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Communities making strides in human rights

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Communities in Zomba, Mangochi and Phalombe, have just proved right the saying that knowledge is power by converting whatever they learn from Radio Listening Clubs (RLC) to know, claim and defend their rights.

In Zomba Chisi, members of the community were trained and mobilised into RLCs by the Development Communications Trust (DCT), a local non-governmental organisation, to claim and protect their rights. The community which is marooned on Chisi Island on Lake Chilwa, faced hiccups in accessing ARVs for its 500 members who are living positively.

“Our people had to pay K3,400, return ticket from the Island to Likangala Health Centre on the main land, just to collect ARVs on a monthly basis. Some of our people stopped taking ARVs because they could not afford the transport costs,” explains Linly Deliasi, a member of Chisi RLC.

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Deliasi concedes that HIV prevalence rate is high on the island due to its fishing business.

“Business people come from as far as Lilongwe and Blantyre to buy fish. They interact with our people thereby increasing the prevalence rate of the virus. Our men and boys also spend time fishing on the lake leaving behind their partners. It’s a dangerous cycle,” she explains.

She says her RLC talked with authorities at Chisi and Likangala Health Centres to allow them access the life-prolonging drugs at their local facility.

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But the new arrangement brought with it new challenges as well. Deliasi says that members of the hospital management committee at Chisi demanded K100 from each recipient. The committee members claimed that the money would go towards cost of transport for the one collecting the ARVs from Likangala Health Centre.

“They threatened that if the issue was reported to authorities, they would stop the arrangement. But as RLC members, we stood with our community members and helped them claim their rights. The committee members grudgingly stopped demanding the money and the community is happy,” she says.

Village head Chigwele of the island is proud of the achievements of the RLC saying it has restored dignity to his people especially those affected by the virus.

“People living positively have been subjected to cruelty. As chiefs, we will continue to support the RLCs. We also intend to involve the police and other authorities to help us in this,” Chigwele says.

While in Mangochi, the Lugwena RLC had to fight with the police to claim their right to access maize at an Admarc market. Working under the “Ndi Zathu Zomwe Project”, the community was trained in consumer rights by the DCT.

Ethel Namakhwa of Lugwena RLC explains that Admarc officers cheated them; they sold them six kilogrammes instead of the 10 kilogrammes as per the required ration.

“We went to the market and monitored the situation. We used our own accredited weighing scales to verify Admarc sales and indeed established that the people were being cheated. Police officers guarding the place tried to intimidate us but we told them that we had powers under the [Republican] Constitution and that we pay taxes that sustain the police work,” says Namakhwa, her face beaming with a sense of satisfaction.

She says that the monitoring also revealed that the law enforcers would get 15 out of the 100 bags that were dispatched to the Admarc market.

“After our monitoring, we saw the police officers carrying home two bags of maize. We stopped their vehicle and demanded proof of purchase. They pleaded with us to let them go after a day’s hard-work. We cautioned them and the practice stopped there and then”, says Namakhwa.

And in Phalombe District, DCT empowered five RLCs to demand for inclusive education for their children with disabilities.

Accordiong to Group Village Head (GVH) Mpinda, the project covers areas under Traditional Authorities Chiwalo and Nazombe. Mpinda explained that the Catholic Development Commission (Cadecom) built capacity of RLCs on how they would mobilise the communities towards achieving inclusive education.

“We came up with three main issues: Either teachers had no capacity to train pupils with disabilities or if they had, there were no teaching and learning materials for special needs education. There was also an issue of lack of infrastructure in schools as well as discrimination in the local communities,” explains Mpinda.

The traditional leader says the RLCs organised interface meetings with members of the community. The meetings, he says, saw 60 teachers being trained in special needs education at their local teachers’ development centre.

“As I speak, chiefs are mobilising their subjects to build a resource centre for special needs pupils at Nazombe Primary School because we only have one centre in the whole district. Community leaders also take advantage of every community gathering to highlight issues of inclusive education. We can see change in the attitudes of the community members towards inclusive education,” says Mpinda.

Primary Education Adviser for Nazombe Zone, Abdul Gama, concurs with Mpinda saying “our [teachers’] eyes have never been open on inclusive education as is the case now.”

DCT projects officer, Hassan Nkata, hailed the communities for standing up for their rights.

“We are happy that the communities have embraced issues of rights. The aim is not to make life difficult for anyone but to motivate the communities to take a pro-active role in developing their areas and the nation instead of just waiting for the government alone,” he says.

Nkata hailed the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (Osisa) through Cadecom as well as the UNDP through Democracy Consolidation Programme for funding the projects.

As we part ways, GVH Mpinda says: “With this knowledge, we feel so empowered and we shall continue to claim and defend our rights.”

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