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OXFAM lights candles of solidarity in Malawi

June 7th, 2013 by Posted in English, Health, Malawi

Story and pictures by Innocent Kommwa, Malawi

In solidarity, OXFAM staff light their candles. Credit: Innocent Kommwa

In solidarity, OXFAM staff light their candles. Credit: Innocent Kommwa

The year 2013 marks the 30th anniversary of the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial commemorations. This year’s global theme was “In solidarity, we can end HIV”. Although the main international events were held concurrently the world over on 19th May 2013, Oxfam staff in Malawi joined in by hosting a short event on Friday 31st May at its offices in Lilongwe. The event attracted the participation of representatives from some of Oxfam’s neighbouring organisations in the Green Heritage Building, such as the Norwegian Church AID and the United Nations. Events for the day included the symbolic wearing of ribbons, a presentation of Oxfam’s AIDS workplace policy and programmes, a testimony on living positively and symbolic candle-lighting.

In her remarks, Oxfam Associate Country Director, Abi Akinyemi emphasised the need for Oxfam staff to reflect and think beyond raising awareness on issues of HIV and AIDS, and begin to show compassion.“We have come to a point where we have realised that there is lots of awareness. We now need to go beyond that and show that we care. We need to reach people within our office who may either be infected, or affected by HIV and AIDS,” said Akinyemi. More importantly, if our members of staff and family are living with HIV, they should know that we care and there is support for them within Oxfam.”

Solidarity pose: staff and guests with their burning candles. Credit: Innocent Kommwa.

Solidarity pose: staff and guests with their burning candles. Credit: Innocent Kommwa

Guest of honour for the day, Miriam Nyoni, a receptionist at the neighbouring United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation office, who has been living positively with HIV for close to 16 years, emphasised the need for different stakeholders to work in solidarity to fight HIV.“It was important for me to come and share my experiences of living positively with HIV to Oxfam staff because I realise that we all want to fight HIV and AIDS so that in future, we may have an HIV free generation. In addition, coming together will help to reduce stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV,” Nyoni said. She specifically urged men to open up to their spouses and go for HIV testing. She stressed the importance of HIV testing as a gateway to receiving appropriate help, including anti-retroviral treatment. Her own husband recovered fully from a cancerous leg infection after agreeing to go for HIV testing and receiving the appropriate medical attention.

Speaking after the event, one of Oxfam’s driver and mechanic, Demister Nthoyiwa hailed Oxfam management for hosting the candlelight memorial function for Oxfam staff. “This event has been an eye opener especially for me, as one of the staff members who do not discuss the HIV issues more regularly as the programme staff do. I have learnt that it is important for us as staff to live together in harmony, as the theme has said “in solidarity” to fight HIV and AIDS”, he said. He was inspired by Nyoni’s testimony and how she has lived a healthy life in spite of her HIV status, overcoming stigma and discrimination. I have also learnt that it is important for married partners to get tested together.

Nthonyiwa ready for the road.  Credit: Innocent Kommwa .width=

Nthonyiwa ready for the road. Credit: Innocent Kommwa

In her remarks, Human Resources Manager, Alinafe Chaula echoed Nthonyiwa’s sentiments about the impact Nyoni had on Oxfam staff on the day. “We wanted to inspire our staff for a start so that next time it can be a member of staff within Oxfam sharing their story. Miriam’s message was very encouraging to all of us. It was very motivating. I am sure we will do something about the way we perceive people living with HIV,” said Chaula.

In conclusion, the in-house Candlelight Memorial was not only successful, but was also relevant to the work that Oxfam does all over the world. Essential Services Coordinator, Cynthia Ngwalo-Lungu expressed her delight at the linkage between having the commemoration at the office, and the work that Oxfam does with its partners. “As an organisation that has got an interest in HIV and AIDS, it doesn’t make sense for Oxfam to implement activities and interventions out there, leaving out the staff that we have within Oxfam,” Ngwalo-Lungu said. This event was also a way of popularising the policy that OXFAM has on HIV and AIDS.

 Staff members helping each other put on the awareness ribbons.Credit: Innocent Kommwa

Staff members helping each other put on the awareness ribbons.Credit: Innocent Kommwa

 Ngwalo Lungu. We should be relevant even in our own workplace. Credit: Innocent Kommwa

Ngwalo Lungu. We should be relevant even in our own workplace.Credit: Innocent Kommwa

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