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Shielding girls from HIV arrow

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EMPOWERED TO FIGHT HIV— Skilled youths

When 23-year-old Catherine Walusa of Mbonekera Village, Traditional Authority Liwonde in Machinga District, fell pregnant in 2018, she thought the best things in life were behind her.

“I was 21 years old at the time. To make matters worse, the man responsible for the pregnancy did not want to continue with the relationship because he had just been selected to a public university. He said we were no longer compatible.

“When I gave birth in 2019, I did not have the financial means to take care of my child. Family members tried to help out but could not do much. That is when I started to entertain thoughts of getting a man older than me so that he could be helping me financially. I was on the edge,” Walusa said.

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Had she fell into the trap of finding a man far much older than her, she would, probably, have joined the HIV web that has been responsible for the loss of productive citizens in the country.

As at now, cases of new HIV infections stand at 19,000 every year in the country, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAids). Globally, 40,000 people contract the virus every day.

The UN agency believes that more needs to be done to bring the figures down because, in Malawi and around the world, the virus remains a public health threat.

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Fortunately, when the UN agency and the HIV and Aids Nutrition Committee of Parliament were revealing these figures in Lilongwe on August 23 this year, Walusa was already on the path to self-sufficiency.

This is because she is one of the people that were enrolled in a cosmetics course, one of stakeholders’ interventions in the fight against new HIV infections.

No wonder, she is elated, more so because she recalls how lack of child support nearly pressured her into promiscuity, thereby increasing her chances of catching HIV.

Last year, she heard about Determined, Resilient Empowered, Mentored and Safe (Dreams) clubs, which are part of a five-year project that started in 2020.

The project is being implemented by Global Hope Mobilisation (Glohomo) using funds from the United States Agency for International Development (USaid), one of the beneficiary districts being Machinga.

That is how Walusa was given guidance and a chance to start studying cosmetics, for three months, at DAPP Mikolongwe Vocational School in Chiradzulu District before being sent on attachment at a local hair salon in the district.

She can now make wigs, among other things.

Glohomo District Economic Strengthening Officer for Machinga District, Francis Kanduwa, said the organisation, together with lead partner Bantwana Initiative of World Education, noted how empowering girls protects them from catching the virus.

“We enroll girls into Dreams clubs, which is a component of the Ana Patsogolo initiative aimed at protecting girls from the disease. This is done after screening them using benchmarks such as their age range and the economic status of their families. Once they qualify to be part of these clubs, we empower them with knowledge on HIV Prevention, apart from training them in their chosen trade,” Kanduwa said.

So far, 176 girls have been equipped with skills over the last two years as a means of protecting them from HIV.

Some 34.4 kilometers from Machinga District in Zomba City, Pemphero Makawa has completed a primary course in hotel operations at the Malawi Institute of Tourism, where she was enrolled last year.

She is now looking forward to obtaining a diploma in the same field and she feels that this, together with knowledge acquired on preventing new HIV infections, will go a long away in safeguarding her from the pandemic.

Malawi Aids Counseling and Resource Organisation (Macro) District Coordinator, William Nyoni, whose organisation is implementing the project in the old capital city, said they have been working with concerned parties to identify girls that are at risk of contracting HIV.

Those targeted include people that have multiple sex partners, girls that have babies but are not married and those that have dropped out of school.

He added that, through the Dreams module, they have reached out to over 120 girls since last year.

In Zingwangwa Township, Blantyre, more girls are being empowered against new HIV infections. Some of them, Eneless Mpingasa, Nellie Mankhwala and Rachel Misasi, are drawing the attention of residents and passersby alike.

Clad in safety glasses, welding boots and other gear they use at welding shops, they impress people such as owner of Saheme Welding Contractors Hassan Lipalapata, who has taken them under his wings to teach them basics of the trade. They, too, are beneficiaries of the Dreams Component of the Ana Patsogolo Project.

Eneless, Nellie and Rachel dream of owning a welding shop one day as the quest to empower girls continues.

As efforts to reduce the unemployment gap in the country continue to be made, however, one can only hope that employment data will be updated.

Just last week, Labour Minister Vera Kamtukule bemoaned lack of accurate employment data, citing it as one of the factors hindering the government’s responsiveness to job creation issues.

Kamtukule said, according to Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Employment Data, Malawi is the only country that has outdated data.

Speaking during the Joint Sector Review on the Job Creation Strategy in Lilongwe on Thursday, Kamtukule said the last Labour Force Survey was done in 2013.

She said Malawi needs about K300 million to do another survey to update its information.

“We are lobbying for support for the Labour Force Survey,” Kamtukule said.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Sosten Gwengwe is hopeful that incorporating indigenous businesses in goods and services’ procurement is another way of reducing the employment gap in the country.

“We also want expatriates to be transferring skills to locals,” Gwengwe said.

In July 2020, the Malawi Government embarked on a job creation programme aimed at reducing levels of unemployment in the medium to long term.

World Bank Country Manager for Malawi, Hugh Riddell, said development partners are happy with the strategic planning as it is in line with the bank’s development agenda

“We echo sentiments that the private sector should be playing a leading role in creating jobs,” Riddell said.

That way, Malawi will have many avenues of empowering people and, in a way, rescuing them from the jaws of HIV and Aids.

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