Monday, May 5, 2008


Almost since I arrived in my village, I have been subtly searching for HIV positive people. The level of ignorance about HIV here is huge, despite the fact that it affects so many more people, directly and indirectly, than almost anywhere else you can think of. The level of shame associated with it is also much bigger than would have thought, even after I leard about it in Pre-Service Training. Still, after asking my close friends and neighbors, there hasn't been a single openly positive person I could identify.
So I started asking around at my local health clinics and I stumbled upon a group of HIV positive people, the Zomelani AIDS Club. It was started by the local chief, who was the first to come out about status. Today there are 12 members.
{One wife who goes to every meeting with her husband. They are both HIV+}
I didn't really get international development, grassroots work or even my role as a Peace Corps volunteer until I found this group. Everything just kinda clicked. Internal debates on the role of money, patronism and sustainability melted away; i'm not having existential issues any more, which is nice. Not a single project before this made me want to just give money to people.
{One man in his thirties. He walks with a cane.}
The first thing I did was find out what Zomelani wants and needs. (A bleakly humorous factoid: need and want are the same words in Tonga. [So are love and like, and pray and beg]) What it came down to was money. Anti-retroviral medications (ARVs) are a lifesaver- really, people who go on this can look like they come back from the dead. And ARVs are free in Malawi, thanks to various governments and NGO initiatives. BUT transportation to them is not. A person cannot pick up more than a month at a time, and no one can pick up your meds for you. Basically it is a HUGE financial drain on a household. People make is happen but only by scrimping, begging and family connections.
{One mother who brings her twelve year old daughter to meetings. They are both HIV+}
SO this is where my particular skill set comes into play: wine!
I learned how to make wine at site- I brewed a killer coconut/mango wine for my New Years Eve party. If there is one fool-proof, fail-safe income generating activity in the village, it's brewing liquor. So it's where I wanted to start.
One batch of wine per month yeilds slightly less than transport money to and from the clinic.
Work has never been so appreciated.
The first batch was banana.


Anonymous said...

My heart's bursting with pride. You'll let us know if there's anything we can do to help. Love you, miss you, mom

Anonymous said...

You are so awesome, what a successful businessman. You are a great example of the American can-do!! We love you, G & G Wiz