Changing traditions to reduce HIV in girls
In Mnukwa, a village on the outskirts of Chipata in rural Zambia, girls are getting married and having children later, and are less vulnerable to HIV.
Traditional advisers – or Alangizi – such as Matilda Chokani, teach young girls what to expect when married and provide information to adolescents on health.
Some traditional advice was inadvertently putting young girls at further risk. For example, encouraging the practice of dry sex, which can result in cracks to the vagina wall, made them more vulnerable to infection.
A mother of seven herself, Matilda says Alangizi have “learnt to do things differently” since receiving training from a local community-based organisation. The advice now contains accurate information on HIV prevention, and because very young girls get lots of complications during childbirth the Alangizi also advise parents not to encourage their young daughters to get married. Mnukwa’s Alangizi claim the number of teenage pregnancies in their community has reduced as a result.
“The training has helped reduce HIV tremendously in these communities because the chiefs have taken the lead in discouraging such practices that are fuelling the spread of HIV”, says Zikhalo Phiri, programme director of Young Happy Healthy and Safe (HAPPY), the organisation behind the training for the Alangizi and peer educators.
HAPPY has just three full time staff, but while they are small their impact is impressive. Traditional advice does not change overnight, and being local has been a critical factor in engaging chiefs. Without their buy-in it would be impossible to effectively reach the community.
HAPPY has repeated the work in Mnukwa in other villages. It complements its in-school programme, which involves the Ministry of Education and headteachers in developing a sexual and reproductive health programme. This is currently running in four schools.
A big plus
Zikhalo says he couldn’t achieve all this without the support of Alliance Zambia, which has supported HAPPY with both their organisational development and programming.
“Training provided in resource mobilisation was very helpful and is why we are able to get other donors on board,” Zikhalo acknowledges.
Sithembil Sakala, HAPPY programme officer, says: “When we found that there wasn’t much information for Alangizis or peer educators on family planning we gave this feedback to Alliance Zambia. They organised training on family planning for our community members.”
“For us working with them is a plus because most donors only provide funding, but the situation is different with Alliance Zambia,” says Zikhalo. “They visit us, they support us, they build the capacity of our staff.”
Established in 1999, Alliance Zambia has supported over 200 NGOs in Zambia which, like HAPPY, deliver a range of HIV prevention, treatment, care and support programmes.