Category Archives: Youth empowerment

Goodbye, Malawi. It was GREAT to meet you!

Before we cross borders to visit Zambia, here are some final thoughts from Anouk as she reflects on her personal journey and says her goodbyes to Malawi…

“Hello again! Sitting at Java Café at Kenya international airport, I look back at the incredible journey we’ve made in the last couple of days. Although it’s just been seven days it feels like I’ve had enough impressions for a lifetime… Where to start?

We left Consol Home on Friday but still spent a whole day there. We had a pretty bumpy ride to an even more rural area: it was extremely romantic driving through the beautiful Malawian scenery with yellow acacia trees and thatched roofs on small huts, colorful clothes hanging to dry in the sun, children playing with sticks and stones. Looking closer though you find the clothes all torn, the bellies of lots of children big from hunger oedema, men sitting washed out under trees, women working the land and struggling for some kwachas. We arrive in a small community where we are welcomed by one of the chiefs who will take us to one of the many sick people in the region who are supported by Consol Home. We meet the fragile and exhausted looking woman in front of her house. We kneel beside her and talk. She doesn’t know how old she is, she has been sick for four years now, doesn’t take medicines because they make her feel even sicker… She’s a widow, as is her young daugther. Although she doesn’t say so, everbody knows the husband died of AIDS. And she is also HIV positive. During our talk seemingly the whole community joined us and looked at us strange white people… as we leave we’ve mixed feelings about what we saw and heard. Since being in Malawi we heard so many scary stories, about rapes, domestic violence, and the curious and sometimes deadly traditions traditional chiefs of the many tribes Malawi counts still hold. Did you ever hear about the ‘sexual cleansing’ ritual? As a girl becomes a woman (first menstruation) men consider them ready for sexual intercourse and ‘initiate’ the girls by letting experienced men sleep with them immediately. Quite horrifying. Considering the fact that most of the tribes still do polygamy this is a ‘successful’ way of spreading HIV and ruin every girls future. Boys undergo a somewhat similar ritual: they are circumsized and encouraged to start having sex with they girls that underwent this so called ‘sexual cleansing’. You could of course call these tribes ‘stupid’ but in terms of culture I think its to ‘easy’ to just do this. It’s a matter of really getting the message across to the  traditional chiefs that surely they can hold on to some of their traditions but others have to be replaced. And that takes lots and lots of time, patience and diplomacy. It’s great to see that organizations such as NOVOC also invest in this!

When we said our goodbyes in the afternoon to our many, many new friends in Namitete nobody could hold back their tears although I sincerely doubt the crowd present understood our tears ;-).

We arrived in Mabuya Camp later that evening and instead of the nsima, red beans and pumpkin leaves (real local food) we were used to in Namitete we ate spaghetti bolognese: welcome back in town…

Our programme on Saturday was a visit to Ministery of Hope, a crisis nursery which is strongly supported by the church. We were welcomed by one of the managers and after a short introduction divided into two groups to visit the nursery.

This was what I saw when I entered the 3,5 x  3,5 room: two beautiful tall African men lying on their back on the floor, both of them with a baby on their belly, cuddling and playing with big smiles on their faces. I must say I was stunned: I don’t see this very often at a Dutch daycare centre let alone was I expecting this in Malawi, a country that from a cultural perspective is very macho. Almost all of us were immediately pulled to the small, sweet babies and it didn’t take long before everybody (including Barry) was holding one of them. As we were cuddling and feeding the kids and during helping around cleaning and cooking we  heard about how lots of women lose their lives in Malawi during or quickly after giving birth, because of complications during delivery and because many women suffer from HIV. Also domestic violence resulting in death are causes of the many orphans in Malawi. Normally 25% of the babies in the crisis nursery is HIV infected though during our visit none of the babies present is (luckily!). It is just heartbreaking to realize these babies are growing up without a mother. For the fathers who are still around it is most of the times impossible to keep the child because of lack of money to provide for the necessary formula (powder milk) now the mother is gone… So if the baby is lucky, they bring it to Ministery of Hope. We hear and read some heartbreaking and horrible stories of babies who are left to die. And I meet the tiniest baby I’ve ever seen: a three weeks old boy looking like a very premature baby, struggling to stay alive. He was just left behind and somebody who found him brought him to Ministery of Hope just a day ago. I’m happy to see how well and loving these orphans are being given shelter.

During our stay I also realize that these adorable little creatures make a person soft and eager to donate. Much more than a obstinate teenager, already hardened by life who is less ‘huggable’ than a little baby. It seems unfair… But I too am soft to the bone by seeing and touching these innocent babies.

After these intense hours at the crisis nursery we decide to end our trip together with a visit to the famous Malawi lake. Although timing was a little bit challenging (everyone had assured us it was a one hour drive, but we should have calculated African time which means it was double) the drive to the lake was incredible to me: I fell in love with the Malawian landscape, hills and mountaintops, yellow and earth colours, the most beautiful sunset. It is such a huge contrast seeing, smelling and feeling this beautiful landscape and at the same time realizing the extreme poverty in which most people live in and which affects so many people, also in terms of HIV and AIDS…

I feel so privileged though, to have been able to be part of this physical and spiritual journey.



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Back down to earth with the dance4life crew in Malawi…

It’s been a great week for dance4life.  With the news that ambassador and supermodel Doutzen Kroes will be jetting into space, AND that dance4life will be the lucky recipients of one golden space flight ticket to auction off, we spent most of this week in orbit! Money raised form this fantastic ticket will be able to put thousands more young people through the dance4life schools programme!  But, coming back down to earth, there is also a lot to tell…let’s start off with a return visit to my colleagues visiting Kenya and Malawi.  We already heard last week about their fantastic welcome in Kenya.  Let’s now follow them to Malawi…

“Imagine this: pitch dark night in rural Malawi, no electricity. Only the moon and thousands and thousands of stars  and some torches to bring some light, the sound of crickets, and eleven white people spending the night there alone in two classrooms with two guards to watch over us. We are surrounded by 23,000 of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. I feel completely safe and extremely grateful to be here.

Wednesday, we arrived in Consol Home Orphan Care (CHOC) which by the way Madonna is supporting (she actually adopted her two Malawian children from one of the CHOC projects). So the dance4life crew is already working on ideas of how to get Madonna involved as an international ambassador and sponsor!

When we arrived at CHOC we were welcomed by a huge group of kids and youngsters from neighboring villages. In no time we were all dancing, clapping and gesturing together. Most of these kids lost one or both parents of AIDS. They live with one parent or with extended families. Because most of the families cannot provide for these orphans (more mouths to feed, more kids that have to go to school) these consol homes were founded to provide for these youngsters, aged between 2 and 20, during the day. Here, they offer life skills programmes, pre school care for the youngest and classes for the older kids. They provide for one meal at the end of the day. They facilitate so called sharing groups for somewhat older girls and boys (from age 10 onwards): ‘girls voices’ and ‘boys actions’. During these sessions they share all kinds of personal stories with the group. For girls, it’s mainly focused on empowerment and coping with personal trauma (rape for instance). For boys, the main focus is on behavioural change. It is hard to talk directly about how these youngsters are affected by HIV and AIDS. Because of fear of stigma, kids are told at the funeral of a parent that they died of diarrhea, pneumonia or an accident. They do know a lot about HIV and AIDS though, and feel safe enough to talk in the group. But together with some strange white ‘azungus’, that’s a little bit too much. Pretty extreme also to hear a four year old commenting on HIV and AIDS related issues.

One other focus point of  CHOC is to support for so called ‘Granny’s’, widows and/or grandmothers that have to care for lots of these orphaned children. In most cases this is very hard. So they provide groups for these granny’s too. They work in the CHOC garden, where they grow vegetables which their ‘kids’ can eat in CHOC (so less mouths to feed). CHOC believes in creating self supporting networks so they invest in involving the local community in setting up these consol homes.

Thursday, we visited a community were such a consol home is being built. We actually helped a little bit together with all youngsters present by passing through bricks which the men subsequently were building the walls with. Very special moments there, singing , humming and working together: we felt really connected and hated the fact that we had to go after a couple of hours.

There’s lots more to share, but my battery is almost finished and everybody is already sound asleep! So I will go to sleep too. Zikomo (thank you)! Till soon, Anouk ”

Thank you Anouk, for sharing these special moments. Next stop for the blog will be Zambia, where two other colleagues are looking into re start possibilities…keep tuned in…

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dance4life:where next?

So, with 27 countries already on board, dance4life is excited to be exploring new possibilities. As promised, I’d like to share with you some news. Next week, colleagues will be visiting Pakistan and Ethiopia to talk to local organisations about rolling out dance4life there. Exciting! New countries of course always offer challenges, both culturally and as each country/region has it’s own specific HIV and AIDS issues. In Ethiopia, for example, we will reaching out to young people from a nomadic background – a VERY new experience for dance4life! But it’s great that dance4life is going to be enriched by these new cultures and environments, and that we will be able to reach even more young people to create change, pushing back HIV on  a  global level.

My colleagues will be allowing us a glimpse into their experiences …so watch this blog next week to hear more from Jacquelien and Susan in Pakistan, and Colin and Kate in Ethiopia.  It’s going to be great!

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