The word HIV/AIDS is grim and dark. It is death itself. It has ravaged Malawi for several years now and the effects are devastating. True as the statements maybe we are not a dying nation. Living positively with HIV is not the end of one’s future.
A day with the Coalition of Women Living with HIV/AIDS (COWLHA) of Traditional Authority Chikulamayembe will clear you of any misconceptions you have had about living with the virus. The highly energetic, full of life, happy women are a stark contrast to what many say is the face of HIV.
COWLHA is a group of women who decided to come out in the open with their HIV status in their communities. They are there to encourage other people to go for HIV testing and assure those that are positive that it is not the end of the world.
“We go in different areas to remove fear and talk against discrimination. We talk about ARTs and how they make you live a healthy life. We tell them not to stress about but to live a happy and normal life,”
Living with HIV does not mean staying at home and not doing anything at all. The COWLHA women also have their own gardens where they grow tomatoes, soy, groundnuts and maize. The group stands on its own with assistance from ActionAid Malawi. Actionaid supplied 5kgs of groundnuts and 5kg of soy for the women to grow in their gardens.
“The Anti Retroviral Treatment we are on helps us to have a healthy and energetic life that enables us to work to work in our gardens everyday and support our families,” says
For profits, the women are in the soap making business which they sell in their community. The money is used to support the group and also their families. With the soy crop, they make soy coffee which is also sold in their community and especially to HIV positive people because of its nutritious intake. A drink called the Power Drink that increases one’s immunization is also made by these inspiring women. The drink, which is a mixture of Aloe Vera, garlic, honey, ginger and water is drank 3 times every day. The power drink is not just for those who are HIV reactive. It is also sold to those who just want a strong immunity system and to those with health problems like High blood pressure, asthma.
The group also looks after orphans whose parents died because of HIV/AIDS. We pay for school fees for those orphans who are now in secondary school.
Martha Gondwe, 42 years old, has learnt a lot in this group. With the help of their Coordinator she now has skills in soap making which she will use to start a business of her own. With 5 children to take care of, Martha has made use of her garden and sells the vegetables to buy the necessities around her home.
Christina N’gona’s reason for joining the group was that after being tested positive she lived a depressed life and faced a lot of stigma. She felt that it was the end of her life. After being advised and encouraged by other group members she decided to join COWLHA. Today with 43 other members of HIV positive people in the group, she now gets the support she needs from the group