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The latest dispatch from Hope Chigudu, this time from the North of Malawi, with Sindi Blose

It’s difficult to know people till you meet them in their environment. The workshop situation can present what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the Nigerian writer, calls, “The Danger of a Single Story”:

“You can’t tell a single story of any place, person or people. There are many stories that create us. The single story creates stereotypes. There are other stories that are just as important to tell. The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. The consequence of the single story is that it robs people of dignity – it emphasizes how we are different, rather than how we are the same. … When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we discover a kind of paradise.” (Google Chimanda Nogizi Adichie’s speech at Ted Talks)

In their communities, the ‘JASS girls’ have created what constitutesa kind of ‘bank account’ of relationships nurtured by trust and collaboration that they can draw upon to mobilize individual and collective assets to achieve a common purpose.

We visited Judy and Lilian (and some of the women) of Women’s Forum in Northern Province of Malawi. The Forum deals with various and complex issues related to women’s empowerment, in a disempowering environment. It was clear that Judy and Lillian have been able to speak above the loud noise that usually muffles ideas and political instincts of women living with HIV and AIDS. Judy and Lilian have not allowed their energies and agency to be stifled by lack of resources. Their plan was based on mobilising women to demand ARVs to be brought nearer to the people. They did. They invited key stakeholders in the health Ministry, HIV and AIDS organisations and the chiefs. The two of them organised numbers of women to demand mobile clinics to take ARVs to the people. The work they have done is powerful, inspiring, and transformative. They have not covered all the communities but they will, eventually.

Then there is the story of young women whose plan was to work more with young people in schools to raise awareness on HIV and AIDS and other, related issues. They took us to two schools to show off their mobilisation power. Violet, one of the young women that JASS has trained, is always shy and hardly says a thing during the workshops. We saw her transforming there, right before our eyes. She talked to young people in the most interesting manner. She engaged all her senses! She was participatory as she talked about trafficking and HIV and AIDS in the context of the world cup in Joburg. She created her own language that young people understood. One could see that the language she was using was empowering, thrilling, and told more than one story. There was an air of poetry, a sense of hope and a deep commitment to what she was doing. Mouths open in amazement, we felt connected to her (and other young women who were with her) at the deepest level.

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