Interview with Dr Pullanikkatil - the Nation on Sunday

By Vanessa Duclos, Research Manager

Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil has been interviewed by the Nation on Sunday about her work with Abundance. The article in the newspaper highlights Abundances successful initiatives and their impact for the Mmando Village and beyond. You can access the interview here.

Well done Deepa and team Abundance!

” We want the village to then in-turn empower other villages in creating ripple effects since our dream is to have a world of plenty, where there is no lack, for humans and nature to thrive.” – Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil.


Art and Development walking hand in hand

by Stewart Paul

I was fortunate to be amongst those who helped organize and participate at the workshop on “Exploring the role of Arts in Development Projects” held in Lilongwe at the beautiful Child Legacy International premises on 17th of January this year. As part of the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) network, this workshop was amongst the many activities done in Uganda, Malawi, Botswana and Nigeria where SFA members are based. For Malawi, I felt it was high time that artists and development practitioners work together on sustainability issues. This will help them to think out-of-the-box and come up with new and creative ideas to solve sustainability challenges. As part of Abundance, I attended the workshop with Abundance’s Director, Ruth Mumba and felt that it was very well organized and participants appreciated this endeavor. Initially, we had no clue what the workshop outcomes would be as it was such a novel concept. But after the workshop ended and when we reflected on it, we have realized that it was indeed an enriching experience.

Elson Kambalu, a visual artist who is also a film-maker introduced the workshop and talked about the need for artists and other partners in the development sector to work together and he explained his plan to produce a documentary of the workshop for the next SFA meeting which was to be held in Lagos, Nigeria. The ice-breaker session was interesting and Sharon Kalima got the participants to play games and get to know each other. I had a chance to present about the SFA network and share some views from the SFA meeting I attended in Botswana last year.

Helen Todd of Arts and Global Health Center Africa (ArtGlo) introduced the World Café method of participants working together and developing ideas. We all sat in mixed groups of artists, development practitioners and academicians and brainstormed on sustainability topics and how arts can play a role in such work. Some of the ideas that emanated were that Government should incorporate arts into basic education, introduce more art trainings and provide funds to artists. Organizations must include art through engaging creativity of artists into development projects, we felt.

One challenge discussed was that of how art could solve ecological and social challenges Malawi faces. Solutions aired by participants were many including composing traffic jingles for civic education, imparting knowledge through art on cultural heritage and importance of ecological sites, documenting cultural art and disseminating it through libraries, etc. Overall, participants agreed that artists must be included right from inception of any project, after all art is close to people and people can relate to art. We must promote arts as a platform for discussion of development issues. Local songs, dramas and creative messages can help advocate for sustainability issues such as promotion of renewable energy.

Ruth Mumba got a chance to present about Abundance’s work and Helen Todd presented about how ArtGlo had successfully incorporated art into development projects in Malawi. The participants were treated to a tour of the Child Legacy International premises which is a sustainably-built center. On our way back to our homes, we all felt that we made new friends and learnt a lot. I hope this is just a starting point and a lot of projects can be generated from the ideas generated from this workshop.


Reproductive Health at Mbando Village: Dispelling Myths

Making informed choices regarding reproductive health is something that is taken for granted in developed countries with good access to health services. This is often not the case in developing countries, and particularly so at Mbando village which is located by the shores of Lake Chilwa, in Machinga District, southern Malawi. Being one of the poorest countries in the world, Malawi faces a number of challenges, including poor access to reproductive health services and inadequate awareness. Mbando is a small village with 95 households consisting of mostly subsistence farmers and fishermen. It is vulnerable due to being prone to droughts and having few livelihood options. However, there is a vibrant youth community at the village. They have organized themselves into a club called “Wonderful Youth Club”. Being concerned about the high number of teenage pregnancies and many misconceptions regarding reproductive health, this club requested Abundance to hold a training session to discuss sexual and reproductive health.

Stewart Paul, Secretary of Abundance and a person of multiple talents, offered to undertake the training and was the right choice, being a youth himself (22 years old). On the 22nd of July 2017, Stewart joined Ruth Mumba (Director of Abundance) and others to Mbando village to meet with the youth to discuss this important yet often neglected topic. The youth face many challenges including poor access to contraceptives. They said that the nearest clinic was 3 km away and contraceptives were often unavailable and when it is available they were distributed to more established youth clubs in surrounding villages. Youth could not access any “counselling” or knowledge on sexual and reproductive health. Often girls were uncomfortable approaching older women to request for contraceptives at the clinic because they feared being judged immoral.

Stewart Paul talks to the youth, as Ruth Mumba (left) looks on.

It was surprising for Stewart to hear about the myths and misconceptions regarding this topic from the youth:

“Artificial contraception methods lead such as using pills lead to sterility or infertility.”

“When boys use contraception, over a given period of time they lack sexual prowess and stamina”.

Through the training Stewart dispelled some of the myths and provided much needed information to youth about sexual and reproductive health and how contraceptives work. The need for family planning was emphasized and he explained that good sexual and reproductive health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being in all matters relating to the reproductive system. The importance of taking care of the reproductive system to avoid injuries and infection was also emphasized.

The session was only for a few hours and the youth requested for more such sessions to be organized for continued awareness raising on these matters. The access to contraceptives remains a challenge to be overcome. Abundance hopes to collaborate with organizations that provide these services and work towards improving access for youth at Mbando village. We envision a Malawi where all youth will be free to take informed decisions regarding reproductive health. This training was a small step towards that vision, but many more needs to be taken.

 

For more information visit: http://www.abundanceworldwide.org

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Periods; Let’s talk about it!

Menstruation is the most dreaded time for adolescent girls and women in poor communities such as those in Mbando village, Machinga District, Malawi, where Abundance works. Why is such a natural health cycle, so difficult for them? The girls describe it as a time of anxiety and worry.

“When I get periods, I use pieces of cloth and am worried that it will fall off when I walk. That would be so shameful! So I don’t go to school those days. Also, it is difficult to sit on the floor while having periods, as our school does not have desks and chairs and we sit on the classroom floor.”

-A girl in Chirimba Secondary school, Mbando village.

Our rapid assessment in the village revealed that lack of access to and inability to afford proper sanitary napkins, caused the girls to resort to poor menstrual hygiene practises. Only three out of 53 girls surveyed at Mbando village have ever used proper sanitary pads. Lead by Abundance Director Ruth Mumba and her team, a one day training workshop (22 July 2017) was held at Mbando village on production of reusable sanitary napkins. The training was in response to a request from mothers in the village, who were concerned about young girls’ menstrual hygiene and related impacts.

Abundance Menstrual Hygiene Training

Grace Moyo began the training by first removing the “social stigma” on menstruation. “It is healthy to menstruate and you should not be ashamed of it. If you are a girl, you will menstruate”, she told the girls. She reiterated that being teased by their peers should not let them down, in fact, menstruation should be viewed as a sign that they are fit. Reusable sanitary napkins are made from used cloth and shaped like proper sanitary pads, but have an addition of buttons on the sides to secure them. Thus the worry that the cloth may fall off is no longer there and this gives confidence to the girls. Furthermore, the pads are something the girls can make on their own with a little training. They can be washed and reused, thus being an inexpensive and sustainable solution.

In the large classroom of Mbando village’s Community Based Child Care Centre, girls grouped themselves into groups of 6 and began making the pads with help from Ruth Mumba and Grace Moyo. Used cloth was sourced by Ruth from the local markets and sewing kits were purchased which was distributed to each group. Every girl got a small sewing pack which she could take home with her and continue making pads at her home. Care was taken to include aspects of washing pads with soap and drying them thoroughly before use, in the training.

Present at the workshop was the “Mothers Support Group”, which is a volunteer group of women in Mbando village who support women and children and help bring back children who drop out of school. They welcomed the training as a means to reduce girls’ absenteeism in schools. But there were also a pleasantly surprising cascading effect from the training. The Chairlady of the group said, “Because of this workshop, I believe that not only will the girls help themselves, go to school during periods, but, they can also use the skills to make pads and sell them for an income.” The possibility of income generation movement from this workshop was a positive spill-over that Abundance’s training did not expect, but happily welcomed.

Making reusable sanitary pads is not just a menstrual hygiene project, it has multiple benefits of improving confidence in girls, reducing absenteeism of girls in school and possible income generation venture. This is one small way Abundance is trying to help communities in Malawi. Let us break the silence about menstruation and promote dignity for girls!

Written by Deepa Pullanikkatil (PhD)

Founder & President of Abundance.

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Abundance: The “Giving and Training” Event

One the 24th May 2017 Abundance held a 'Giving and Training' event at Mbando Village, Machinga, Malawi. This was an event to showcase the skills acquired through the recent training programmes ran by Abundance. Attending and participating in the event alongside Abundance included the Wonderful Youth Group, Mothers’ Support Group, Home-based care, and Gogo Group, and the following guests: Representing the ward councilor: Mr Erik Kazithe, Senior Group Village Head Mbando and other Development Committee members and village heads. 

The Abundance team received a very warm welcome as songs were sung as women danced around as the materials were being offloaded from the vehicle. An opening prayer was made, followed by a poem by a member of Wonderful Youth Group. The poem highlighted some problems the youth are facing. The poem also hinted at massive deforestation that is happening in the nearby Chikala Mountain.

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