The issue of international development is a subject close to my heart. So, it was a great pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to Oxfam Programme Officer, Naile Salima about the fantastic work that the charity is doing in Malawi.
Malawi is a country facing many challenges. Based in the South Eastern region of Africa, it is one of the area’s poorest countries. In recent years, the fragile economy which is largely built around agriculture has been hindered by the devastating impact of climate change and rising fuel prices.
The country is also riddled with underlying social problems. Recent figures show that the number of HIV/AIDS cases in the country is on the increase with 12% of the population now affected. This is coupled with the shocking statistic that a staggering 48% of women have been victims of violence.
What is clear is that the country has many problems it must tackle, but it was truly inspiring to hear about the work that Naile and her team at Oxfam are doing on the ground to improve people’s lives.
This was no better illustrated than when Naile outlined the example of Maureen. Maureen is a single mother from the Balaka district of Malawi who was struggling to survive. Her main source of income came from visiting the hill near her home and breaking stones to sell to local building contractors.
Though, after intervention from Oxfam, Maureen was given a cow to look after. This was a vital lifeline as the cow was able to produce milk that Maureen could sell at market to support her family.
The cow was not just a benefit to Maureen, but helped her entire village. This was the case as once the cow became pregnant its offspring was passed on to Maureen’s neighbours who could also use the milk that the cow produced to increase their income. This process would continue throughout the whole village.
The example of Maureen and her neighbours forms a key component of Oxfam’s strategy in Malawi. They are initiating practical programmes based around economic empowerment, which gives people the opportunity to increase their income and improve their standard of living.
Oxfam’s work is not just based round dealing with the obvious economic difficulties, but also about tackling common misconceptions within Malawian society about HIV/AIDS and the treatment of women.
What was particularly impressive to hear from Naile is that her team is actively engaging with village chiefs to change some of the out-dated and unacceptable traditions that women in the country have to endure. For example, a common value held in Malawian society is that women should undergo sexual cleansing. This involves a women being forced to have unprotected sex with her new partner, in order to remove the remnants of her previous partner.
The work of Oxfam in this area is absolutely vital as it is unacceptable that women in the 21st century are treated in such a way and this encouragement to have unprotected sex cannot be allowed to continue in any society where the threat of HIV/AIDS remains so high.
As well as changing attitudes about unprotected sex, another important area of the charity’s work is being a leading campaigner against violence towards women.
Naile explained that women in Malawi are often in a situation where they are subjected to constant and repeated violence by their partner. They are often left feeling helpless and alone in their community as violence against women is seen as something, which is commonplace within society.
Though, Oxfam in Malawi have been active in bringing these victims together and have acted as an important link between the media and the government in raising the profile of the issue. This action was so successful that it resulted in the passing of a law preventing domestic violence. While Naile was quick to point out that this law was far from perfect and work needed to be done to ensure that it was recognised it is still undoubtedly a step in the right direction.
While it is obvious that work still needs to be done and the problems in the area will not disappear overnight it cannot be denied that Oxfam is making a positive impact in Malawi. It was obvious from speaking to Naile just how passionate and enthusiastic she was about making a real difference in the area.
It cannot be under-estimated just how many lives that Oxfam have saved since arriving in the area in 1987. While there are many economic problems in Europe, we cannot forget about the poorest people living on our planet. So, it is more important than ever that we do all that we can to help the most vulnerable. If you want to find out more about the work that Oxfam is doing in Malawi or anywhere else in the world, you should look at their website at http://www.oxfam.org.uk.