A diverse audience of human rights activists, artists, NGO workers and representatives from the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health joined AGHCA staff at the Crossroads Hotel in Lilongwe to attend Umunthu Connect.
As the Umunthu Project for Higher Education comes to an end, we wanted to share our experiences using the Umunthu philosophy – a pan-African concept of humanity emphasising unity and acceptance – to engage university students, faculty, and administration in participatory workshops on the discrimination, stigmatisation and social exclusion of LGBTI people and other minority groups.
The guest of honour at Umunthu Connect, Presidential Advisor on NGO’s and Civil Society Mr Mavuto Bamusi, commended the AGHCA’s efforts to achieve a healthier and more equal society. He pointed to a study, done by Oxfam Malawi in 2016, which uncovered a serious lack of Umunthu in the Malawian education system and observed that the AGHCA demonstrates the role NGO’s can play in advocacy. Mr. Bamusi linked Umunthu with patriotism and observed: ‘This is the moment to reflect deeper on Umunthu and we need to ask ourselves tough questions. We need to interrogate each other whether the lack of Umunthu in our midst is generating further or whether, as people, we are now improving on the Umunthu ranking.’
Umunthu Programme Officer Rodger Kumalire Phiri shared the project’s participatory approach, presented activities conducted in the workshops and explored the findings of the project evaluation. In the spirit of participation, Rodger engaged the audience in ‘Balloon stomp’, a game in which each person ties a balloon to their ankle using a ribbon and players must stomp and pop one another’s balloons while protecting their own. The game is a fun way to explore the idea that, when a community is focused on attacking one another, everyone suffers and it becomes difficult for anyone to succeed.
Also in attendance were participants of Umunthu workshops from the College of Medicine, Kamuzu College of Nursing and Bangwe Drop-in Centre, who reflected on their experiences. Allamson Liwonde, of Bangwe Drop-in Centre, shared that, after attending the workshop, he began advocating for equal access to drop-in services for LGBTI youth and has also incorporated Umunthu activities into his own workshops and trainings.
After the presentation, the audience was given an opportunity to ask questions and discuss possible future applications of the Umunthu approach. AGHCA shared our plans to tailor this approach to workshops for healthcare workers.