Malawi trip for Colaiste Einde student

Coláiste Éinde Leaving Cert student, Lauren Conway, has recently returned from a one week trip to Malawi, her prize as winner of the 2016 ActionAid Ireland Speech Writing Competition. Lauren and joint winner Jane Oyenuga from Loreto College, Kilkenny travelled with their teachers Séamus Kelly and Niamh Maye to see first-hand how ActionAid is changing the lives of women and communities, with the support of Irish Aid. 


Malawi, a small landlocked nation in southern Africa, is one of the poorest countries in the world where poverty rates, malnutrition, and mortality rates remain high, as does violence against women – the focus of ActionAid’s women’s rights programme. In the northern region of Malawi, women leave their home place once they are married to live among their husband’s family and neighbours. This can isolate them and give them nowhere to turn if the relationship is violent. Very few women are allowed to work or even socialise outside the home. Within traditional marriages polygamy still occurs. Women leaders in the community are rare with women often seen as being incapable of leading, not only by the men in the villages but also by the women themselves. 

However, change is taking place. ActionAid is working with local groups of women to transform communities and women’s lives by building awareness of women’s rights, arranging skills training for their communities, providing counselling services for victims of violence, settling minor domestic disputes and seeking justice for victims of abuse through working with other local groups.

One key focus, for example, is to ensure all in the community become literate – the visiting schoolgirls and teachers witnessed two of the older women in the community demonstrate their newly learned literacy by proudly writing their names on the whiteboard.  Village savings and loans groups have been set up as a way for women to start small businesses and to help fund their children’s education.

The work has also targeted the most violent men in the communities to teach them about women’s rights and involve them in their work to end violence.  The students met with a group of these ‘Real Men’, as they call themselves, who told them how the training had improved relationships with their wives and families. 

ActionAid is bringing about this change. Chiza Gondwe, one of the first female village chiefs in her district told the visitors that she never believed that a woman could be head of a village until she received training on women’s leadership from ActionAid. She has since been made Group Village Head, overseeing the chiefs in seventeen villages: a fitting leader for a changing community.

Commenting on the trip Lauren said, ‘I was amazed to see the dramatic shifts in

attitudes that can be seen in rural communities across the country. Thanks to the work done by ActionAid a space has now opened up for a dialogue to begin between fathers and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters and the community as a whole’.

Any student interested in this year’s competition with a chance to visit Kenya should contact Mr Kelly. (Closing date Jan 20th 2017.)


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