Namwera Group Efforts Soar to Unheard Heights

landscapeFirelight has been posting photos from Joop Rubens who was in Malawi last February to photograph Firelight grantee partners. The beautiful photographs and Joop’s reflections tell a story of community, resilience, and vibrancy that can be seen everyday in communities around the world. This story is about the Namwera AIDS Coordinating Committee (NACC), the organization Joop stayed with in Malawi.

Well-organized, decentralized, and led by an inspirational, hard-working leader, NACC now works in 300 villages with a volunteer corps of more than 5,000. These impressive numbers started over ten years ago, when NACC initially held discussions in a number of villages.  Crowds as large as five hundred persons gathered, pressing together to discuss the impact of HIV and AIDS on their communities.

“When we talked about the suffering of the orphans, they’d nod their heads," recalls Saeed Wame, NACC’s executive director. “But when we talked about how to stop the spread of AIDS, they would shake their heads and walk away.” NACC wanted to change this, making AIDS and caring for vulnerable children something villages would address openly.

man smilingThey established village AIDS committees to provide accurate information about HIV and AIDS and encourage community discussion. Then NACC’s efforts began to build. They saw effective, sustainable local solutions restore hope, comfort, confidence, and a sense of belonging to orphans and vulnerable children. Village leaders saw it too. And as they worked together to analyze root causes of local problems, they then explored the solutions. “We don’t plan in the office and then go to the community and say ‘Do this.’ It’s not like that," says Wame. Encouragement from NACC as it worked with community members, combined with a strong sense of ownership from the community eventually led to the formation of 300 village committees.

Village committees stretch from Lake Malawi’s southern shores to the Mozambique border and are as varied as their needs. There are youth recreation clubs, home-based caregivers for the chronically ill, community-based child care centers, mobile HIV counseling and testing groups, vegetable gardening projects, vocational training for child household heads, and income-generating initiatives for vulnerable households. What binds them together is their emphasis on caring relationships that provide children with the love and encouragement they need to thrive.

NACC found that while governments and traditional institutions provide many services, local leaders and community members shoulder most of the responsibilities of caring for orphans and vulnerable children. They built their services on this recognition and began to talk with community leaders about social and cultural factors that contribute to orphan's vulnerability, their success surprised even them.

Leaders were so affected by the discussions that Chiefs established by-laws to protect orphans, punishing people involved in property grabbing and sexual abuse. Next, even larger, community-wide events are planned to sensitize the public to the dangers of sexual abuse, child trafficking, and child labor. Twelve events are scheduled this year. Afterwards, youth clubs and village AIDS committees plan to visit tobacco estates to ensure that children are removed from labor and connected with services.

boy smilingFirelight's partnership with NACC began in 2004 with support for a livestock project designed to provide added income for families caring for orphans and vulnerable children. It has evolved to include NACC’s leadership within the Malawi network of grantee partners. Most recently, NACC took up leadership on improving early childhood development programs in Malawi. Leveraging the knowledge and experience they have gained over the years, they are helping ten grantee partners to develop more effective programming.

But this is not all that NACC is doing. As a respected and trusted organization in their region, NACC plays an important role linking small community organizations with funders. Acting as an intermediary for another donor, NACC provides small grants and mentoring in finance, evaluation, and leadership. This year, NACC will provide training to 24 community-based organizations.

Firelight is currently working with NACC to understand and encourage further development of community-based child centers in Malawi. Program officer Aili Langseth was there in February to support a workshop that will further the skills and knowledge of center leaders. With over 10,000 children now served by NACC, their experience and know-how builds even further with international funders taking notice. Stay tuned for our report on Malawi community-based child centers later this year.