Myriam Msewa-Munthali is helping other women fight property grabbing, harmful traditional practices and encouraging girls to go to school through the organisation she works for—Paradizo House. She has founded Paradizo Youth Club. The two organisations are educating vulnerable girls up to tertiary level.
Tell me about yourself?
My name is Myriam Msewa-Munthali. I come from Rumphi in Utchi Village but I was born on August 19 1978 in Zambia and brought up there. After doing my primary and secondary education in Zambia, I did my tertiary education in Malawi. I have an advanced diploma in secretariat, including a shot hand. I have acquired a degree in business administration at the Share-World University with support from my workplace. I am studying for my Master’s degree in the business administration at the same university. I live in Area 24, Lilongwe.
How many children do you have and are you married?
I have one child–a boy. I got married in 1999. As young as I was, I rushed into marriage. My husband died after my child was born. I am not married yet, but maybe later in future. I believe a single parent needs to see how they are going to raise their children before they rush into another marriage.
You work with women in the fight against HIV and Aids. Tell me about this?
Paradizo House started as a home based care organisation. I was one of the three women that formed it after seeing the need to help women living with HIV and Aids in Ngwenya, Lilongwe, and other surrounding areas. Many of them were facing challenges including discrimination, loss of marriages, property grabbing and low self-esteem. We decided to do something about the challenges that women were facing in this community. As Paradizo, we were mainly interested with HIV and Aids, TB and cancer when we started in early 2000. I later ounded the youth club which is supported by Paradizo House.
Apart from the problems you have mentioned, what other challenges were these women facing?
There were a lot of issues concerning land and property grabbing in this area. A lot of women did not know where to go to report their predicaments. There was a belief in the communities that if an HIV positive person slept with a disabled person or young girls then the virus would go away. There was also this practice where if a chief from another village visits a certain village then he was being provided with a virgin to sleep with. If the girl got infected or pregnant then the guardians or parents used to say that the child was a spirit child. There has been a reduction of these practices since the establishment of Paradizo. We sensitise the communities on their rights and responsibilities. We also use drama for behaviour change.
When women report these issues, how do you help them?
With a victim of property grabbing, we visit the community where the woman whose property has been grabbed comes from, to verify from people around her. Then we help the woman to report the matter. We help her until she gets back her property either through mediation or legally. Paradizo works with different organisations like Manerera and Coalition of Women Living with HIV and Aids (Cowlha) that provide the necessary support. At some point we meet with our friends from these NGOs to discuss matters crucial to the communities we help.
You have also talked about helping girls, tell me more about this?
Basically, they come and report here at the office. So we follow up and do our assessments.
In the case of the practice of sleeping with virgins, we eventually meet with the village head and other community leaders and discuss the way forward. Sometimes we even involve the law. On education, most parents did not find it necessary to send a girl to school. We bring the parents together and tell them the importance of sending all children to school. We provide them with school materials and fees. We believe that when you educate a girl you educate the whole nation.
How many girls have you helped so far?
There are more than 200 girls that have been assisted and still get support from Paradizo, most of them victims of the practices I mentioned.