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Warren: the HIV burden

Warren: 'There's still a need to sensitise people [to HIV and AIDS]'

Warren has been Resident Development Chairman since 2003. He stresses the difference it would make to his community to have clean water. He also started a community school and taught for two years without pay before the arrival of a trained teacher (paid for by the Ministry) who is now the head.

He talks about HIV and AIDS, the large numbers of orphans, and the burden on elderly grandparents. Often, “an old woman who cannot even… hold a hoe is looking after grandchildren,” he says. He is involved in “sensitisation” programmes, which have had some impact, but there is still a lot of resistance.

Warren says that the rate of HIV infection is higher among women than men. Lack of employment forces women to turn to sex work. Nevertheless, he feels that”women have got power, they’ve got energy, and they are very willing to work… women are a better tool in this community”.

We have two community schools….most of the time you find that most of the pupils are not going to school just because we have very few education facilities… [Also] because people are not working, they depend on small bits of business…so when they go to the market they leave most of their work at home to their daughters. So…you find that most of the girls are not going to school…

There were no schools at all [before 2002]…we made up our minds to say, as a community, let us have a small school here so that these who are failing to go to school can have this service provided within [the compound]…

I am the one who started Mwapona Community School…I taught for two years without pay. I felt that if I stopped [the school] would stop…at least I [should] keep it going for a good period of time so that the ministry would try to assist. Now we were very fortunate – immediately we registered it with the ministry, they had to send a trained teacher, who is now the head.

We have…four trained teachers… Those [who] are not trained…are not even paid by the ministry of education…

“Women have got power”

Women here are very active. During the GTZ (German aid agency) programme it is the women who were moulding these blocks, bricks. [Building] that school there – there were very few [men]; maybe 10 old men joined these women. The young men were running away, going for piecework in town… women have got power, they’ve got energy and they are very willing to work… women are a better tool in this community…

Most of the people here are not employed… if there is no one who employs them to do piecework, they’re just depending on maybe collecting firewood from the bush, going to market, going to do very small bits of business… They’re only able maybe to get one meal a day…

Food aid

For food relief, in fact the Red Cross came. They were giving mealie meal (maize meal) to those people whom they called ‘vulnerable groups’. Anyway, all of us here we belong to the vulnerable [laughs]…but they were not able to give to everyone… World Vision – they also assisted in food relief…especially [for] orphans and widows… there are a lot of orphans… many people [are] dying from HIV, TB, and so on…

The maize which people grow, it is just enough to enable them to roast it maybe, but not enough for mealie meal…sometime back, there were some loans which the government used to give to people: fertiliser and maize. They used to ask for land from those farmers [who were] not using all their land…

Now for the past three years I can say no loans have been given out…we were told that the people in those offices, they have actually misused the [loan] money… Anyway, we were not given fertiliser.

Basic needs

We need water facilities. We need electricity here…we don’t even have enough firewood because this firewood is collected from other people’s farms. You find that to collect firewood, often you’re supposed to do some piecework there [first].

[Those] who are making charcoal outside [Mwapona], they come to us because they know we might be a better market for them, because we depend on charcoal, firewood and so on… [But] if you’re not working, you can’t afford to buy a bag of charcoal…

I am not employed. So every morning I always do some small business just at my home. I sell sour milk, mealie meal in those small packets they call pamela (1 kg packages), and tomatoes… I concentrate on that small business just to be able to feed my children because if I don’t do that, definitely that day we could go without food…

[My wife] also has a small stand at Makalanguzu (the largest market in Choma). She also goes there to sell vegetables and tomatoes…

Then sometimes as RDC (Resident Development Chairman) I am also kept busy; many people bring me their problems…maybe people are having differences over the plot arrangements and what have you, then I’d go out to assist people in that way.

Water-borne disease

We only have one borehole [that] cannot even cater for half or a quarter of this compound…the water that we get from these wells, it’s not clean… Most of these people have got no toilets around their homes. You find that they go down to that small stream there…[and that] is the same water which they use to water the gardens where they grow vegetables. We are at risk when it comes to water.

It’s a major problem and we’ve been telling…the authorities to help us…but no response actually has [come]… Almost all…waterborne diseases affect us… We had tried to talk to a water and sewerage company because they…told us last year that they would put a lot of kiosks here where they would sell us water at a much cheaper price…[about] 20 Kwacha per 20 litres.

Now actually, people were interested in that because at least it would make our lives easier… [But] from that time up to now, there’s been no sign of any kind… We went there to ask those people why they are not attending to our problems. They said they were still waiting for funds…

Health issues

If we have good water, diarrhoea could maybe leave us alone – and if we have water, we can keep our homes [and children] clean…We need water, water is life…

We need toilets to be constructed… [We need] assistance in…cement. For bricklaying, people can mould the bricks, even dig the holes themselves. They can do [the work], so it’s a matter of having some additional things that we cannot afford on our own.

There are two health posts: Nyerere and Mwapona… A health post is just manned by…a community health worker… We need sensitisation programmes on health matters…on the dangers of HIV and AIDS, TB, diarrhoea, malaria, in fact even on these pregnancies which happen to young children.

This is also a very big problem because you find that a child who cannot even afford soap is pregnant and is going to have a child which will need a lot of things, so sensitisation is needed…education…


Many people didn’t know anything about HIV and AIDS, until a group of youths came together to form what they call Mwapona Youth HIV Support Group…people have cut down going [to drinking places] because so many groups of people came to teach the community about the dangers of HIV/AIDS.

[The youth group] was giving food to those people living with HIV and AIDS, it…was funded by CRAIDS (Community Response to AIDS) last year. It was given 43 million Kwacha.

It was given that money – one: to teach, to sensitise the community. Two: to give food to those already affected… Three: to train 10 members from the community in psychosocial counselling, so that they can continue to assist the community. And also to train people in small-scale business so that maybe they can learn how to make money and so pay for ARVs (antiretroviral; combination drug treatment)…

The [group] even go round advising people who are sick not to stay indoors, but at least to go out for testing or some sort of treatment, or to get advice on how they can go about their lives…

The other medium [for information] is health personnel. When they come for the under-fives and…maternity care… they always teach the women about the dangers of HIV, including TB…

The burden of care

People are responding, but there’s still a need to sensitise people… sometimes we used to hire the Tiyeseko (‘let us try’) Theatre Group to come here to sensitise people on HIV and AIDS dangers, [because] you’d find that…even before you explain to them what this means, people start moving away…

In fact messages are being spread [through radio as well]… It is only that people don’t pay good attention to such programmes. ..

[The effect of HIV on families?] It is us who are affected in fact; if someone has it, it affects us as well… [But] the most affected are those who actually look after orphans – the old people. You find that there’s a family there where…an old woman who cannot even…hold a hoe is looking after grandchildren…

When I was a teacher here, I went there to collect some of them to give them free education… just because I saw that old woman couldn’t manage to do anything, even to buy a book for a child. Now, those people are really affected [by HIV and AIDS] because they are not able to look after those children fully…

Poverty and sex work

Sometime back, people used to refrain from those whom they thought were suffering from AIDS… [Then] they were taught to say these people are still our sisters, they’re still our brothers, and our children. You can’t stay apart from them…

[So] there’s a slight change, but we still need more sensitisation. Even those beer hall operators – they should also care for people’s lives… There are a lot of shebeens (drinking places) here where people spend their time. Because they want money, they just maybe share sexually with anybody they meet there, without considering where they come from or their health…in most cases they’re women…

[As for working in shebeens] people just say, because that’s where I find my food you can’t stop me, I don’t have any other work to do – even if you report them to the council… [The same with prostitution…] It is because people are looking for money, because they are unemployed. Even their parents are not employed so it becomes a source of fundraising to them too!

Power comes with being heard

[We experience] power if when you tell the people above us [about community issues], they are able to respond. If they don’t respond, you become powerless. That is when you feel that whatever you may know yourself, it has no validity – because it has not worked… we have power only if they consider us when we tell them we have this or that problem.

You know our council knows that in Mwapona there are only two boreholes and one is broken… we reported this to them a long time ago. We have not seen any change… Very soon all the wells will be dry. I don’t know how we’re going to survive. It’s a major problem so they have to listen to us. When we tell them we have this problem, let them listen to us in the way we listen to them when they request votes from us.

This interview has been specially edited for the web and cut down by more than half. Some re-ordering has taken place: square brackets indicate’inserted’ text for clarification; round brackets are translations / interpretations; and dots indicate cuts in the text. The primary aim has been to remain true to the spirit of the interview, while losing questions, repetition, and confusing or overlapping sections.


Warren: the HIV burden is produced as part of the Living with poverty: Zambia oral testimony project.


Anna: strong and hardworking

Benson: people need jobs

Dominic: valuing tradition

Edward: anxiety of poverty

Gilbert: cattle is wealth

Grandwell: sustained support

Mirriam: dedicated to others

Ruth: a mother’s struggle

Sara: coping without family

Utrina: working the land

Warren: the HIV burden

Grace: an open approach

Key themes

Introduction to the project


Food security


Water and drought


Survival strategies

Self-help and community support


Loans and debt

Political representation

The cycle of poverty