Malawi is the world’s twelfth poorest nation and has the eighth highest prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS. Out of a population of 14 million, almost one million people in Malawi are living with HIV. AIDS is the leading cause of death among adults and is a major factor in Malawians’ low life expectancy...

Coordinating Grassroots Churches in the Fight against AIDS

Malawi is the world’s twelfth poorest nation and has the eighth highest prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS. Out of a population of 14 million, almost one million people in Malawi are living with HIV. AIDS is the leading cause of death among adults and is a major factor in Malawians’ low life expectancy of just 53 years.

This Initiative – commonly referred to as the Joint Church Response to AIDS (JCRA) – represents an innovative, grassroots approach to fighting the epidemic. The Initiative aimed to accomplish two goals: (1) to assist people affected by HIV/AIDS through the collaborative and collective action of local churches and (2) to demonstrate to multilateral and bilateral donors that local church congregations in Malawi, and, by implication, elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, are viable community partners in the fight against AIDS and should be recipients of significant funding.


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Strategic Initiative

SECTOR

Health

TOTAL INVESTMENT

US$ 1,514,961

LOCATION

Malawi

LIVES CHANGED

207,988

SOCIAL IMPACT INDEX

55.6 (out of 100)

AVERAGE COST PER LIFE

US$ 7.28

Expand All

SI Breakdown:

Key Achievements

 

  • Coordination of rural congregations – This Initiative successfully linked 48 church congregations of different denominations for unified action to prevent and mitigate the impact of the AIDS epidemic.
  • Community-based care for orphans and vulnerable children – Over 21,000 children received nutritional support and day-time care through community-based child care centres.
  • Youth clubs bring prevention message to adolescents – Behaviour change programmes reached over 84,000 adolescents, imparting healthy attitudes and valuable life skills.
  • Microloans benefit vulnerable women and vocational skills empower teen-headed households – Over 800 women were provided with start-up grants and loans for microbusinesses. Nearly 300 older orphans who are taking care of their siblings participated in training programmes to improve their household income.
  • Palliative care for the ill – Church volunteers provided home-based care to over 9,500 patients. Volunteers also trained family members to provide ongoing care.

 

The Problem

Malawi is the world’s twelfth poorest nation and has the eighth highest prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS. Out of a population of 14 million, almost one million people in Malawi are living with HIV. AIDS is the leading cause of death among adults and is a major factor in Malawians’ low life expectancy of just 53 years. There are now approximately one million children orphaned and vulnerable, as a result of the epidemic. Rural and isolated communities are often unreached by the services offered by INGOs and are in particular need of quality HIV/AIDS prevention and support services.

Solution

This Initiative – commonly referred to as the Joint Church Response to AIDS (JCRA) – represents an innovative, grassroots approach to fighting the epidemic. The Initiative aimed to accomplish two goals: (1) to assist people affected by HIV/AIDS through the collaborative and collective action of local churches and (2) to demonstrate to multilateral and bilateral donors that local church congregations in Malawi, and, by implication, elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa, are viable community partners in the fight against AIDS and should be recipients of significant funding.

Comprising of six consortia of eight rural church congregations located in two districts – Nkhotakota, in the Central Region, and Karonga, in the Northern Region – the Initiative focussed on building the capacity of local churches to prevent and mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS. Each consortium implemented the same comprehensive suite of services that included six major components: youth life-skills clubs, married couples education programmes, economic empowerment for vulnerable women and girls, community-based child care for orphans, home based palliative care, and vocational skills training for empowering orphaned youth. These core components were identified as priorities by the community members themselves, with supporting guidance from the Malawi Council of Churches (MCC) and were coupled with a manageable training and capacity building programme. Volunteer activity teams collectively planned, trained, executed and reviewed their programmes, an indication of community members’ buy-in and support of the consortia. With a total investment of US $1.5 million, the Initiative was expected to reach approximately 79,000 people.

Critical Analysis

The idea behind this Initiative was relatively simple: create a number of church consortia under the umbrella of the Malawi Council of Churches (MCC). Recognising that pre-existing local churches were already working in the most isolated regions of Malawi, the Initiative sought to empower and mobilise individual church congregations into a network of AIDS-fighting community hubs. Each ‘consortium’ – consisting of a group of churches – offered a comprehensive suite of services to address the priority issues in the fight against HIV/AIDS in their rural communities, which would otherwise be unreached by INGOs.

Distinct from other church-based development programmes, this initiative purposefully implemented a cross-denominational approach, bringing together Presbyterian, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Evangelical, and Pentecostal congregations, among others. Offering proof of concept, the Initiative demonstrates that local churches can work together in clusters to jointly and effectively address the issues of HIV/AIDS in their communities, provided there is a coordinating body to support them through capacity building and to provide additional back-office support in managing their financial resources. As a result of this unique programme, whole communities within the project catchment areas have experienced remarkable life change. Over the course of three years, the Initiative reached a total of 176,929 people through its HIV prevention activities and 31,059 people through its impact mitigation programmes – surpassing life change expectations by significant margins.

The Initiative aimed to become sustainable in the long-term by increasing the visibility of work undertaken by church consortia, with regard to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and subsequently, gain eligibility for funding from national stakeholders, such as the National AIDS Commission (NAC), and the international donor community. Sadly, this over-arching goal of scale-up and providing a new model for multi and bilateral funding has not yet been achieved, despite the Initiative’s obvious success at a practical level. The hope was that at the end of three years, the Initiative would have been able, through publicity of its success, to access more funding for a national network of consortia to continue reaching a far greater number of people through the formation of additional consortia.

Lessons Learned

Successes:

Project cycle management capacity – The initiative has demonstrated that cross-denominational church consortia made up of volunteers can be trained to plan and execute quality HIV/AIDs interventions and can also properly manage and account for financial resources. Congregations not only implemented the planned activities but they were also able to organise annual reviews where they discussed, analysed and made appropriate modifications to their activities based on lessons learned from previous years. This resulted in the continuous improvement of consortium-based programme implementation.

Professional technical assistance and back-office support structure – The technical support and mobilising capacity of three full time professional staff at the JCRA national and regional coordination level has been pivotal in the success of this programme. If the JCRA model is to expand nationally or to other sub-Saharan African countries where there is significant church attendance, this administrative and technical backup is the key to success.

Community directed assistance – The programme has demonstrated that if local people who live in the community are mobilised and empowered, they are able to identify the truly needy and get assistance to those who genuinely need it. Limited resources were utilised where most needed and with very limited envy generated in the community, by using a community directed approach.

Challenges:

Ownership and endorsement – Initially, it was a challenge to obtain the general endorsement and genuine buy-in from the major denominations in Malawi. For some denominations the endorsement process was accomplished smoothly, especially those churches that are members of the Malawi Council of Churches (MCC). For others, the process was more difficult. Once the programme was in its second year and the non-MCC member churches had seen for themselves that the JCRA programme had no hidden agenda, they applied to join.

Conflict of interest – Unfortunately, at the HQ denomination level, the other in-house HIV/AIDS programme departments are effectively competing with the JCRA programme for project funding from national and international donors. Both the MCC and the main denominational church bodies whose congregations are participating in the consortia have their own in-house development departments. These development departments apply for funding for HIV projects from the main bilateral and multilateral funding agencies and have established compliments of staff and a comprehensive project management infrastructure. In the name of MCC or LISAP (to name two) they implement HIV/AIDS programmes throughout Malawi, although not in a collaborative way as pioneered by the JCRA programme. This creates a tension for these headquarters-based departments between recruiting funds for the JCRA initiative (which the denomination supports) and recruiting funds for the denominations’ own development programmes. We believe that this clash of interests has had a detrimental effect on publicising JCRA as an alternative modality for funding.

Cooperation of interdenominational leadership – When the concept was first conceived and discussed with the denominational leaders in Lilongwe, the clear intent was for the three main church ‘mother bodies’ to play equal roles in the leadership of JCRA; a tripartite. The Malawi Council of Churches (MCC), the Evangelical Alliance and the Catholic Church all expressed initial willingness to take a formal part in the JCRA structure. All of these main blocks maintained goodwill toward the initiative but in the end only the MCC actually took a leading role. At the national level, the Evangelical Alliance and the Catholic Church offered limited practical support.

Malawi HIV/AIDS: Featured Projects

SII ScoreProject NameGrantLives ChangedCost Per LifeSector
72.00 Livinstonia Synod Aids Programme$198,25013,045$15.20
57.60 Dwambazi Consortium$206,27940,714$5.07
57.60 Lozi Consortium$143,16824,862$5.76
57.60 Mwenilondo Consortium$195,02031,930$6.11
54.00 Iponga Consortium$195,02025,545$7.63
54.00 Hara Consortium$195,02023,710$8.23
52.00 Mwansambo Consortium$208,52937,258$5.60
39.60 Giving Heart Ministry$173,67510,924$15.90
Note: The Social Impact Index Score reflects the relative social impact of a given development project. The lowest possible score is 20; the highest possible score is 100.

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