Lizulu Trading Centre in Ntcheu is as busy as a bee. People walk in all directions with different agendas. Some are there to sell their farm produce while others are there to buy different items.
Peeping through the drinking joints on the Mozambique side of the Lilongwe-Blantyre Road, one is greeted by a long line of pubs. For the past 10 years, this is where 35-year-old Yobe Bester used to spend his time away from his home in Chimkuta Village, Traditional Authority Chakhumbira in Ntcheu.
During his early days, the reason of patronising pubs was to take one or two bottles of beer. He would return home in good time and he had nothing to do with the sex workers who are always present in the pubs, parading their services. But with the passage of time, Bester started developing an interest in the prostitutes.
However, Bester says despite telling himself not to go for sex workers, he later started admiring them.
“Whenever I entered a bottle store, I hated the sex workers. But the moment I got drunk, they would start looking attractive and I would invite them. This is how I started sleeping with prostitutes.”
Bester has been married since 2002 to Mary, 32, with whom he has two children, a boy and a girl. But his marital status did not stop him from sleeping with sex workers.
“Later, I was not only paying for short time sex but also spending the whole night with the prostitutes. I could even spend a few days with prostitutes while my wife and children were suffering,” says Bester.
Now, Bester is no longer a customer for prostitutes, thanks to the Catholic Commission of Peace and Justice (CCJP) whose programme has enlightened him that not only is sleeping with prostitutes a waste of money but also exposes him to the risk of contracting HIV.
Mary says she had heard about her husband’s behaviour of sleeping with prostitutes and one day she followed him and caught him red-handed in a prostitute’s room behind the bar.
“I destroyed all the items of that prostitute and left. Bester followed me home and beat me up, saying I interfered with his privacy. I reported the incident to chiefs and other senior people in the village who called him for discussion and counselling,” says Mary.
CCJP national coordinator for civic education and gender Elita Yobe says her organisation launched the programme to sensitise people to refrain from excessive drunkenness because alcoholism makes them vulnerable to HIV.
“Since 2012, with funding from Trocaire, this programme has been sensitising people to the linkage between masculinity excessive alcohol consumption and HIV and Aids. In Ntcheu, beer drinking is part of their culture, but there are some people who abuse this culture by drinking excessively. This is dangerous because men sleep with prostitutes and disregard their own wives and children,” said Yobe.
She said drunkenness is also contributing to gender-based violence in Ntcheu.
Yobe said Bester is just one of many examples of men who have changed and are now role models in their communities.
“We are happy that people like Bester have not only stopped their risky behaviour but have also taken it upon themselves to raise awareness among other men on the dangers of excessive beer drinking and womanising,” says Yobe.
CCJP is also focusing on women to discourage them from engaging in behaviours that expose them to HIV. The women have formed 20 Village Savings Loan (VSL) groups in which they put money together and use it to run different small-scale businesses.
There are 357 women involved in VSL and as of early March this year, they had saved K323 000 (US$794).
“The aim is to empower these women economically so that they should not expose themselves to HIV in search of money,” Yobe said.
CCJP secretary for Dedza Diocese Lawrence Puliti said the programme is bearing tasty fruits because many men have changed while their wives are now economically empowered through VSL.
“We have managed to convince many men in our catchment area (Ntcheu) that being Ngoni does not mean that you should drink excessively to the extent of engaging in extramarital affairs. We are grateful to traditional leaders for the support they are giving us to win this battle against alcoholism and womanising,” said Puliti.
As Bester sits on the veranda of his house, his eyes are not focused on the past but the future, especially on how he can convince more men to stop sleeping with prostitutes and start appreciating the love of their wives.