Spreading The Spirit Of Umunthu

The Umunthu Higher Education Project, in its quest to create a tolerant and accommodating society for marginalised and stigmatised communities, conducted 15 Umunthu workshops reaching over 400 people at 6 Universities in Malawi in 2016.

Participants included student leaders, university administration and representatives of youth-led civil society and community organisations. These leaders and authority figures were strategically chosen so that they, in turn, would incorporate the approach and activities of Umunthu into their own programmes, projects and initiatives.

A comprehensive evaluation of the project indicated that the greatest shift in attitudes and opinions, after the workshops, centred on LGBTI people. The proportion of respondents who agree or strongly agree that they would be comfortable having a homosexual neighbour shifted from 26.7% before the workshop to 45.5% after the workshop to 54.4% two-three months after the workshop. In comparison, research by Afrobarometer in 2014-15 found that only 6% of respondents in Malawi would “strongly like,” “somewhat like” or “not care” if they had a homosexual neighbour.

A student from Polytechnic confessed: ‘When I was coming here I didn’t know what to expect, I had another meeting in the afternoon so I thought I could just spend the morning here, but after the morning session I couldn’t leave. The activities and the information I have learned is profound and eye opening. We have been talking about homosexuals, but much was from ignorance.’

Another student, also from the Polytechnic, offered a distinct perspective: ‘Thank you for creating this environment that we could speak freely. I am a gender non-conformist, but I am not a Lesbian. I feel stigmatized and I am often abused verbally... I wish more students on campus could be reached with this messaging.’

This coming year, the project will shift focus to address disparities in healthcare for LGBTI people. We will run Umunthu workshops encouraging health workers to create an accommodative, accepting and sensitive environment for groups that are stigmatised, socially excluded and discriminated against in Malawian society.