HIV Support Groups in Malawi Provide Hope & Independence

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2019 Christianson Fellow Cheyenne Polk is helping to improve the food and income security for people impacted by HIV in Chikwawa, Malawi.

I’ve been in Chikwawa, Malawi for more than three months now with the organization Development Initiative Network (DIN Malawi), which partners with female empowerment groups, small business programs, youth clubs, and HIV support groups. For my Christianson Fellowship-funded program, I’ll be working in the HIV sector to continue community development programs with them. We’ll create a tailor training program for 12 women as well as an organic garden training and garden development program for each of the four HIV support groups.

In order to get to know the group members better, I’ve been attending their weekly meetings. Each week, the support groups meet to manage their village savings bank, lead group counseling sessions, and learn about new topics related to HIV and health. With each meeting, the group raises money by collecting small membership fees and through group programs. These activities are all run by the group and all benefit the group.

Sorting money from livestock and bicycle taxi programs to distribute to each group member
Sorting money from livestock and bicycle taxi programs to distribute to each group member
Image courtesy of Cheyenne Polk

In December, the Namabvu HIV support group threw an amazing end-of-year party, which I was lucky to attend. Based on how much each member contributed voluntarily, that money is doubled (by the group’s pot and group programs which raise money) and given back to them to invest in themselves at this end-of-year party.

Namabvu HIV support group members greet guests at their end-of-year party
Namabvu HIV support group members greet guests at their end-of-year party
Image courtesy of Cheyenne Polk

The money that the group raised collectively through the livestock and bicycle taxi businesses was split evenly and distributed to each member. Namabvu group is starting the new year off right by starting their fundraising all over again.

Dancing in a circle with the Namabvu support group at the end-of-year party
Dancing in a circle with the Namabvu support group at the end-of-year party
Image courtesy of Cheyenne Polk

I love the way these Malawians look out for each member and give each other much needed emotional, financial, and health stability through their own programs. Every single member I’ve talked to has said that the group gave them hope, provided them with assistance, and helped change community attitudes around HIV. I can see their joy in being a part of something so important in the weekly dancing, singing, and enthusiastic discussions that I’ve witnessed. I’m so happy to be a part of expanding programming with such amazing people.

Cheyenne Polk

Cheyenne Polk volunteered in Malawi with the help of a Christianson Fellowship, from the InterExchange Foundation.

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Alliance for International Exchange
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