Malawi: Army battles famine, AIDS

VILLAGERS GATHER AT food distribution centers in Malawi.


In the aftermath of failed harvests and ongoing famine, The Salvation Army in Malawi is carrying out the largest famine relief program in the Army world.

The Salvation Army is just one of the organizations working with the World Food Program to respond to the famine in six Sub-Saharan African countries.

As was widely reported, the 2002 harvest failed. In a country in which 70% of the population are subsistence farmers, crop failure is disastrous. However, in Malawi, the poor harvest was laid on top of chronic poverty, which is exacerbated by the apocalyptic proportions of HIV/AIDS. Consequently, Malawi is in the unrelenting grip of a humanitarian crisis.

Over the last six months, the Army in Malawi has been accessing resources and managing the distribution of critically needed rations to over 18,000 families each month.

As a result of the successful distributions, food is also being provided to address the hunger needs of an additional 1800 families suffering with HIV/AIDS. In total, over 110,000 people are provided with food every month.

But a strategy of direct transfer, or welfare, in an African context depletes the dignity of a people that have for centuries sustained their families by the produce they have grown. In fact, imbedded in the African psyche is not just a link with the soil on which they live, but with their ancestors who tilled that soil before them. For many living in Malawi, appeasing the ancestors is just as important as fertilizing the land. Therefore, in an effort to promote self-reliance, a program of food for work and food for assets is being developed. Food security, however, is only one dimension of the relief that is taking place in Malawi.

Although deep culture resounds in the pathos of the village residents, social life is changing. Those responsible to teach traditional and cultural norms are the traditional initiators. In the same way that an American has never seen a witch doctor, or participated in ritual widow cleansing, Malawians have never seen IV drug users. Cultural behavior change, or the modification of harmful cultural practices is the focus of the unique prevention work of the Army.

Thrilled to be assisted in AIDS knowledge and the revision of harmful practices, the traditional initiators have changed the century-old high-risk traditions to low-risk practices and are saving thousands of young people every year. In a program largely funded by the U.S. government, the Army in Malawi is also engaging the services of over 500 traditional initiators to help with preventions activities and over 800 volunteers to promote and assist with care for those living with AIDS.

The Salvation Army is at its best when it is living up to its mission. Engaging in the battles of transient famine relief and chronic poverty are programs seasoned with a spirit of hope and compassion which have provided wonderful opportunities for the Army in Malawi to demonstrate God’s grace and love.

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