Nine years after female condoms
(FC2) were introduced in Malawi; they were not being utilized as envisioned. According to 2013 Ministry of Health Reproductive Health Unit Report, the uptake of female condoms in Malawi has stagnated to only one million pieces annually. In Balaka district, Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO) was able to distribute an average of 3000 pieces per annum for the past years.
However, the female condom is the only available female initiated method that provides multiple protection against a wide range of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV and unintended pregnancies. As this is not enough, Female condoms also increase the level of women’s empowerment.
What could have delayed their best utilization to meet the unmet prevention needs? Was it because female condoms were not rolled out under a robust Information Education and Communication strategy? or potential users did not prefer using it? Or was it because of power relations between men and women including the relative social and economic status.
In Balaka District where a reasonable number of people are not well-educated, cultural and superstitious thinking dominates; there is a negative perception towards the female condom among men and women.
YONECO currently is sustaining some project activities for female condom Education Project which was embarked in April, 2014. The sustained project activities contribute towards increased demand, access and use of female condoms by both male and female sexually active groups.
To achieve this, YONECO has established community structures and trained female condom champions in 12 health centres across the district. The Champions engage women, men and the youth in smaller and larger groups and use formats such as education sessions, community dialogue sessions.
With the interventions mentioned above, YONECO in Balaka District has managed to successfully distribute 29,594 Female condoms within 9 months (from April to December 2014). This means, on average, YONECO was able to distribute 3, 288 per month which not long ago was the total number of pieces distributed annually.
Rhoda Siyabu (18) is the first born in a family of six and she sadly got impregnated when she was only 14 and she was in Form 2 of her secondary school studies. Four years after the incident, she is failing to go back to school because her parents cannot afford to pay for her tuition fees.
Her story is among many sad stories that illustrate the hardships and challenges that many adolescent girls face in Malawi mainly due to a number of factors that include the lack of information on Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH).
For over 15 years, Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO) has been very active in the promotion and enhancement of the lives of adolescent girls and women in Malawi. Thus, Rhoda narrated her reminiscence during a monitoring visit that was conducted by YONECO in one of its initiatives that are aimed at supporting teen mothers in the Reaching the Hard to Reach Project. The visit was conducted in February, 2014 at Kanzingeni village, Group Village Headman Dzoole in the area of Traditional Authority Kwataine in Ntcheu district.
Rhoda stated that when her parents realised that she was pregnant some four years ago,they forced her to marry the boy who impregnated her. This meant the boy also had to drop out of school as both of them were still students at Dawe Community Day Secondary School and the boy was in Form 3. Nine months later, Rhoda gave birth to a baby girl through a cesarean method because she was too young to give birth and she recounted it as a very bad experience in her life.
Her marriage to the father of her daughter was typical of a forced child marriage and there was no happiness from the word go and she described it as a nightmare. Rhoda said her husband did not even buy any cloth for the child and life became very miserable for her.
In March last year, Rhoda decided to call it quits and left her matrimonial house for her home village after getting tired of her so called husband. After some weeks, the boy went to her home seeking a marriage reunion and promising that things will be okay and rosy.
No sooner had they reached their matrimonial home than the man was back in his malevolent usual self. Rhoda said that the man was even worse than before. He neither provided food nor any kind of support to his family. The man also reached the point of not sleeping in his matrimonial house for some days.
As of now, the man is a bicycle taxi operator in Ntcheu district and Rhoda is back in her home village and she said she has no wish to go back to him. Rhoda said if there is anywhere else where she would like to go back to, then it is to school.
Rhoda was among several teen mothers who were trained by YONECO on SRH and Facilitation of Life Skills Sessions to their peers in December 2013. Since January 2014, she has managed to distribute 100 female condoms and 200 male condoms to her fellow girls. Apart from that, she has also established a Teen Mothers Group that has a total of 13 members. The group meets every Wednesday for a forum where they discuss and conduct a number of activities including sessions on HIV/ AIDS prevention and treatment, family planning, STIs and the group also has a component of VSL within its activities. In addition, Rhoda said the group also encourages one another on the importance of going back to school and so far three teen mothers from the group are intending to go back to school in the next academic term.
“I would like to express my gratitude to YONECO for the training they organized in December, last year, on Teen Mothers in SRH and Life Skills Facilitation. The training helped me as well as other young girls a lot to make informed decisions and choices.
As a facilitator, I always advise my fellow adolescent girls to abstain from sex and that if they fail to abstain then they should make sure that they are using contraceptives. I also distribute condoms to them as I do not want them to fall into a similar pit like the one I fell into four years ago” says Rhoda.
As of now, Rhoda says she badly wants to go back to school but the challenge is that her parents cannot manage to pay for her tuition. This is the case because two of her siblings have also reached secondary school and their tuition fees are heavily draining the already meager resources of her father.
“My parents cannot afford to pay me school fees because they are already paying for my two siblings at Dawe CDSS. My father is a Watchman and the salary he gets is not enough to pay tuition for the three of us. Maybe I had my chance but I screwed it up,” said Rhoda.
Currently, YONECO in its innovative approaches to promote and enhance the lives of young people in Malawi has been using the SMS system to disseminate and moderate information concerning SRH to the youth. The organisation has also embarked on using the blog in order to reach out to as many young people as possible.
Doreen Magombo is a 19 year old girl who is at loggerheads with a traditional society that is reluctant to loosen its throttle on how it perceives the future and welfare of young girls who are raised and bound to marry at a very tender age, bear children and take care of their families and remain confined in the home as house wives.
Doreen was among 35 young girls whom YONECO trained as Life Skills Facilitators from the areas of Traditional Authorities Mwambo and Nkumbira in Zomba district. After the training sessions, the girl told YONECO staff that she wants to pursue her studies and fulfill her dream of becoming a police officer in the elite Police Mobile Service (PMS) department. She stated that this will enable her to be economically independent and be in a position to support her parents and her siblings.
However, she was quick to point out that the society she lives in is one major stumbling block that she has to turn into a stepping stone first before realizing her dream. Doreen explained that her ambition is in conflict with the cultural values of her home village where she stays. She further explained that her community does not support education of its young ones let alone the girls’.
‘Girls are expected to marry while they are still young and cook whatever their husbands fend for their families and those are the reasons why girls are raised. In as far as the conservative custodians of our customs are concerned, the idea of girls pursuing their studies is very unthinkable’, explained Doreen.
Doreen made a bold decision and chose a different path. After completing her primary school education she went further to Likangala Secondary School. This move led community members and her relatives to speculate that she aborts pregnancies just to stay in school. Furthermore, she is being heavily castigated by other villagers as she is wrongly accused of directly enticing other young girls to shun young suitors. Due to such issues, the girl is some kind of a stranger in her own home village as people regard her as rebellious and nobody wants to associate with her.
“I have no friends because my image has been completely blemished and the only people whom I talk to are my parents but other villagers ignore and avoid me.
No matter what they do, I am determined to achieve my goal and I will not let the situation to throw me off balance”, said Doreen enthusiastically.
Doreen sat for her Malawi School Certificate of Education (MSCE) in 2013 and managed to pass five subjects, one subject short to obtain the certificate and she intends to sit for the examinations again this year. In spite of the adversity, she has all the chances of succeeding. She also thanked YONECO for the training and explained that she will utilize the facilitation skills she got from the training to reach out to other young girls in her community.
“The training has come in the right time as I could have made a wrong decision more especially after failing to get a Malawi School Certificate of Education,” She said.
The aforementioned training was conducted in Reaching the Hard to Reach Project that is being implemented by Youth Net and Counselling (YONECO) with support from National Aids Commission (NAC). The project’s goal is to reduce HIV infections and prevalence rate among the hard to reach groups.
The choice of the hard to reach groups in the society is built on the fact that the groups are difficult to be reached with necessary information mainly because of the nature of their work or due to stigma resulting from age. Such groups include teen mothers, fishermen, bicycle taxi operators, market vendors, married adolescents, sex workers and out of school youth. The project is being implemented in Ntcheu, Balaka, Machinga and Zomba and it also extends to Mangochi and Nkhata Bay districts.
It does not rain but pours for an 11 year old standard 2 drop out Mary James (not real name) who has been defiled for more than six times by different men in 2013 alone.The girl hails from Ntcheu District and her mother is a sex worker and it is alleged that most of the times she stays in the streets. Her mother does not care about her and Mary is almost an abandoned child.
“Life as a street kid has not been all that rosy as I have been exposed to all sorts of bad things and I have lived in the harshest conditions you can imagine”, lamented Mary.
She recalls that when she was only nine years old, a 56 year old man defiled her in 2011 and now the man is in jail. As if this was not enough, a year later another man raped her and he is also rotting in jail. This year alone, Mary has been defiled by more than six different men and she says she cannot remember some and she cannot even report them to police because they were giving her some money.
“I cannot even remember how many times I have been defiled. Some were giving me K100. But the fact remains; ‘I have been defiled and defiled countless times’ ” said Mary while she was crying.
Mary is experiencing a lot of traumatizing scenarios and even her relatives are unwilling to stay with her citing that they cannot stay with a child whose mother is a sex worker.
Mary reported the matter to YONECO’s Ntcheu district Office in September, 2013. After hearing her ordeal, the Office referred her to District Social Welfare Office. The District Social Welfare Office together with YONECO went to her mothers` relatives at Nsipe area right in the district.
She was enrolled at Malonda Primary School and barely after two days, Mary decided to go back to the streets. YONECO together with the DSWO followed up the issue and learnt that her grandmother was stigmatizing her.
After this circumstance, she then decided to stay with her Aunt who resides at Ntcheu Boma. However, her aunt does not have any income generating activity but she still accepted to stay with her. YONECO counselled the Aunt together with Mary and it was agreed that she should go back to school and she was admitted at Mdeka primary school. YONECO paid K500 for school development fund and she was very committed and dedicated to her studies.
After three weeks she ran away from her Aunt’s house and she was now staying with some sex workers. Her aunt looked around for her and she was found after a week. They reported the issue to YONECO and the matter was being followed up by the organisation’s National Helpline Project Officer Hughes Munthali who promised to identify a foster home. It was assessed that there was a compromise in terms of the child’s safety and where she had been staying.
Munthali requested the DSWO in Ntcheu to write an assessment report and send it to YONECO’s National Child Helpline in Zomba. When the DSWO was briefed about the arrangement, they said they should first consult Mary’s relatives so as to get their views on the matter. After some days the DSWO said Mary’s relatives were reluctant to release her and that her mother had promised to take care of her in spite of the fact that sometimes the mother stays in Mwanza or Mulanje.
On 6th December, 2013, a YONECO volunteer reported to the organisation that Mary had been defiled by a Minibus tauter. He explained that the tauter met Mary at a certain shop where Mary begged him K100.
The tauter told her that he had such an amount at his house and as such he told her to accompany him to get the money. When they arrived at the house, he defiled her and he did not give her the money. The following day, the tauter promised her that he will give her the money soon after he knocks off and asked her not to leave the house.
When she got out of the house to relieve herself, some neighbors noticed that she had some difficulties in walking. When she was quizzed, she disclosed that she was defiled. She was taken to YONECO where they took her to police and then to the hospital where results showed that she was indeed defiled and immediately she received PEP.
The Minibus tauter got wind of the fact that Mary had reported him to police and immediately he disappeared from the area and he is still at large. Mary is now staying at her Aunt’s house who is currently very sick.
YONECO has lost trust on the ntcheu DSWO and is asking the Director of Social Welfare in the Ministry of Gender to take up the case and speed up the process of assessing Mary so that she should go to a foster home. At the moment Mary is at YONECO Safe place in Zomba and she has been there for over 3 weeks now. Apart from YONECO Ntcheu district Hospital is also desappointed with the district social welfare officer and they have been asking for how many times will Mary be subjected to PEP? The Hospital team feels the district child protection systems are very week to protect Mary from further defilement. The Ministry of Gender has since directed Zomba District Social Welfare officer to assess Mary’s situation and write social report for government action.
Chauluka Irrigation Scheme has been closed for three years from 2010 until 2013 due to conflicts between Agricultural Development Officials and the Scheme Committee,
a saga that prompted the Ministry of Agriculture to close down the scheme which is located in the area of Traditional Authority (T/A) Njolomole in Ntcheu district.
The scheme was opened in 1994 and before it was closed down, a total of 1000 people were directly benefiting from the scheme. The scheme also contributed to the social economic development of Malawi, a land locked country that has an agrarian economy.
Thus, the shut-down exposed a lot of people to extreme poverty and acute hunger. The closure left them stranded since they had no any other activity that could help them earn income or food.
Three years down the line, the ministry has reversed its decision as the scheme has now been reopened to the gratitude of all people in the area.
Thanks to Kettie Saulosi, YONECO’s Community Based Educated for engaging and persuading the Ministry of Agriculture to re-open the 50 hectares scheme. According to her messianic line of reasoning, there was need for the two opposing sides to bury the hatchet and let reopening of the place help widows, PLWHAs and people with physical challenges.
So far 112 people are benefiting from the revived scheme and Agricultural Extension Officers are encouraging farmers in the scheme to follow modern farming methods so that they should have bumper yields.
Although the farmers are celebrating the resumption of farming activities on scheme, there are also some challenges such as the exorbitant prices of farm inputs like fertilizer, seeds and pest sides. Due to this, they are unable to cultivate the whole 50 hectares of the scheme. Another challenge is that the scheme has no any water reservoir.
In a similar vein, the scheme has no modern irrigation machinery such as sprinklers and water pumps. Further to this, farmers do not have a readily available market for their produce.
YONECO’s Ntcheu District Officers encouraged the farmers to identify reliable markets in advance so that their farm produce should be bought at reasonable prices.
So far, YONECO has linked them to OIBM so that the famers can easily access Agricultural loans to boost their business. The famers were also oriented about the importance of adding value to their produce to attract more customers.
YONECO’s CBE who has been instrumental for the reopening of the scheme is providing leadership and support to the scheme committee.
Farmers are asking the Minister of Agriculture and some Agriculture Officials in the Ministry to visit them so that they should appreciate the good work which they are doing and the role which YONECO is playing in their communities.
So far YONECO has a lot of CBEs and over 2000 well trained volunteers who operate in a number of areas in Malawi.
Police in Mangochi arrested and suspiciously released on bail a fellow police officer, Constable Alfred Marko, who allegedly defiled a 6 year old girl in the early evening hours of 23 October 2013 in Mapira village, TA Mponda in Mangochi.
Constable Marko is a friend to the girl’s family and on that fateful day, the Constable took Atuweni from her home at around 6 O’clock in the evening to his house. Marko diverted from his house and darted with the little, unsuspecting girl to a near-by dark corner. He undressed the standard one girl and lay on top of her.
When George Maulidi was driving to his house past the dark corner, he noticed that an elderly person was having sex with a young girl and he stopped. It was at that point that Constable Marko dressed up quickly and run away. However, Maulidi got hold of the little girl and then chased the rapist. With the help of taxi bicycle operators, they managed to catch Constable Marko and brought him to police for alleged defilement. The police detained Marko and released him on police bail the next day under very suspicious circumstances. Meanwhile , he has since not yet appeared before the court.
Noticing that the case may either be derailed or not be prosecuted at all, YONECO Mangochi District Office mobilized other CSOs including NICE, SEEED Malawi, CCJP and met the Officer In-charge of Mangochi police, Elijah Kachikuwo to register concerns over delays to prosecute the case despite having an overwhelming evidence. Kachikuwo promised to speed up investigations and prosecution of the case. YONECO and the other CSOs agreed with the Police Officer In-charge on a seven days ultimatum.
Coincidentally, the incident happened soon after YONECO presented the Outcome Measurement Report of their Unite for Body Rights Program (UFBR) to Mangochi District Stakeholders, which among others, established that Police Officers are the main perpetrators of sexual abuse among the vulnerable groups of people including sex workers.