Written by: Dan Lewin – Temwa UK Project Administrator
It was another sweltering morning in Usisya and at Temwa’s base in Usisya Community Hall staff were busy preparing for the first screening of the Purple Field Productions film “Banthu Ngati Ise” (People Like Us). This first screening was officially an invite only event for community leaders and those involved in the making of the film although the few that turned up without an invite were not turned away. The red carpet invite list included all the interviewees in the film as well as the rest of the local NAPHAM group (National Association of People Living with HIV & AIDS in Malawi), the T.A. (Traditional Authority – Usisya Chief), the group village head men, the Temwa committee, representatives from local C.B.O.s (Community Based Organisations), local school heads, church leaders, staff from the Usisya health centre, the local police and local representatives from national organisations such as N.I.C.E. (National Institute of Civic Education) and C.I.L.I.C. (Civil Liberties Committee). A series of public community screenings are due to take place over the coming months.
The billed start time for the showing was 9am to allow for everyone to arrive before the unofficial start time of 10am. This ‘Malawi time’ contingency planning still, however, saw us start slightly late as at 10am smartly dressed guests were still filtering through the hall doors. Malawians are very patient people and the time was filled with the latest Malawian music DVDs so consequently there wasn’t the slightest of audience gripes. The attendants on the day included a colourful mixture esteemed guests in their Sunday’s best, several teenagers in baggy basketball shirts, gaggles of local children who seemed to have wandered in unawares.
Temwa’s Project Manager, Luke, introduced the film with a short introductory speech, translated into Chitumbuka by Assistant Project Manager Jumbo, briefly explaining the reasons for making the film and the issues of stigma and living positively with HIV which it addresses. Once the film started, murmurs of excitement rippled through the audience as people recognised people and places on screen and then everyone gradually settled into a concentrated silence punctuated only by a few laughs mirroring those in the film. The narrative of the film held everyone’s attention all the way through and seemed to leave the audience in deep contemplation right up until the credits finished rolling.
Jumbo then took to the stage and helped stimulate a very interesting debate (in Chitumbuka) in which many audience members, including several of the interviewees featured in the film itself, voiced their opinions and thoughts about the film and the issues it raises. From the collection of detailed and educated comments it was clear the many people had a very good grasp of the issues raised in the film and comments from those that were slightly confused allowed for Jumbo to skilfully open up useful discussions that outlines the core issues in more detail. For example, one guest asked why we were showing fit and healthy people with HIV working in the fields and fixing fishing nets. This allowed Jumbo to underline the point that people with HIV can live essentially normal lives if they are aware of their status and live healthily – someone with HIV is not necessarily sick. The Temwa Chairman commented that it was a very good message to see healthy (‘and fat!”) people living with HIV in the film and he went on to highlight the very salient point that people shouldn’t wait until they are sick to get tested. A local Pastor then expanded on a part of the bible about Jesus using medicine as well as prayer in healing and said local people should learn from this lesson and be persuaded away from traditional healing methods and encouraged to put their trust in conventional medicine [some churches in Africa still preach prayer as a cure to HIV/AIDS so this was a very useful and progressive message].
Ultimately the film is a tool to stimulate useful and educative debate and it was therefore extremely encouraging to see it doing just that. The most encouraging part of the debate, however, was the audience raising issues about the future HIV & AIDS prevention and treatment in Usisya which showed them to be informed, educated and concerned about the subject. One guest talked at length about the difficulties those that receive positive test results in Usisya face when trying to get treatment [HIV positive people have to travel to Nkhata Bay hospital at great expense for their initial consultation that determines whether they are eligible for ARV treatment. Many can’t afford this trip and thus cannot receive treatment]. He went on to say that there should be a focus on trying to equip the Usisya health centre so that it can carry out this initial consultation and thus speed up the process between diagnosis and treatment that can determine people’s ability to be able to lead healthy lives. As ARV’s only became available in Usisya about 6 months ago it was very positive to see that the community leaders were already thinking ahead and lobbying to improve the process of consultation and delivery. If respected community leaders are already thinking this way it bodes extremely well for the community as a whole despite the many obstacles they still have to overcome.
Once the debate drew to a close Luke rallied everyone for a series of final thank you rounds of applause including for PFP and all those involved in the making of the film. As people meandered off for the rest of their Saturday’s business, the positive buzz in the hall slowly dissipated with the last to go being the films interviewees who were glowing as they revelled in their new found stardom.