Malaw­ian MP’s night of hope

The Tribune (NZ) - - NEWS -

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.

See world­vi­­involved/events/a-night-of-hope

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.

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