue.”

In addition to Chiyanjano, POSER has partnered with five other CBOs throughout the Neno district to implement income generation programs and vocational training, childcare centers, community gardens, and support groups for people living with HIV/AIDS. By coupling these programs with the local health centers supported by APZU, POSER hopes to attack HIV and other diseases of the poor medically as well as economically.


[posted November 2008]