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Giving hope to HIV positive people
17 - Set - 2013

Coordinator of the DREAM programme in the country, Pacem Mnyenyembe recently received the "Premio Colombe Doro Per La Pace" international award for her commitment to helping women made vulnerable because of HIV.

Sam Banda Jnr tells her story.
Pacem Mnyenyembe is a name that will not ring a bell in most people in the country but for some of the HIV positive patients in the country, she has a place in their hearts.
She is a woman who for a good eight years, has dedicated her life in assisting HIV positive people especially those in the rural areas, so that they continue to lead better lives.

Mnyenyembe is the second born in the family of late Harned and Mary Kawonga. She says his father was a deputy Secretary in the Ministry of Finance before he died and that her mother was a primary school teacher.
Born at Kamuzu Central Hospital in Lilongwe, Mnyenyembe is married and has two children, a boy and girl. She says the first born will start his form two at William Murray Secondary School while the second born is in standard five.
She did her primary school at Tsokankanansi in Lilongwe and then her secondary school at Phwezi before proceeding to Mzuzu Technical College where she pursued secretarial studies.
Mnyenyembe later studied Business Administration at Malawi College of Accountancy before joining Dream.
Throughout her stint with Dream, she has travelled to several conferences on HIV/AIDS including International Aids Conference in New York and Global Plan Conference in Kenya.
Mnyenyembe, who has been working for the Dream programme at Mtengowanthenga Hospital since 2006, recently made history for herself and Malawi, when she received an award known as 'Premio Colombe Doro Per La Pace' in Italy.
"This award is given to international people, those who are particularly dedicated in the themes of peace and disarmament; she reveals.
She says that she has always been dedicated to assisting the vulnerable and has been an activist since the beginning of the Dream programme.
"I am committed to the opposing violence against women and in favour of the right to health. Today, I am the coordinatorof the Dream Centre but this has not come by chance, I wanted it and God gave it to me, says Mnyenyembe.
With her experience, she bears witness that it is possible to undertake a route to redemption and emancipation of women who she notes are often relegated to a secondary role.
"Many women are victims of violence, abuse and discrimination but with support this can be overcome. This is why I choose to take this path. I am happy today that for eight years, I have assisted many women; she says.
Mnyenyembe says she never knew that she would one day win an award for her work and she is even happy that the award has previously been received by well-known people in the world.
"One of the people who also received the award of the Premio Colombe Doro Per La Pace is South Africa's first black president Nelson Mandela in 1987. Sothis gives you a picture of what this award is all about"she says.

Narrating the path to winning the award
Mnyenyembe found herself shortlisted for this award after she wrote a book titled "The Future For My Child."
In the book, she tells the story of her life, sifting through her childhood, the path she has travelled to be where she is today and the good and bad experiences of life.
"I couldn't believe the day I got an email that I have been awarded the 'Premio Colombe Doro per la Pace' it was beyond my imagination. I thank God for all what I have received because the wisdom that I have is from above.
"And many thanks to the Dream programme for entrusting me in carrying out different activities for Dream and Community of Saint Egidioin Malawi and Africa. Together we can turn the tide as long as we trust in God and put all our efforts together'
In the book she has been brave enough to tackle the issue of HIV/Aids and that she takes her time to let the Western world and its citizens know the plight of the pandemic in Africa.
"Above all I am telling stories on the programmes that Dream is undertaking in Africa. There are a lot of people suffering out there but Dream has been there. A lot of people have regained their dignity, we have a lot of HIV positive mothers but many have HIV negative children; she observes.
Apart from working with HIV positive people who she says have taught her about love and care, she is also involved in health education in the remote areas.
Mnyenyembe says the HIV/Aids pandemic has affected everyone and that everyone has a responsibility because one is either infected or affected.
"In all this, women have been hit harder by the pandemic. We need to remove discrimination in us and in that way we will fight the pandemic. Through health education, I discuss and talk about the pandemic and experience has it that there are some people who do not believe that one can live longer when you are HIV positive; says Mnyenyembe.
According to the latest (2008) World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNAIDS global estimates, women constitute 60 percent of people living with HIV in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The report says that the proportion of women living with HIV has been increasing in the last 10 years.
Throughout the eight years Mnyenyembe has worked with HIV positive people, she has felt compassionfor mothers who are HIV positive noting that many of them need support to progress with their lives.
"I know what it means to be a mother who is HIV positive. Life is not that easy but with support many are living better lives. HIV positive people need our support, especially those in rural areas" she says.
Mnyenyembe also zeroes in on HIV positive children, many of whom do not understand how they contracted the virus.
"There are innocent children out there who don't know how and what happened for them to be HIV positive; to be taking pills morning and eveningin order to save their lives. We need to be their mothers. Treatment is not enough; they need friendship and also our smile. This gives them hope that there's still more years to live" advises Mnyenyembe.
She works with women in rural areas in the fight against HIV and Aids by building their capacity to exercise their rights in response to the growing pandemic.
"In reality, women and girls face a range of HIV related risk factors and vulnerabilities than men that's why I am very dedicated to this work. I am also very involved in helping the women in decision making" says the Dream Coordinator.
According to her, about 58 percent of people living with HIV in Malawi are women, hence HIV/Aids wears a female face more than male.
It is against this background that the movement I Dream was born in Malawi (a network of people living with HIV and Aids) that exists to address the gender specific implications of HIV and Aids in women.
"The fact that men are also joining is spontaneous and represents one more success for Dream, and it shows how it is possible to deal not only with the disease, but also with the prejudice and stigma" says Mnyenyembe.


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