IFRC Secretary General calls for more community participation for sustainable development

Published: 28 June 2013 9:59 CET

By Horace Nyaka in Malawi

International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Secretary General Bekele Geleta has started his five day visit to Malawi with a call to vulnerable communities to use the aid and support they receive to create sustainable livelihoods for themselves.

Geleta, on his first visit to the small southern African country where he will be attending the UNAIDS-LANCET Commission meetings, arrived a day early to visit HIV/AIDS intervention activities being championed by the Movement through the Malawi Red Cross. There are currently about one million Malawians living with the deadly virus. “We do not give support to create or encourage dependency. We support communities to be able to sustainably improve their lives,” said Geleta as he visited an HIV/AIDS support group in Mitundu, Lilongwe, 50 kilometres from Malawi’s capital.

“The most important thing is for communities to do things that can sustain their own livelihoods,” said the former Ethiopian diplomat who became head of IFRC in 2008.

The IFRC Secretary General, who is also a UNAIDS-LANCET Commissioner, noted that the possibility of an AIDS-free generation would only be achieved if each and every individual did their part to respond to the HIV epidemic.

During the visit, Geleta met a group of men and women whom he described as courageous and focused to end HIV. “What we need is to take the right steps in achieving an AIDS-free society. By coming out and working together to address the social impacts of AIDS, you have started doing something to end the disease,” said the IFRC Secretary General who added that with more people getting tested for HIV, communities will be able to help minimize the impact of AIDS.

“Although there is no cure yet, there is medication to manage the disease. If everybody were tasted and we knew exactly how many people in the world were HIV positive; if we put them on medication and encouraged each other to practice safe sex, we will be able to bring this disease to an end.”

Geleta visited gardens, maize harvests and livestock belonging to the support group. “We live healthy lives. The Red Cross has been supporting us to grow vegetables and keep livestock. We support our families by consuming and selling the crops,” said Lesta Dakishoni, a traditional leader and member of the support group which started with five people in 2006 and has since grown to 40.

The IFRC Secretary General also visited an early childhood learning centre for orphans and met with a group of grandparents who are taking care of orphaned children. The Malawi Red Cross, in partnership with the Netherlands Red Cross, has been supporting the Grannies with Goats campaign to help them take care of the children. Over 600 children have been orphaned due to HIV/AIDS in the country, according to UNAIDS.

“We have been receiving farm inputs from the Red Cross which have assisted us to get enough yields to take care of these orphans. It would be difficult for us to take care of these children if we did not get this support,” said village headman Mkaka.