Malawian MP’s night of hope
A forced marriage led to an HIV death sentence for Olipa Chimangeni, but the Malawian woman is not letting the disease stand in her way.
Now a Malawian member of parliament, Olipa is in New Zealand as part of a World Vision awareness campaign.
Abused as a 17-year-old by an older man, Olipa had to give up her schooling when she became pregnant, and was forced to marry her abuser.
She later managed to escape the relationship with her son Francis, but found herself an outcast.
‘‘My parents were subsidence farmers, living hand to mouth, and could not bear the extra cost of looking after me and my child,’’ Olipa says. ‘‘I would make fritters for sale just to get money to be able to buy a tablet of soap.’’
Five years later her husband returned to ‘‘apologise’’, but infected her with HIV, again leaving her pregnant. Olipa’s daughter Miriam was born HIV positive, and sick from an early age, made the situation more desperate.
‘‘Those believed to have HIV and AIDS were highly stigmatised and excluded in most aspects of community life, even church,’’ she says.
Olipa returned to her parents, who were able to take the family in with help from World Vision.
‘‘My family received two pigeons [for meat] that reproduced to 29. We also received cassava and sweet potato vines that we planted, and soya beans... and we had enough to eat and sell.’’
As her situation improved Olipa turned to building awareness about HIV/AIDS in her com- munity.
‘‘It’s a problem for Malawian women to prevent this virus, because in Malawi women have no voice.’’
Due to intense discrimination, many infected with the virus won’t tell close friends or family, or simply never get tested.
She began to speak publicly about the issues. Against the odds she taught herself English, then pushed to participate in groups that had not allowed those with HIV to join, and founded a support group.
Now an international speaker for World Vision, Olipa was elected her region’s the first female member of parliament in 2014.
Olipa shares her story in Palmerston North at Crossroads Church, 220 Church St this Saturday, May 21 at 7:30pm, and on Sunday 22 at 10am and 5.30pm at Life Church, 590 Featherston St.
For Malawian MP, international speaker and health advocate Olipa Chimangeni being infected with HIV/AIDS was, thanks to her husband, unavoidable. Olipa is spearheading a World Vision awareness campaign about the disease and the work of the charitable agency.