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Tearfund CEO Sharan Kelly Visits Malawi

Tearfund CEO Sharan Kelly Visits Malawi – 20 Nov 2012

On having only recently taken up the role of Chief Executive with Tearfund Ireland, my second week found me not only finding my feet, but finding my wings. I have just returned from Malawi, my first overseas trip with Tearfund. This was a truly exciting and inspiring experience where I witnessed first-hand the transformation of the lives of some of the world’s poorest people.
As our plane landed in Malawi, we noticed the aviation crew were checking the wheels of our plane which to our dismay had been punctured. Their puzzled faces as to how they were going to fix them were a bit unnerving to say the least. Thankfully our driver arrived to take us on our guided tour but not long into the journey our fuel ran low. We had to drive to several petrol stations before we could refuel and continue our journey. This was a real eye opener and brought to light the stark reality of just how under resourced these people are.

The Warmest Welcome Ever!
We visited three villages in Northern Malawi. They were all overwhelmingly welcoming. On our arrival, having driven down dusty dirt roads, we saw a group of women holding up signs saying; Welcome Reuben Sharan and Markus. Every time we opened our car door, singing accompanied by an occasional ululating (an African sound they make) began. The songs were tailor made for us, featuring our names. Then with a joyful noise, the women marched down the street ahead of us guiding us to our next meeting place. At the end of the day, a more formal meeting was held. All of the volunteers attended, as well as the traditional, political and religious leaders. The highlight of the event was a presentation to us of African handmade gifts and locally sourced food to show their gratitude and appreciation of the work that Tearfund do. It was really something else! The village people and volunteers gave us a chicken, bow and arrow, and some local artefacts. They also came with bowls of roasted peanuts, which added up to almost 50 litres. The bow was given to Reuben and I as a symbol of our leadership hand over. The thought they put into each gift was quite overwhelming.

Church as a hub and volunteers
Many groups of volunteers had already gathered when we arrived. Some of them came as far away as 8 or 9 kilometres by foot. This indicates just how motivated they were to support their community. They receive items they need to help them to do their job from our partner Lisap such as bicycles, mobile phones (used to phone Doctors and receive data from our Tearfund base helping to train and equip them better) and other useful items. They meet at the local village church which is the hub of most of their activities and seems to be a great encouragement to them. All the volunteers are organised in groups. The mother buddies, the HIV support group, the care groups, the youths, and more. They all wait outside the church and the school every day. The model that Tearfund is supports- development through the church is certainly a reality here.

Yummy Power
The members of the support group help people in the community who are HIV positive. As we know people with HIV/AIDS have less strength than normal, even if they take ARV (Anti Retroviral Drugs). The support groups make nutritious drinks and snacks for them. The ingenious thing about this is that they use local resources such as the Neem tree. What I also liked about it is – they package what is ultimately natural medicine in an appealing way. For example, they produce two types of power drinks and snacks that look like cookies and taste really good.

The IMPACT project helps to reduce the parent to child transmission of HIV. This story illustrates how effective it is. We met Gondwani and Jane, a married couple who are both HIV positive. One day Jane said to her husband; “Shall we just look at the two of us or have a baby?” Soon afterwards Jane gave birth to baby Judith, she is now HIV negative. Both parents were full of thankfulness and joy. They followed all the instructions our partners provided so that HIV was not passed on. They used Nevirapin drugs and also went for testing and antenatal sessions together. This is not the usual traditions of the men in their villages. After giving birth, Gondwani also supported Jane by looking for healthy food to ensure she would have enough nutrition in her diet in the early days of motherhood. They also grow soy, which was given to them from LISAP, our partner. They needed to eat good healthy food and enough of it, as the drugs are quite strong and are most effective with a healthy diet. They had to go every month to the clinic during the pregnancy, but even though transport was a problem, as it was about 8km away, they still managed to go. Now Gondwani also encourages the other men in the village to go to the clinic. Their story is just one of many I experienced and now inspires us all at Tearfund.

Change at a deeper level/culture
The IMPACT project encourages the men to go for antenatal care along with the women and to be present at birth. It also encourages them to go for HIV testing together. This is something that goes against their culture, as traditionally, only the women go. There have been some good changes recently -the men are now starting to go to the clinic too. They are beginning to reflect on their culture and the aspects that are not necessarily helpful. This is a deeper aspect of development that is affecting their mind-sets and worldviews, not just external practices. Even the traditional leaders have caught on and one of them says: “Culture has limited us to go to the antenatal clinic. Now we are trying to relax those that hinder spouses going together. It is not good to keep culture that makes us die. IMPACT helps us fight these cultures”. Against that background, a staff from the Health Centre reported that in August, within one month, the number of men coming to the health centre increased from 0% to 8% within one month. This is quite amazing considering it is a relatively new development. At one of the meetings with the community we asked the volunteers if they had any questions for us. They asked how we do it in Europe. Markus, our International Programmes Manager who has three children shared with them how he had gone to antenatal classes with his wife as well as being present at his each of his children’s births. He also told them “as a couple, we share the easy and the hard parts of our marriage”. And they applauded.

More changes
In the South of Malawi, our partner EAM is thinking of starting a marriage counselling service in order to improve the relationship between husbands and wives. Another aspect of their community development: The members of the care group support the mother buddies in reaching out to the community. Some of them are TBA (Traditional Birth Attendants), women who help with deliveries. The women are now encouraged to go to the clinic, especially when HIV positive, rather than using their service in the village which means they are getting better treatment. The TBA’s are now part of the new mother buddy group demonstrating how our partners still value their support.

Prostitution and HIV
Another harsh reality for some of the women there is prostitution. We spoke to some young girls who told us why they felt they had no other choice. They told us many of the girls do it because they need the money to pay for their school fees or to buy nice clothes because of peer pressure. As a result many of them contract HIV/AIDS. In the past, love marriages have not been encouraged, so as a result people look for romantic relationships outside of marriage running the risk of also being infected. It’s all tied up in many of their cultural practices. School is a place where the message of HIV prevention is being taught, so students are made aware of the dangers. This is another reason why Tearfund promote child education. Looking at the needs of the whole person, the projects we support there don’t stop at the HIV/AIDS issue. We also support self help groups. They were set up so that people can save money which they can then invest and also support others in the community. In addition pigs and goats are given so that they a have a better livelihood. I am so encouraged and blessed to see the progress being made at such an early stage of our work there. The conditions people in Malawi live in are extremely poor. Engaging in the programmes delivered on the ground on top of the challenges of daily life requires such a high level of commitment, endurance and hard-work.

Please continue to pray for Tearfund’s partners, the church, volunteers and the communities of Malawi, that more lives will be transformed in the months ahead.

Thank you.


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Help us to stop hunger now!

Help us to stop hunger now! – 12 Sep 2012

You can Stop Hunger Now for a child by giving €12 a month. Download form here, complete and return it to our office.

It seems incredible that in an abundant country like Uganda with two agricultural seasons per year that people could go hungry — but families like Moses’ remain trapped because of poverty and lack of knowledge.

‘It’s hard to concentrate in school when you are hungry,’ says Moses a young boy from Organgora village in Uganda.

But hunger has been halved in rural Ugandan villages thanks to Tearfund’s church based programme ‘Umoja’. Umoja the Swahili word for ‘united’ or ‘togetherness’ enables people and their local church to come together to forge their own path out of poverty. They do this by drawing on their own resources – using their skills and initiative to come up with solutions to their problems.
Moses family participated in the Umoja programme and with new agricultural training and support they managed to produce a bumper harvest which meant they could buy a goat this season. Moses now goes to school having had a nutritous bowl of goats milk for his breakfast.

Actions speak louder

But don’t keep this good news to yourself. Why not consider how you could use our resources in your church, home group or prayer meetings? Help us to Stop Hunger Now for children like Moses.
Order a free copy of the Stop Hunger Now church pack on 01 878 3200 or download the resources below. And remember to keep praying for change.


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The human cost - West Africa Food Crisis

The human cost - West Africa Food Crisis – 23 May 2012

Fears are growing of a humanitarian disaster across West Africa as millions of people face starvation. Extreme hunger is now a daily reality for many families surviving on just one or two meals a day, some of whom are so desperate that they are resorting to eating wild leaves. Countries affected are among the poorest in the world and include Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger, which have all declared states of emergency.

They’ve been left reeling after severe drought had a disastrous impact on harvests and livestock. Please give today to help us respond

The tragic human cost


The growing human cost of Niger’s hunger emergency can be seen in the dwindling frame of nine-month-old Karima. Over the last four months she has lost half her body weight, coinciding with the failed harvest in this southern Dosso region of the country. In recent weeks her condition has worsened and her mother, 25-year-old Dayaba, has brought Karima to Soukoukoutane health centre after a long journey by foot which began the previous day. ‘I feel weak and I have no breast milk for my baby which makes her cry,’ said Dayaba.

Karima is not the only child crying today. Accompanied by husband Jada, Dayaba and Karima take their place alongside more than a dozen other women with malnourished young children waiting to see medical staff.

Miracle tree

They gather in the welcome shade provided by a neem tree – known locally as a miracle tree because of its medicinal properties. It’s a beacon of verdant foliage in a barren landscape scorched by drought, indeed it seems a miracle the tree is there at all given the heat which feels like walking past an open oven on full blast.

Dayaba and Jada tell of how the failure of their millet crop has brought them to the clinic: ‘We didn’t collect any food from the harvest,’ says Dayaba. ‘At the time we planted millet, there was not enough rain.’ Normally their millet plants would reach six foot high but they made to just two foot before succumbing to the drought. Jada immediately read the danger signs: ‘Straight after I planted the millet I saw the situation was becoming bad. The rain came at the right time but it stopped just after a few days. We didn’t produce anything. So I left for Burkina Faso. This is the worst situation I’ve ever faced.’


He wasn’t the only one from his village to head abroad seeking work and income to send home. ‘My neighbours are facing the same situation, almost all the men in my village – between 60 to 70 men – left at the same time to go abroad. Only five old men stayed in the village.

Hard decision

‘We had to go because we had nothing. We had to find work so we could send back some money; it wasn’t because we liked leaving. Even if we stayed in the village there was nothing we could do for the women. As a man, we’re supposed to find something to eat for our wives and children but we don’t even have a goat to sell to buy food. It was a hard decision but we had to do it.’ Three months ago, the work ran out in Burkina and Jada returned to Niger and an uncertain future.

‘We don’t know how the next harvest will be. Only God knows. I have fear in my heart because if not for the grace of God I might lose my daughter.’ Jada said, ‘My prayer is that God will give us a good harvest. It may rain but that might not give us a big harvest. Our strength is fading and we are fearful.’

What Tearfund is doing to help

Seven Tearfund partners in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger are responding to the food crisis, helping crop growers and livestock producers with emergency measures. Depending on the location, they are distributing food, running cash-for-work projects, selling food at reduced prices, supporting grain banks and introducing market gardening.

As so many people rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, cash-for-work schemes provide an invaluable income boost when times are hard. People get paid for activities that benefit the wider community, for example, planting trees to protect the soil and building barriers to prevent the encroaching desert.

Market gardening is helping communities diversify their food beyond staple cereal crops, such as millet. Partners are providing training, tools and seeds so people can produce a variety of vegetables. Growing tomatoes, cabbages, onions, carrots, peppers and aubergines not only boosts people’s diets but provides them with cash crops to supplement their incomes.

Grain banks enable people to buy food at reduced prices in times of shortage. After each harvest, a family will put a sack of grain into the bank, plus extra by way of ‘interest’.

Tearfund partners have been working in vulnerable communities for many years, often alongside local churches, to improve livelihoods and to reduce the risk of disasters.
They have long term plans to strengthen people’s resilience, for example, by diversifying incomes, introducing drought-resistant crops and improving farming techniques and water sources.

Working closely with communities on such solutions ensures such projects are owned locally and therefore have long term viability.


The Dawning of a New Era in Myanmar

The Dawning of a New Era in Myanmar – 8 May 2012

Up to last year, a military junta had ruled Myanmar for nearly five decades. The rule of the military government was characterised by human rights abuses, increasing poverty and deep-seated corruption.In the remote mountainous regions, one in three children is malnourished and one in five people lacks access to safe water. After Afghanistan Myanmar is the second poorest nation in Asia.

Peace is coming

However, hope is stirring in this nation and there is a movement towards peace and reconciliation. Political prisoners have been freed, oppressive laws have been overturned and the government has signed peace agreements with many of the ethnic minority tribal militias. It is against this backdrop that the April 1st by-election put Aung San Suu Kyi (Leader of the National league for Democracy) into parliament.

Tearfund is working with local churches to help the people of Myanmar rebuild their lives. Houses are being reconstructed, wells are being repaired to provide clean water and families are being provided with seeds and tools to replant their fields. ‘They (returning Kachin refugees) lost everything,’ says Min Nwe, a World Concern staff member, ‘and they are returning with only the clothes they wear. It is planting season so it is essential that the rice seeds are planted soon so families can get a good harvest and feed themselves.’

The people of Myanmar are on the brink of historic times. Please join with us in praying and supporting the people of Myanmar – praying that God’s church will be able to rebuild broken lives.

Please give – to bring them hope and a future.

  • €18 can enable Tearfund’s partners to supply emergency food supplies such as rice and lentils
  • €55 can provide a family with essential household items, water containers and blankets
  • €16 per month (over a year) can help a family restart a small business and become self-sufficient again

Please give today

Mother buddies in Malawi

Mother buddies in Malawi – 3 May 2012

In Malawi, one in five children born to a HIV-positive mother is infected – a death sentence at birth. However, child and maternal mortality can be reduced dramatically with a number of low-cost interventions. Tearfund Ireland has received three year’s funding from Irish Aid, a government department, to mobilise churches and communities in rural Malawi to stop AIDS but still needs donations to enable this life-saving work to succeed. Give today

Slim disease

‘Slim disease’ is the local name given to AIDS which has ravaged the country since the 1980s. More than 10% of the population are infected with HIV and tragically are passing it on to the next generation. Rev. Harold, a church leader in Chitera was exhausted from attending the funerals of AIDS victims with often as many as ten per month. ‘People were in a constant state of grief.’ he says, ‘It was particularly tragic when a young infant wasted away and died’.

Loneliness kills

Rev. Harold then attended a training run by the Evangelical Association of Malawi (EAM), Tearfund’s partner. He realised that AIDS was the equivalent of leprosy in Biblical times. ‘Sufferers were isolated from family and community. Even us, their church persecuted for their condition,’ he explains. One woman, whose family, on learning of her condition, set fire to her home to drive her out. ‘It’s not only the disease that kills,’ Rev Harold continues, ‘but the loneliness.’

Changing church

As a result of his training Chitera community and the local church is changing dramatically. Following the example of Jesus with the lepers the church members have begun to welcome people living with HIV and are providing practical care and support for them. On a recent visit to Malawi I attended a church service and was present as the collection was gathered from the congregation. This was like nothing you would see in Ireland – someone offered a bar of soap, another a pair of socks, someone else a single egg. It was moving to witness people with next to nothing giving whatever they could for those suffering from AIDS.

Inspiring as the image is, however, it touches on something much deeper and confirms the incredible potential of the church to bring healing and hope.

A mother’s hope

The church conducted a voluntary HIV testing and counselling clinic as part of their Sunday service. 176 people came to be tested. One of them was Evelyn who was pregnant with her first child. ‘I was very afraid when I found out’ she says softly ‘I thought there was no hope for me and my child, in Malawi this is a death sentence.’ However a ‘mother buddy’ (a church volunteer) was able to take her to the health clinic on a bicycle ambulance so that she could be provided with anti-retroviral medicines. ‘I don’t think I could have gotten there without her’ says Evelyn as she reflects on the hour’s walk to the nearest clinic.


Throughout Evelyn‘s pregnancy the mother buddy provided continuous support and prayer. The anti-retroviral medicines can have some horrible side-effects including nausea and vomiting and without encouragement pregnant women often stop taking them. But Evelyn persevered and gave birth to a baby boy Ztembele, which means ‘thanks’.

Recently Ztembele was old enough to be tested for HIV and to the delight of his mother Evelyn he was negative. ‘Without the medicines, my mother buddy and my church I would be telling a different story today’ says Evelyn. She has decided that she wants to be trained as a mother buddy so she can share her experiences and help mothers in her situation.

Today, in Chitera there has been only one burial for an AIDS victim in the last six months. Behind this dramatic turnaround is the loving care and dedication of a network of church volunteers, led by Rev Harold and inspired by Jesus.

A future free from HIV

Such success has not gone unnoticed. Tearfund Ireland has secured three years funding from the Irish Government towards reducing the incidence of HIV transmission from mother to child, a significant initiative in a country with one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world. Over the next three years we plan to test 6,500 mothers and will be providing ‘mother buddy’ support to the HIV-positive mothers. As a result hundreds of children will be born with a chance at life. Evelyn is looking forward to her opportunity to give something back to her people – her way of giving thanks.

The Malawi HIV project is only partially funded by the Irish government and will require your support to ensure its success.

  • €18 will enables us to provide emergency transport for a pregnant woman
  • €35 enables us to provide HIV testing at a church
  • €150 will enable us to support a HIV positive pregnant mother and prevent her child being born with HIV

Give today

Push your Pastor from a Plane?

Push your Pastor from a Plane? – 26 Apr 2012

Ok, so it’s like this; we were looking for a quirky fundraising idea that would highlight how scary poverty can be and encourage pastors to take the ultimate jump…. from a plane!

‘Little chance’ you may say. Well it’s like this….living on the edge of poverty can be scary and earth shattering as well as nerve-racking and unpredictable, especially in northern Myanmar where decades of ethnic conflict have left many displaced.

Tearfund partner World Concern is helping the Kachin refugees return to their homes, provide them with clean water, seeds and tools to replant their fields. We are aiming to raise €10,000 to help this project through the ‘Push The Pastor’ fundraiser. Or you can donate today by clicking here

So it’s quite simple, would you ask your pastor/minister to do a sky dive and help him/her fundraise in the process? You will need to raise a minimum of €500 because it will also cost to send your pastor flying through the air! Of course it doesn’t have to be a pastor but anyone who is up for it!

We will send you the sponsorship cards and everything necessary to get you up and running so call Cliona today on 01 878 3200 to book your place.

Go on! Help the people of Myanmar away from the edge of poverty.

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