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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 23, 2018

Malawian woman speaks about her efforts to stop HIV, child marriage

Sep 29, 2017
Photo by: Grace King Mphatso Nguluwe, of Malawi, spoke at First Presbyterian Church on Wednesday, Sept. 27 ,about how poverty furthers the spread of HIV and AIDS. She is traveling across the U.S. as a part of the presbytry’s Peace Maker Program.

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


Mphatso Nguluwe began her presentation at First Presbyterian Church about the needs in her country of Malawi on Wednesday, Sept. 27, by joking about her height.

“I’m not blessed with height, but very blessed with color,” she said with a laugh, engaging the audience immediately with her comic relief from the heavy topics she was about to dive into.

Nguluwe shared with the audience her vision to help eliminate HIV infections and end child marriage in Malawi. She talked about how poverty and famine is a contributor to both of those things.

Nguluwe is a part of the global Presbyterian Church’s International Peacemakers program, a program that partners with organizations around the world to talk about issues of peace and justice. This year, there are 15 peacemakers in the program from 15 different countries.

“It shapes lives,” said Pastor Trey Hegar, pastor at First Presbyterian. “Generally a lot of focus (in inviting visitors from different areas of the world) ends up in making relationship,” he said, as he discussed his own mission work in an impoverished area of South Carolina and how it was hearing stories like Nguluwe’s that lead him to believe he was called to serve.

Nguluwe left her home and family in Malawi in May to come to the U.S. for six months and present to churches about her peace building efforts. She started her journey in Louisville, Ky., where the International Peacemakers program took time to teach the 2017 peacemakers how to communicate their message effectively. Iowa is the second state where Nguluwe has given her presentation. Before she came to Iowa, she visited three churches in Jefferson, Mo.

Nguluwe is a nurse and the Director for the Church of Central Africa, Presbyterian (CCAP) Livingstonia Synod Aids Program (LLISAP). Her staff of about 600 people serve 1 million Malawians in rural areas.

When Nguluwe took her position at CCAP, she was told, “It’s a crisis, it’s a mess, it’s a disaster. You have to head that department.” Nguluwe responded, “It’s a mess? I’ll get my vacuum cleaner,” she told the audience at First Presbyterian, adding a serious note, “It’s a hard hill to climb,” she said.

Nguluwe chose to participate as a peacemaker to bring awareness to Malawi and the HIV epidemic. She said it helps her learn more about the U.S., but at the same time, it helps the U.S. learn more about Malawi.

From 2015 to the beginning of this year, 8 million people were affected by famine. With 80 percent of Malawians living below the poverty line at $1 a day, and 80 percent making a living as subsistent farmers, Nguluwe said over half of the population was living in hunger.

The food shortage affects the HIV epidemic. The drugs provided to people living with HIV have intense side effects if taken without food. To prevent the side effects of the drugs, Nguluwe said that people stop taking them altogether, furthering the spread of HIV and worsening their disease.

“You want as much as possible for these people to continue taking their drugs,” Nguluwe said. “But even yourself as a health worker, you don’t have an answer for people who respond to your insistence that they take the drug with ‘but we don’t have food.’”

There is no food and no money to buy food, but a Malawian girl is a source of income in some places, Nguluwe said. Although child marriage is illegal in Malawi, authorities turn a blind eye unless someone comes to them directly about the situation. Fifty percent of girls in Malawi marry before the age of 18. Fourteen percent of all pregnancies are teenagers. And 32 percent of school drop outs are girls.

“People need money,” Nguluwe said. “If there is a girl in their home, that girl will be sold for marriage.”

Nguluwe shared the story of a girl named Tumpe. Tumpe was sick and her parents took her to a traditional healer. When they didn’t have the money to pay the healer for his services, they sold Tumpe to him. At eight years old, she was his sixth wife.

Nguluwe said that her first time in Tumpe’s community, the traditional leader was “so angry” with her for talking about child marriage. She confronted the leader by saying that there is a problem and he has the option to help fix it. She said if their initiatives fail, she herself would become the traditional healer’s wife.

Nguluwe said to him, “’And if I marry you, I will talk about child marriage day and night.’ He looked at me and was thinking, ‘I don’t want to marry you,’” Nguluwe said with a laugh.

Tumpe was rescued after six months of marriage. She is now back in school with a dream to become a nurse.

Nguluwe said that rescuing girls from child marriage starts with the community. LISAP works to train men and women how to talk to parents who are thinking about or who have sold their daughter in marriage. Instead of saying “Child marriage is wrong,” they discuss how child marriage further spreads HIV, among other negative effects.

“You rescue a girl by setting up groups in the community to be on the lookout,” Nguluwe said. “If they notice a child is missing from school, that is when you talk to the parents. It’s so hard to see and imagine that can happen to a child.”

At the end of her presentation, Nguluwe visited with the audience and discussed ways they can be involved and help support LISAP’s mission.

“It’s great to meet a sister in Christ who is the hands and feet of God,” Hegar said.

Nguluwe returns to Malawi on Oct. 18.

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