The News You Never Hear

Children and adults in Chikwawa community in Malawi gather under a tree for an HIV program.
Children and adults in Chikwawa community in Malawi gather under a tree for an HIV program (photos from our trip to this community in 2009).

People sometimes ask us why we bother with trying to help people and animals in African nations, particularly the ones that no one else knows much about, like Malawi. The answer is simple. No one knows much about these places. What we’ve learned in our travels is that many people, places, plants, and animals are in dire need of assistance. Their prospects for solving their own problems can be slim to none.

It seems to come down to this – if a country has something that someone else wants (ivory, minerals, gas and oil, for example), that country will have a spotlight focused on it. But there are countries, and some remote parts of better-known countries, that have no resources to be exploited. And that means they get ignored. Rwanda received attention only after experiencing horrors beyond words and is still struggling to establish a viable national economy that is not dependent on foreign aid.

Malawi is one of those countries . . . often called the warm heart of Africa, Malawi’s people are friendly and welcoming. But this tiny country that has lost a great deal of its natural areas to farmland and much of its native wildlife is not known as a tourism destination. It has no significant resources that any other country wants. And so its people suffer silently because they do not have a global voice.

Aaron Maluwa of Museums of Malawi relates stories of the danger of HIV to people in the community.
Aaron Maluwa of Museums of Malawi relates stories of the danger of HIV to people in the community.

One of our friends and colleagues in Malawi contacted us this week with a plea for assistance that I would like to bring to light because this is not a story that will be covered in the news. I’ve been watching for it and there’s been no mention, though this event happened over a week ago now. CNN, AlJazeera and the many other international news networks miss this kind of story because it is in one of the planet’s poorest nations, preferring to report on politics and celebrities.

Aaron Maluwa, who works for Museums of Malawi, regularly visits rural communities with programs that focus on HIV/AIDS awareness and testing, antimalarial messages, and other important health and cultural issues. On his most recent visit to a rural village in the Chikwawa District, he found 1993 families living in seven tents where people were “sleeping like potatoes in a basket” because the space was too small. The 5409 individuals Aaron found there had no food. A local sugar company is providing one cup of maize (corn) for each family per day and that is all the food currently available. The clinic has at least 15 patients in each room and people are already dying for lack of food. Aaron witnessed one death while he was standing stunned by what these people are going through. The flood came at night, surprising the village. The survivors stayed in trees for two days before the government rescuers could retrieve them.

Davis Mckandawire relates a personal story to Chikwawa students of how HIV changed his life.
Davis Mckandawire relates a personal story to Chikwawa students of how HIV changed his life.

Aaron did what he could on the ground immediately with appeals to local authorities but he has very limited funds and resources with which to work. He made this appeal in his email: I am therefore requesting for your support mainly with funds so that we can buy them food i.e maize, mosquito nets, blankets, kitchen untensils just to keep them alive as they wait for water levels to go down so that they can go back a start afresh but with no starting point at all. Let me emphasize that this is an emergency what I saw last week is that many lives are at stake especially of children and the aged in absence of food and other basic necessities such as blankets and mosquito nets 

Aaron has never asked for anything though his innovative and important program needs regular support. We have done what we could over the years to help and proceeds from the sale of our book “The Leopard Tree” are earmarked for assistance to Malawi. In this case, the need clearly outstrips our ability to help financially so we are trying to raise awareness and ask others for whatever assistance they can offer. We have contacted Rotary International to see if something can be done to help this situation and are waiting to hear the result. If you are interested in doing whatever you can, please get in touch with us and I will see that your efforts are directed to do the most good. Thanks for staying aware.

Lisa Brochu

Published by heartfeltassociates

Lisa Brochu and Tim Merriman are married and serve as Principals of Heartfelt Associates. They write fiction and non-fiction, raise miniature horses and consult with parks, zoos, museums, historic sites, nature centers and aquariums on heritage interpretation and visitor experiences.They live on the Big Island of Hawaii on a small Kona coffee farm overlooking Kealakekua Bay.

4 thoughts on “The News You Never Hear

  1. This is powerful, moving and desperately sad Lisa. tell me more about Aaron and the work he does for Museums in Malawi … I need a hook to see if I can interest people in my Museum Community to help. Can’t promise it’ll work (dire financial straits for arts in UK) but you never know!

    1. We first learned of Museums of Malawi from Aaron Maluwa and Mike Gondwe in 2007 when they attended NAI’s International Conference in Vancouver, Canada (scholarship provided). They explained their community-based programs, necessary because rural Malawians cannot get to the cities where the museums are located. The magnitude of health issues in this 4th poorest country in the world convinced them they needed to address those issues using local cultural traditions in rural communities instead of expecting these people to come to see a collection in the museum if they have any hope of keeping their culture alive. They visit a community and meet with elders to discuss the themes of their program about a month in advance, giving the women of the village time to rewrite lyrics to familiar songs and create dances related to themes of HIV detection and prevention, malaria, and hunger (the three biggest issues). Then they visit the village with a team that includes nurses who can do testing, an HIV-positive individual who shares his own story, and an interpretive program about how to keep and change culture at the same time. When they can afford it, they provide medical supplies and malaria nets to the villages. The program is not adequately funded by the government but using donations, Aaron and Mike have been able to reach tens of thousands of people with these important messages and are making a real difference. Mike has now retired and is establishing a nonprofit organization to continue the work, but again, struggles with funding. Even the fees required to establish the organization in Malawi are creating a stumbling block. We have been providing some support and are happy to report that their support base has grown through involvement of others including a medically-based organization, International Humanity (, in Czech Republic, but there is never enough to meet the need. Tim and I are also working on establishing a nonprofit organization that can funnel donations to Malawi and other programs that need help for those who need a tax-deductible reason to donate. Museums of Malawi has other programs as well that help promote cultural crafts and artwork. The work that Aaron and Mike have started is nothing short of heroic. I have to say their approach to interpretive programming that really matters has captured my heart and deserves whatever support they can be given.

  2. Thanks, as always, for keeping us focused on the truly important issues in this world. I remember meeting the folks from Malawi at the Vancouver conference – it put everything in perspective. Please let me know more if you find a tangible way for us to help, and I’ll spread the word as much as I can. Just wondering… could the Red Cross help?

  3. Thanks, Cal. We’ve gotten word to Rotary International and they are working on it through their Shelter Boxes program. I searched the Red Cross website trying to find a way to report an international emergency and never found one. International Humanity in Czech Republic is wiring money to them for food and supplies. We are working on our own donation, not tax-deductible by our method, but worth doing to help. It’s frustrating to watch international news that reports non-functional elevators on a Carnival Cruise and every sneeze by a celebrity but nothing on this. We have reported it to CNN, NBC and AJAmerica.Aaron is going to update us and provide photos soon.

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