Malawian churches rife for partnership against HIV/AIDS

NTCHIZI, MALAWI - The terrible wound inflicted by the HIV pandemic is a great opportunity for World Vision to act as a bridge between churches in other parts of the world and their sister churches in Africa struggling to respond, says World Vision Australia church relations manager Ian Neil, currently deep in rural Malawi.
"We can't let the churches fight this battle in southern Africa by themselves," says Mr Neil, who plans to bring a strong message back to the churches of Australia on his return, urging them to engage more with AIDS in Africa.

"I have been very impressed by the work being done by churches here, as well as by other groups in the community, despite their lack of resources. I encounter groups of volunteers dozens strong, and it's not hard to imagine how a small amount of help from outside can multiply their impact."

Mr Neil has spent a week in a World Vision project in the Ntchizi Mountains, witnessing the relatively high degree of community involvement in HIV/AIDS there.

"We need to assist as much as we can," says Mr Neil. "Perhaps some churches in Africa have only recently seen the seriousness of their situation, but I can testify to the fact they are doing something about it now.

"The churches in Australia, and other parts of the world, need to join them in their enthusiastic efforts. We must understand that this is a major problem that needs an international focus to alleviate it."

Many effective responses, based on the Ntchizi model, only require a low budget, yet have a high impact. For instance, 13 volunteer-run feeding programmes for orphans and vulnerable children under five years old, called community-based child care centres, have kept hundreds of children well-fed and accessible to health carers in the project area. But when last year's chronic food shortages forced some to close, World Vision stepped in with the simple gift of bags of maize, to see the vital centres through to the next harvest.

Likewise, women's guilds, youth groups and associations of people living openly and positively with HIV are given tremendous encouragement, at a very low cost.

"There's so many people at work here, and many more who want to be but either need some coordination, training, or basic resources."

There are many small but important activities that individual churches could help with, continues Mr Neil.

"There's perhaps no way churches could be involved in the funding of anti-retrovirals, but they could help African groups to provide supplementary feeding for hungry children, or to pay for clothes and basic materials for groups that want to visit and look after the growing number of orphans, or basic medical kits for church groups reaching out to the chronically sick."